Have you ever wanted to be an investigative reporter? Do you suspect funny business, creative budgeting, government wastefulness or inefficiencies?
Do you believe it is a citizen’s responsibility to watchdog our elected and appointed officials? Would you have the courage to recommend positive change?
Mimi Kalland and Maryellen Simkins of Los Osos recommend serving on the grand jury and applying by March 30.
Kalland served from 2006 to 2007 and said, “It was an amazing experience to have 18 people of disparate backgrounds and disciplines meet, investigate and agree. There’s something empowering about 18 people recommending solutions about government operations.”
After serving with Kalland, Simkins applied to stay through 2008 as forewoman tasked to design the training program for the new jurists.
“You learn all about the county departments and how they work — or don’t work and should work.”
Each panel decides together what they will investigate and what to report. Twelve to 20 reports are filed. Reports are made public, and departments respond defensively or acknowledge and pledge to honor the recommendations.
“When we investigated a complaint about voter machines, it was an election year and we thoroughly investigated all phases. Our report praised (county Clerk-Recorder) Julie Rodewald’s genius,” Simkins said.
Any citizen can send in complaints or suggestions for the grand jury to consider.
Once the 18 jurists plus 18 alternates are interviewed, selected and impaneled by the presiding judge, they begin training for $15 a day and mileage learning their subpoena powers and responsibilities during their July 1 through June 30 service.
“It starts with mornings two times a week. Later in the process, it takes more time for the group to investigate complaints or a department that hasn’t been reviewed recently. Then it takes time to agree and time to write final reports,” Simkins said.
“It’s a unique group,” Kalland said. “Everyone starts from scratch to learn, and each has their own talents to offer — 18 people cooperating. One rule is we have to work together, at least in pairs, even making phone calls.”
Both women were awed visiting county jails wearing bulletproof vests. Each was converted and is now passionate that the county needs to invest in a new women’s jail.
Kalland appreciated their impact on countywide planning departments to review their historical building procedures after investigating a rejected development plan for Paso Robles’ Farmers Alliance building.
Simkins is pleased they reported recommendations for handling bullying in schools.
Do you have the right stuff to ask the tough questions? Applications are due March 30 for 2011-12.
Applicants should have open minds, basic computer skills, dedicated time to serve and enjoy working with new friends. Contact 788-7062 or www.slocourts.net/grand_jury.
Contact Judy Salamacha at email@example.com or 801-1422.