A Year on the Civil Grand Jury
By the Santa Cruz County Chapter CGJA
Like clockwork, our nation’s election cycle ignites impassioned conversations about transforming government: There are calls for sweeping changes and demands for greater transparency. However, once the ballots are cast, most folks resume their everyday routines.
Yet one group of citizens – the Santa Cruz Civil Grand Jury – works all year to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of local government.
Every year nineteen citizens volunteer to serve for twelve months, frequently working up to twenty-hours per week. They conduct investigations and submit their recommendations to government agencies in an effort to remedy shortcomings, correct oversights, or rectify negligence.
Yet their contributions often initiate changes most of us benefit from but often cannot easily observe.
One recent example of the impact of a Santa Cruz County Grand Jury Report is the overhaul of the Mental Health Advisory Board (MHAB). In two consecutive reports, the grand jury had been critical of how the Board functioned. In a February 2017 local newspaper article Board Chairperson Kate Avraham called the second report “a catalyst and a scare” for the MHAB.
She said the Board worked off the recommendations in the report like a checklist. Prior to the revamping, the Board had been hindered by a lack of training and support. Now she said the Board has made a 180-degree turn.
In another instance, following a grand jury report investigating five deaths at the jail, measurable improvements have been made, improving inmate safety.
You can read all final reports and government agency responses at www.co.santa-cruz.ca.us/Departments/Grandjury. You will also find citizen complaint forms and information about volunteering for the civil grand jury.
Perhaps more challenging than working to achieve these successes is the struggle to find volunteers to serve on the jury, particularly from under-represented populations.
One of the strengths of the grand jury system is having individuals who come from diverse cultures, careers, socio-economic status, and educational backgrounds.
It is the richness of varied views that allows a jury to discuss the issues, research problems, and recommend the best outcomes for the citizens of our communities. We ask the committed leaders in our civic, social and professional organizations to promote greater involvement in civil discourse, and urge qualified citizens to review the requirements for civil grand jury service and volunteer to serve. The deadline for volunteering is April 28, 2017.
Jurors receive training from the California Grand Juror’s Association (CGJA), view presentations by various government agencies throughout the year, and are advised by the District Attorney, County Counsel and the Presiding Judge. Jurors may ride along with local law enforcement agencies and tour various city and county departments to observe first-hand the demands of providing services to over 262,000 county citizens.
The Santa Cruz County chapter of the CGJA will speak free of charge to organizations throughout the county to answer questions regarding what the civil grand jury does and how it operates. Please contact Chapter President Nell Griscom at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a speaker.
Each year our grand jury contributes almost 20,000 hours of service to improve Santa Cruz County. Often their recommendations make lasting changes to our community. Like all others who have served, we are privileged and proud to have been a part of that process.