113

Shasta County Grand Jury’s Final Report Includes Coroner, Foster Kids, Clear Creek, Enterprise Park …

The 2022-23 Shasta County Grand Jury released its 20-page final report Thursday containing five investigations including:

  • Activities of City of Redding work crews and vehicles in a portion of Enterprise Park where various materials and debris were either discarded or stored for many years, much to the consternation of concerned neighbors and citizens whose children frequently used the park for outdoor recreation, family picnics, team sporting events, birthday parties, and special events.
  • A follow-up look at the Shasta County Coroner’s facilities, staff morale, and work practices after the 2021-22 Grand Jury issued a list of findings and recommendations to enlarge and improve the facility and its operations that were largely ignored or brushed aside by county supervisors and Sheriff Michael Johnson.
  • Reports of accounting problems, an alleged lack of board oversight, complaints of improper management practices, claims of high employee turnover, and problems regarding water acquisition and distribution issues in the Clear Creek Community Services District, located in the unincorporated Happy Valley area.
  • A close look at how Shasta County’s nearly 500 foster children are placed, cared for, and tracked by the county’s various programs administered by Shasta County’s Health and Human Services Agency and its partners.
  • An audit of more than 18 million dollars Shasta County and three incorporated cities — Redding, Anderson, and Shasta Lake — received through the federal CARES Act Business Grant Program designed primarily to assist businesses impacted by the COVID-19 Global Pandemic and a declaration of a local emergency by the Shasta County Board of Supervisors in mid-March 2020 that soon after activated an Emergency Disaster Program.

Empaneled in mid-December 2021, the 2022-23 Shasta County Grand Jury began its work in earnest in January 2022. During the ensuing 17 months ending in June 2023, the Grand Jury’s members gradually dwindled to 14, just two more than the bare minimum allowed by state law, according to the published report.

During its tenure, the 2022-23 Grand Jury completed 45 plenary meetings of the full membership body, witnessed five forensic autopsies conducted at the Shasta County Morgue, reviewed 38 confidential complaints, attended five public meetings of various county, city or special district boards and another three meetings with the Shasta County District Attorney.

Various members or committees toured the Shasta County Coroner’s Office, County Jail, and Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility, inspected Sugar Pine Conservation Camp’s facilities and grounds, visited Enterprise Park in Redding, toured the Butte County Coroners Facility, toured the Clear Creek Community Services District water treatment plant, toured the Redding Police Department’s Robert P. Blankenship building, exterior facilities, a mobile command scene and observed a drone demonstration.

Grand Jury members formed 10 work committees from their membership and those committees combined conducted nine investigations, held 83 confidential interviews, and distilled their findings into five investigative reports and one inclusive summary report published and included in the July 2023 issue of After Five: The North State Magazine, copies of which are also inserted into copies of The Intermountain News newspaper delivered or mailed to subscribers living in eastern Shasta County.

The following is a brief summary of each investigative report, its findings, and recommendation:

Another Look at the Shasta County Coroner’s Office

Following on the heels of a similar investigation conducted by the 2020-21 Shasta County Grand Jury, the 2022-23 Grand Jury made a special attempt to study and compare the Shasta County Coroner’s staffing and facilities with three adjacent counties: Humboldt, Butte, and Tehama.

Of the four, Butte County has the largest population with 208,309 according to the 2020 census while Tehama has the lowest with 65,498. Shasta is second in size with 182,139 people and Humboldt is third with a population of 136,310.

However, in terms of accidental death investigations handled by each county, Shasta County led with 1,132 cases in 2021, while Butte saw 980, Humboldt 535, and Tehama 306.

Since accidents happen at any time day or night and are often irrespective of weekends, holidays, and work days, proper facilities to store decedents until a forensic investigation can take place are essential, both Grand Jurys found.

Butte has the highest capacity and is able to refrigerate and store 44 decedents while Shasta only has space for 12, the smallest of all four counties. Humboldt can store 17 and Tehama, with just 25 percent of Shasta’s caseload, can accommodate 13.

Further, Butte County’s autopsy suite is large enough to accommodate three concurrent autopsies. Two of the autopsy tables are equipped with overhead cameras allowing remote observers to simultaneously monitor the investigations.

Staffing is also disparate, with Shasta County having five Deputy Coroner Investigators (DCI) overseen by the Chief Deputy Coroner and an elected Sheriff/Coroner. The Chief Deputy Coroner is assisted by an Administrative Secretary.

In Shasta County, the Chief Deputy Coroner is trained in law enforcement and is a sworn peace officer. The five DCIs are also sworn peace officers, although they are not required to be trained in law enforcement. They also receive training relating to their responsibilities of examining and transporting decedents as well as conducting research pertinent to finding a decedent’s legal next of kin.

