California City officials harassed and retaliated against people who spoke to the Kern County grand jury for its scathing reports on the city earlier this year, according to a new grand jury report released Thursday.
The report says the jury conducted additional interviews with city officials, city employees and residents following reports it released in April and May found that city officials have been harassing and retaliating against interviewees who shared information with the jury, creating a hostile work environment.
“California City officials must cease and desist from harassing or retaliating against anyone who has shared information and/or concerns with the ... jury, Kern County District Attorney or the State Attorney General,” the jury said in its report. “The California City Council must direct city officials to cease any harassment of employees.”
The jury said officials have demanded that documents provided to the jury be given over to them. This is in violation of an admonition form that interviewees, including city officials, signed during the jury’s previous investigation, according to the report.
The admonition form states that a grand jury “has the authority to admonish a witness not to disclose what the witness learns in a grand jury room regarding the subject of the grand jury inquiry.” It essentially directs interviewees not to speak about what was discussed with the jury.
City Manager Robert Stockwell said the city will investigate the jury’s claims.
“It’s difficult to come to any conclusions yet because this is a very broad accusation without much to go on. Everything (in the report) is unattributed," he said. “Hopefully if there’s some substance to this allegation, we’ll find some way to ferret it out, and we’ll deal with it aggressively.”
This isn’t the first time the issue of harassment has been brought up by the grand jury. In the jury’s April report on California City, it found that eight out of 21 employees had previously filed a complaint or grievance regarding work conditions.
Most of them complained of being harassed by supervisors and being written up for what they believed to be minor infractions. The report also says several emails from city employees to the grand jury were missing from the city’s email server and may have been deleted. No records of the emails could be found.
The grand jury said it also found that two or more emails from city employees to their supervisors or other employees also were missing.
“The city should cease and desist any harassment of city employees who act as whistleblowers, and/or shared information with the grand jury,” the report said.
That report also claimed that city leaders were violating open-meeting laws and that an abandoned building was illegally being used to grow marijuana and wasn’t properly inspected by the city.
In this week’s report, the jury also had a few findings relating to public safety. It says that the California City Fire Department has two fire engines, one of which is inoperable and the other which often breaks down.
The report also points out that the fire marshal is doing the work of several people due to budget limitations, such as being a safety officer, fire investigator and code enforcement supervisor.
The report says that with overall reduction in staff across the city, it is difficult for the city to schedule training, vacations and other time off.
Stockwell said these findings are accurate and reflect the challenges of a small city.
“It’s just the way business is done in small communities. Nobody wears a single hat,” he said.
The report also says that the cannabis industry in California City poses health and safety concerns regarding the handling of chemicals used in the growth and processing of marijuana plants. The jury didn’t specify what sparked the concerns. Stockwell said the city is looking into the issue.
The jury recommended that firefighters be trained to handle hazardous materials relating to the cannabis industry.
Thursday’s report comes about two months after the jury published a report investigating the city. That report found that several employees have been reporting harassment, among other findings.
Carla Conry, who runs a California City Community News Facebook page, said she has several friends who are city employees who have complained to her about being verbally harassed by supervisors, city officials and others in recent years.
“This grand jury report is showing light on what has been going on for months,” she said. “These are loyal people in our city, loyal employees who are being treated badly. This is bullying at best. It’s disgusting and repulsive.”
The city must submit a response to the grand jury report within 90 days.