Monday, May 29, 2023

Treasurer Under Fire: Mendocino Supervisor Calls for a Vote of No Confidence

(Left to Right) 4th District Supervisor Dan Gjerde, 2nd District Supervisor Mo Mulheren, Elected Treasurer-Tax Collector/Auditor-Controller Chamisse Cubbison, 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams, 1st District Supervisor Glenn McGourty, 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak [Screenshots from the Mendocino County YouTube video]

A budget discussion at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting exploded into a call for a vote of no confidence in the Treasurer-Tax Collector/Auditor-Controller, Chamisse Cubbison. An item on the consent calendar directed her to provide a written report of the last fiscal year, including the final carry-forward, within ten days. 

Cubbison is elected, and not subject to direction from the Board.

However, Supervisor Ted Williams, who is on the budget ad hoc committee that sponsored the item, said he did so because Cubbison reported to the committee last week that the carry-forward, which she has previously orally reported as $2.2 million, may be as high as $5.7 million. “How can it be that different?” he asked. “Because we’ve been assured two million, $2.2 for some time. I would like it in writing so that we all have the exact same information.”

CEO Darcie Antle confirmed that Cubbison had mentioned the $5.7 million figure, but, “I think it was allocated only as one-time funding. I don’t believe that she was considering it carry-forward.” Antle was unwilling to clarify anything without a written report.

Still, Supervisor John Hashcak opined that “Something is really wrong with the system if we’re into April and we still don’t have” solid information about the carry-forward. “Without that information, we can’t do anything,” he concluded.  Williams interrupted him to move a vote of no confidence in Cubbison.

Within minutes, Cubbison herself was at the lectern, saying, “I find it unfortunate that today has been a big spectacle about me not producing information when I indicated I would have a full report. I said I would give a full report, and it will come forward at third quarter.” She noted that in the last two weeks, her recently combined office has been charged with processing tax payments that came in on Monday and have distributed monies to special districts and schools on time for the first time in five years. “We’ve got a lot going on. We’re trying to implement the cannabis tax reduction. We’re trying to get out the supplemental tax bills,” she added.

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Williams continued to press for more reporting, saying that during a three-day budget review process prior to Tuesday’s meeting, every department had brought its proposal, with supporting documents, to the ad hoc committee. “From your office, which should be the role model for every other department in this county, we got nothing,” he said. “Not a page. Zero. Not a paragraph. Nothing at all. Why is that?”

“My primary budget units are in the finance system. My budget is in Munis” (a financial software system), Cubbison replied, shushing him as Williams tried to interrupt. “My department is the department that answers the majority of the questions for budgets; that adds accounts at the last minute because every department needs extra accounts….if I stopped and made my presentation great, there’s probably five or six other departments that wouldn’t have been able to get their budget in. They still wouldn’t have their budgets in.”

A document from the Executive Office was also not up to a high standard, according to Supervisor Maureen Mulheren and SEIU 1021 field representative Patrick Hickey. A PowerPoint for presentation on the budget states that the projected deficit for the county general fund in fiscal year 23-24 is $19 million dollars. Proposed expenses are $94 million, with proposed revenues expected to be $75 million. “I understand that we’re doing zero-based budgeting,” Mulheren said. “My concern is when a member of the media, or a member of the public, picks up this agenda and they’re trying to discern this presentation. They don’t have enough information.”

Hickey said he had to agree with Mulheren. “The budget report was not particularly useful. Someone who didn’t have a very deep knowledge of how the county functions would not be able to make heads or tails out of it,” he declared. “It talks about one-third of the county’s actual budget, focusing in on a handful of the fully-funded general fund departments. The county’s budget is closer to $340 million, not $94 million. So it doesn’t give us a full picture.”

Deputy CEO Sara Pierce told the Board she was trying to get a full picture when she tried and failed to get a document from Cubbison’s office. “I was trying to understand why costs for a specific department increased so significantly from one year to another,” she said. “I was told I could go over there and look through the papers, but they do not release the Excel files to departments.”

“It sounds like a document the Executive Office should have access to,” Supervisor Dan Gjerde said. “It doesn’t sound like there’s a legitimate reason for one branch of the county to keep information from another branch of the county. If the document exists, it exists.”   

No one joined Williams in his call for a vote of no confidence. But one of the directions supervisors unanimously approved was for staff to obtain a comprehensive list of budget materials from Cubbison’s office. 

And confidence appeared to be low.

“Chair McGourty, what’s going on here?” Williams asked.