California Government Code Section 27491 obligates the Coroner in each county to inquire into and determine the circumstances of death as well as the manner and cause of all violent, sudden, or unusual deaths including accidents, suicides, and homicides. Further, they must investigate deaths occurring at a workplace, hospital deaths occurring during surgery, and any in-custody deaths or those involving law enforcement.

Findings:
  • Shasta County Coroner’s office personnel struggle to keep up with their workload while other rural counties nearby benefit from volunteers from local colleges or universities.
  • Shasta County’s Deputy Coroner Investigators are occasionally left at the scene of a death without protection or assistance from law enforcement.
  • Shasta County’s refrigerated morgue can only be entered by passing through the autopsy suite. If an autopsy is in progress, this forces use of an alternate storage location.
  • Shasta County Coroner’s facility has an unpaved access yard and a manual gate. This contributes to unsafe working conditions for DCIs when transporting decedents to the facility.
  • Shasta County coroner’s facility is outdated and of insufficient size with a poorly designed floorplan, all of which hinder the efficient operation of the facility and its employees.
  • Shasta County Coroner’s current computer program is outdated and requires much data to be manually retrieved, thus increasing staff’s workload.
  • A grant is pending to replace the current computer program, however, it is contingent on the Board of Supervisors allocating additional funding to complete the purchase and install the program.
Recommendations:

Among the 2022-23 Grand Jury’s recommendations, four specifics were mentioned.

  • Create a volunteer program to alleviate staffing shortages by Jan. 1, 2025.
  • Allow DCIs some form of self-protection and provide necessary training.
  • Include life safety improvements in the county’s fiscal year 2024-25 budget proposal.
  • Investigate all opportunities for replacement of the current facility.

The 2022-23 Grand Jury did give one commendation for “the dedication and commitment (of the Shasta County Coroner’s Office staff) in executing their responsibilities and for the compassionate care shown by the personnel in considering the emotions and needs of the public they serve despite the . . . outdated condition, poor building design and limited resources.”

Clear Creek Community Services District

Clear Creek Gorge

A large (33.8 square mile) chunk of Happy Valley, sparsely populated since the mid-1860s when water from a gold miner’s ditch became available for agricultural users, has traditionally been a prosperous agricultural center, although its current 8,000 residents and farmers are constantly dependent upon water brought in by the 100-mile long Mule Town Conduit from Whiskeytown Lake, according to the 2022-23 Grand Jury’s research.

To augment the water supply, the services district maintains and pumps water from three deep wells in the district’s southern portion. A booster pump is needed to push that groundwater uphill to the gravity-flow distribution system.

The district is governed by an elected board of five directors who must be residents of the district. Day-to-day operations are handled by a general manager, an office manager, and a bookkeeper, who oversee a handful of employees.

“The former District General Manager was internally promoted in 2010, but resigned in August of 2021,” the 2022-23 Grand Jury report states.

Upon that resignation, multiple issues surfaced and within a month, the bookkeeper and office manager also resigned. In the ensuing months, other administrative personnel also left, and were replaced by people mostly unfamiliar with district operations, the report continues.

A general manager with water district experience was finally hired in November 2022.

Meanwhile, the Carr Fire in July of 2018 damaged the district’s water treatment plant and backwash recycling ponds while the COVID global pandemic heavily impacted the district’s ability to raise revenue through fees and payments due to a shortage of staff, the report continued.

District board minutes and other office records revealed the district’s cash flow problems and caused delays in receiving grants and loans for infrastructure repairs or replacement, the investigation showed.

Findings:

The 2022-23 Grand Jury enumerated its findings in their report.

  • District board members failed to provide oversight of management regarding payroll, overtime, and pay raises.
  • District board members failed to create and enforce equitable and effective policies and procedures for administrative personnel.
  • The district’s Financial Standing Committee failed to meet consistently to review finances and make recommendations to the board of directors.
  • The Planning and Steering Standing Committee failed to ensure reserve accounts were used for the purposes intended.
  • Board members failed to review monthly financial statements reflecting actual versus budgeted income and expenditures.
  • Board members failed to follow their own policies regarding maintaining adequate reserves to cover capital expenses for repairs and replacement of equipment and maintaining its water delivery system.
  • Insufficient planning by management contributed to the district’s inability to meet financial and budgetary responsibilities for daily operations and customer service.
  • Board members ignored independent audits identifying irreconcilable differences found in two district ledgers.
Commendations:

The Grand Jury commended the district’s customers who created the Happy Valley Community Committee for their persistence in helping to expose and correct problems with the service district.

They also applauded the efforts of the district’s Interim General Manager and other staff who continued to provide services under severe circumstances.

And finally, the 2022-23 Grand Jury lauded the district’s customers who volunteered many hours to update the backlog of meeting minutes and to audit individual customer accounts.

