Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Descriptions of Humboldt County’s Auditor-Controller’s Office as being dangerously understaffed have been downplayed by a consultant who says a more relevant issue is lack of training.
A “management and accounting review” of the office was presented by financial accounting consultant Craig Goodman at the June 19 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Goodman’s written report includes responses to a Nov. 17, 2017 Lost Coast Outpost news report on the office and claims made to supervisors by Assistant Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez, who has since been elected as Auditor-Controller.
Last November, Dominguez told supervisors that the office’s lack of staffing has seriously undermined the county’s ability to oversee public funds and flag abuses.
But Goodman’s report is far less alarming. His dry recommendations include re-classifying county money held in trust funds and in his presentation to supervisors, his most emphatic advice on staffing was for increased training to improve job performance.
For Supervisor Estelle Fennell, Goodman’s report puts the issues surrounding the Auditor-Controller’s Office in perspective.
“There are a lot of details in here that are very helpful to me in terms of understanding what the whole turmoil is about,” she said. “And I do see on a number of issues that were raised either by staff or in the media, that there is no recommendation because it seems to me that there was just a misunderstanding of the law or something along those lines.”
“Right,” said Goodman.
He told supervisors that the office’s leadership is also “something that can be improved.” On the claims of severe under-staffing, Goodman deferred to a more involved review that’s underway by a consulting firm but reiterated the importance of staff training, especially in areas like financial reporting.
The lack of professional or county audits of fire protection districts was flagged by Paz Dominguez last April. She had told supervisors that the county is out of compliance with state auditing requirements and Measure Z and other tax funding might be withheld as a result.
When Board Chair Ryan Sundberg asked about non-compliance issues, Goodman suggested that government auditors may be counter-productive when they have a laser focus on codes.
“Sometimes we – I say we because I was one – come on a little strong on, ‘Hey, we need to comply with the law,’ because that’s really the focus of that office,” he said. “Everything’s kind of driven by codes and standards and so what happens is when your office is just focused on codes and standards, you kind of get a little tunnel vision of just ‘codes and standards, codes and standards’ – and you lose sight of ‘program.’”
County Administrative Officer Amy Nilsen said meetings on office management have been held including Dominguez and Interim Auditor-Controller Cheryl Dillingham.
“Everyone identified that training was something that they wanted to work on” and a training program will be developed, she added. She told supervisors an additional funding request will be associated with it.
Asked about the office’s staffing level, Goodman referred to a closing section of his report. “One of the last lines in there is that I can’t make a true assessment of that without knowing that they are fully trained,” he said. “And so when your staff is not fully trained, they don’t understand what they don’t know – so they aren’t doing what they don’t know to do.”
County administration and auditor’s offices will update supervisors on implementation of Goodman’s recommendations in six months.