Grand jury: El Dorado County is dysfunctional


By Kathryn Reed

A year after the El Dorado County Grand Jury was disbanded mid-session, the next group investigated 20 issues.

The county is dysfunctional in many aspects was the conclusion. The final report was released Thursday.

The report says, “Early in its term, the grand jury began to see a thread of dysfunction running through El Dorado County government. The grand jury heard repeated testimony of three practices, which would seriously jeopardize efficiency in any organization and are especially troublesome in an organization with the complexity, varied duties and size of El Dorado County government:

1. Elected officials can refuse to cooperate with both the Board of Supervisors and the county’s chief administrative officer.

2. Department heads both elected and appointed went around the CAO directly to the Board of Supervisors in support of their own positions to the detriment of the county as a whole.

3. Individual members of the Board of Supervisors interfered in the day to day administration of the county.”

All of this, according to the report, came at the expense of taxpayer dollars, wasted time and work not getting done.

The jury found that the county’s Charter is in part to blame because it allows elected officials beyond the Board of Supervisors to have power that an ordinary employee would not likely have. The recommendation is to only have the elected positions that are required by the state Constitution – district attorney, sheriff, assessor and Board of Supervisors.

“We are going to seriously consider the contents of the grand jury report regarding the dysfunction of the county and we do plan to respond,” Stephanie McCorkle told Lake Tahoe News. McCorkle’s firm has been hired by the county to do public relations work.

She added that much of what the grand jury found the county had earlier uncovered in a survey it did.

The county has to review the Charter every five years and started to do so last week by a committee. Those meetings are open to the public. The supervisors would have to approve changes to the Charter and then the voters would make the final decision.

Other key grand jury investigations:

• Sixteen employees of the South Lake Tahoe Probation Office were questioned. “The employees interviewed are intelligent, well spoken, and dedicated. They have college degrees and many years of probation experience. Yet, most described the work place environment as toxic. Supervisors and managers micromanage employees; fostering and allowing a clique system that identifies employees as either favored, or shunned, by management.” (The emphasis was written by the grand jury.)

The recommendation is the new chief needs to make eliminating the cliques a priority.

“The cumulative result, described by employees and some managers, is poor morale in and dysfunction of the SLT Probation office as a whole, detracting from their overall mission to enforce court orders.”

The recommendation is for the skills of managers and supervisors to be reviewed, as well as looking at the worker to manager ratio.

“El Dorado County hired a new chief probation officer on Dec. 2, 2013. A week after beginning his duties, the grand jury disclosed its findings about the working environment in the South Lake Tahoe office to him. Four months later the new chief reported back that he had not found the toxic work environment and had made no substantive change to personnel or policies. The grand jury then re-interviewed SLT personnel who reported that, in fact, the same toxic environment continues.”

• The grand jury found that when the county waived the permit fees for property owners in the Angora Fire burn area, this was a gift of public funds. The same goes for other times the Board of Supervisors waived fees.

“The grand jury recommends that the Board of Supervisors no longer waive or reimburse permit fees unless they are specifically allowed by a board policy, California Constitution or state statute. Waving fees in an ad hoc manner gives the impression of collusion and favoritism.”

• The animal shelter in Placerville came under scrutiny for how the county deals with real estate acquisitions and leasing protocols. Environmental report, architectural studies and leasing temporary property cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The Grand Jury recommends the Facilities Investment Team concept be kept active, but reviewed by the CAO on a regular basis for its effectiveness. Although we found no evidence of improprieties, the same individual was used in each of the four projects where a real estate broker was utilized.”

• It was determined that toxic limestone waste continues to flow into Webber Creek from the former Diamond Lime Plant site, and that no one is doing anything about it. “It would be completely irresponsible of the county to allow the Diamond Dorado Parkway project to proceed without ensuring that all environmental issues and mitigations have been resolved.”

• The grand jury received multiple complaints about improper grading on private property that affected other properties. Investigation led the jury to conclude that there “was a pattern and practice of failing to comply with the county Grading Ordinance.”

The ultimate finding was, “The county’s failure to enforce its Grading, Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance encourages illegal grading to the detriment of other property owners and residents.”

Some things the grand jury looks into are mandated by the state – like checking on the management and conditions of the county jails each year, as well as the juvenile detention facilities.

The South Lake Tahoe and Placerville jails have a difficult time hiring women, have been impacted by the state sending prisoners to the county jails, and mental illness is a growing problem among inmates.

The jury recommends because of the age of both facilities replacement of them should be considered, and that management should look into why there is high staff turnover.

Concerned citizens initiate other investigations. In the case of the probation department, it was an article in Lake Tahoe News that prompted the probe.

In the final report released June 19, grand jury foreman Neil Cunningham said if the county adheres to the recommendations, “El Dorado County will follow the lead of many other California counties and step in to the 21st century.”

