Nevada County Grand Jury urges more transparency for special districts
The 2018-2019 Nevada County Grand Jury last week issued a report on 24 special districts, recommending steps be taken to ensure more transparency and outreach.
The districts surveyed include Nevada Irrigation District, eight fire districts including Nevada County Consolidated, and parks and recreation districts including Oak Tree Park and Western Gateway. The grand jury report noted that their combined annual budgets total more than $140 million, with the districts’ budgets ranging from less than $13,000 a year to nearly $60 million.
A previous grand jury found that many special district boards are staffed by well-intentioned volunteers who lack sufficient training or knowledge of their responsibilities. Last year, the grand jury found special district boards needed better training in ethics and the Brown Act, which governs how board meetings are conducted.
“The jury continued its analysis … and found that there were weaknesses in other areas including transparency and outreach,” this year’s report states. “For example, the jury found that not all districts have websites, and that some websites were not updated with current information.”
Existing law requires special districts to have websites with convenient access to board meeting agendas, the report noted. And a new law means that as of 2020, special district websites must clearly list contact information. The report further noted that one way of meeting public records requirements would be to post any requested documents on the district website.
The new report found that not all special districts had a required conflict of interest policy, and recommended adding that policy to their websites as well as financial and code of conduct information as part of their bylaws.
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