Sacramento County grand jury needs new members for oversight panel

The call is out for people to apply to be a member of the Sacramento County grand jury, one way for citizens to serve their community in a serious, substantive way.

The group tours prisons, investigates city and county government and produces a final, sometimes scathing report. When the grand jury, along with the District Attorney’s Office, investigated the public library system, fraud was uncovered.

Grand Jury Coordinator Becky Castaneda calls a stint on the grand jury the best hands-on civics lesson around.

“It is an amazing way to serve your community,” said Castaneda. “You may be looking into recommending that a sidewalk be put in front of an elementary school to make sure that the kids get to school safely or an elaborate plan to evacuate the medically infirm in a case of a disaster.”

Jurors who are selected serve for a one-year period that begins July 1. They work 25 to 35 hours a week for nominal pay of $30 a day, plus mileage and parking.

The panel is advised by a Sacramento Superior Court judge and has authority to investigate public officials and look into tips from fellow citizens.

The grand jury has the authority to issue criminal indictments in coordination with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

Some of the grand jury investigations have resulted in tough reports about agencies such as the library system, while others make recommendations for improvement at school districts or other entities that might not get much scrutiny.

Mari Overton, forewoman for the 2015-2016 Sacramento County grand jury, said in an email that everyone who has time should give it a try.

“I feel privileged to have been involved in a process where regular citizens have an opportunity to take a deeper look at local government,” said Overton.

To serve, a candidate must be a U.S. citizen, a resident of the county and be at least 18 years old. People currently serving on a trial jury are not eligible.

Interested individuals can apply by mail by sending a letter of interest to Sacramento County Grand Jury, 720 Ninth St., Room 611, Sacramento, 95814.

Potential candidates must undergo a criminal background check and file a statement of economic interest. More application information and a questionnaire to be returned is available at sacgrandjury.org.

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews