Yolo County’s 2007-2008 Grand Jury released its final report last week, detailing its investigations of the Davis Fire Department and the Woodland Joint Unified School District. The report analyzed and provided recommendations on five instances of wrongdoing or mismanagement by the two agencies.
California’s state constitution requires each county to appoint a grand jury each year to monitor local government. Yolo County selects 19 jurors from a pool of volunteers to meet at least twice a month and investigate citizen concerns through interviews and on-site visits.
“Nineteen citizens brought our common sense grounded in a spirit of fair and open mindedness, committed to discovering what are the facts of each case and drawing carefully thought-out inferences from those facts,” said jury foreman Anne Pym McDonald in the introduction to the report.
The jury is an independent official body of the Yolo County court system and is not answerable to administrators or the board of supervisors.
This year’s grand jury received 43 complaints from the public, and undertook 10 investigations which resulted in five final reports.
Among them was an investigation of the Davis Fire Department in response to allegations of misuse of facilities by off-duty employees and a difficult work environment stemming from the close relationship between the fire chief and the local union, the Davis Professional Firefighters Local 3494.
After interviewing past and present DFD employees and examining payroll records and other pertinent documents, the jury concluded that the close relationship between Fire Chief Rose Conway and union leaders engenders inconsistent promotion practices in which the most qualified candidate is not always chosen.
The jury recommended that upon Conway’s retirement – likely within the next one or two years – the next chief should come from outside the DFD and have no ties to the union.
The grand jury also discovered that off-duty firefighters misuse fire department facilities after drinking at the bars in downtown Davis by sleeping at the firehouse rather than going home.
“While it may be preferable for them to be sleeping in the firehouse rather than driving on the road, the city prohibits ‘being under the influence during work hours, at the worksite or in uniform,‘” the report states.
The city of Davis released an initial response to the report in which city manager Bill Emlen thanked the jurors for their dedication but criticized their findings as either inaccurate or not detailed enough for the city to investigate fully.
“We believe the Grand Jury Report includes several statements that are factually incorrect,” wrote Emlen in his response. “Taken together, they contribute to a less than accurate picture of the Davis Fire Department.“
The jury also investigated the Woodland Joint Unified School District in response to citizen allegations of conflicts of interest in the district’s purchase of a new building. While the jury found no evidence of improper influence regarding the purchase, it did discover violation of the Brown Act, sometimes referred to as the California “open meeting law,” which is intended to ensure public discussion of local government actions.
“The District did not report in a public session on the plan to purchase the Blue Shield building until at least 12 months after planning and negotiations had begun,” the report states. “The purchase of the Blue Shield building was discussed in public sessions only three times.“
The jury provided recommendations to both agencies on how to rectify these situations and requested an official response from their administrators within 90 days.
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.