Despite assurances from former County Executive Officer Carmel Angelo in March of 2022 upon her retirement that county finances were in good shape, that’s certainly not the case as county officials learned within a few months of her exit.
It appears from discussions at recent meetings, there’s a $10 million to $11 million shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year. Even that is an estimate at this time because the past fiscal year has not been closed out because the independent, outside audit required by law has not been completed.
With the exception of Third District Supervisor John Haschak, the rest of the Board voted in December of 2021 to consolidate the formerly independent, elected offices of Treasurer-Tax Collector and Auditor-Controller into a single office, thus eliminating vital internal controls over finances. Without a doubt, the numero uno principle of fiscal matters, whether your books are kept in either the private or public sector, is you never, ever eliminate internal financial controls. The more eyes you have on the numbers, the better off you are.
At the time of this consolidation incident, I said the impetus for it was a 2021 petty bureaucratic squabble instigated by DA David Eyster over his office’s travel reimbursements being (correctly) rejected by then Acting Auditor-Controller Chemise Cubbison because he refused to follow county reimbursement guidelines. As I recall, in another example of burning through another stack of taxpayer money, CEO Angelo hired an outside law firm to render an un-needed opinion on this stinkeroo. In any event, CEO Angelo backed the D.A.’s play and there was soon hatched the proposed combining of the Auditor-Controller office with the Treasurer-Tax Collector, which would eliminate one of the two elected positions.
Back at the time this tempest in a teapot occurred, Bruce Anderson, of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, succinctly captured the root of the dispute when he said:
“The Supervisors found themselves in the middle of a bizarre dispute Tuesday. What began as a routine appointment of Assistant Auditor Chamise Cubbison to fill out the remaining term of retiring Auditor Lloyd Weer, saw DA David Eyster, in full bluster mode, zoom in to claim that Ms. Cubbison was ‘wrong’ in requiring documentation to accompany a grant claim. Ditto, Eyster said, for several DA staffers’ claims for training-related travel. Ms. Cubbison had rejected the claims for not being accompanied by the proper paperwork backup, and already taxpayers should fall in love with this lady for scrupulously guarding the public purse against windy big spenders like the DA who, incidentally, plays the CEO [Carmel Angelo at the time] like a bass viola, getting whatever he wants from her like, for instance, a half-dozen full-time investigators to investigate the three crimes a week committed by Mendocino County's master criminals. Eyster, though, insisted that the Auditor’s requirement didn’t apply to the DA’s office, and submitted various documents to allegedly prove his point. But the vallient Ms. Cubbison held her ground. She said she was simply following county policy, and as an independent auditor she was duty-bound to impose the local, state and federal rules as necessary.”
Speaking of internal financial controls and audits, the State Auditor has begun an examination of Mendocino County finances.
According to a statement last week from state Controller Malia M. Cohen’s office, she has authorized “an audit of Mendocino County after conversations with county officials who expressed concerns as to whether the annual financial reports required to be prepared and delivered to the state are correct and complete. Controller Cohen acknowledged receipt of the request for an audit from the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, who voted unanimously to request the State Controller’s Office’s assistance to resolve what some officials have referred to as a ‘fiscal crisis’ within the county.”
So now a state audit is underway in addition to the ongoing but incomplete annual federal audit. Great, the more audits the better since the public has been informed that the County keeps three sets of books and no on knows how much money is in the bank.
But we also need another process to occur that should have happened prior to the December 2021 consolidation of the Treasurer-Tax Collector and Auditor-Controller offices. It’s something that yours truly and two Supervisors have recommended take place for some time. Here’s the most recent request found in a response I made to Supe Ted Williams:
“Ted, As I’ve suggested, as well as Supe Haschak and I believe Supe Gjerde also, the Board should call in former officials responsible for fiscal matters (Treasurer-Tax Collector, Auditor-Controller, Assessor, CEO) and interview/question and, hopefully, learn from them how they did their jobs. This is critical information the BOS admits it is lacking. This process would include but is not limited to such things as assessments of their responsibilities and how they performed their duties, how they exercised fiscal oversight and the identification of internal financial controls, systems that were utilized (manual vs. electronic/software, etc.), staffing levels (classifications and job descriptions) narrative descriptions of interdepartmental and third-party (ex.: outside, independent audit) working relationships detailing scope of work and information disclosed and received. Since no one has explanations or answers to what caused the ongoing, untenable fiscal mess the county is in, you need to conduct an inquiry and start finding answers to all of the current unknowns prior to launching a substantially, momentous alteration to your organizational structure with this idea of a Department of Finance. By the way, if the Board does decide to hold an inquiry, it won’t be necessary for former officials to attend in-person. That’s the beauty of zoom meetings.”
Here’s a short list of former County finance-related officials who should be called into a public hearing to share their information and insights on how they did their jobs over the years:
Shari Schapmire, Treasurer-Tax Collector
Lloyd Weer, Auditor-Controller
Meredith Ford, Auditor-Controller
Dennis Huey, Auditor-Controller
Tim Knudson, Treasurer-Tax Collector
Carmel Angelo, CEO
Jim Anderson, CAO
It would also be interesting to find out what they think about the wholesale replacement of the current fiscal organization with the proposed creation of a Department of Finance.