Public agencies have 90 days to file a written response to the grand jury’s findings, while elected officials or department heads have 60 days.



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Comments (8)
  1. Scott says - Posted: June 20, 2014

    Is this a surprise? The County has been a mess for years, keep hidden under a blanket until Joe Harn starts to expose it all and then everyone hates him for doing it. He sounds like a maverick. With so many up for election, its time to reshuffle the deck and bring in some knowledgable professionals, but that would require people actually voting.

  2. Kody says - Posted: June 20, 2014

    Board of Supervisors involved in activities that are detrimental to the County as a whole? Sure hits home for Meyers.

  3. observer says - Posted: June 20, 2014

    All one has to do is read the newspapers to know that El Dorado County is dysfunctional and has far too many renegade-and-proud-of-it elected officials.

    But what is difficult to understand is that the citizens elected these people.

    With the record low voter turnouts we see with growing frequency, instead of complaining to the Grand Jury we need to look in the mirror and vow to participate. If voters unloaded the bad apples and substituted almost anyone, the situation could not get worse.

    All anyone responds to anymore, it seems, is sound bites. When the #2 candidate in the upcoming supervisors election is an in-your-face person with a penchant for finger pointing instead of cooperation, and whose sole stated reason to run is “to get the agencies to do what they are supposed to do” you get a view into why we are are in trouble and what needs to be done to fix it.

    One vote on a board is not going to sway much but probably will get a lot of attention,which is, in retrospect, probably the goal in the first place. (along with the 60 grand salary)

    To re-calibrate our errant political compass, people have to think and then act. Thinking is an activity that many of us apparently find too difficult to pursue.

  4. Local says - Posted: June 20, 2014

    Do do we still want the county to take over the city? I think not!

  5. Scott says - Posted: June 20, 2014

    Lake Tahoe area of El Dorado county should break off and start its own county or join the city, too many agencies.

  6. Justice says - Posted: June 20, 2014

    There is a “Toxic” environment in local government on many fronts. The entire Nutting case being a great example of it and why it is hard to clean it up. He had to be removed by the judge after conviction for crimes and he fully intended to not leave and had refused to step down for a year while playing the media and being the victim and getting others to believe him. This caused dysfunction at every BOS meeting and a huge cost. This county needs new leadership, not more studies, starting on the BOS and thankfully there will be three new seats and there is a need for a new CAO and new staff. The County has misspent millions on leasing buildings and law firms and “studies” and now a PR firm, this is wasting more millions. An audit of the CAO and a new one is mandatory.

  7. JoeBoxer says - Posted: June 20, 2014

    A majority of the people who are “toxic” are not even elected officials. The probation department is supposed to set an example for the juvenile and adult offenders. Its really sad, because the people who really care about our youthful offenders are shunned. The county keeps spending thousands of tax payer dollars to figure out the county has toxic departments. Staff have been interviewed, there are civil suits and hundreds of complaints about the harassment. But no one listens to the staff members making these complaints and the county gets rid of the people who are harassed and keeps the abusers. How does the management and supervisors keep getting away with it?? Because the harassment is not classified under a protected class (race, sexual, etc) so it is considered “poor management skills”. Its great that the Grand Jury finally acknowledged there is a serious problem, but until they “clean house” and get rid of the people who have been investigated multiple times (we’re talking 5,10,15,20+), NOTHING will change. Get rid of the clique atmosphere? How? Shake your finger and say BAD!!?? Training is NOT going to change supervisors with narcissistic sociopathic behavior. Why are officers that have been demoted for major rule violations now supervisors? Why are DUI’s acceptable??? Why is there such a huge turnover in the probation department? Keep asking questions people. Its more than just voting, the county has been this way for a loooong time. The ONLY answer is clean house!!!

  8. copper says - Posted: June 20, 2014

    To quote myself:

    copper says – Posted: October 31, 2013

    “. . . my dealings with El Dorado County Probation go clear back to the mid seventies, when Judge Fogerty ruled the roost, and every decent probation officer was run off as quickly as their skills were recognized. My observation was that they kept driving the good folks off until they got the quality of subservience they were looking for.

    I haven’t had a dog in this contest in a lot of years, but I wish Brian the best of wishes, regardless.

    I still wonder about the folks hereabouts who would prefer that El Dorado County take over public safety services from the City.”

    Hasn’t changed. South Lake Tahoe has a city government that can’t decide whether to **** or go blind (an old Air Force expression that seems appropriate, whether I understand it or not), but someone, or some group of someones, needs to take some leadership – preferably not purchased by the powers – and take charge of things at the Lake while trying to escape the ignorance and evil intentions of the west slope politicians. A well timed secession is the same as progress.