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“We’ve been wondering this for some time,” McGourty allowed. “We’ve been wondering why it’s so difficult for our county to get financial information when other counties seem to be able to function with this and it doesn’t seem to be an issue…the only county that had similar problems was Humboldt County. And they had somebody who didn’t seem to be able to understand everything that they were supposed to do. Whether that’s the case here, or not, I don’t know.”

Watch the proceedings here
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  1. Love to see everyone scram le over all this missing money. Something all of those involved in council should have had some knowledge of to some extent. There are no innocent parties involved here….only mistake made? Someone was screwed over or grew a conscious and blew the top off this one. This whole county needs a result and full outside investigation.

    • there isn’t “missing money” (yet). Members of the BOS just never know what the information they are looking at means, and Chemise doesn’t have time to give them a 4 year education on government accounting. Ted seems to think its like a widget factory where you could conceivably now exactly how many widgets you sold and how many you have in inventory. Its not like that at all. A “balance sheet” would be meaningless with the way things are done in goverment

  2. “…and have distributed monies to special districts and schools on time for the first time in five years.” She has been Tax Collector for five years. Why wasn’t right the first time? Was it on time all the years before her?

    • Chamise Cubbison was our Deputy Auditor Controller for the past five years prior to the BOS combining the offices of Auditor/Controller and Treasurer Tax Collector. Both departments have been understaffed for years. Just because the BOS is elected it doesn’t mean they know one thing about governmental accounting. So they freak out over it because they don’t understand it.

  3. Did they ask Ms Angelo to put anything in writing to prove her wild claim to millions in reserve when she left. Is she being held accountable for the crap mess she left us in? Is she? Or did the BOS raise the contract limits that departments can approve without them so they can give her new “small government” consulting firm a contract to come fix the mess incognito. You think she isn’t orchestrating and pulling strings here still?

  4. The BOS have no one to blame but themselves. By combining the Tax Collector with the Auditors office, they lost their whole Tax Collector knowledge base with Shari Shapmire and Julies Forrester resigning in protest. Who would you get replace Chamise? Not just anyone can walk into the Auditor/Tax Collector office and seamlessly take over. Chamise has a lot of institutional knowledge and in my opinion is qualified for the position. It is most of the BOS who are not qualified for their positions. Ted Williams and Maureen Mulhern, in my opinion, are the most unqualified.

    • Well, well. Ted Williams is fond of criticizing those elected officials, myself included when I was on the Board of the Mendocino Coast Health Care District, who are not sufficiently nice and collaborative all the time. I found myself on the receiving end of such criticisms whenever I tried to hold colleagues accountable. Tsks, tsk, Mr. Williams for raking Ms. Cubbison, a real professional in my opinion, over the coals and calling for a vote of no confidence.

      • John Redding knows nothing about Williams who is the only one to have the guts to vote a no confidence in the Auditor. If she turned out budgets they way she gives excuses for not doing her job, we could see the extent of corruption that exists in this county. The former controller should be under investigation for unilaterally allocating tax money when only the Board can make those decisions.

    • Combining the Tax and Auditor offices together was always the plan even among prior BOS members in the past. The prior Tax collector along with the knowledge was going to retire regardless of the BOS’s stance on the office. The problem here is the quality of the electable candidates is subpar in this county. It goes for the Assessor’s/recorder/elections office too. The elected offices have a quality control issue with their leadership bodies. The BOS wants to appoint a tax collector from someone outside the county who may have a background in accounting / finance or direct tax collecting /auditing experience. Cubbison like many second hand power position rose to the top because of outlasting their old colleagues but not necessarily being the most qualified for the leadership. The Assessor’s office is in the same predicament which adds more reason the county isn’t collecting enough taxes or able to fund its obligations.

      • Where was this “plan” ever made public? When did the Board consult the School Districts and other entities who hold funds in the treasury? Where is the SWOT analysis? Where’s a cost-benefit analysis? All of this was discussed behind closed doors in violation of the Brown Act. All of this was done without consulting with stakeholders. All of this was done without transparency. It’s the Board that’s responsible for the above. Instead, the Board’s answer to the question of why? “Because we can.” That’s not good enough. But I agree with you that the quality of elect ed’s is poor in Mendocino. Cubbison is not perfect, but she stepped up and I didn’t see anyone else competent who raised their hand.

