Watchdog goes to grand jury
Sutter County government critics took their disapproval of recent salary increases for county management-level employees and elected officials to the grand jury Wednesday.
The Sutter County Taxpayers Association filed a complaint with the grand jury, an entity that has been in the association's crosshairs in recent years.
The complaint, signed by SCTA President Robert Mackensen, asks the grand jury to “investigate Sutter County officials for misfeasance and wrongdoing.”
The complaint focuses on County Administrator Larry Combs and Personnel Director Joann Dobelbower, accusing them of not fully analyzing the long-term impact of the raises, refusing to provide data to Auditor-Controller Robert Stark and not being accurate in explaining salary differences between employee ranks.
“While we know the Grand Jury year is more than half over, we believe the incompetency and/or dishonesty by the CAO and Personnel Director is so egregious that it cannot remain unchallenged,” the letter said.
The Board of Supervisors approved a 5 percent pay raise for all management positions on Jan. 30, then an additional 10 percent increase for the county's six elected department heads on Feb. 13.
Reached Wednesday night, Combs said he could not comment on the complaint because he had not seen it.
“I'm rather surprised they submitted it to the grand jury because their previous accusation was the board and myself controlled the grand jury,” he said.
Mackensen said SCTA frequently sends information and complaints to the grand jury.
“We certainly forward our concerns after exhausting all other remedies, which we've felt compelled to do for years,” Mackensen said.
But the group has also been critical of the past two grand juries, which have levied indictments against Stark.
After the 2004-05 grand jury indicted Stark and his assistant, Ronda Putman, SCTA fired off a seven-page response to the grand jury's report, signed by Mackensen. In the letter, SCTA claims the grand jury “teamed up” with supervisors, Combs and District Attorney Carl Adams to develop the charges against Stark.
When Stark was indicted again by last year's grand jury, Mackensen was quoted as saying the jury “gets to hear only one side of the story.”
Mackensen expressed optimism about the current grand jury. “In California, the grand jury's responsibility is to keep an eye on government,” he said. “Around here for the last 10 years, the grand jury has existed to defend the government from the people. And we're hoping that will change.”
Mackensen said it's his hope the complaint would be forwarded to the next grand jury if the current panel is unable to take the case because it is so late in its term.
“That has happened in the past,” he said.