[Napa County] Napa's Board of Supervisors tells grand jury it's not ignoring past reports

The 2017-18 Napa County grand jury wants to make certain its predecessors received more than lip service from Napa County on issues ranging from elections to food safety.

This citizen watchdog group, which works under the authority of the Napa County Superior Court, asked the county if it followed through on certain recommendations made by previous grand juries in years gone by.

The county Board of Supervisors has approved answers that amounted to saying that the county takes input from grand juries seriously, even if it sometimes disagrees with the advice.

One recommendation came from the 2012-13 grand jury report on the county Election Division. That report noted that, because the Registrar of Voters is an elected position, the county cannot appoint an independent elections board as an elections overseer.

“The grand jury is concerned that the Registrar of Voters is the sole and final arbiter of ballot inspection and verification for his own election,” the report said.

County supervisors back then said these issues required further analysis. Today’s grand jury is asking, ‘Did you ever follow through?’

Yes, the Board of Supervisors said in its latest response. The Board in 2013 discussed the matter and concluded that an elected Registrar of Voters position is more cost-effective and efficient.

The 2014-15 grand jury looked at training for the county’s 200 volunteer firefighters. It found that training class times often were inconvenient for volunteers with full-time jobs and that more qualified trainers were needed.

“All the people interviewed acknowledged that ongoing training was the biggest issue for all volunteers,” the 2014-15 report said.

The grand jury recommended asking for input from all volunteer firefighters on training issues and presenting a plan to resolve the issues. The county responded that it would do so by Dec. 31, 2015.

Task accomplished, the Board of Supervisors said in its latest response, approved in January.

The 2014-15 grand jury issued a report titled “Are Napa County Wineries Following the Rules?” The grand jury concluded the county needed to do more to make certain wineries comply with county-issued use permits limiting wine production and visitation.

One flaw the grand jury found was that county’s annual winery audit looks at about 20 wineries and the county has more than 450 wineries. The grand jury wanted all wineries audited at least once every five years.

The county’s latest response said the Board of Supervisors has since held six workshops on the topic, as well as had other discussions at public meetings. The Board could approve a new winery audit regime in coming months.

If all goes as planned, the county will audit all wineries in the unincorporated county every year to see if they are complying with their county-approved wine production limits.

The 2015-16 grand jury looked at the county’s inspection program for 750 restaurants and food trucks. It praised the county’s efforts to reduce the risk of customers falling ill from contaminated food.

But the grand jury also had a recommendation – expand resources devoted to the training of restaurant owners and employees on food safety practices.

The county’s latest response said the program is operating efficiently and meeting its minimum responsibilities with no increased public health risks. Food safety education efforts can’t be expanded because an increase in restaurants and food events keeps staff focused on routine inspections and follow-ups.

But the county could look again within two years at increasing food inspection staff.

That is only a sampling of the 2017-18 grand jury’s follow-up questions and the county’s responses. The two parties went over certain recommendations contained in 12 reports.

While the 2017-18 grand jury wanted to know if Napa County paid more than lip service to past grand juries, it also wanted county officials to keep their lips sealed publicly when replying. But that didn’t happen.

Supervisors first took up the issue in December during a public session to the consternation of the Grand Jury. Grand Jury foreperson Alan Charles Dell’Ario said the Grand Jury wanted the county to simply send over the answers in private and accused county officials of violating “investigative confidentiality.”

But county officials said answers from the Board of Supervisors had to be approved by the Board of Supervisors during a public meeting. They also said they didn’t know the grand jury’s requests were part of an ongoing investigation.

The fracas seems to be over, at least for now.

“They said they didn’t understand what we wanted,” Dell’Ario said last week. “I have some reservations about that answer, but that’s (their) answer and we’ve moved on at this point.”

February 7, 2018

Napa Valley Register

By Barry Eberling

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