MINDEN - Douglas County will convene a grand jury in coming weeks to review county operations.
Douglas District Judge Dave Gamble said Thursday he and Judge Michael Gibbons see the jury as an opportunity to check up on local government, not a response to any suspected wrongdoing.
"Nothing in the news has given rise to this. It's just time," said Gamble. "There's a requirement of the larger counties to have one every four or five years. We have decided to basically honor that, even though we're a small county, just because we think it's important for people to have confidence in their government."
The last two grand juries recommended impanelling grand juries every two to three years to review the county's operations. Douglas County's last grand jury met in 1993 and 1994.
A grand jury can be assembled to investigate a specific topic or event.It may also have a more general focus, such as looking at overall county government.
The jury may issue criminal indictments on specific cases it is asked to review or if it uncovers wrongdoing during its own investigation. The jury's actions are secret but a final report summarizing findings and recommendations is issued.
"My idea is for this to be a general grand jury, empowered to look at any part of government," Gamble said.
The 1993-94 grand jury studied several county offices, including the airport, East Fork Fire and Paramedic District, the jail, district and justice courts, purchasing and public works, which has since been renamed community development.
Many of the jury's investigations resulted from complaints filed by Douglas County residents. People will again be able to file complaints as long as they are signed, a policy Gamble said is meant to reduce "rumor mongering and witch hunts."
The names of those who submit the complaints stay confidential, however.
The county has $100,000 set aside to pay for the grand jury. The money was included in the current fiscal year budget and will be transferred to the upcoming 2000-01 spending plan.
The grand jury will consist of 17 people, with 12 alternates chosen. Prospective jurors will be selected from the regular jury pool and polled on whether they are able and willing to spend the time necessary to sit on the jury. Gamble said volunteers won't be accepted.
Past grand juries have met weekly and formed subcommittees to look at different issues. The 1993-94 jury was seated in July 1993 and issued its report the following June.
A grand jury impaneled in1988 issued a report in February 1990. That grand jury returned two indictments after investigating a parks department scam. It also addressed management problems in the county.
Gamble said he hopes the 2000 grand jury can complete its work by the fall months. He said the judges will probably issue an order to begin choosing prospective grand jurors in the coming few weeks.