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My Sunday Column: Is the Civil Grand Jury Relevant? Are Ordinary Citizens Any Better at Governance Than Politicians?

The Los Angeles County civil grand jury got a well-deserved thrashing last week from local officials for its dumbfounding end-of-the-year report on the financial health of the county’s 88 cities — a report that made Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena seem more like bankrupt Stockton and San Bernardino than the prosperous suburbs they are.

It wasn’t the first shot the 23 civic-minded citizens who volunteered for the job took at Glendale.

You might remember that just before Glendale’s election last April, the grand jury dropped a bombshell report that called into question the legality of the city’s transfer of $21 million in “surplus” electricity revenue to the General Fund and cast doubt on the competence of city officials in putting a Charter amendment on the ballot that didn’t clear up the issue by replacing the transfer with a straight-out tax.

It was an unprecedented interference into a local election by the grand jury and it had an impact, helping to defeat the ballot measure.

“If anyone in the city had done that, they would probably be prosecuted,” Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian said at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, where an official repudiation was made of the grand jury’s year-end report on the most critical local issue of our time, the financial health of the cities.

“The (year-end) report tells a story and that story is failure of a process,” he said.

It’s clear a lot of time and money was spent gathering data, but the astonishing conclusions reached obscured the value of the statistics.

On the upside, you can see for yourself why cities have problems in the fact that there are 772 fat cats on city payrolls making more than $200,000 — two-thirds of them working for fire departments or municipal utilities.

More than half — 411 — are on the payroll of Los Angeles. Locally, Glendale has 15 and Pasadena has eight, while Burbank has 14, although it isn’t in the same league with Beverly Hills, a third its size, 1/100th the size of L.A., with 64 fat cats.

Where the report goes astray is in leaping to conclusions solely on the basis of comparing raw financial data without a deeper understanding of the details — or explaining why cities with the best financial practices often are ranked lower than those with the worst practices.

For instance, how come South Pasadena jumped from 82nd to 32nd place for financial health while ranking 55th for following best financial practices? Or how come Cudahy, ranked worst in the county for financial best practices, was given an average fiscal-health ranking as fiscally healthier than Glendale (57), Burbank (57) or Pasadena (45), soaring 21 places to 34th place?

Maybe corruption is good for a city’s financial health; federal investigators have exposed “a long list of people” involved in bribery and extortion in Cudahy.

Najarian offered an explanation for what was wrong that called into question the entire civil grand jury system.

“The process is collecting volunteers from the community, lay volunteers, volunteers who know nothing about finance or municipal government or municipal finance in general, to pass judgment on our city and other cities,” he said. “Now these jurors, many of them retired from all walks of life, have no requirement for any experience or training or education in these fields and they are led along … very much led by County Counsel, who may or may not have an agenda.”

At that point, Najarian reached for the Fitch Ratings report released on Monday. It affirmed Glendale’s “AA+” credit rating, much as Standard & Poor’s had previously affirmed both Glendale and Burbank’s “AAA” rating, the highest.

“Sound reserve levels, good liquidity, satisfactory financial performance and prudent financial policies and budgeting practices,” Fitch said.

“Glendale is a safe-and-sound city with excellent financial practices,” Najarian added. “To me, we can take that grand jury report and build a bonfire with it to keep us warm in the upcoming winter months.”

Added City Manager Scott Ochoa, “This is a very simple case of garbage in, garbage out … in my professional opinion.”

Ochoa pointed out that the Tri-Cities, each with its own utility system, got dinged for transferring “surplus” electricity revenue to their general funds and got further punished for their past reliance on the now-defunct community redevelopment funding mechanism that left them dangling in the wind over when, and how much, of redevelopment loan repayments will be approved by the state.

The County Counsel offered no explanation for how this kind of meaningless nonsense could be disseminated as if it had significance, citing attorney-client privilege protecting disclosure of what legal advice was given and noting the grand jury does what it wants.

It is time to take a hard look at whether the civil grand jury itself is a relic of the past and no longer relevant.

