The Efficiency Audit That Wasn’t

by Mark Scaramella, January 18, 2012

“I think that for the most part we have a good product,” declared County CEO Carmel Angelo last week as she introduced the discussion of Sheriff Allman’s response to the “efficiency audit” of the Sheriff’s Department.

“Through the course of the process as far as when we began working with the consultant and then received the report and the revisions to the report, I think that there had been some substantial changes within the Sheriff's Department, certainly within the working relationship around budget with the Sheriff's Office and the Executive Office. I am pleased with the working relationship and where we are and I'm looking forward to hear the Sheriff discuss the report.”

Missing from Angelo's assessment was any mention of “substantive changes,” much less cost savings, arising from the $28,000 look at Sheriff's Department functioning by an outside consultant outfit consisting of retired cops. The “improved relationship” between the Sheriff and the CEO, if it exists, had nothing to do with the audit.

Supervisor John McCowen said any changes in the Sheriff's Department are up to the Sheriff. For his part, the Sheriff was already working on the audit's recommendations, all of which means the $28,000 told us nothing that the Sheriff wasn't aware of and had already begun to address. Moreover, Allman told the Supervisors that he had asked for the “audit” several times in previous years and that he had paid for this one out of his own asset forfeiture funds.

“If there was to be a Reader's Digest version of the efficiency audit,” Allman said, “it would be that the staffing levels of the Sheriff's office have greatly decreased because of the financial situation that we've all experienced and one of the main topics that the consultants were consistently drumming at is that there needs to be an increase of patrol and an increase of supervision and this is something that should not come as a surprise to anybody who's been following government lately.”

Translation: The audit’s only real purpose was to help convince the Board and the CEO that the Sheriff’s Office's budget should, if anything, be increased — not suffer further cuts. It’s what we used to refer to in the Air Force as “waving material” — something you hold up and wave at your audience as you announce, “I have right here in my hand the proof that…” knowing that no one will really read the pretty pages with the fine print.

And, at 102 pages, this audit is just the right size for waving material — thick enough to convince the rubes it's serious but light enough to brandish at their bamboozled pusses. If this had been a real efficiency study the consultants would have examined real cost savings opportunities such as:

• Improving the role of the Mental Health Department in responding to calls involving the mentally ill, most of whom are already known to the cops and the Mental Health Department. 5150 calls occupy a disproportionate amount of the patrol time of local police.

• Reducing the amount of patrol time and overtime for transporting inmates to and from the County Jail to the Courthouse and then waiting around for their honors to dispense the bad news.

• Setting up an arraignment court at the Jail, thus reducing the number of inmates who have to be transported to and from the Courthouse, many of them frequent flying drunks.

• Simplifying and fixing law enforcement's computer support as deputies have to waste time writing reports without convenient access to the status of restraining orders and probation/parole status and restrictions, instead having to use a complicated hodgepodge of systems whose recent “improvements” have made the thing even more confusing.

• Setting up an overnight holding cell in Fort Bragg to reduce transportation of arrestees and inmates to and from Ukiah, more than an hour away both ways.

“With no disrespect toward the consultants,” Allman continued implausibly, “we did go to the least expensive company. Some of the recommendations were made hastily without an opportunity to delve a little bit deeper into the circumstances, maybe the historical reasoning why some things are done in the Sheriff's Office a certain way.”

Translation: We went as cheap as we could but I’m not doing what they recommended, little as it was, because the consultants didn’t understand how Mendo works.

“But the good news is that they, the consultants, brought several things to light which have caused people to ask questions and I welcome questions,” said Allman, spreading his arms magnanimously, inviting everyone into the Question (if not Answer) Tent. “Because questions can be answered either, you're right, we need to go a different route; or this is the reason we do that. If there's a better idea, if there is a better mousetrap, I'm the first one to listen to it and see if it's going to work for the citizens of the County. But by and large, the 102-page consultant's report clearly documented the fact that in this 3510 square-mile County that the Department has limited staffing equal to the 1968 staffing levels for the Sheriff's Office, that we are doing the best we can with what we have.”

In a time of proliferating mice, we've got the same mousetrap we had in 1968, which was just before the dope deluge.

Supervisor Dan Hamburg wondered: “I guess my main question is, and it’s to Tom, the Sheriff, and to the Board members, particularly the ad hoc committee, is… I can't remember what we spent on this, was it $28k?”

Allman: “I think $27.5k.”

Hamburg: “$27.5. Was it worth it?”

Supervisor McCowen thought it was, but not because it saved any money: “It gave me a very detailed look at the Sheriff's Office operations and a more comprehensive understanding of how they function than I had before and I think it did identify some opportunities for cost savings…”

Supervisor McCowen and Sheriff Allman both said they were expecting to fill an “administrative captain” position to help with department's paperwork. Sergeant Randy Johnson, who has been handling the County’s precarious marijuana cultivation permit program and other staff assignments, is widely considered to have the inside track on the “administrative captain” position which may smooth admin, but won't save any money. It looks like the Sheriff and Board Chair McCowen intend to use the audit to set the stage for Johnson’s promotion.

