Humboldt County Auditor-Controller Joseph Mellett submitted a letter of resignation on Tuesday, telling the county that his final day in office will be April 27.
Mellett, who was first elected to the office in 2010 and reelected four years later, told the Outpost late last year that he was burned out, frustrated by chronic understaffing in his department and ready to retire. But at the time he said he planned to finish out his current term, which runs through the end of the year.
In response to questions emailed this morning, Mellett said it’s just time for him to move on and to take care of himself. “I haven’t had a vacation in at least ten years and I’m ready to do something else with my life besides working in the courthouse,” he wrote.
Mellett’s office has been mired in controversy recently. In 2016 outside auditors found that a $2 million cash discrepancy in the books had gone unnoticed for eight months. A 2016 Grand Jury Report said Mellett’s office had “neither the necessary staffing nor authority” to ensure that private vendors were doing the jobs they’d been hired to do.
And in November, Assistant Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez appeared before the Board of Supervisors during the public comment session of a regular meeting and told them that chronic understaffing had created “a desperate situation” in the department. The skeleton crew was ill-equipped to oversee the county’s finances and ferret out any potential fraud, she said.
But County Chief Administrative Officer Amy Nilsen said the county has been responsive to the office’s staffing requests, and county supervisors — and some members of Mellett’s own staff — suggested that the problems in the office were largely attributable to him. They say he regularly shows up late, leaves early and takes long breaks. (For more on that story, read the Outpost investigation and joint interview with Paz Dominguez and Mellett.)
The county has hired two outside auditors in recent months to review the organizational structure and staffing of the Auditor-Controller’s Office. Sacramento firm Cooperative Personnel Services Human Resources Consulting has reportedly been in the office this week, interviewing staff members.
Asked how his early departure might affect his already-understaffed office, Mellett responded:
I would assume the function of the office will be adversely affected for a while but given staffing levels there’s no help for that. Organizations have to be designed to deal with the departures of key staff because that will happen sometimes. People leave their jobs for any number of reasons: health, better opportunities, etc. I trust the county organization is resilient enough to survive without me. And late spring is the quieter time of the year for this office so leaving now gives them the best opportunity to adjust.
County spokesperson Sean Quincey said the Board of Supervisors will address the next steps for filling the auditor-controller position at its April 3 meeting. Paz Dominguez is running for the position in June’s primary election, facing off against Michael Lorig, an accountant in the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services.
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DOCUMENT: Mellett’s resignation letter