Send ’em fishing
Grand juries do more than indict. They also are the quintessential citizen’s watchdog group on county spending. Citizens can request an audit on a need-to-know basis, or the grand jury can audit county spending randomly of its own volition. Grand juries publish a recommended course of action based on their findings. Sometimes this is the only way we ever find out what is going on with our tax dollars.This makes county executives very nervous. The words “fishing expedition” are used to scare jurors off, but the grand jury has a fishing license and is a great angler. I know of a specific fishing hole where I suggest the grand jury start its next expedition.
Every county has an executive, and every executive belongs to the California State Association of Counties (CSAC). CSAC’s annual budget is $2.6 million per year. It has plush office space on K Street in Sacramento. This is all paid for out of county money, while county services are being axed left and right. Is CSAC necessary or even appropriate?
CSAC is a line item in the county budget. When times are good, no one pays much attention to these kinds of things. But these are hard times. Vital services to the most needy and desperate are being cut.
Another area for the grand jury to investigate is the counties’ advertising expenses. We are down to bare bones, with no room for waste. Choosing whether the county spends its money on advertising or homeless shelters should be obvious.
And the grand jury could look at computer leases. My recollection is that Placer County leased computers for $3,000 a year each in 1997-1998, when I was serving on a grand jury. This seems like an awful waste of money when a computer can be purchased for less than $1,000. Or, what about the county leasing land back to itself? How much rent does the county charge taxpayers for land and buildings it owns outright? The grand jury can tell us how much.
We cannot afford any kind of redundancy in county spending. If the grand jury sneaked a peek at the nonessentials in the county budgets, then essential services like health care, housing and food programs would have a much better chance of surviving. This could be a very successful fishing expedition.