The 23 grand jurors included 21 retired people; 16 men, seven women; four blacks, two Latinos, 16 whites and one person who was classified as “other.” Not very representative of L.A. County, to be sure. But what can you expect when 320 of the 396 original candidates were retired, with only 10 under age 35, and men far outnumbering women?

Back in March and the effort to scuttle the Glendale election, grand jury Foreman Frederick Piltz warned that passage of a Charter amendment clarifying the language allowing the revenue transfer “might” lead someday to violations of Propositions 26 and 218, so the “maximum utility of this investigation would best be served by publishing this investigation at this time.”

The report expressed concern the city was “erroneously interpreting” the law and then misstated the upshot of a legal case that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Assn. won to block transfer of water revenue as a violation of the state Constitution — a protection that did not apply to electricity.

This is all very discouraging to someone like me who believes in government of, for and by the people, and who thinks the answer to the selling out of the public interest at all levels by professional politicians is devolution of power closer to the people.

Certainly, something has to change, or nothing the new grand jury does will be taken any more seriously than the actions of the last one.


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31 Responses to My Sunday Column: Is the Civil Grand Jury Relevant? Are Ordinary Citizens Any Better at Governance Than Politicians?

  1. H Wood says:

    Civil Grand Juries can be vital in a government which is filled with corruption. Throwing out the Grand Jury System because you feel that the government you like was treated unfairly is the same as throwing the entire jury system because you thought OJ should have been convicted.

    One great advantage of a Grand Jury is that it can take a large overview of a city or of an agency, e.g. the DWP, whereas a single lawsuit over corruption has to focus on one tiny bit, thereby allowing billions of dollars of corruption to continue undisturbed.

    While all systems in a society should be evaluated and re-evaluated, those evaluations should not be based because they offend one or two or even many city governments. Their function is to analyze, not placate. I suggest that one should gain a better historical perspective on civil Grand Juries and the exact role that they play in government.

  2. Wayne from Encino subbing in for Ron-in-Hiding 10/2/2013 whose posts have to await moderation because he's a weeniee says:

    You can see one of the unfortunate cancelled rallies due to the budget shutdown:
    Ron has been deleting my posts (what a surprise, right?)
    I’ll keep posting, however, as Ron and his Obama-Communists will NOT WIN!!! The People will wake the hell up and take notice of this stuff going on.

  3. teddy says:

    To each one of us: We need to remember
    this vow: I pledge allegiance to the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands. One Nation. indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

    • ex valley says:

      Sorry Teddy, but some of the bills your governor had signed in recently make one wonder where his allegiance lies.

      But nothing surprising. Here is an interesting read for you all
      Care to comment?

      • El Quixotian says:

        Good stuff Ex…fleshes out the quip made comparing Star Trek’s Borg to the groupthink that increasingly pervades our City/State/Country: “Resistance is Feudal”

        Comments include fascinating attempts to disprove/derail Kotkin’s metaphor’s, citing everything from data suggesting that our California post-boom economic disparity is no worse than southern states slow rise from it’s hand-me-down industrial revels, blaming Red State Laissez-faire (and therefore doubling down on income/asset re-distribution) to adopting the same rose-colored blinders that The 28th Earl…er, Senator Lieu was assuming LANCC listeners were wearing when he granted us audience Saturday. You know…the budget is now balanced thanks to Prop 30…our best days are ahead for California. Then people started asking tough questions, and he had to equivocate…as in we’re better off financially compared to 2008.

        Thankfully, the article which one comment linked was taken with a bit less skepticism on PJ Media:

        Particularly appropriate is the allusion in comments there, relating to Lysenkoism. Based on a Soviet Agricultural Apparatchik whose contrived theories suited the Party line, and properly descibed as “science that subordinated facts to the requirements of ideology. The New Ice Age/ Global Warming/Climate Change (Climate? Change? Who knew?)/multi-culti/NAMBLA-lovin’ cadres are his direct descendants.”

        Challenge the gentry, be it the pseudo-progressive dogma, and they’ll summon the inquisition!

        • ex valley says:

          If you like VDH, here is a new one:

          The trouble is of course that he is preaching to the choir.
          For somebody like Ron here, this would make his head spin.
          Interesting that Ron had pretty much stopped posting.

