The California Penal Code provides for an annual Civil Grand Jury made up of citizens from the community, who prepare a government oversight report. This week, the Plumas County Board of Supervisors took issue with the 2022-2023 report, titled A Perfect Storm: Using Transparency to Clear the Air, in a four-page, point-by-point response memo. Although most of the supervisors received the memo from the County Counsel’s Office only minutes before their Sept. 12 meeting, they approved it unanimously.
In their response, the supervisors agreed with the panel’s final finding: a lack of transparency during Board of Supervisors meetings.
“Transparency is essential to government, and cooperation between the Grand Jury and the county employees is one of the most important ways to create that transparency,” their response states.
Before the supervisors approved of the draft response, prepared by the Plumas County Counsel’s office, Supervisor Tom McGowan balked at voting on a document he had not seen until the meeting began.
“I just got this,” said McGowan, who represents the Lake Almanor area. He requested that the Board’s response be delayed a week.
September 12 was the deadline to file it, said interim County Counsel Sara James. Asked why the supervisors did not get the draft response sooner, she said state law requires the Grand Jury response be released to the public when it is given to the supervisors.
The draft was shared with Board Chairman Greg Hagwood, said James, who has served as county counsel since the July 24 resignation of former County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr.
The supervisors disagreed with all or parts of several of the panel’s findings. They disputed that misrepresentation of the standard method for evaluating comparative wages has created mistrust of the county’s Human Relations Department (HR).
The conventional method compares wages in 10 comparable counties. And while the HR director’s recommendation referred to a 10-county comparison, only eight counties were considered in the wage survey, according to the Grand Jury report.
The supervisors believed they were considering a 10-county comparison. “Such a lack of transparency has the potential to create public distrust,” the Grand Jury report states.
“Such a lack of transparency has the potential to create public distrust.”2022 – 2023 Plumas County Grand Jury report
The supervisors called the finding “subjective” and disagreed that “any misrepresentation was intentional.”
They also took issue with the Grand Jury’s final recommendation, which urged them to ensure that any potentially controversial action items included on the agenda are thoroughly discussed in open session before taking a vote. That is a requirement of the Ralph M. Brown Act.
The Board “is not reasonably able to implement the recommendation,” the supervisors said in their response. They cited legal analyses and government codes as barriers to determining whether an item is approved for closed-session discussion under the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law.
In response to the recommendation that they commit to retaining an active county administrative officer (CAO), the supervisors agreed. Debra Lucero was hired in November with increased responsibilities and wage over the previous CAO.
But they generally disagreed that the lack of a policy keeping department-head salaries competitive resulted in 14 department heads resigning within three years.
In its response, the Board tallied 19 department head departures. “Twelve retired, one passed away and five resigned,” the supervisors responded. “While keeping salaries competitive is an important factor in retention, it is not the only factor.”
The Grand Jury recommended the supervisors support the sheriff’s office in setting an appropriate wage level to attract and retain law enforcement personnel.
The supervisors said they appreciated the recommendation but “cannot implement it as written.” It does not allow sufficient time to determine the county’s budget and work with the sheriff’s office, they said.
“And the term ‘appropriate’ is too subjective to result in a clear plan moving forward,” the supervisors responded.
In other responses, the supervisors agreed that oversight would have resulted in better use of employees’ deferred holiday pay, saving unbudgeted costs to taxpayers. But they did not agree with the Grand Jury’s finding that the majority of employees who collected deferred holiday pay were entitled to it.
The 2022 – 2023 Grand Jury Report is the first completed report by a Plumas County civil panel since 2020. No panel was seated in 2020 – 2021, and the next panel did not complete a report.
The Board’s response was not included in the Sept. 12 agenda packet and has not been posted online.