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California’s Powerful Example of Citizen Participation

We often talk about performance auditors on this website. These dedicated professionals may be appointed or elected. They use well-accepted auditing standards to assess risks, uncover management problems and gauge how well programs perform, providing valuable insight and oversight throughout the country.

Then there’s California. In addition to the traditional kind of performance auditing, which takes place in many of the state’s cities, and counties, it also has an unusual approach to local oversight that makes use of about 1,100 citizens each year to provide assessments of how programs operate.

It’s called the California Civil Grand Jury system. In each of the state’s 58 counties, jurors serve a one-year term, map out plans for the topics they want to tackle and then plunge in.

About 900 reports are produced each year. Recent topics have included the monitoring of idle oil wells in Santa Barbara County; efforts to increase affordable housing in Santa Clara County, and the homeless animal problem in Contra Costa County. Details about the reports – as well as official reaction to them -- are available through “California Grand Jury News, “ a blog that’s published by the California Grand Jurors’ Association.

If you want to find more, there’s a new 50-page e-book, which the association wrote about in a blog post yesterday (March 20th).

This is a powerful example of citizens participating in their governments that’s unlike that found most anyplace else. If you live in California, by the way, the association is very eager to increase the pool of qualified jurors.

From the e-book: “Qualifications for serving as a grand juror are simple: The applicant must be a citizen of the United States: 18 years or older; a resident of the county for one year immediately prior to being selected; in possession of their natural faculties; of ordinary intelligence, sound judgement and fair character and possessed of sufficient knowledge of the English language.”

(Note that we also wrote about California’s Civil Grand Jury in a blog post about five years ago, which you can see here. )


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