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July 4-10, 2007

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News Briefs

By Patricia Lynn Henley

We, the jury

The citizen-volunteers responsible for independently reviewing local government agencies recently finalized their 2006-'07 efforts in Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties. These Grand Jury reports cover everything from fingerprinting school volunteers to wastewater usage, open-space planning, services for an increasingly aging population and more.

The Marin County Grand Jury provides thumbs-up reports on the county treasurer's office, underpublicized local vocational education efforts and the county's disability retirement process. It issued wake-up calls about potential costs for retired county employees and the growing senior population in general. Statewide, 10 percent of residents are 65 or older; in Marin County it's 14 percent, which is projected to rise to 17 percent by 2030. The Grand Jury also reviews four charter schools and lists potential challenges at the College of Marin, as well as recommending that the county delay its plans for a $71 million Health and Wellness Center in the Canal District in order to do more in-depth review and planning.

In Napa, the 2006-'07 Grand Jury report reviews improvements to the county's child-welfare system, recommending hiring more bilingual staff members and citing an "urgent" need for respite babysitting for foster parents. The group also suggests that the Napa County Sheriff's office should control the county jail to allow more accountability and cross-training; finds that the Hope Center for the homeless in downtown Napa is inadequately funded; provides a fairly favorable review of the Napa Sanitation District; and found no truth in rumors about mishandling of student funds at St. Helena's Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School.

Perhaps one of the more controversial recommendations is the Sonoma County Grand Jury's suggestion that local schools should fingerprint all volunteers. Some applaud the increased security, but others say it isn't practical. The grand jury report also reviews four law enforcement-related citizen deaths between August and December 2005, and decides they were followed by thorough, detailed investigations.

In other topics, the grand jury says more oversight is needed on the number and legal status of local billboards; there's no overall plan for managing groundwater, surface water and wastewater disposal; all county employees, not just first-responders, should be trained in emergency procedures; and Santa Rosa Junior College may put too much emphasis on diversity in its hiring practices. The report also recommends hiring more correctional officers and creating a comprehensive long-range plan for the open-space district


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