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'Incredibly important': SLO County welcomes new civil grand jury members

Officials explain civil grand jury's role as a watchdog group in SLO County
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Posted at 8:16 PM, Jun 23, 2023

A new civil grand jury has officially been sworn in.

Four returning members and 15 new jurors were welcomed to the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on Friday to officially make them part of this year's civil grand jury of SLO County.

The civil grand jury is a group of volunteers that serve as an independent watchdog group that keeps a close eye on various levels of local government.

“It’s incredibly important," San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said, who attended Friday’s ceremony. "Not every state has the annual civil grand jury and I’m really grateful that we still have it here in California."

In SLO County, a new civil grand jury is impaneled every year. The jury's term coincides with the county's fiscal year, July 1 through June 30.

Outgoing members were recognized at the ceremony for a year of service as well as the group's five wide-ranging reports released in that timeframe.

“I am very pleased with the outgoing grand jury," said Nancy Welts, chapter president of the California Grand Jurors’ Association. "They did excellent reports on a variety of topics.”

One investigation highlighted criminal activity and safety concerns at the Oklahoma Avenue safe parking site.

Other investigations include reports on election integrity as well as the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

“Even though we’re an arm of the superior court, we work independently of the court," explained Welts. “We really do have the ability to look at local government and make sure it’s running effectively, efficiently, transparently and honestly.”

The 19-member grand jury is made up of volunteers who have lived in San Luis Obispo County for at least a year.

“We are a country founded on the principle of ‘Government of the people, by the people and for the people,’” District Attorney Dow said. “I don’t think there’s a better example of how the citizens can become involved in ensuring accountability and a reactionary government that works for the people than our grand jury system.”

Members of the grand jury can investigate any city or county agency as well as the California Men’s Colony.

“They’re looking out for the community, for the citizens of our county and they come from our county,” added Welts.

Many grand jury reports are the result of complaints submitted by community members.

These volunteer-based watchdog groups are in all 58 of California’s counties.

“I think it’s fantastic that we have it every year because it’s continually refreshing— bringing in new people with different backgrounds and different thoughts about how government should operate. It’s a chance for us to continually hear from the community about how we’re doing and what we can do better,” Dow said.

The new grand jury will look at reports from the previous jury to see if there are still any issues remaining.

Learn more about SLO County's civil grand jury and the application process on the county's Administrative Office website.