          • LA Moderator says:

            Interesting reads!

            From the macro analysis, to the nitty gritty: I was just comenting to my wife about the norm in L.A. that it’s somehow acceptable to place things on the curb…as “Free” for scavangers, or junk for salvage. A couple of weeks ago, another TV showed up on the parkway on Mason near Pierce College. (Homes face sidestreets/cul de sacs, and residents often ignore what’s over their side-yard fence).

            Don’t know if its working now or not, but it’s been tipped over, (broken) screen first, onto the roadway. Maybe next time I call the Bureau of Street Services about weeks-old piles of tree branches, I’ll mention it. Still not as bad as some of the abandonded matresses often left near appartment complexes, which feed the occasional flea infestations.

  4. teddy says:

    We are really in a mess because people are unhappy now. So many have
    registered to vote against our Country and California. Just now I am listening
    to Michal Medved on the radio. Any ideas on how to become Americans once more?
    It isn’t just California. There are ideas that none of us are happy about. If those were
    fixed, we would be in better shape. No one is right ALL of the time. We need to listen to each other and come to rational conclusions. I think we can do that. don’t you?

  5. teddy says:

    I just thought of something. Abraham Lincoln was a poor lawyer from the North.
    When the Southern states decided to accept slavery, he knew that was not what he believed in and expressed his thoughts. The result: the Civil War.

    I have always been a Republican (now 92 yrs old) because I did not think God intended for us to enslave each other. I sense that some still believe it is ok to enslave people either for farm labor or for sex and I loathe the thought. Shame, shame, shame.

  6. Wayne from Encino Shutting down Obamacare whose posts await moderation because of weenies running things says:

    $95 or 1% of taxable income (whichever is HIGHER)=ObamaCare Penalty if you don’t comply with the Communists in Washington, D.C. and buy the crappy insurance package!!! The Tea Party guys are right—SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT AND DEFAULT ON THE DEBT as long as the Communists are doing this! Either we go back to Madison, Jefferson, and Adams, OR we go the way of Hitler, Stalin, and Caesar! History shows us which is the preferable way to live.

  7. david r2b says:

    I sure hope Mr. Kaye is well. Rarely is there this much time between posts, even with the weekly column post.

    Question for anyone: does anyone know the status of the lawsuit against Mr. Alarcon? It’s been a while now since it was started and he’s left his council seat. I can’t wait for the City’s Pension System to deduct X amount of years from his bloated pension. Which also was inflated because of his time in Sacramento.

    If anyone knows the up-date or if there is a link to go to, I’d really appreciate it.

    • ex valley says:

      I do not know the status of this but can venture a safe bet. Nothing will happen to alarcon, he and his pension will continue happily ever after. You do not understand – laws in LA are for little people. Alarcon, villar and their ilk can break any law and nothing will ever happen. Remember rocky Delgadillo and his wife misusing and damaging a city owned car? Remember alarcon’s daughter? How about Yvonne whatever stupidvisor who was residing in Brentwood because her district (watts and adjacent) would crimp her lifestyle?

      So don’t worry about alarcon. He and his family will be all right.

      • H wood says:

        I’ve been around lawyers and judges for decades, and your idea that the legal system is fixed to favor certain people is correct.

    • Rita-of-Sunland says:

      I heard that because Alarcon lost his last election, and, therefore, is no longer holding public office, the case goes nowhere. It is done. Kaput. Moot. Finito. And I’d just BET that if (or rather, WHEN) he runs for something else in another election cycle, the charges against him CANNOT be revisited.

    • anonymous says:

      Ahhhh….yes, Alarcon…
      just imagine, an unknown with no special ability or intellect,
      a flunky staffer for Councilman Marvin Braude, nonetheless he
      achieves remarkable political power…why did Braude support
      a character like Alarcon…and then, just imagine…in 1998,
      Richard Katz “lost” the election by only 29 votes to Alarcon but Katz
      refuses to challenge the results for a recount…why, why, why…
      Alarcon reminds me of the expression “scum rises to the top”…

  8. david r2b says:

     TO: Rita-of-Sunland says:
    October 16, 2013 at 8:02 am

    This really doesn’t make sense. While acting as a City Councilman he was also performing a criminal/misdemeanor/felony/civil (or some type) of crime. Because he lost his next office possibility, his previous act(s) are no longer, or were crimes.