Shasta County CARES

As the world braced itself for the COVID-19 global pandemic, the US Congress passed a $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act which was signed into law and took effect on March 27, 2020. The CARES Act split the total amount available into relief funds for states, counties, and incorporated cities to provide financial aid to businesses affected adversely by the disease.

The 2022-23 Grand Jury focused its attention “solely on business grant programs within Shasta County.”

However, since privately-owned businesses do not fall within the Grand Jury’s purview, the Grand Jury investigated instead how grant funds were distributed, their report states.

Compounding the complexity of their study, the Grand Jury found the amount of funds originally allocated to Shasta County’s approximately 2,000 businesses in the unincorporated areas started at $100,000 and then gradually increased throughout the pandemic to top out at $4 million by the end of 2022.

Shasta County and each of the county’s three incorporated cities — Redding, Anderson, and the City of Shasta Lake — signed contracts with the nonprofit Forward Redding Foundation to conduct a regional approach to disbursing the grant funds, the Grand Jury report states.

Since businesses in the unincorporated areas of Shasta County are not required to have a business license and only register with the county when they operate under a Fictitious Business Name (FBN), a least 1,410 rural small businesses were found by the Grand Jury to be eligible for applying for the funds, but many did not since internet connections and other forms of communicating with those businesses owners were either limited or non-existent, the Grand Jury report states.

“Media coverage of CARES Act application procedures and processes was inadequate for the unincorporated areas of Shasta County,” the Grand Jury report concluded.

Findings:
  • Shasta County recognized the urgency to allocate CARES funds to support small businesses during this historical emergency.
  • The contract for the Shasta County CARES Business Grant Program, while prioritizing businesses in the unincorporated areas, contained no language with respect to how the goal should be achieved.
  • Lack of contract language for measurements and standards regarding grant awards in unincorporated areas unintentionally resulted in a majority of grants being disbursed to businesses within the county’s incorporated cities.
  • An amendment to the county’s distribution contract permitted duplicate awards even as many businesses on wait lists were unserved.
  • Areas within the county where there is limited or no access to Internet or cable television services, either due to economics or availability limitations, resulted in fewer business owners knowing about the CARES Act grant program.

Recommendations:

As a result of its research, the 2022-23 Grand Jury made three recommendations specifically for the Shasta County Board of Supervisors:

  • Evaluate and assess best practices to ascertain emergency county-wide needs as well as a quick response to those needs during a declared national, state, and local emergency.
  • Include clear contract language to specifically measure all provisions of a contract are fully monitored and met.
  • Identify the areas within Shasta County lacking Internet services and establish alternate methods of communication within those areas.
Are Foster Kids at Risk in Shasta County?

At any given time, approximately 500 children in Shasta County are in the county’s foster care system and placed into temporary resource housing for days, months, and sometimes years, the 2022-23 Grand Jury found in an investigation of various programs all administered or under the umbrella of the super-agency known as Shasta County’s Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA).

The Grand Jury investigated not only how the county’s foster care services of HHSA work, but particularly how children are placed and monitored within the multi-layered system of care designed to provide the physical, medical, and mental health needs of each child, the Grand Jury report states.

Within the foster care services system, there are three classifications of case workers — those who handle family reunification, those who work with children in permanent placement (adoption), and those who work on family maintenance issues, the Grand Jury report explains.

Children enter the foster care system for many reasons including the death of a parent or parents who die without a will designating a legal guardian. Other parents may be physically unable to care for a child due to incarceration, addiction, neglect, or abuse, the Grand Jury found.

“When a child needs to be removed from a home, regardless of the circumstances, the first choice is to place them with family members or close family friends in order to spare them from as much trauma as possible,” the Jury reports.

“When practical, siblings are placed with the same foster family. Occasionally, a child is (children) are) placed in a home outside of Shasta County, particularly if family members live elsewhere,” the report continues.

Findings:
  • Multiple agencies and departments are responsible for the placement and care of foster children to assure constant accountability for each child.
  • Child safety is a high priority.
  • Various steps track and trace children throughout the system through use of a computer system which helps assure no child is lost.
  • While the HHSA tracking system is thorough, occasional delays of information provided from various sources can delay tracking of a foster child or children.
  • Despite a significant recent shift in HHSA management, there remains a team effort to ensure the agency continues to provide the foster care services for which it is responsible.
  • Funds for Resource (Foster) Families are provided by federal and state sources for each child in the system.
  • Whenever possible, Shasta County HHSA tries to house children with a family member or close family friend. Also, great effort is made to keep each child in a familiar school setting.
  • These policies provide each child with his or her best chance of a comfortable environment, thus reducing stress under what is often a traumatic experience.
  • Resource (Foster) Families go through rigorous background screening to ensure the safety of each child placed in the home.
  • Vacant positions in the county’s Foster Care Department adversely increase the number of cases assigned to each worker.
Recommendations:

