Update on Timber Receipts
Editor's Note: The following article on the future of the Secure Rural Schools Act includes quotes by Sean Curtis, Modoc County resource advisor.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
|District Attorney Christopher Brooke|
DA Brooke Silent on Treasury Investigation
It’s been four months since the Modoc County grand jury sent a formal letter to District Attorney Christopher Brooke requesting that he conduct a criminal investigation of the $20 million treasury misappropriation -- and he has not responded.
“There’s a lot of frustration,” admitted former grand jury foreperson Wes Cook of Surprise Valley. “If the state constitution said we didn’t have to have a grand jury there wouldn’t be one in this county. The officials don’t want to have anything to do with the grand jury.”
The grand jury not only asked Brooke to initiate an investigation of the misappropriation and the county officers linked to it, the jury also made the same request of Superior Court Judge Francis Barclay and State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris -- each in early June.
Only Barclay has answered with a letter rationalizing that there was no logic in his impaneling a criminal grand jury to pursue the illegal misappropriation unless there was a prosecutor to investigate the charges.
Which brings the grand jury back to Brooke, who is not saying anything publicly.
Frequent messages left with his office for the last month have not been returned nor has a lengthy media query filed by e-mail been answered by Brooke other than a staff member explaining that Brooke -- at one point -- was trying a murder case, which he ultimately lost.
Brooke’s silence and apparent refusal to say publicly whether he intends to investigate the single largest financial scandal in Modoc County’s history does not support a campaign promise he made back in May of last year.
At that time Brooke, a candidate for the district attorney’s seat, was asked by the Modoc Independent News if he would initiate his own investigation into the county officials’ illegal misappropriation of funds and seek prosecution if the investigation warranted it?
Brooke replied, “If, as district attorney, I become aware of meritorious allegations of misconduct by any public official, I will use all available resources to ensure that a thorough, fair and complete investigation is conducted. If such an investigation produces evidence of misconduct, all individuals involved will be prosecuted.”
Brooke apparently overlooked or forgot that campaign promise, so the Modoc Independent News asked officers of the California Grand Jury Association (CGJA), which trained the last two Modoc County grand juries, what recourse does the public have in holding Brooke to his campaign promise and also make him accountable to the grand jury.
“My initial thought is that if last year's grand jury had written a more specific report and had made a recommendation that the district attorney pursue this action, then at least he would have been required to respond,” explained a spokeswoman for the CGJA.
“We did those letters because we wanted them to go out and not be edited by anybody,” Cook explained. “They were not to be seen by anybody until after they were mailed. We did not think about using state statues as references, I don’t know how you would do that. We wanted them in the grand jury report but Judge Barclay said no.”
On Sept. 24 the CGJA representative said she would refer the matter to the CGJA’s legislative affairs committee for an opinion. There has been no word from that committee as yet.
Posted by BMarch at 8:35 PM
Monday, October 3, 2011
Supes (Finally) Adopt Budget, Now What?
The Modoc County Board of Supervisors last Friday unanimously adopted a $67.8 million budget for the current fiscal year.
The budget approval, three months late in arriving but legal under state law, was unanimous. In better economic times this would be cause for jubilation, but these are not better times.
For starters, the county has been skirting insolvency for nearly two years because it has been taking restricted funds from its depleted treasury under the sketchy reasoning of a court decision called Auerbach vs. Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.
There is an argument that the county is wrongly applying the Auerbach decision because there is an appeal addendum to the decision that no one, apparently, in county officialdom has read.
If Auerbach is wrongly applied, the withdrawal of treasury funds could collapse at any time, leaving the county with no source of cash flow. If the Modoc County application of Auerbach were correct, no county in California, including Modoc, would need to issue any bonds.
And if the Auerbach application is correct, why doesn't Los Angeles County, or any other county, do the same as Modoc County -- and draw non-guarded funds from their treasuries? Apparently, they do not. In other words, Modoc County is taking a major risk and it can’t count on the state to bail it out.
In fact, there is an unconfirmed report that the Board of Supervisors has been told it needs to move quickly to implement a plan for repaying the treasury because there is a growing movement by other counties to compel the State Controller’s Office, State Treasury and Attorney General to force Modoc County to fix its financing problems.
As for the issuance of bonds, while once thought dead and buried, it is now being revived but possibly smaller in scale. Still, any sale will result in not only an annual debt service to be paid by the county, but a tax increase in some form.
Unhappy taxpayers can look to the county officials who took monies from the treasury for nearly 10 years for answers as to why the county is flat broke and looking for an angel.
One short-term solution to negative cash flow the county is seriously considering is the sale of property. The Belli Building on Main Street and the so-called Fourth Street Complex are likely candidates for the auction block. Which begs the question, if the county sells off prime property what will it have left to use as collateral for a bond sale?
These questions and many others have been asked but so far no county official has either had the time or the willingness to answer them.
- Property tax revenues are down. Property owners are not paying their tax bills, and there has been a reduction of assessed values.
- The county library system is in jeopardy of running out of funds early next year.
- The waste management enterprise fund is projected to require an infusion of funds within this fiscal year to continue operation. CAO Chester Robertson confirms, “We are taking a drastic approach to waste management and roads and the county has to take immediate action.”
- The hospital debt is acknowledged at $13,061,628 as of Aug. 30, 2011. Now, however, the hospital is off the county books and the county is still taking restricted funds, to the tune of $1,870,301 also as of Aug. 30, according to figures provided by Auditor Darcy Locken.
Which brings us to the question of hindsight, so we asked CAO Robertson if the county did not have access to the treasury what would be its financial condition today?
“Probably much better than it is now,” he answered. “Had they not had access to the treasury in the past, the county would have been required to make extremely hard decisions that were deferred to the county officials working on the financial issues we face today.”
-- Ray A. March
Posted by BMarch at 6:46 PM