After describing a pattern of poor communication, delinquent reports and chronically late fund distribution, the Fortuna City Council on Monday unanimously directed staff to send a letter to Humboldt County Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez expressing “no confidence” in her job performance.
“I know that this has been an issue throughout the county, and I think Fortuna’s voice needs to be heard as well so that our Fortuna voters understand the severity of the position not being efficient,” Mayor Sue Long said upon introducing the agenda item.
City Manager Merritt Perry gave the council a slideshow presentation summarizing impacts to the City of Fortuna — as well as local schools — from the alleged shortcomings of the Auditor-Controller’s Office, which handles a variety of fiscal operations for local cities.
Perry said the city has not received its interest apportionment or investment reports since 2020. The former limits the city’s ability to use interest earnings on city projects while the latter delays the city’s ability to complete annual audits.
The Auditor-Controller’s Office has also been chronically late with property tax allocation and distribution payments, Perry said, and the county’s late submission of Fortuna’s Redevelopment Property Tax Trust Fund Distribution Report jeopardized somewhere between $200,000 and
$300,000 $400,000 in redevelopment funds.
Perry said that latter report has now been submitted, though he said the city hasn’t yet received notice that it has been accepted. He added that overdue reporting is impacting cash flow at the Fortuna Union High School District as well as the Fortuna Elementary School District.
Long said the Fortuna Veterans, VFW Post 2207, “have had a really tough time getting their money, and they said every time they get a check it’s because [Second District] Supervisor [Michelle] Bushnell ran interference and got them paid.”
That organization operates on a shoestring budget, she added, “and to see them struggle is just frustrating.”
Fortuna Finance Director Aaron Felmlee said it has been difficult to get questions answered directly by Paz Dominguez. Staff in the office is usually “responsive and helpful,” he said, but he’s had “very limited or no direct communication” with the auditor-controller herself.
Bushnell, who represents the Fortuna-surrounding Second District on the Board of Supervisors, Zoomed in to the meeting and offered the council a timeline from her own perspective. She told the council about the board’s own November 22 vote of “no confidence” in Paz Dominguez, which passed by a vote of 3-2, as well as the Fortuna Union High School’s “no confidence” vote in the auditor-controller.
“I really do believe a lot of the issues stem from the lack of communication,” Bushnell said.
Councilmember Mike Losey referenced a recent message to Paz Dominguez from the California Attorney General’s Office regarding a long-overdue Financial Transactions Report.
“I really think that it’s pretty clear that the auditor-controller’s abilities are substantially lacking, and the issues are not because of a conflict of personality, a personal grudge or miscommunication,” Losey said.
Fellow councilmember Mike Johnson agreed, saying he was in favor of sending a letter of “no confidence.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tami Trent said some Fortuna residents who work for the county haven’t received their paychecks on time. “I definitely think we should go forward with this [letter] also,” she said.
Ultimately, all five board members expressed the same opinion, and they directed Perry to draft the letter and send it as soon as possible.
Reached via email on Tuesday, Paz Dominguez said she didn’t have any comment on the vote in Fortuna, though she added, “Should any Fortuna City Councilpeople wish to communicate or work with the A-C office, they are welcome to.”