Of all the reports issued by the 2014-2015 Kings County Grand Jury this year, one stands out above the rest, both for how long it is and because of how critical it is: the report on the Home Garden Community Services District.
The report identified 31 findings of alleged mismanagement by the governmental entity charged with overseeing sewer, water, garbage collection and streetlight services in the impoverished, unincorporated neighborhoods known as Home Garden and located just outside the southeastern Hanford city boundary.
Home Garden consists of several blocks of streets and houses on both sides of 10th Avenue south of the Kings Fairgrounds. The 2010 census found 1,761 people living in Home Garden.
The report alleges financial mismanagement, a dysfunctional board of directors, failure to comply with state open-meeting laws, failure to keep accurate records, erroneous billing, failure to properly oversee funding for Home Garden Park and more.
The findings paint a picture of an agency in disarray, seemingly failing at almost every level.
The 19-page document ends with a recommendation that the Kings County Board of Supervisors “arrange for oversight, training and guidance for the district.” The grand jury also requested that that the 2015-16 grand jury “look into the findings and recommendations of the 2014-15 grand jury for compliance.”
District board president Harold Reed did not respond to repeated attempts to reach him for comment. Michael Farley, the attorney representing the district, also couldn’t be reached for comment.
By law, grand jury members issue one written report but aren’t allowed to comment further on their investigations.
One of the allegations in the report is that several district directors have resigned in the past three years. The report says that all vacancies should have been reported to the Kings County Elections Office, but only one vacancy was ever reported.
One of those who resigned was Eugene “Bo” Patterson, a former Home Garden resident and community activist who now lives in Hemet.
Patterson, contacted by phone, said he stepped down in November 2013. He said he’s a defendant in a lawsuit brought by a district employee against members of the board.
Patterson said he couldn’t comment on the report because of the lawsuit.
Patterson said one of the problems with the agency was that “people wouldn’t come and participate in anything.”
“I think they need some entirely new people in there that care about the community,” he said.
One of the allegations in the report is that there were “strained relationships” between the office staff and board members.
Legally, the district’s board of directors must issue a formal, written response to the grand jury within 90 days of the release of the report.
The report was released June 24. The board hasn’t issued a response yet.
The grand jury also required the Kings County Board of Supervisors to respond.
Board Chairman Richard Fagundes sent a letter this week to Kings County Superior Court Judge Jennifer Giuliani, who is supervising the grand jury this year.
Fagundes wrote that the district “is an independent government agency, and is charged with knowledge of the law and proper government procedures.”
County leaders clarified their position in comments at the supervisors’ regular weekly public meeting on Tuesday.
County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes said that county employees would assist the district if district members made specific requests for help.
Spikes said county staff receives requests for help from small agencies “from time to time.”
“The county stands ready, able and willing to do the same for Home Garden Community Services District,” he said. “We do have a history of helping when those requests are made.”