The 2018-19 Del Norte County Grand Jury report is available to the public, but don’t be surprised to find it a little thin.
Though the original membership was 19, this year’s Grand Jury had difficulty maintaining a quorum, Foreperson Anthony Trombetti said in a letter to Judge Darren McElfresh introducing to the report. Trombetti thanked his colleagues, the “fortuitous fourteen,” and suggested updating the recruitment process so it functions like grand juries from counties with similar demographics to Del Norte.
“Requesting volunteers to apply will increase the amount of potential jurors and also increase the level of commitment,” he said in his introduction.
This year’s 12-page document, released July 9, includes the first Grand Jury investigation of the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority and Jack McNamara Field since 2012. The Grand Jury also investigated Alder Camp, the Del Norte County Juvenile Detention Facility, Remi Vista Inc. Youth and Family Services, and the Del Norte County Fairgrounds, Recreation and Parks Special District.
During its investigation of the airport, jurors toured the new terminal, taxiways and hangars for both private and commercial planes in December 2018. They also interviewed airport staff and airplane owners, reviewed FAA regulations relating to hangar usage as well as the airport authority’s hangar lease agreements, according to the report.
According to the Grand Jury’s investigation, the airport authority leases out eight hangars that are leased out. The other 19 hangars are privately owned on land leased from the airport authority at 10 cents per square foot for privately-owned hangars and 20 cents per square foot for hangars the airport authority owns.
To access the hangars, renters are given a card with which to access an electric gate, according to the Grand Jury report. However it found that access to the non-commercial secure area is not “as secure as it should be.”
The Grand Jury found that more than one hangar is used for non-aviation purposes and commercial trucks accessing those hangars have blocked private aircraft on the taxiway. Non-aviation use is permissible if “certain conditions are met and Federal Aviation Administration approval is given via a written agreement,” according to the report. However, jurors found no agreements in place between the FAA and the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority for non-aviation use of hangars.
Grand Jurors found roofing materials and loose shingles cluttering the taxiway, presenting a hazard to planes. They noted that compliance with FAA regulations would generate more revenue for the authority and would remove the risk of losing federal funding.
The Grand Jury recommended the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority review its hangar leases, inspect hangars for proper usage, establish random hangar inspection, review the use of access cards to prevent unauthorized people from accessing the airport and institute routine inspection to remove foreign objects from the taxiway.
Airport Director Randy Hooper said Monday the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority will likely consider a response to the Grand Jury report at its Aug. 1 meeting. He said authority board members will probably respond to the individual charges one by one, but said he doesn’t foresee them having any serious concerns with its findings.
Hooper said he talked with representatives of both the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration. In response to the Grand Jury’s findings regarding its hangar policies, Hooper said he was assured by the FAA representative that the Airport Authority’s practices were acceptable.
Meanwhile, the TSA conducted its annual inspection of the airport and “didn’t have any issues,” he said.
“It won’t be that complex of a response,” Hooper said, referring to the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority’s response to the Grand Jury report.
New for this year’s Grand Jury was the formation of a “continuity committee,” created in response to the public perception that “‘nothing is done after the reports are published’” to follow up last year’s investigations, Trombetti said in his introduction to the 2018-19 report. This year the committee followed up on an investigation of the Del Norte County Fairgrounds, Recreation and Parks Special District.
Last year’s Grand Jury sought to shed light on how the special district works. Created by voters in 2014 along with a 0.25 percent sales tax increase set to sunset in 2022, the new special district board is tasked with securing the facility’s financial sustainability. The special local district works alongside California’s 41st District Agricultural Association to govern the fairgrounds, which lost its state funding in 2011.
Last year, 2017-18 Grand Jury recommended the local special district resubmit a lease agreement with the State of California to the new governor after the November 2018 election. The lease agreement would transfer possession, control and management of the fairgrounds from the 41st District Agricultural Association to the special district.
The 2017-18 Grand Jury also encouraged both boards to continue operating under a memorandum of understanding to transfer a portion of the sales tax revenue to the 41st District to operate the fairgrounds.
This year’s continuity committee found that the special district hired an employee to handle its fiscal responsibilities and has been posting “relevant board data” for both the special district and the 41st District.
The continuity committee encouraged the local special district to provide more detailed accounting of income, expenditures and money transfers. The district should also establish a policy for specific transfer requests from the 41st District Agricultural Association, according to the 2018-19 Grand Jury Report.
The 2018-19 Grand Jury continuity committee recommended the special district to find other means of sharing their data since posting of special district meetings and financials on dnfair.org isn’t the 41st District Agricultural Association’s responsibility.
The 2018-19 Grand Jury also encouraged the special district to hire new staff and train the current staff about banking, accounting and financials to prevent errors, embezzlement and fraud and “so they can communicate with transparency.”
When asked for a response to the 2018-19 Grand Jury report, fairgrounds CEO Kim Floyd said she works for the 41st District Agricultural Association, not the special district, and directed questions to special district board president Steven Westbrook. Westbrook was not available for comment Monday.
An electronic copy of the 2018-19 Grand Jury Report and previous years’ reports along with responses can be found at http://www.co.del-norte.ca.us/.