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Grand jury works hard for Placer County residents

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Placer County Grand Jury members spend 40 to 50 hours a month for 12 months working on the panel.

They aren’t doing it for fun or for extra spending money.

Members are investigating complex, serious and controversial issues related to county and local governmental bodies, special districts and school districts.

For their efforts, they receive just a small stipend for attending meetings and mileage reimbursement.

This year’s grand jury work culminated June 20 with a 113-page 2017-2018 Final Report, which includes findings and recommendations on 14 investigations. Those investigations range from the county’s affordable housing problem, school emergency preparedness to jails and holding facilities (all five venues looked at were found to be clean, well-maintained and secure).

Serving on the jury is a thankless and mostly anonymous job.

Due to its nature, the usually 19-member grand jury can only talk about their investigation and findings to each other. They can’t share information with their family, friends or work peers. Their work leading up to the final report is confidential; each juror is sworn to secrecy.

So being on this panel is not glamorous at all.

But serving on the grand jury benefits all Placer County residents. That’s because the panel is a watchdog of city and county agencies, local government and our schools. Occasionally, the district attorney asks the grand jury to determine whether there is enough evidence to indict someone in a criminal investigation.

In the words of Lincoln resident Denny Valentine, a former foreperson: “The grand jury reviews claims of fraud and abuse by government and agencies within Placer County and the grand jury reviews local practices and procedures for improving efficiencies.”

The grand jury is part of the county judicial system as authorized by the California Constitution. Although advised by the court, it is not accountable to elected officials or government employees, according to Placer County Superior Court grand jury coordinator and court executive assistant Rosalinda Cruz.

“The county grand jury plays a definite role in assuring that government is accountable to the public it serves,” said Jim Datzman, a Lincoln resident who served on the Placer County Grand Jury. “I will always appreciate the experience associated with this unique form of community service.”

This year’s grand jury was comprised of four Roseville residents, five Granite Bay residents, three Rocklin residents, five Auburn residents and one Lincoln resident.

The 2018-19 Placer County Grand Jury begins in a few days. The term is from July 1 through June 30, 2019.

“This past year, the number of applicants applying was down by 25 percent,” Cruz said. “With this past grand jury, however, the number of those who requested to carry over another year has doubled. For the most part, everyone who has served really enjoys the work they accomplished.”

If you’ve ever considered what it would be like to serve on the grand jury and help your community, it’s not too early to start thinking about next year’s panel.

As a relatively new Placer County resident, Datzman wanted to know how his new county differed from his former county of residence.

“Service on the county grand jury is a great form of education concerning government operations at all levels, including county government, school districts, municipalities and special districts,” Datzman said. “A year of service will definitely make you a better-educated resident.”

Valentine shared similar sentiments.

“It’s somewhat of a civic responsibility and very rewarding to better understand the functioning of our local government,” Valentine said.

Eligible candidates fill out a questionnaire in the spring and are interviewed by the grand jury’s advising judge and, if available, the grand jury foreperson.

Applicants must be United States citizens 18 years old or older, live in Placer County for at least one year immediately prior to serving, be computer-literate and have command of the English language.

For more information about serving on the grand jury, call 916-408-6186 or go online to placer.courts.ca.gov.