Value of Grand Jury report questioned

July 25, 2002 11:00 pm

By ERIC BURKETT

What exactly happens with the findings of Tuolumne County's Grand Jury each year?

Not much, past Grand Jury members say. And they're frustrated by that.

After a year of work and thousands of hours of study, interviews and investigation, the Grand Jury's final reports seem to be shelved and forgotten, say jurors.

"That's one of the first questions people ask themselves," said David Harmer.

"Is any of this going to amount to anything?"

Harmer, chief financial officer for Diestel Farms, served as foreman of the 1997-98 Grand Jury.

It's not an unreasonable question. When county residents are summoned and agree to participate in a grand jury, they give up a lot of personal time, participating in at least two — possibly more — meetings per week. In exchange, they get $15 per day for their labor and time, plus reimbursement for mileage.

In recent years, Tuolumne County's 19-member Grand Jury has investigated school unification, the Department of Animal Control, the District Attorney's Office, the Groveland Community Services District, the need for annual public audits of county finances, Tuolumne General Hospital, and County Administrative Officer C. Brent Wallace.

Findings of the investigations are often controversial, the response dramatic. And then, after several weeks in the headlines, the report drops out of the public view.

"In general, I agree," said Matt Mattingly. "After the furor of the report, very little attention is paid to anything in there." Mattingly, who owns a used book store in downtown Sonora, served as foreman of the 2000-01 Grand Jury.

Some grand jurors have seen their efforts lead to change.

The 1999-00 Grand Jury conducted a rigorous investigation of Tuolumne General Hospital. Jurors looked at contracts, finances, lab procedures, long-term care, employee morale, and other matters. Many of the jury's recommendations did eventually come to fruition, said William Dunlavy, foreman for that panel.

But still, it's too easy for the powers that be to ignore the results of grand jury investigations, he said.