The Bee has reported that Sacramento County Grand Jury released a scathing report about how Sacramento County mishandled its duty to protect public health during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can read the Grand Jury report here:gj-hhs-final-report-031722.pdf
Sacramento County has two distinct sets of responsibilities. One is its role as the municipal government for the urbanized, unincorporated UnCity, dealing with everything that Mayors, City Councils, City Managers and Police Chiefs handle in the several cities within the County (Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, Galt, Isleton, Rancho Cordova and Sacramento). The other is to attend to areawide duties such as public welfare, courts, elections and tax collection.
Our District Supervisor, Rich Desmond, has admitted that Sacramento County isn't able to take care of municipal matters across the vast UnCity that has a population like that of the state of Wyoming. We commend him for his candor and honesty on that score. Within the state's constitution, it's clear that counties were not intended to function as the municipal government for an urbanized area. The constitution, though, does clarify that counties are responsible for the areawide matters. No entity other than a county is empowered to administer duties that transcend city boundaries within a county.
Dropping the municipal ball is one thing. If the county isn't up to the job, it can let a city do it instead. We can all see how our newest cities (Citrus Heights, Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova) have transformed their communities once the county got out of the way. But dropping the areawide ball is another thing altogether. That's why it is really troubling that the Grand Jury's report says Sacramento County failed miserably at protecting the welfare of the public during the pandemic. Public health is always important. The pandemic upped the importance by several orders of magnitude: the hospials were overwhelmed, people got very sick, and many people died. Sadly, the Grand Jury's investigation found that Sacramento County's response was utterly insufficient, finding that the county:
- Failed to plan for the public health emergency such that it was not able to implement public health orders to ensure public safety;
- Had a dramatically short-staffed and underfunded public health program with inadequate organizational infrastructure and distinct deficits in field nursing programs, services for at-risk communities and other programs that impeded emergency response functionality;
- Lacked appropriate reporting and public information processes needed for services, programs and funding to protect the public during the emergency;
- Mishandled $181M of CARES Act funding intended for publich health equipment, staffing and services; and
- Did not provide enforcement support for public health priorities from the Board of Supervisors, the Chief County Executive, the County Sheriff and local law enforcement agencies.
Our blog here has already reported on those problems, sometimes incurring the wrath of readers who wish we would only say nice things about the county. Though it vindicates the reporting by our intrepid newsroom elves, the Grand Jury report gives us no comfort. The report formally states that during a public health emergency Sacramento County made a mess of its direct duty towards public welfare. One would think the serious nature of the Grand Jury's findings would prompt the county to re-think how it serves the public. Maybe the county should spend less time and energy at its municipal government job - acting like the Queen of Local Land Use decisions, the Lord of Local Economies, and the King of Local Law Enforcement - and instead put more attention on its areawide role, right? Only a few people benefit (feel powerful over others or profit from decisions that strengthen them to the exclusion of others) from the current management of our local municipal affairs. But everybody's lives depend on the areawide things being done well. We hope the Board of Supervisors will get the message.