Rural Living Special News Edition 5
Clicking on this photo or using the link below it will take you to a 3.19MB PDF file of the Summer 2011 Newsletter. Or you can just read the newsletter articles online below.
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Summer 2011 Newsletter Articles
Working for you – By Estelle Fennell
HumCPR Executive Director
One of Hum-CPR’s main concerns has always been the lack of opportunity for meaningful public participation in the ongoing General Plan Update (GPU). We have spoken out on numerous occasions in numerous venues and our concerns finally made it to the Supervisors chambers on April 12th after elected officials; cities, towns and districts throughout Humboldt also criticized the county for having essentially ignored the public participation section 1500 of the General Plan. The problem has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way page 6 and page 7.
We have also focused on water management in this issue page 4 and page 5. It is important to be good stewards of our rural properties. We believe that good stewardship should be recognized and incentivized in county planning efforts. The brand new Water Resources Element of the General Plan Update (GPU) could have far-reaching effects on our rural property rights. HumCPR will monitor that closely too.
The County is now learning the hard way that it’s much better to bring those who own the property to be regulated in on the ground floor. That’s something that didn’t happen with the Housing Element and because of poor county management, there could be a moratorium on building in the county. If the Housing Element is not satisfactorily completed by August 15th the matter will be in the hands of the court. Just prior to going to press, HumCPR learned that the Northern California Association of Home Builders (NCHB) was seeking to file an Amicus brief in the case. You can check out our website for updated information.
A Message from the Board
The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury has the responsibility of responding to citizen complaints about the actions and operations of local public entities, including all departments of the County of Humboldt. The Grand Jury works in secret session from July through June of each calendar year and is comprised of 19 citizen jurors, selected by the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court. All testimony and investigative endeavors are under strict secrecy guidelines and the Grand Jury has the ability to compel testimony under subpoena powers. The Jurors have a variety of work and life experiences and cumulatively reflect the populace of the community at large.
After investigating a particular citizen complaint by analyzing documents and interviewing witnesses, the Jury collectively reviews the sum of their investigation. If at least 12 of the 19 jurors agree, a public report on the complaint may be issued. This report is first cleared through the Presiding Judge and the Jury is then permitted to release the report to the public. These public reports can be found online at the Humboldt County Grand Jury website. Any county official whose capacity or department is the focus of the report is required by law to respond to the report in writing, within statutorily prescribed time lines. The Grand Jury does not have any power to compel an official to do anything other than respond to the Jury report.
A review of past Grand Jury reports show a remarkable number of investigations revolve around high profile departmental heads or elected officials. This is not unexpected since these officials set policy for many aspects of county activities and these policies may be far reaching. What is unexpected is the casual brush off responses that these officials routinely give the findings of the Grand Jury. All responses can also be found on the Grand Jury website.
A review of these responses show a consistent use of the “finding not warranted” or a bureaucratized answer that uses copious minutia to obfuscate any real acknowledgement of the validity of a particular finding. It is rare when an official is open minded enough to seriously address issues that the Jury has brought to the attention of the public.
To date in 2011, the Grand Jury has issued two reports involving the same official. One involved the Headwaters Fund and its system of checks and balances when dealing with grants and/or loan applications. The response was the typical brush off. The second report, yet to be officially responded to, involves the process of approving a controversial subdivision project in Cutten, known as the Forester-Gill project. This report alleges that at least 20 codes, regulations or ordinances were either overlooked, not enforced or were creatively interpreted to the extent that the Grand Jury felt that there might have been criminal infractions. When the response is released to the public it will be interesting to see what type of dismissive rationale the County will attribute to the findings of the Jury.
In summary, it is obvious that those in powerful offices soon forget that criticism can be a constructive tool for the betterment of society. The power elite do not have a corner on common sense or intelligence. The numerous Grand Juries that have cumulatively spent years on reviewing a variety of complaints on the same individual can’t all be wrong. It is time for an honest assessment of the Jury’s work and let the chips fall where they may. The “circle the wagon” mentality should have vanished with the buffalo herds. It is not an appropriate response to a year’s investigation done by dedicated Jurors. The Jurors are citizen volunteers looking at data from an impartial viewpoint. They are not the enemy. It is time for the county bureaucracy to respond meaningfully to criticisms that are intended to constructively add to the efficient working of the County.
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