Humboldt County Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez. | Screenshot from a September meeting.



The governing board of the Fortuna Union High School District last week held a unanimous vote of “no confidence” in the leadership of the office of Humboldt County Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez. 

A Nov. 10 letter to county supervisors notified them about the vote, saying “While we recognize Auditor Controller Karen Paz Dominguez’s service, her tenure has been marked by her dereliction of duty in maintaining the quality and professionalism of her elected office.” The letter is signed by district Superintendent Glen Senestraro and all five board trustees.

The message continues:

The Auditor Controller has not closed her books for any months during the entire 2020-21 fiscal year, has not posted any 2020-21 interest (est. $80,000), cash has only been reconciled since March 2021, has missed the statutory deadline for reporting property taxes for the last two years, delayed in posting deposits, and delayed in posting state and federal revenues. These mishandlings have resulted in significant financial implications for our small district.

Meanwhile, the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury has launched an investigation into the Auditor-Controller’s Office in response to a complaint submitted by Senestraro and the district board. The complaint, first reported by the North Coast Journal, addresses some of the same issues mentioned in the letter along with other matters of alleged fiscal mismanagement.

The Fortuna Union High School District is comprised of Fortuna High School, Academy of the Redwoods and East High School.

The district’s allegations add to a growing chorus of grievances regarding the fiscal management of Paz Dominguez and her office. Like the FUHSD board, county department heads and fiscal management staff say they’ve lost revenues and faced additional workloads due to the delayed closing of this past fiscal year and other overdue postings.

Outside organizations such as First 5 Humbold, the Arcata House Partnership and the Humboldt-Del Norte Film Commission have reported problems including unpaid (or inexplicably rejected) invoices, late interest payments and a lack of communication from Paz Dominguez. 

CliftonLarsonAllen, a professional accounting firm hired by the county to conduct last year’s single audit, disengaged from the process in September saying it didn’t have the information necessary to complete the task and had been unable to reach Paz Dominguez via phone, email or a dedicated portal for the Auditor-Controller’s Office.

On Friday, the county’s Workforce Development Board will pursue a vote of “no confidence” against Paz Dominguez.

We reached out to Paz Dominguez for a response to the allegations from Senestraro and the FUHSD board. In emailed responses sent Monday she said, “This is the first I’m hearing about this as I have not received any communications from the district or any of the signers of this letter nor have I been invited to any of their board meetings to provide any information.”

She said her office works directly with the Humboldt County Office of Education and notified that office on Nov. 1 that all submitted transactions from the 2020/21 fiscal year had been completed a month prior. 

“This means that all months of the year were posted per their direction for all schools district funds, of which there are over 560,” Paz Dominguez said in her email.

The Outpost has been unable to reach Senestraro for comment. He told the Journal‘s Thadeus Greenson his board that he couldn’t say much due to the ongoing civil grand jury investigation. [Clarification: Greenson quoted Senestraro from the board meeting, not an interview.]

[UPDATE: Senestraro returned the Outpost’s phone messages but said he can’t comment.]

Paz Dominguez did acknowledge that interest has not yet been apportioned for the 2020/21 fiscal year, though she said progress has been made. 

“We understand the frustration experienced by districts who have completed their year and are waiting for interest,” Paz Dominguez wrote. “We share in that frustration. However, the County Treasury encompasses hundreds of interest-bearing funds that must be apportioned together and we will continue posting and reconciling what we can as fast as we can.”

She also noted that her department remains very short-staffed.

Regarding the allegation that her office has missed the deadline for reporting property taxes the last two years, Paz Dominguez said her office filed those reports on time, and she blamed the school district for any subsequent delays.

“FUHSD disagreed with the amounts reported but took two years to provide the required certification to our office to justify any changes to the report,” she said via email. “Once they submitted the required certification, we were able to submit amended reports which were accepted by the State.”

She added that if anyone from FUHSD would like to discuss these “misunderstandings,” she’d be happy to do so.

The FUHSD board’s letter to supervisors says, “We have tried to work with her department. We have been met with more hurdles and roadblocks than assistance and answers.”

Paz Dominguez, meanwhile, said, “It is unclear to me which office they are referencing having tried to work with.”