In response to citizen concerns, the 2011-12 Inyo County Grand Jury took a closer look at the process for appointing or electing citizen representation to the more than 30 Special Districts in Inyo County.
In its Final Report, the jury offered tips to County Clerk-Recorder Kammi Foote on how to improve the election and appointment process in regards to Special Districts. Foote, in her response, said she was only partially responsible for some of the recommendations the Grand Jury made and has already implemented some of their suggestions.
The Grand Jury said questions had been submitted to it regarding the transparency of Special District operations ‚Äď covered under the Inyo County Local Agency Formation Commission. The commission, known as LAFCO, is responsible for 30 Special Districts locally, including cemetery districts, community service districts and fire districts.
‚ÄúSpecifically, concerns were expressed regarding advertising (or the lack thereof) for vacancies in the variety of Special District positions, website access to information regarding individual districts and Brown Act and ethics training,‚ÄĚ the Grand Jury Report states.
Before compiling their report, jury members met with Foote and County Counsel Randy Keller to discuss the Special District boards and how vacancies on boards are handled.
Through its interviews, the Grand Jury said it found that the County Clerk is responsible for advertising for all vacancies on special district boards, except when appointments are made for interim positions for ongoing decision-making and continuous function.
As required by law, Foote drafted a response to the report released by the Grand Jury.
In her response, Foote said she partially disagrees with that finding, as she is only responsible for elected officials.
‚ÄúThe Inyo County Clerk/Recorder, as the Election official for Inyo County, is required to publish a notice of election and issue a general press release as per Election Code 12112, for all Special District elections that have elected board members,‚ÄĚ Foote said. ‚ÄúThe Clerk of the Board (a separate position held by Pat Gunsolley) is responsible for the notification of board member vacancies for the Special Districts with appointed board members.‚ÄĚ
The Grand Jury recommended that any openings on Special District boards ‚Äúbe more visible and obvious‚ÄĚ to county residents, to ensure all who are interested in serving are aware of vacancies.
Foote said that recommendation has been implemented, but ‚Äúit is important to be mindful that news organizations and radio stations are privately run businesses. Although they routinely report on such information, they are not required to print or promote the information contained in general press releases.‚ÄĚ
The Grand Jury also said it found that ‚Äúmost Special District Board members in Inyo County are appointed due to a lack of volunteer candidates.‚ÄĚ
Foote said she disagrees with that finding.
‚ÄúSpecial District Board members in Inyo County are appointed in lieu of election as per (the election code) if, by 5 p.m. on the 83rd day prior to the day of the general district election, the number of persons who have filed a Declaration of Candidacy does not exceed the number of offices to be filled at that election,‚ÄĚ Foote said in her response, essentially asserting that, because there are more vacant positions than candidates, those who intend to run for office are elected by default, rather than being appointed by local leaders.
The Grand Jury also said it found that:
‚ÄĘ California Assembly Bill 1234 added new provisions to the Government Code, requiring that local officials who receive compensation, salary, stipends or expense reimbursements receive training in public service ethics law and principals which is renewed twice a year. The bill also requires each local agency to maintain records to prove compliance.
‚ÄĘ The California Government Code requires Special Districts to submit audits to both the State Controller and the Inyo County Auditor.
‚ÄĘ Brown Act laws apply to all Special District boards.
‚ÄúThis is outside the range of my authority,‚ÄĚ Foote said in response to each of those findings.
The Grand Jury also recommended that the Clerk/Recorder ‚Äúpolice‚ÄĚ the special districts to ensure that each member is trained in government service ethics and are aware of their specific reporting responsibilities.
‚ÄúThe Clerk/Recorder has no ‚Äėpolicing‚Äô authority over Special Districts as Special Districts are autonomous government entities primarily accountable to the voters they serve,‚ÄĚ Foote said. ‚ÄúFurthermore, state officials are responsible for overseeing compliance with most reporting requirements of Special Districts.‚ÄĚ
The Grand Jury also recommended that all Special Districts receive bi-annual Brown Act training.
Foote said she agreed that the training would be beneficial, but that, as Clerk/Recorder, she does not have the legal authority to conduct or monitor such training.
One area Foote was able to meet the Grand Jury‚Äôs requests was to provide a ‚ÄúCitizen‚Äôs Guide to Special Districts,‚ÄĚ which she noted is available to all interested residents online at inyoplanning.org.
For more information about the 2011-12 Grand Jury‚Äôs activities, see future issues of The Inyo Register this week.