Supervisor John Pinches wasn’t quite as positive about the audit: “As everybody's well aware, I voted to not initiate this study in the first place just for the reason that the Sheriff stated in his opening comments that he has full authority for the management of his department anyway. So he can go with the recommendations of the study or not. It's up to the Sheriff.... So this study was done to see if we can come up with some efficiencies and if we could see some dollar savings. I think the Sheriff is either making some of these transitions or staffing changes and it takes time when you're doing it with attrition, waiting for someone to retire, and so forth. But I think what it really shows is that there is no big something that really stands out at you that the Sheriff's Department or the Sheriff is doing wrong in his management of that big department. That's nice to know. I really felt that was the case in the first place. You mentioned that this is a snapshot or a picture. $27,000 is a lot of money to pay for a picture. Maybe it is good to see. The money has already been paid. Maybe we can come up with some value out of this.”

Hamburg: “Just to answer my own question, was it worth it? I'm not really sure that I feel it was, but we said this came out of the Sheriff's budget which is a pretty tight budget to begin with and if you felt like it was valuable then that's important.” Hamburg said he was glad to hear the CEO and Sheriff were getting along better. Hamburg then asked about the report’s observation that Allman had a lot of underutilized sergeants. “The [recommendation] that stands out to me is with respect to having a relatively large group of sergeants who don't necessarily supervise very many deputies under them. I'm still not convinced we need a sergeant running OES (the Office of Emergency Services). Similarly, with respect to the Animal Care services, the consultant of course said that he got a lot of feedback within the department and the fact that this was distracting from the duties. But you, in your comments, you discard that and say, well, that's not really true, that’s actually running very well. So we are sort of left sitting here saying, Well, the consultant said one thing and the Sheriff said another, so which one do we agree with? You say, Well this consultant didn't really understand us anyway because they are used to dealing with big departments so I mean things like that just make me kind of wonder, you know, we spent $28,000 in taxpayer money out of a department that is greatly strapped for dollars and if somebody asked me if it was worth it or not, I'm really not sure that it was worth it based on based on what I see here.”

When Hamburg says he’s “not sure” about something, that usually means he’s opposed.

Allman replied that the “main fallacy” of the report was: “The consultants spent a considerable amount of time with me one day, about a four-hour block of nothing but discussing a lot of issues that are covered in this. From there they went into the field and talked to many of the employees. And they didn't give me an opportunity to respond to things that were in conflict.”

“Things in conflict” are the areas where the consultants pointed out that a number Allman’s patrol deputies don’t agree with some of the Department’s policies, particularly those involving marijuana.

“Take the Dispatch Center for example,” Allman continued. “The consultants say that the Dispatch Center is separated from the Sheriff's office and as such a lot of information is not being communicated. That's a bunch of blooey. It's not true! The fact that we moved the Dispatch Center in the early 90s to where it is right now, there were very specific reasons for doing that. But the consultants didn't feel it was necessary to ask, or they were not aware of the historical significance. I was aware of everything in here. I will stand behind those sergeants. Take the OES sergeant for example. [Sergeant Shannon Barney.] Before the OES office was moved to the Sheriff's Office, the civilian that was handling it, and you can verify this, but I believe it was equal to a lieutenant’s salary. So we did some cost savings by reducing it down to where it is right now. If a deputy sheriff wants to do it, that would be okay. But I can tell you that ultimately what the CEO and I talked about is within a 24 month period we get to where that's a civilian position that's going to be running OES and that's going to be a great cost savings. … I could go down each one of these. I'm not trying to justify my action. I'm trying to say that the reason we do this is because of this. Several of these actions, and my responses, are very simply that the consultant was correct and we're working on this.”

In other words, the Sheriff didn’t need an audit to tell him what he already knew.

“I've been married a long time and I'm used to being wrong,” the Sheriff said. “If I'm wrong on something, and someone can prove I'm wrong, then by all means I'm wrong. This is not a dictator position. This is a democracy. There are some situations where as Sheriff I do have the purview to direct my way and the voters have said that I can direct it my way and I'm doing that. I want to be transparent in all my decision-making. The consultants missed the mark on a couple of things, but for the most part, I think we did get what we paid for.”

Hamburg replied, “It's a major oversight for a consultant not to give you an opportunity to respond to his findings before publishing the report. I don't know if that's malpractice but it's close to it.”

Supervisor Pinches tried to put a positive spin on the $28,000 expenditure: “The last time we did a Sheriff’s study it was a hundred grand. So we're doing better.”

“Oh! Well, then we saved $70,000!” Hamburg concluded.

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