COACHELLA – A blistering civil grand jury report that revealed a lack of leadership and a lack of training among trustees for the Coachella Valley Public Cemetery District found no financial improprieties or fiscal mismanagement, Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel “Manny” Perez told Uken Report.

The report, months in the making, reveals a dysfunctional board mired in conflict, disorganization, exclusion of one particular board member, and possible Brown Act violations.

Bluntly stated, it has been a board run amok and for all intents and purposes behind closed doors. It appears to be a case of the tail wagging the dog. The manager, rather than the trustees, was calling shots.

Two cemetery district trustees and the general manager “purposely excluded the third trustee, Marcos Coronel, from meetings since March 2017, according to the Grand Jury report. They also hired a private firm to investigate Coronel, using $2,000 from the District’s general fund.

Other trustees are Joe Ceja and Wayne Bowers. The general manager is Bret Kestell. Very few Special District Boards are composed of less than five Trustees because of inherent problems, according to the report.

Board members are appointed by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors for four-year terms. The Board regularly meets on the second Tuesday of the month. Board members receive a $50 stipend per meeting.

 

cemetery

(Photo courtesy of V. Manuel Perez)

Perez said he plans to expand the board in an effort to increase public participation and rebuild the public’s faith and trust in the board’s leadership. Additionally, Perez said he will consider reappointments carefully as terms of existing board members expire.

“We appreciate the work done by the grand jury in this case,” Perez said. “My expectation is for current and future board members to work together for the good of the public we serve. Our cemeteries are resting places for our loved ones. Those entrusted to provide policy direction for the staff and serve grieving families will conduct themselves accordingly and with transparency to serve the public with honor and compassion.”

In an effort to be transparent, the Grand Jury report suggests that the district create a computer website which communicates District meetings and agendas to the public. The California Special District Association recommends more than 15 items to be included on District websites to promote transparency and public access

Jurors also recommend that the Board of Trustees reaffirm its position as decision makers. “By best practices, the board should supervise the manager and the manager should supervise the other employees,” the report states.

You may read the entire report here. 

The 3,444-square-mile district is one of the largest in Southern California. The special district provides services to about 400 families annually. As of this date, there have been approximately 17,000 interments at the Coachella Valley Public Cemetery District.