Months after launching an investigation into delayed financial transactions, the county has abruptly called off the inquiry without a resolution, and without interviewing Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez, who has been at the center of public discussion on the matter.
“I wish I had more information myself,” Paz Dominguez told the Outpost on Friday.
The investigation, which was prompted by complaints of delays in payments, transfers and reconciliations of accounts, according to the County Administrative Office, first came to the public’s attention in November during a long and contentious special meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.
Supervisors Rex Bohn and Virginia Bass, who make up the board’s ad hoc budget committee, called the meeting to address these delays, which they said could wind up costing the county millions in state and federal reimbursement.
At the meeting, Paz Dominguez defended her accounting practices while reiterating a longstanding complaint that her office has been chronically understaffed. She also said other departments and agencies were regularly failing to meet her office’s deadlines, and she called on the county counsel’s office to “stop interfering … and forcing us to participate in unwarranted investigations.”
In the intervening months, the conflict got hung up on Paz Dominguez’s request to be appointed an outside attorney of her choosing — namely, former Eureka city attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson — to represent her in the investigation. Earlier this month, at another combative meeting, the board agreed to appoint an outside attorney but not Day-Wilson, about whom several supervisors expressed reservations.
On Friday, Paz Dominguez told the Outpost she’d gotten word the previous Saturday that the county was closing the investigation due to the passage of time.
“I tried really hard to understand,” she said.
In response to an Outpost inquiry, Deputy County Administrative Officer Sean Quincey sent the following statement late Friday afternoon:
The County treats all complaints and/or allegations very seriously. The County received complaints concerning delays in payments, transfers, and reconciliations of accounts. To mitigate potential liability for the County, immediate steps were taken to address these serious allegations. However, due to the passage of time, the County was unable to proceed with the investigation. The matter has now been closed without further proceedings.
Asked to elaborate, Quincey said he could only refer us back to the statement.
Reached by phone on Monday, Bass suggested that the matter didn’t need to develop into such a pitched battle.
“To me, the investigation was not [necessarily] to see what went wrong in [the Auditor-Controller’s Office] but to see where communication broke down somewhere along the way,” she said, adding that “investigation” was perhaps a stronger and more pointed term than necessary for the inquiry.
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson said he couldn’t really discuss the details of the matter.
“It’s important that the county maintain confidentiality to protect all parties,” he said by phone on Friday. “Anyone can speculate on the details of the investigation, but that’s all it is, speculation.”
Paz Dominguez said she had yet to be interviewed or even appointed an attorney. “It just kind of closed before it started,” she said.
However, the county’s internal inquiry may have been launched as early as August of last year. That’s according to Paz Dominguez herself.
As for its unceremonious end, the auditor-controller said, “I’m not gonna complain about it. … It’s one less thing. It means I can focus more on my work and my team can have more time to do their work.”
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