[Alameda & Contra Costa counties] Opinion: Contra Costa, Alameda County grand juries need members

Have time? Want to make a difference? Volunteers can help ensure our tax dollars are spent wisely


Blog note: this opinion piece trying to recruit grand jours for 2019-20 is for two counties. This is the first time that I have seen the promotion in the media of grand jury service in more than one county. It certainly makes sense in some media markets. 

Would you be proud to be one of the authors of the following reports written in 2018?

• Contra Costa’s opioid crisis, how many people are impacted, what drugs are involved, what is being done and recommendations on what else to do.

• A report on Oakland’s unfunded liability for retiree health care coverage growing to $860 million. This report prompted the city’s police officers to step up and make concessions to significantly lessen the impact of this crisis.

• BART’s crime trends, budgeting and number of officers. The report  included recommendations on ways the transit agency might better use its resources.

These are a few of the reports issued by the Contra Costa County and Alameda County civil grand juries.

And what is a civil grand jury?  It is 19 volunteers in each county willing to spend time investigating local government and reporting on their findings.

You might have heard in the news or on television about grand juries that deal with criminal matters.  A civil grand jury does not deal with crime, and it is not directed at a specific issue.  It is charged with being a “watchdog” over local government — counties, cities, schools and special districts.

Each county in California is required to have a civil grand jury. The members serve for one year, so new volunteers are needed annually. Now is the time to apply for the 2019-20 grand jury. Serving is a big commitment; the number of hours per week add up.  But it has the potential for a big impact.

The greater the variety of skills jurors have the more effective they can be.  And the better they know their county the better they can identify what should be investigated.  The rules for becoming a civil grand juror are:

• You must be a county resident age 18 or older.

• You must have been a resident of the county for at least a year.

• You should be willing to commit about 20 hours per week to grand jury service.

• You must be willing to keep your investigations secret until they are published.

Also:

• You will need to work with fellow members of the grand jury (there is no one telling the jury what to investigate — only the jury decides).

• You only have the power of public persuasion — you cannot force any entity you investigate to do anything except respond to your findings and your recommendations.

Applications for serving on the next grand jury must be submitted by March 22 for Contra Costa and April 15 for Alameda County.  If you’re interested, you can get an application at the following sites:

• For Alameda County residents:  http://grandjury.acgov.org

• For Contra Costa County residents: www.cc-courts.org/civil/grand-jury.aspx

Many who serve on grand juries find the experience fulfilling. In some cases, it opens doors to long-term paths of volunteering to help others.

Most importantly, as a grand juror you will learn more about your local governments — what they do, how they do it, and why they do what they do.  You will have the opportunity to make constructive recommendations to ensure all of our tax dollars are spent wisely.

March 5, 2019

The Mercury News

By Richard Knowles (Contra Costa County) and Janet Clark (Alameda County). Both are former grand jurors and members of the California Grand Jurors’ Association.

County: