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Grand jury: More public scrutiny needed for supes’ $100,000 donation pot

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County supervisors need to tighten up on the $100,000 they donate every year from county coffers to non-profits and community organizations, the grand jury says. In a report made public Friday, the Placer County grand jury said it found there is no current system in place for all requests – accepted and denied – to be publicly reviewed. And there is no follow-up to document how funds that were approved were used, the report said. At issue is a sometimes-controversial $100,000 funding pot at the disposal of supervisors that provides sums from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars for what they consider worthy causes. Four of the five supervisors – Jim Holmes, Robert Weygandt, Kirk Uhler and Rocky Rockholm – make their own recommendations to the board. The grand jury reports that supervisors’ aides filter the requests and forward only the ones they recommend for approval to their district supervisor. From there, they go to the county executive officer for inclusion on the board agenda. District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery inherited a committee system from her predecessor Bruce Kranz, who had opposed the donations because he considered them a campaign “slush fund.” Event coordinator Linda Robinson of Auburn Family Night Out said the funding her group regularly receives from supervisors has helped in a time when gross revenues have declined because of the economic downturn. Robinson said Auburn Family Night Out would have no problem providing more information on how the funds were spent. “We gratefully accept them and they’re well-used,” she said. The grand jury report said that its investigation found no method in place to track applications that were denied. And the grand jury said the depth of information in applications was spotty – with some consisting of nothing more than a flier. Rosemary Frieborn, humane officer with the Humane Society of the Foothills, said the idea of more transparency through public airing of both accepted funding applications and denials is a good idea. Frieborn, who has clashed with board members over animal care issues, said her group has received funds in the past when supervisors asked her to apply. The money was well-used to help fund the Cat House rescue center and buying a veterinary trailer but Frieborn said hard economic times dictate that the funding program be suspended. “There are too many other things that are being cut back on,” Frieborn said. “When you’re calling a county department and they’re saying that they can’t help that day because of staff cutbacks then it’s time to put this giveaway on hiatus for awhile.” While the grand jury report doesn’t address the validity of the fund as a whole, it does state that policies are in place but not being followed as supervisors distribute the $20,000 each of the five is allocated for their districts. Instead, the board has been “inconsistent and non-compliant” when applying its own criteria for revenue-sharing funding requests, the report states. Supervisors and CEO Tom Miller are being asked to respond to a series of grand jury recommendations that include: n All requests for revenue sharing funds, including those being denied, are publicly noticed for review on the board’s agenda n The board requires all organizations receiving revenue sharing funds submit documentation within 30 days after an event stating the funds were used for the approved request. n If an organization fails to submit the post-event documentation, they will not be eligible for future funding n Use of a standard application form for all five districts. Other issues tackled by the grand jury include city managers’ salaries, the availability of audit information and more businesslike libraries. A more extensive report on other grand jury findings will appear in a future edition. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.