The 2022-23 Grand Jury made the following two recommendations:

  • HHSA administrators should be more aggressive in recruiting to fill positions including consideration of new ways to advertise and recruit employees.
  • HHSA should also actively recruit new Resource (Foster) Families within Shasta County.
Enterprise Community Park

Finally, the 2022-23 Shasta County Grand Jury undertook an investigation prompted by citizen complaints of City of Redding Public Works trucks and employees using a portion of Enterprise Community Park for discarding, storing, or disposing of a variety of materials including mounds of ground asphalt, tree stumps, tree rounds, cut brush, scrap lumber, discarded vehicle tires and unidentified liquids, among other things.

Concerns raised by members of the public included whether the liquid sludge was toxic, contaminated, or could contaminate groundwater as well as nearby Churn Creek; whether the mounds of combustible materials could constitute a fire hazard when stored unmonitored on park grounds; and whether the City of Redding is developing an unpermitted landfill at the site.

“The Grand Jury deemed these and additional questions warranted investigation,” the report summary states.

Through a series of confidential interviews with City of Redding employees, the Grand Jury learned a portion of the park’s used as a storage area for materials that are eventually recycled. For example, tree stumps and rounds are chipped and used for landscaping on various city properties. Asphalt is ground up and used as base material for street and pipeline repair.

Large Vacuum Containment (Vac-Com) trucks reclaim water, road base, and soil from various public works projects throughout the city and discharge their loads in a designated area of the lower park, away from any play areas and in an area that contains the sludge from draining into Churn Creek, the Grand Jury members learned.

Since the Grand Jury’s original visits to the site in 2022 and early 2023, many areas are now free of such materials, the report states.

Findings:
  • City of Redding Public Works has utilized the lower level of Enterprise Park as a dumping area for assorted types of debris without any management plan or direct oversight by city administrators.
  • There is no accounting or documentation by the city for the types of disposed materials nor their quantity.
  • Some of the disposed materials are dumped at the park by city employees, and other materials were dumped there by unknown individuals without the consent or permission of the city.
  • The City of Redding has failed to secure the area in a manner sufficient to prevent or deter dumping of materials and debris by unknown individuals.
  • Various materials and debris remain stored at the lower tier of the park, although the size and quantity of such materials have visibly decreased throughout 2023.
  • City employees intend to continue to use the lower tier of the park as a location to dump substances and materials excavated from city project sites. The city’s use of the park for this purpose does not appear to be prohibited by any local rules or laws.
Recommendations:

The 2022-23 Grand Jury, therefore, recommends the following to protect the public using the park.

  • By Nov. 1, Redding Public Works Department and Parks & Recreation Department shall collaborate to develop a management plan for all levels (tiers) of Enterprise Community Park including plans and measures to eliminate, prevent or mitigate illegal dumping.
  • By Nov. 1, the same two departments listed above shall develop an accounting system to track the content and quantity of material deposited on Enterprise Community Park.
  • By Nov. 1, the same previously named departments shall collaborate to develop a plan to recycle, remove or otherwise properly dispose of materials dumped or discarded at the park.
  • By Nov. 1, the aforementioned departments shall collaboratively replace the locks on gates across roads leading to the lower tiers of the park and keep a key inventory of city staff allowed access to the area.

Members of the 2022-23 Shasta County Grand Jury included Foreperson Debra Joseph, Pro-Ten Kim Cuthbertson, and members Diane Kinyn, Lori Moretti, Scott Halsey, Darrell Story, Terri Brown, Ona Cranfill, Bob Cathaway, Nancy Patterson, Sue Bakke, Andrea Wegner, Dianna Harr, and Mimi Moseley.

Starting July 1, the 2023-24 Shasta County Grand Jury will begin meeting to investigate complaints from citizens regarding any county or city government entity, public school, fire, water, or special services district operating under the State of California’s open meetings law, often called the Ralph M. Brown Act.

###

If you appreciate journalist George Winship’s accurate reporting, please consider a contribution to A News Cafe. Thank you.

George Winship

George Winship is a long-time Shasta County resident with a wide range of professional and community experience. After earning a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, he joined the Redding Record Searchlight as an award-winning reporter, and was the paper’s first business editor. He worked as a district field representative for Senator Maurice Johannessen, and later became editor of the Anderson Valley Post. Winship is a former Shasta County Grand Jury member. He owns and operates The Village Wordsmith, where he edits and rewrites clients’ book manuscripts, and works as a researcher and freelance feature writer. He can be reached at gwinship@shasta.com.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

113 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments