A recently released Grand Jury report challenges the Riverside County Board of Supervisor’s use of discretionary or Community Improvement Designation Funds. The funds are divided equally among the five supervisors “to award to community organizations, nonprofits, county departments and government agencies,” according to the board policy (A-70) which sets guidelines for the use of these moneys.

The report cited both board policies as well as state election laws as possible prohibitions on how these funds were used and certainly the lack of oversight in their approval.

In this fiscal year, the Board has authorized the use of $2.3 million for these purposes and nearly $32.4 million in the past nine years.

“The use of funds was established specifically to assist community groups, the needy, victim advocacy groups, students and others — especially during the height of the recession when other public funding sources and private donations waned. Board members repeatedly have made it clear that those are priorities that deserve support,” said Ray Smith, the Riverside County’s pubic information officer.

The Grand Jury explained the use of these funds seemed to benefit individual supervisors in their efforts for re-election. While they did not object to the overall purpose, they felt many projects were selected for the benefit of the supervisor rather than for the benefit of all county residents.

The board policy states, “It is the policy of the Board of Supervisors to strive for greater transparency and a higher standard for members of the Board of Supervisors seeking re-election or election to another office so as to avoid even the appearance of using public resources to enhance board members’ visibility and name identification with potential voters.”

Not only did the Grand Jury explained that this was inconsistent with the board’s own policy, but it was a conflict with the California Political Reform Act.

Nearly a year ago, the board modified A-70 to prohibit the award or announcement of an award during the 60 days prior to a primary, special or general election. They collectively felt this had “the appearance of an unfair advantage for a member of the Board of Supervisors seeking re-election or election to another office.”

Among the various findings in the report, was the identification that supervisors made awards to groups that are not registered as formal nonprofit organizations with the State Attorney General.

The Grand Jury report included 15 separate recommendations such as “The board shall prohibit the use of CID funds for nonprofit capital construction projects. The supervisors and the County of Riverside lack the resources to assess the quality of construction or whether the CID funds were used for the specific purposes requested.”

The county has 90 days to respond to the Grand Jury report. Former County District Attorney Grover Trask has been retained to advise and guide the Executive Office as it develops its response, Smith said.

“Mr. Trask’s lengthy experience and expertise will be invaluable in addressing issues that will be covered in the response,” Smith wrote in an email. “For example, at Best, Best and Krieger he has specialized in public policy and ethics, with a focus on issues such as government accountability.

“We will consider recommendations that might help improve county processes and, as is standard practice, respond after completing a comprehensive analysis of the findings and recommendations,” Smith added.