    Let’s say I’m driving intoxicated and I’m stopped by the Police. If I go to court and in front of the Judge I shred my Driver’s License and make the announcement that I’m never driving again. Does that make my driving crime null & void?

    Is there an Attorney in the House??? If Rita is correct, I would like an answer as to why the crime(s) vanish?

    Thank you anyone :-)

    • Rita-of-Sunland says:

      I had the SAME reaction as you, David: “Why should this CROOK get a pass just because he lost his election?” Lemme do a little verification research, and I’ll post my findings later….

      • david r2b says:

        Rita -

        Thank you so very much. I wish I had the resources to delve into this subject. There are other topics of interest that can’t be forgotten also. But one step at a time is practical.

        Have a great TGIF.

        • ex valley says:

          Sorry guys but you are wasting time. AlarCon is untouchable in LA. A Latino democrat? Are you kidding me. – this is the prime demographics.
          How about this story


          Wow the bimbo went from 47k to 130 like in a year Not too shabby. But the poor thing is only making 112k now.
          And so touching – huizars daughter has leukemia.
          The big question is how much will this cost you the taxpayers? Remember when the lausd creep cardenes misbehaved. Hoe much did the city pay then?

          Suckers you all.

        • Rita-of-Sunland says:

          Thanks, David! This is all I could find—I know the decision was appealed, but evidently the appeal “petered out.”

          • david r2b says:

            Rita -

            Thank you. I had never seen this article. How disappointing. Another Slimbucket gets away with a crime. However one comment to this article said that “probably he knew too many corrupt secrets of other Politicians and were he to be convicted he’d tell everything.

            Another commentor talked about Judges. This reminds me of Judge Yaffe when he ruled re Prop R: ethics, ethics, ethics and we want another 4 Year term on the Council. The whole campaign was promoted about ethics when the Council could have approved those items or not. This was probably a Council President Garcetti con job so he would still be in office when he ran for Mayor. He was afraid to be out of office when he tried for Mayor.

            Our elected’s and Judges are all so out for themselves. Will we ever learn???

            Thank you again Rita:)

    • H wood says:

      The judicial system is corrupt. If you’re a favored son, they leave you alone.

      If one is objective about his behavior, Garcetti has committed so many crimes, mostly fraud and Penal Code 86, that if he served his sentences consecutively, he’d be in Folsom more than 4,000 years. If people served their prison terms by going back in time, Garcetti could say hello to Abraham. After he finishes being mayor, Garcetti should have racked up enough prison time to welcome Adam and Eve to the Garden of Eden.

  9. ex valley says:

    Hahaha. More money for you to shell out

    Gee, a clowncil mans chief of staff makes 171k. But this is just his salary, must be other perks involved: city provided car, free gas, free cell phone, etc.

    Pay up, suckers.

  10. teddy says:

    ExValleu: Did you mean $171,000 plus? What are we waiting for?

  11. ex valley says:

    Hey, people, your former illustrious mayor just picked up another consulting gig.
    If somebody with his limited education and practically no skills can get these many jobs, it means the economy is on the mend.

    Ha ha ha

  12. El Quixotian says:

    Not only that, but Governor Moonbeam was in Bell Gardens to brag about the latest job creator in his Calornia juggarnaut…a new casino that will generate several hundred construction jobs…and a hundred or so ‘permanent’ jobs! It would be gauche to wonder if the construction jobs are union or prevailing wage, or if the ‘Living Wage’ crusaders will champion the cause of the mades and doormen….

    Sacbee adds: “It bears noting that the casino has been a big Brown benefactor over the past couple of years. As The Bee’s David Siders reported earlier, Bicycle poured $37,000 into his 2010 campaign, $25,000 to the Prop. 30 push and another $14,700 so far into the governor’s re-election war chest. “

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