City Council told Grand Jury looking for applicants, deadline is April 16

March 24, 2010
Santa Paula City Council

More residents of the Santa Paula and Fillmore area should apply to the Grand Jury, the panel’s foreman pro tem told the City Council at the March 15 meeting. “One of the main reasons I’m here tonight is recruitment,” said Lou Cunningham.

“The last three or four years I know of no one from the city of Santa Paula or the surrounding community” who have served on the jury. “The judges and ourselves like to see greater representation,” Cunningham noted.

The jury is comprised of a “body of notable citizens” who tackle issues often affiliated with “wrong doers.” In addition, the jury is a watchdog of local government. Jurors serve one-year terms, and of the 19 members this year 10 were holdovers from the previous year. 

The jury’s scope of duties include civil oversight by examining operations of all county departments - excepting courts, which are state agencies - as well as special districts and unincorporated areas. Each jury makes selections for review and acts on complaints, including those left over from the previous jury.

The jury visits county and city facilities such as jails, conducts independent research, audits selected operations and recommends changes. The latter, said Cunningham, can be a source of frustration to jurors.

“One of the problems is to get people to sign up for a year, and when you get the report out all you have to do is give a response.... Some people get very frustrated” that recommended change is not mandatory.

The jury welcomes complaints regarding special district/agency, city or county government that can be filed online. “Malfeasance,” noted Cunningham, “doesn’t come up very often, and misconduct” is usually passed on to county legal authorities. The jury “looks at inefficiencies,” and all complaints must be in writing and must be signed.

To qualify for the Grand Jury a person must be a Ventura County resident 18 years or older, be able to read and write English, and “must be of good character. They can’t have major restrictions” such as a severe handicap. Cunningham said jurors are required to conduct many “protocol visits,” such as to city halls, the county hospital, sheriff’s and police departments, the morgue, etc., that require physical activity.

The Grand Jury is broken down into several committees who consider such issues as auditing finance and administration; county, cities and special districts; health, education and welfare; and law, justice and public safety, among others. Serving on the jury, said Cunningham, is an education, and those seeking public office would benefit from jury service.

The deadline for applying for Grand Jury service 2010-2011 is April 16, a date he said might be extended if not enough applications are received. That same day will feature a Grand Jury Open House from noon to 2 p.m. including a light lunch at the jury’s Victoria Avenue Government Center offices.

“Feel free to come and join us. My main thing tonight was to recruit some people,” and Cunningham said he hopes the televised council meeting helps raise awareness and bring jury applicants.

“Is there compensation at all” for jury service, asked Vice Mayor Fred Robinson. Cunningham said jurors are paid $25 a day; protocol visits are Monday and Friday, the main meeting is Tuesday, and there are additional committee meetings.

Jurors are also paid mileage in addition to their duty pay: “With me I get about $500 a month,” said Cunningham, a resident of Ventura. A juror living in Simi Valley, he added, could be compensated as much as $1,200 a month for jury meetings and mileage.

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