County of Mendocino Board of Supervisors Chair, Dan Gjerde, provided an explanation (shown in italic font below) on why he supports consolidating the Auditor Controller and Treasurer Tax Collector into one elected office.
Gjerde: The ordinance introduced last month and up for a second vote this month creates a higher visibility elected officer who will therefore need to be more accountable to voters.
Visibility, or recognition of an officeholder’s name, does not create accountability. Folks who care to understand the important duties of the Auditor-Controller and the Treasurer-Tax Collector positions will inform themselves and others will not, regardless of the number of candidates. The implication is that the current officials leading these offices have been unaccountable, but that inference is not substantiated, and merging offices does not address unaccountability.
The Treasurer-Tax Collector and Auditor-Controller have the community’s trust based on their track records and their dedicated service to Mendocino County. Grooming a qualified successor to ensure that the fiscal integrity of their offices continues is a mark of their dedication and accountability. The Acting Auditor is qualified, experienced, and has the integrity and strength to uphold the duties of the office. Appointing Ms. Cubbison in September would have done no disservice to democracy. Leaving the position vacated until a June 2022 election and January 2023 swearing in is a disservice to the stability of the Auditor-Controller’s office and leaves the office with a significant vacancy, the Assistant Auditor position.
This expedited consolidation ordinance, moving forward at the direction of five elected officials that do not hold fiscal qualifications, has provided little background on how this action would be implemented or how it would impact the County and Special Districts in the near term.
Gjerde: The ordinance conforms with State law adopted in 2007 but not enacted since then, because in each subsequent election the incumbent Auditor and incumbent Treasurer were declared candidates for re-election. For the first time since 2007, one of these two elected positions is vacant prior to the filing period (and the other incumbent is not seeking re-election). In other words, this is an opportunity to create increased visibility and accountability through the consolidation of a single elected officer accountable for these financial matters.
The fact that the combination of these offices by ordinance is lawful, does not justify an unplanned implementation. Combining offices creates less accountability by removing important checks and balances. The current officeholders are accountable and conduct their separate duties well. Because there is no implementation plan, no analysis of the destabilizing risks, or justification for benefits (if any – visibility is not a justification for destabilizing the fiscal departments of the County), this rushed vote creates a huge risk as the dedicated staff are being left unsupported and headed toward uncertainty. Both office holders have expressed their concern with the timing of the consolidation proposal at a time when they are understaffed and devoting critical energy to the paramount project of implementing new accounting software.
Gjerde: One example: visitor transient occupancy tax [TOT] is collected by the elected Treasurer. But the Treasurer does not verify the business/Airbnb pays all the tax it collected from visitors.
Verification, if it were to occur, is the responsibility of the Auditor. However, the Auditor has not verified full payment in several years. By establishing a single elected officeholder we will provide one point of accountability. No more pointing fingers between two offices, with taxes going uncollected for essential services.
If there is a topic the BOS wishes to address with a department head they should seek information from that department in a public meeting or a series of public meetings. Dismantling the department because individual Board members feel they have unanswered questions is illogical. However, if TOT is the basis of concern, then the Board should understand that the position in the Auditor’s office that handles TOT has been vacant. Would not the board’s passion for increased capacity in the Auditor’s office be better directed at updating job descriptions, pay, and recruitment, as a means of supporting the knowledgeable, trusted, and prepared Acting-Auditor and her staff?
The BOS should halt this madness. Seeking consolidation should be handled in collaboration with those who understand and perform those duties. The BOS have a lot to learn and understand about the duties of these two offices, what the state requires of them and what it would mean to consolidate those duties. With a full understanding of the path they are seeking, the next step would be to chart a plan for such as change. There is no reason this could not occur in four years when the Auditor and Treasurer positions are up for election again. I do not have the background on why the legislators decided to give Mendocino County the legal right to consolidate these offices by ordinance, but it is clear that our BOS have not done due diligence to demonstrate this consolidation is necessary or beneficial to the fiscal responsibilities of the county.
(Estelle Clifton is a Registered Professional Forester living in Redwood Valley.)