Mendocino County’s former chief executive on Tuesday denounced statements from the current Board of Supervisors about the county’s financial health.
Carmel Angelo restated past contentions that county reserves totaled $20 million when she retired earlier this year, and that the board was fully briefed on the county’s state of finances going into a jail construction project and labor negotiations with county employees
“There was never any doubt where things were, and what we faced,’ said Angelo. Recent board criticism of herself, and other county officials is wrong and unfair.
“If there is a lack of fiscal leadership at the county level it lies with the board itself,” said Angelo.
Angelo, now a local government management consultant in San Diego, said Mendocino board members were fully informed of potential strains on county finances, especially during her final year in office.
“After 15 years working for Mendocino County, and close to 30 years in public service, I have to ask, ‘What is the real problem here?’
Angelo reacted to recent news stories about board members’ unanimous decision last week to ask the state Controller for help in reviewing the county’s books.
Sarah Reith in a story published Tuesday in MendoFever cited the fierce criticism the board claims are generating, including from Chamise Cubbison, who was recently elected to oversee a consolidated Treasurer-Tax Collector/Auditor-Controller Office and former tax collector Shari Schapmire.
Cubbison in a letter to the board this week complained county supervisors need to ‘seek information directly before spreading rumors.’
Former Tax Collector Schapmire, who had argued against board consolidation of the two county offices, was blunt in her assessment.
Schapmire said she believes “the majority of this board is ill-equipped to comprehend the financial complexities that are inherent in the operation of the county.”
Supervisors led by Board member Ted Williams triggered the scuffle last week after hearing about cost overruns for a new jail construction project.
Williams publicly claimed the county’s budget process was messy and unreliable.
Williams said at the board meeting last week that he has been a county supervisor for more than three years, yet “I haven’t been able to get a credible financial report. I understand we have three different sets of books. They all differ. Why?”
Angelo on Tuesday weighed in on the board contentions.
Angelo said by its very nature a county budgetary process is complex, tedious, and requires attention to detail.
Yet claims that there are multiple versions of the county budget is nonsense, said Angelo.
“I am not sure what ‘three sets of books’ mean, or where this is coming from,” said Angelo.
Angelo said the simple fact is that the county executive office, which Angelo used to head, and the county Auditor’s Office provide revenue and expenditure numbers to develop the county budget.
“Once the budget is drafted, it is submitted to the Board of Supervisors for review and approval. The board then approves the budget, and it is submitted to the state.”
Angelo said a months-long budget process typically includes reports from the auditor and treasurer “but there is only one annual county budget.”
There are no competing, or conflicting sets of books, argued Angelo.
Angelo said the CEO’s office is responsible for keeping the county on budget and working with the Auditor’s office on revenue and expenditure projections.
But while it is imperative that the CEO and the Auditor work together, ‘the ultimate authority for the budget is with the Board of Supervisors.”
Angelo also took issue with repeated suggestions that a $20 million county reserve doesn’t exist. The distinction is critical as the county faces the jail shortfall and labor negotiations with hundreds of county employees who are agitated by high vacancy rates and stagnant wages.
“Over the last decade, prior boards, CEOs, auditors, treasurers and departments worked to balance annual county budgets and develop a healthy reserve,” said Angelo.
Angelo said when she left office earlier this year the board was fully aware of $20 million in general and designated reserves and a pension gap fund. Angelo said she does not know ‘if the board tapped into the reserves at this time.”
Angelo’s comments echoed earlier remarks of Schapmire and Cubbison, two veteran elected county officials who dismiss board claims.
Schapmire suggested some board members are questioning the county’s finances to promote the creation of a new county finance office under their control.
The former tax collector also said in the MendoFever interview that it appears board members have their own inadequacies in understanding county finances.
“It almost feels like they have some inadequacies at the board, and it’s almost like they’re publicly airing irresponsible and inaccurate information because they’re trying to deflect from those inadequacies.”
Supervisor Williams did not respond to messages seeking comment.