After a controversial declaration of financial crisis six weeks ago, the Board of Supervisors spent the morning session at Tuesday’s meeting discussing timeframes for financial reporting requirements with Chamise Cubbison, the new Auditor-Controller Treasurer-Tax Collector.
Last month, Supervisor Ted Williams complained that he has not seen a credible financial report in the entire three and a half years he’s been in office. The Board voted then to ask the State Controller’s office for help with its books. Yesterday, Williams reported on the upshot of that meeting.
“We did meet with the State Controller…to get feedback on whose responsibility it is,” he said. “And what I heard is that this is a local problem and the Board needs to take responsibility and officially make requests of the auditor…we did meet with the Auditor-Controller Treasurer-Tax Collector, and we conveyed that if some of these items are beyond her capabilities, or she believes it’s beyond the scope of her office, the Board could hire consultants, could staff up in other parts of the county. The bottom line for the ad hoc is, this is what we need to do our job. We’re not concerned about who performs the duty of generating the reports. We’re just concerned that we have reports.”
Supervisors presented Cubbison with a detailed list of items they want regular reports on. But Cubbison said she doesn’t have time to compose what she called a “dissertation” on what her office does. And she said she’s not the only one who can provide the Board with financial information.
“The CEO’s office has always, always been able to generate reports,” she declared. “At no point in time have they ever been dependent on the auditor’s office to produce the reports. And the history has been that the analysts’ positions are in the CEO’s office. The budget has never been built by the Board to put the positions in the auditor’s office to respond to those requests.”
Seven minutes into her opening remarks, Cubbison was showing signs of what may have been irritation.
“I have been the Auditor-Controller Treasurer-Tax Collector for sixty days,” she informed the Board. “Sixty days, which started six months sooner than anticipated. With only two weeks’ notice. And right off the bat, you put forth your demands and appear to be doing your best to break my will. And yes, you seem to not understand the financial statements, and not understand the budget, and not understand the finances, and I feel like there’s a lot of pointing and blaming, whereas other people, other staff people who should know stuff, are acting like they have no idea.”
Cubbison said that prior to the meeting, she had only gotten a quick glimpse of the items the Board planned to address, and that she wasn’t prepared with detailed information. She said the state was strict about deadlines for reporting covid money, and she doesn’t know if the county will be subject to fines for turning in its reports about a month late.
She said much of the material she uses to generate reports comes from county department heads, not all of whom have provided her the information she needs in a timely manner. And she said the loss of her predecessor, Lloyd Weer, is hitting her hard. She explained that there have been significant delays in the last year. “In an ideal year, where we didn’t have a disaster, and everybody was fully staffed, and things were going well, and there wasn’t turnover, and there wasn’t loss of institutional knowledge, we would be lucky to close the books by the first week of September.” This year, she said, she can’t tell the Board how much longer it will take. “There’s still information that needs to come in…There’s still entries that, frankly, I don’t know how to make. That, really, I need Lloyd.”
Supervisor Maureen Mulheren suggested that having desk manuals for every position in the county might mitigate the loss of institutional knowledge. “So if somebody wins the lottery and moves to Arruba, the next person picks up a binder, and knows what to do,” she explained.
Funding and staffing for the office were sticking points, but Cubbison said the market is not promising for high-level accounting positions.
The Board attempted to resolve the difficulties by codifying organizational procedures. They addressed one item on the list by agreeing to transfer payroll duties to the fiscal division in the executive office. CEO Darcie Antle said that due to a recent vulnerability, her office had hired outside consultants to help process the most recent payroll. Antle thinks she can create a workable system in the next six to eight weeks. The Board also directed Antle to instruct department heads to keep their financial information up to date. And she is charged with making sure entities that bill the county submit their invoices on time. The two supervisors on the budget ad hoc committee, Williams and Glenn McGourty, agreed to look into how other counties make timely financial reports, to see if there is an appropriate model for Mendocino County.
During public comment, Kiki DeLong, Chief Deputy Auditor-Controller, emphasized the needs for more staff, and for county department heads to close their books on time. And she asked for one more thing.
“You need to start actually supporting our Auditor-Controller Treasurer-Tax Collector by your actions, as words not backed up by actions can only be deemed false,” she declared.