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- Supes Call Special Meeting, Say County at ‘Serious Risk of Losing Millions’; Auditor-Controller Says She’s Being Asked to Cut Corners
- County Abandons Investigation Into Fiscal Management Delays, Having Never Interviewed the Auditor-Controller
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday once again addressed financial reporting matters at the center of a conflict between the County Administrative Office and the office of Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez.
Today’s discussion was a sequel of sorts to a special board meeting back in November when supervisors Virginia Bass and Rex Bohn sounded the alarm over “operational gaps” in the county’s fiscal reporting. These gaps, according to staff, had placed the county at risk of losing more than $14 million in state and federal reimbursement.
A staff report from today’s meeting says there are still “outstanding financial transactions” that could wind up costing the county millions, and it asks the board to “authorize” Paz Dominguez to post the transactions in question.
The report, written by staff in the County Administrative Office (CAO), points the finger directly at the auditor-controller. It says she was about 16 months late in closing the books on fiscal year 2019-20, and when she finally did so it was abruptly, “as-is,” leaving loose ends that could have long-term ramifications, including a hit to the county’s credit rating.
The report also says Paz Dominguez is behind on distributing interest revenues to the county’s various interest-bearing funds and also late in submitting a Cost Allocation Plan to the State Controller’s Office — a prerequisite to getting reimbursed by state and federal agencies for a variety of services. On top of all that, the report suggests that Paz Dominguez doesn’t respond to her emails.
In response, Paz Dominguez on Monday submitted to the board a three-page memorandum addressing the allegations. Regarding her decision to close the books on fiscal year 2019-20, the auditor-controller says that’s a decision she’s entitled to make.
“It was evident to me that the County’s need to close [the books] outweighed my preference to fully and completely reconcile all of the funds in the Treasury,” she says. “I determined that it would have taken much longer to receive the information needed to reconcile and so I made the difficult decision to close the year as is.”
Her memo runs through the specific items identified in the CAO’s report, saying her office rejected some claims because they had insufficient substantiation and declined to process others because of “conflicting information received from the CAO.” Other transactions have indeed been posted, she says, while yet others are a mystery to her.
Regarding a $2,000 rent transfer from Courthouse Cafe, for example, Paz Dominguez writes, “Neither my staff nor I are aware of receiving this request.” And regarding a charge of $284,654 for something called “CWS CAST” she says, “Honestly, neither my staff nor myself could figure out what this item is about.”
Paz Dominguez adds that all interest apportionments due have been posted and all relevant information for the Cost Allocation Plan has been provided to the county’s cost plan consultants.
During the public comment period, both Kent Sawatzky and Thomas Mulder noted the apparent “dysfunction” involved here. The latter attributed it to Paz Dominguez’s office while the former suggested it lies somewhere between the CAO’s office and the Auditor-Controller’s Office.
Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell pointed out that a consulting firm at one point suggested that the county form an “audit committee” comprised of county officials and qualified members of the public. Such a committee might be a way to get past the “he-said, she-said” impasse here.
The board wound up voting unanimously to do just that, and it authorized Paz Dominguez to post any and all outstanding financial transactions from fiscal year 2019-20.
In the latest of his biweekly COVID-19 updates, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman correctly predicted that the county would drop from the purple to the red tier today, meaning there will be looser restrictions on a variety of activities starting Wednesday. (See details here.)
County Public Health staff hope to start posting some vaccine data to the county’s online COVID dashboard in the coming week. Vaccinations are still being given to locals age 70 and older as well as folks working in K-12 education or licensed in early childhood education. County staff is in the planning stages for opening up vaccines to people age 65 and older and those working in higher education and frontline food and agriculture industries.
Around 14 percent of county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including nearly 60 percent of people over age 70, Hoffman said. He also noted Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent announcement of new guidelines that will allow the resumption of some youth and adult recreational sports in counties that have case rates below 14 per 100,000 residents.
He closed his presentation with words of sympathy, saying that after a year of dealing with this virus, “We’re all tired; we’re all ready for this to end.” Like a marathon, the last mile can be the hardest, he added, saying, “Let’s take it slowly … and we will make it to the finish line together.”
In other news, the board unanimously voted to reappoint Brian Mitchell, a certified public accountant, to the Humboldt County Planning Commission, and with a vote of 4-1, with First District Supervisor Rex Bohn dissenting, they appointed two people to at-large positions on the Measure Z Citizens Advisory Committee: Justin Roberts, (a Whitethorn resident and general manager of Resort Improvement District No. 1) and Bob Bronkall (a Eureka resident and the county’s deputy director of public works).