A call to do your (jury) duty

Pub date February 22, 2011

By Ken Maley

OPINION For decades San Franciscans concerned and interested in the workings — and malfunctions — of city government have turned to the Guardian for insights and possible solutions. Guardian readers have developed a reputation for being community activists, and to those activist-minded readers, I encourage you to apply to serve on the San Francisco civil grand jury.

Few citizens understand that the California Constitution requires all counties to impanel a civil grand jury each year. The San Francisco grand jury has researched and issued many important findings — most recently, pertinent reports on the enormous, and growing, city employee retirement obligations threatening to consume our city’s general fund and possibly bankrupt the city in the next five years if not resolved.

Each year the San Francisco Superior Court accepts applications from citizens who want to serve on the jury. Thirty screened applicants are selected, and from those 30, 19 are impaneled as that year’s civil grand jury. Jurors serve for a one-year term, from June to July.

The full jury discusses various issues of interest, selects issues that gain 12 of the 19 votes, spends a year investigating, then writes and releases reports. The panel can investigate any function of city government — contracts, corruption, spending, tax policy .. the mandate is very broad. And the jury has tremendous power, including the ability to subpoena records and force city officials to testify. No pertinent information may be withheld once the judge approves the request.

But the dilemma confounding the court is the lack of qualified applicants. In 2009, the number of applicants was so low we were nearly unable to impanel a jury at all. What a disgrace, in activist San Francisco.

I find it so disheartening that in a city renowned for community interest and participation in almost every aspect of government activity, we have such a small number of citizens willing to make the time to serve.

So I appeal to Guardian readers to direct your interest in the workings of our city government, to consider putting your knowledge and commitment to better city governance by serving on the San Francisco civil grand jury.

Your contribution of time and energy as a juror will be well spent and personally rewarding.

To learn more about the civil grand jury, how you can do your civic duty and apply, go to www.sfgov.org, click on agencies, scroll down to civil grand jury. Applications are due by April 15 for the 2011-12 jury. 

Ken Maley was a member of the 2008-09 civil grand jury and is media committee chair of the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury Association.