By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors says it “wholly disagreed” with most of a recent Grand Jury report that it abandoned responsibility for COVID-19 CARES Act funding and it won’t be implementing any of its recommendations.
“The use of CARES Act funding has been examined by an independent auditor, who found no misuse of those or any other federal funds,” District 5 Supervisor and Board Chair Don Nottoli said at last week’s meeting.
“The Board was actively engaged in the County’s pandemic response,” Notolli continued.
The Grand Jury found that the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors “abandoned the Public Health Office as COVID-19 emergency engulfed Sacramento.” Following a nearly year-long secret investigation, the Grand Jury concluded that the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors “made questionable and opaque maneuvers that skirted the intent of the CARES Act, to the benefit of County coffers and with scant regard for the needs of its citizens.”
As first reported by the Sacramento OBSERVER, the County Board of Supervisors allowed then County Executive Nav Gill to give $132.86 million of its federal pandemic response funds for payroll for public health and safety employees, with the Sheriff’s Department receiving 78%, $104.2 million, of that money. The OBSERVER obtained documents from a whistleblower back in 2020 that detailed the spending.
“An extensive investigation into the handling of the COVID-19 crisis by the Sacramento County Office of Public Health (OPH) has led the Grand Jury to find that the County Board of Supervisors ignored its Public Health Officer for five months before finally engaging in any sort of dialogue regarding the County’s COVID-19 activities and its impact on County residents,” read an April statement from the grand jury, which made its findings public on February 16.
The Grand Jury report includes 14 findings and five recommendations.
“The Board wholly disagreed with seven of the Grand Jury’s findings, partially disagreed with two and agreed with one,” reads the County’s statement. “The County did not respond to the finding that the Sheriff’s Office did not enforce the Public Health Order, as the Board does not have decision-making authority over that office.”
The Board denies abdicating its responsibility to determine community needs and to provide oversight in the development and implementation of the County COVID-19 response.
“Given the urgent need for a response that was not delayed due to administrative processes, the Board adopted resolutions to authorize County staff, including the directors of Health Services and Human Assistance, to respond to the emergency and accept COVID-19 related funding,” reads the County’s statement.
The Board of Supervisors also disagrees that it used the vast majority of the CARES Act funding it received to augment the County budget and support county operations while providing minimal support to the Sacramento County Health Department or other County agencies to address community needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, neglecting its public support responsibility.
County officials say the Grand Jury’s recommendations are “unwarranted” and “would dilute and confuse” policies they already have in place.
The County had 60 days to respond to the grand jury report and approved the response on day 56, at its April 27 meeting.
The District Attorney’s Office says it is under no obligation to take action.
“The Grand Jury’s report did not require or invite a response by the District Attorney’s Office, nor was any such response required by law. The Grand Jury, which was acting in a civil capacity, made no findings or recommendations regarding any potential criminal activity,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Rod Norgaard said.
“This matter has not been referred to this office by the Grand Jury or by any law enforcement agency for criminal prosecution. The Grand Jury’s report and the County of Sacramento’s response regarding this use of federal money do not appear to raise any criminal issues that would be addressed at the county level. As such, there is no action to be taken by this office at this time,” Norgaard continued.
The Board of Supervisors’ full response can be viewed online at https://www.saccounty.gov/news/latest-news/Pages/Sac-County-Responds-to-Grand-Jury-Report.aspx