County, auditor disagreements on Grand Jury delays response

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

​HUMBOLDT – The staffing and security of Humboldt County’s financial accounting are again at issue as the Board of Supervisors considers responses to a recent Grand Jury report.

​The financial issues led supervisors to hold off on approving responses to a Grand Jury report at their Oct. 2 meeting.

​The report makes a variety of findings and recommendations related to the county’s financial oversight, including a finding that the Auditor’s Office “lacks the staff to provide and implement training plans for its employees.”

​County staff recommends that the board disagree with the finding. Part of the reasoning for that is the addition of a full-time accountant position.

​But Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez said the response should be in agreement with the finding. 

She said the staffing is “not sufficient for us to fulfill the needs of the county and the expectations that people have of us.”

​She added that her request for staffing responds to acute need. “I’m not here to spend all the county’s money – when I come and request additional staff, it’s because we desperately need it,” she said.

​The county’s proposed response to the Grand Jury’s finding on inadequate staffing includes mention of a $51,000 allocation for 10 office cubicles in the auditor’s office.

​Paz Dominguez said she “went price shopping” and got the same set of cubicles from a different vendor for $20,000.

​“I am a very frugal person,” she continued. “If you give me a staff person, I’m not going to let them just sit around and twiddle their thumbs – my staff work and we work because that’s the expectation of us and the obligation of us as financial stewards of the county.”

​Paz Dominguez added that consultant reports found that short-term staffing is needed to “minimize the risks to the county” and because “employees feel they are overwhelmed with the work they are doing.”

​Another Grand Jury finding is that there is “a high risk of fraud in a number of county departments due to their poor cash handling policies and procedures, improper accounting, and lack of accountability.”

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​The county staff recommendation is to disagree with that but Paz Dominguez recommends otherwise.

​“I think this is an opportunity for us to garner public trust, where we can admit mistakes that have been made in the past due to previous management or previous styles and use this opportunity to make it right and go forward with progress,” she said.

​Adding that the treasurer-tax collector has also weighed in, Paz Dominguez told supervisors that “we are both communicating that there is a risk, we’re not making accusations that somebody has committed fraud but we are pointing out that risk exists and we are doing the county a disservice if we deny its existence.”

​Supervisor Steve Madrone said he needs time to assess the auditor’s proposed responses and made a motion to take them up again at this week’s meeting. 

The motion failed to gain a second at first, but was accepted after some discussion.

​Supervisor Estelle Fennell said Paz Dominguez’s staffing requests are better considered in the upcoming budget process. 

And Supervisor Mike Wilson suggested that declaring that there is a high risk of fraud would be an overstatement.

​“I haven’t seen anything that agrees with that, that there is a high risk of fraud,” he said.

​There is indeed risk of fraud, he continued, which is “why we have these systems in place” but “finding that there is a substantial or significant amount of risk is something I’m having a hard time getting through.”

​Supervisors voted to continue the discussion on the Grand Jury’s financial report to this week.

​Other responses to Grand Jury reports were approved. Some of the staff-recommended responses to a report on homelessness were changed.

​The changes include revisiting the duties of a housing trust fund committee to consider whether immediate sheltering should be added to its per view.





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