This is the time of year when everyone tells us how important it is to vote. Politicians and journalists remind us of the many historically narrow election results of the past. Our very own Humboldt County supervisors appear at town hall meetings, desperate to distinguish themselves from their opponents, while attempting to remain cordial and civil. Our newspapers are filled with letters to the editor attempting to persuade us why we should vote for Bass, Burkhart, Lyons, Sundberg, or Madrone, and reporters and editors spend column inch after column inch attempting to enlighten us as to their differences ("So Many Questions," April 26).
What does not get much press at this time of the year, and what may be of much greater importance, is the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury. The 2017-2018 term is coming to an end. The deadline for applications to serve on the 2018-2019 grand jury is the end of May. There are no letters to the editor urging us to volunteer, no column inch after column inch informing us of past grand juries and the reports they filed and there certainly is no investigative analysis of the county's response to those reports.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I served on our civil grand jury for two years (2014-2016). The second year I was privileged to serve as the foreperson. Serving on the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury was a truly amazing experience and I learned a thing or two about county governance.
Good people staff our county and municipal governments and agencies. Many of them are underpaid and underappreciated. I also came to appreciate the demands we place on them; demands that, from my perspective, might very well be unreasonable and impossible to achieve. We live in an age of ever-increasing complexity. Attempting to understand and deal energetically and creatively with that complexity, within the current structure, might very well be impossible. Without the active participation of a county civil grand jury, I know it would be impossible. For the people of Humboldt County, the grand jury has become the critical agency in their search for better and more efficient governance.
Nineteen ordinary people devoting a year of their lives to bettering ours; that is a civil grand jury. Not only letting us know what is wrong with the county mental health department but suggesting concrete plans on how to fix it (2016 report). Not only alerting us that the county is not in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines but also outlining a plan to bring us into compliance (2016 report). Read past grand jury reports yourself, and please also read the county's official responses to those reports. They are all available on the county website: www.humboldtgov.org/510/Grand-Jury.
Voting is important; understanding the differences between candidates running for supervisor is, I guess, important. Having a fully impaneled, energetic and committed civil grand jury is critical. Applications are available on the county website until the end of May.
It truly could be one of the most meaningful experiences of your life.
Applications for prospective civil grand jurors can be found online — https://humboldtgov.org/518/Grand-Jury-Forms — or in the grand jury room of the Humboldt County Courthouse, 825 Fifth St. in Eureka.
John Heckel is a longtime resident of Humboldt County who served on its 2014-2015 civil grand jury and as foreperson of its 2015-2016 civil grand jury. He writes a monthly column for Senior News.
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