Inyo County’s Grand Jury met with Clerk-Recorder Kammie Foote earlier this year to take a close look at Local Agency Formation Commission special districts.
In her response to the Grand Jury, Foote said that many of the recommendations that were made are beyond the county’s authority, as it does not have jurisdiction over entities such as school and hospital districts.
In its annual report, the Grand Jury said that the county clerk has a responsibility to advertise all special district board positions that are vacant, “except when appointments are made for interim positions for on-going decision-making and continuous function.”
The grand jury recommended that position openings be more visible and obvious to county residents through advertising with news outlets and specific central posting locations.
In her response, Foote said she partially disagreed with that finding. “Special districts are not under the jurisdiction of the county,” she said. “However, the following districts have designated the Board of Supervisors as the appointing authority for their governing boards, and as such it is the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to advertise vacancies on these boards: Bishop Rural Fire Protection District, the Big Pine Cemetery District, the Independence Cemetery District, the Mt. Whitney Cemetery District, the Pioneer Cemetery District and the Tecopa Cemetery District.”
Foote said she has already implemented the jury’s recommendations.
“Vacancies for positions on the districts governing boards follows the appointment policy the board adopted for all of its boards, commissions and committees,” Foote said in her response, “and includes a public notice in the newspaper, press releases to the other media outlets and notices of the vacancy being sent to all those who have expressed an interest in serving on a particular district governing board. Other than this, special districts are not under the jurisdiction of the county.”
The Grand Jury also said it found the Citizen’s Guide to Special Districts in California, which was last updated in October of 2010, to be a comprehensive guide for all citizens regarding the functions of all of the state’s 3,300 special districts and recommended that it be made available as a handout to the general public through the County Clerk’s office in Independence.
Foote said that recommendation has been implemented.
The Grand Jury also said it found that “most special district board members in Inyo County are appointed due to a lack of volunteer candidates” and recommended that “more transparency and publication of open positions on ‘any’ special district board would eliminate concerns about county board appointments using ‘friends’ to fill vacant positions.”
In her response, Foote said that “this recommendation will not be implemented because it is not reasonable.”
Foote went on to re-state that special districts are not under the jurisdiction of the county. “That being said, it should be noted that the county Board of Supervisors does not make appointments to the one fire district and five cemetery districts governing boards, or any of the boards, committees or commissions under its appointing authority using friends to fill vacant positions,” Foote said. “There is an open and well-publicized process where the public that qualify for positions are given notice of a vacancy. They can then submit a request for appointment if they are interested, and then the Board considers the appointment at an open and public meeting that has been noticed per the Brown Act.”
In its report, the Grand Jury also said that “policing” seems needed in relation to special districts. “During our interviews it became apparent that several members of these special district boards are untrained in government service ethics, and fall short in accounting for their specific reporting responsibilities.”
Foote said policing the special districts is not a county responsibility and the county does not have the authority to act on that recommendation.
The Grand Jury’s final recommendation was to hold annual or bi-annual Brown Act training to all special district board members.
Again, Foote said that is not a county responsibility.
“Special districts are not under the jurisdiction of the county,” Foote said. “However, the Board of Supervisors has made available to every special district, free of charge, 10 hours of county counsel services per year. Whether the special districts use a portion of these hours to provide Brown Act training for their board members is unknown.”
Foote went on to say that county counsel does provide Brown Act training to the Board of Supervisors every other year and invitations to all special districts are extended.