Pretty good Grand Jury report this year! 

The annual reports from the Humboldt County Grand Jury — that august body of (mostly) senior citizens that convenes to scrutinize local government — vary wildly in quality. Sometimes the thing is dominated by supine rubber-stampers, A-OK with almost everything and disinclined to dig too deeply. Other times the report seems guided by a conspiratorial and frustrated hand, which sees dirty doings behind every matter it fails to comprehend completely.

On first reading, the past year’s crop of jurists seems to have been Just Right — curious, inquisitive, firm. Here are some possible headlines.

I. End Midnight Releases Now! One of the hot-button issues of the year, which sprung to the forefront of public consciousness after the killing of Father Eric Freed on January 1. Why does the Sheriff’s Office release people from the Humboldt County jail in the dead of night, when they are without transportation and possibly dozens of miles from home?

The Sheriff’s Office revised its procedures in response to public outcry — but it didn’t revise them enough, the GJ thinks. The annual report recommends that the Sheriff’s Office completely stop releasing people from jail between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., and it basically pooh-poohs the sheriff’s position that such a policy might violate the civil rights of the incarcerated.

II. Mattole Valley Charter School and the Humboldt Lodging Alliance are Pretty Shady. Each of these organizations gets a big thumbs-down for transparency, in addition to some question as to the particulars of their finances.

The GJ goes over the county’s charter school scene pretty thoroughly and offers a lot of high praise all the way around. Test scores are good to great, are parents and community members are (mostly) kept in the loop. (A couple of schools could do a little bit better, but it’s all good.)

The big exception: Mattole Valley Charter, which operates 12 “learning centers” around Humboldt and neighboring counties, and, according to the GJ

There […] appears to be a complete lack of specific School Accountability Report Card data generally on the Mattole Valley Charter’s website for any of the individual “learning centers” that are spread throughout Humboldt County and the contiguous counties bordering Humboldt.M attole Valley Charter School runs these “learning centers” and receives full funding for the enrollees. However, there is virtually no specific information for interested parents regarding the quality of information in these “learning centers.”  …

In short, the public must simply take on faith, rather than on hard data, that 1) there are revenue-generating students at those “Learning Centers,” educated by qualified teachers; and 2) those students are, indeed, participating in the state’s mandated testing program, a requirement for funding.

Moreover, the Grand Jury notes that the Mattole Unified School District appears to be squirreling away the $6 million it receives from the state at a shocking rate. In 2011-2012 it had reserve funds of $2.75 million, on an annual budget of $6.2 million — something like 6 times the recommended levels of reserve funding.

Meanwhile, the Humboldt Lodging Alliance — that entity, essentially the same personnel as the Humboldt Convention and Visitors Bureau, set up to spend the millions raised by a 2 percent bed tax that local hotels and motels decided to bill themselves a few years ago — is a shambles of transparency, the GJ charges. The Lodging Alliance is failing to post meeting agendas and minutes to its website, and it doesn’t appear to be reporting to anyone exactly what it’s doing with its cash, as would technically be required by state law.

III. Let’s Zone Land for Homeless Encampments! In a section on the plight of homeless veterans in Humboldt County, the GJ recomments, contra Rob Arkley, that county government should actually zone to permit “sanctuaries and/or campgrounds” for the homeless population, and looks at other communities where such programs are working.

IV. Humboldt County Code Enforcement Sucks … Because It’s Not Enforcing Code! Kind of a flip-around from the days of the backwoods reign of terror of the Kode Kops: Complaints to the Housing and Community Development’s Code Enforcement Unit are being habitually ignored, the GJ says.

Plus: The above are perhaps the highlights, but there are a whole range of other matters discussed in the text of the report. The Northern Humboldt Union High School District is, in fact, complying with the Brown Act, the GJ says. Last year someone witnessed the Eureka Police Department handcuffing a distressed 13-year-old — this leads to an investigation of and meditation on “How Do We Deal With Children In Crisis?” Humboldt County roads are in a shocking state of repair, but we appear to spend as much here as they do in Del Norte and other counties. City of Arcata employees seem unsure about what is historically significant architecture and what is not.

Good reading! Let us know what you find. Thank you, Humboldt County Grand Jury!