A Valencia County resident has collected more than 900 signatures requesting a grand jury investigation into why the county is in financial crisis.
Next, the Bureau of Elections will verify that the signatures are valid and belong to registered voters. According to the law, 2 percent of the registered voters, or 670 people in Valencia County, must sign a petition in order to convene a grand jury.
“I’m reasonably certain we’ll hit that number,” said Bill Brown, president of the Rio Communities Association, who spearheaded the effort to circulate the petitions.
The petition was submitted to the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s office.
It asks a grand jury to investigate and audit the county’s finances “to determine whether there are any acts of malfeasance, misappropriation of funds and any other illegal acts committed in relation to the operation and practices of the Valencia County budget, business and finances.”
The investigation should include, but not be limited to, budgeting practices, financial status reporting practices and whether the county is in violation of state policies and guidelines, the petition said.
Among the grievances to be addressed are “accountability, fiduciary responsibility, management control, budget integrity and possible dereliction of duty.”
After the bureau of elections verifies the signatures, the petition will go to a judge who will determine whether a grand jury should be convened, Brown said. The case has been assigned to District Judge John Pope.
If enough signatures are verified, Pope can hear the case. Pope can recuse himself from the case, however, if he feels he’s too close to one of the defendants. Then, it will go back to the attorney general’s office where it will be re-assigned.
If Pope accepts the case, “he will convene a grand jury to investigate and audit. How he does that is a lot at his discretion. I would call in the financial auditors from the state and say ‘go at it.’ They know what to look for and what questions to ask. There’s a whole lot of latitude about what the judge can do.”
Brown said he received a lot of community support for the petitions.
“A lot of people assisted by putting petitions in their businesses or by circulating petitions in the community. It indicates peo-
ple are concerned about finding out what happened and preventing it from happening again.”
County Commission Chair-man Al Padilla said “we’re not sure they have enough numbers there for a grand jury. We have cooperated with Mr. Brown, handing him copies of our budget. He sees some criminal intent that we don’t see.
“I have a feeling there’s nothing there, and I have a feeling the judge won’t find anything there.”