by Judy Hodgson, Editor and Publisher
The Journal's battle with the county is over -- unless the supervisors decide to appeal. The judge ruled that in fact they did violate the state's open meeting law by inviting specific contractors into a closed personnel session to help choose a new planning director while excluding the public and the press. And he ruled that they now must release records, notes and/or minutes of that illegal session and to tape future closed meetings.
As a reporter and publisher, I am satisfied. But as a taxpayer, I'm not. Neither should you be.
The supervisors knew almost from the beginning that the meeting was "tainted." That was the exact word used by their own county counsel. It was the reason they quickly closed that particular meeting and opened a new one to hire an interim planning director. (Board chair Bonnie Neely told the Times-Standard that they acted "only after consulting with both county lawyers and private attorney Nancy Delaney," which would lead one to believe that those attorneys advised them that what they did was OK. Our sources have told us that is not true, but we will never know for certain. Supervisors will continue to blame their attorneys and the attorneys can't talk because of attorney-client privilege.)
It all could have ended quickly and inexpensively but by deciding to take this thing all the way to trial it has cost taxpayers plenty. Our attorney's fees and court expenses may run in excess of $12,000. We don't know yet how much the supervisors' legal costs will be, but we know who will pay.
(Refer to May Cover Story, May publisher's column, and June publisher's column for background information.)
In any case, it's time to move on to other things. Two items last month that struck me as being worthy of more attention are the supervisors' response to the Grand Jury Report and a fish named Indominable.
The Board of Supervisors approved a draft response to the 1996-97 Grand Jury Report. I just finished reading it. Here are a few items that gave me pause:
One, the tangled web about who was responsible for fiscal oversight of the Justice Facility that was never built and the jail that was, seems destined to stay tangled. Acting County Administrative Officer John Murray answered a number of questions with: "The CAO referred to is no longer employed by the County nor are the analysts involved. We cannot answer this finding." I suppose that's a convenient answer, but it sheds little light. I suspect that former CAO Chris Arnold is available by phone.
And less than adequate certainly are responses from John Frank, head of the Department of Social Services -- and now, the Board of Supervisors -- over the $25,000 Leo Frank Memorial Charitable Trust Fund.
You may recall that, using county staff and time, the Social Services hosted two rather profitable statewide conferences in 1990 and 1994 for the California Welfare Directors Association. Frank returned the seed money to the CWDA but kept control of the profits, buying himself fancy office furniture and eventually channelling the money into a trust fund in his father's name for a children's shelter. CWDA has demanded that the funds be returned.
Frank is an appointed official who works for the Board of Supervisors. What he did is an embarrassment if not illegal.
Last month the CWDA hosted its annual meeting in Palm Springs. This is the second year in a row that apparently no one attended from our Department of Social Service. Coincidence?
And the fish? The board voted 3-2 to sell the two-ton wooden sculpture to the highest bidder rather than send it home to Orick.
Aw, come on!
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