        • The BOS for all its misgivings and transgressions whether intended or not has been wanting to do this since the Tax collector had been making plans to retire. This county by popular approval made an illegal ordinance in cannabis so I’m pretty certain the brown act isn’t gojng to stop them from talking. The fall out from prior two BOS members, CEO, auditor and tax collector left us in this position. The public opinion on the budget matters is not always the most well thought out if you have ever sat through some of these public hearings. Cubison is gullible enough to accept this punching bag of a position. The last couple local elected leaders have led this county down a dark hole of debt and ineptitude. The county needs to bring in outside experience which won’t happen if these offices remain election based. This is coming from some one who has worked in the county for three and half years. I’m not from here but this place has serious competency issues and transparency issues. Both the BOS and the local elected offices play off each other and lie to each other to pretend everything is okay when it isn’t.

  5. I mostly agree with you, but McGourty to me seems to be almost constantly confused and never really says anything insightful about anything. I’m sure he is a great guy, but I don’t think he is sharp enough for the job. Maureen and Haschek to me seem the most effective at getting stuff done, and Maureen always comes having already read the material

  6. I don’t think McGouty’s comparison with Humboldt is very accurate. Cubbison has years of related experience and the backing of all the prior finance professionals in the County. The Humboldt gal had none of that. This Board scares me with their level of willful ignorance. I don’t think they’re being advised very well by the CEO, her staff or County Counsel. Where is the pressure on HR to fill all of the Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector positions? That would actually help. Trying to throw Cubbison’s statute responsibilities over to the CEO’s office assumes the CEO’s office knows what it is doing. I think that’s a huge mistake as I am seeing very little competency there. The staff are still “Acting” Deputies who are brand new to their job and county government finance in general. It’s very clear to me they want to discredit Cubbison to make the argument that the position should be non-elected and appointed by the Board. How did that work for Cannabis? It would make all financial documents and processes dependent upon the misdirection of the Board, where know-nothings like Ted will pressure the finance department to start double-counting revenues and all kinds of other dumb shenanigans. It is also clear to me that the main person pushing the vilification of Cubbison is Dave Eyster who Cubbison apparently caught illegally spending tax dollars on food. That’s her job. He does not like oversight. Notice how they don’t name the department the CEO was pulling information for?

    • Cubbison is not well received in the office or by other offices. She is there because of being the last one standing and not because of her qualifications. BOS has been wanting to make this office appointed for a long time and waiting for the current heads to retire.

  7. Another thing. The Board claims it cannot negotiate with employees because they don’t know the prior year carryover amount. It would be a huge mistake to use that carryover to fund ongoing operational expenses like wage increases. Why? Because it’s not a revenue. It’s simply unspent funds from the prior year. They have a massive amount of unfilled positions so carryovers are likely, but they’re not revenue. It’s more important that the number be accurate than have it quickly spit out for labor negotiations. A carryover may not happen in subsequent years, especially if you’re saying the County’s entering a deficit year. The real person who needs to set this Board straight is John Pinches. He knew you didn’t budget one-time revenues to cover ongoing expenses.

  8. I guess you have to expect problems when you put those offices under the oversight of one person. They should be separate. It’s like the right hand and the left are playing behind the back.

  9. It takes a big man to cry, and it takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man!

    Mendocino is stuck in the 1970’s along with those in charge. Compassion requires people not acting like spoiled snot-nosed children. Yes, you are all replaceable, and not one knows “better” than the rest. Suck it!

  10. My only personal exsperience with Ted Williams, was when BOS asked, in the newspaper, for opinions about a subject. I emailed mine, to be read at meeting. Instead…I got a email from him, Mr. Ted Williams, personally, telling me that the subject, was already pretty much decided and my opinion was incorrect. Wow. He’s very reactionary and he is not the entire Board by the way. I got a phone call & email apology, from office, when I complained about this. I stated if the BOS dosen’t really want opinions…do not ask us common folk, in news the media, for opinions. What a waste of my time and seriously wrong to ask for a opinion, then invalidate it. No one person should call out employees at meetings, in such a public manner, unless they really know what the power of their position is, and the potential, as to damage character. Hard working people deserve better. I was just giving an opinion. Cannot imagine, how employees, are treated. This BOS meeting showed how a person with no control, over his words, can hurt the publics perception of government and employees reputations. Demanding reports and all bookkeeping, should be done way before a meeting but only if possible. And teaching what reports represent, is not anothers job. What reports are capable of, should be a job requirment, to become a supervisor.

  11. hey BOS, you elite bunch of “essential” overpaid criminals…
    how about i stop paying my 13K/yr property taxes that are funding your criminal activities until you get honest about your budget b/s. you all shut this county down for way too long so that you could collect your “veeeeed” dollars from sacramento/f-troop to pad your “esential” pockets. nonetheless you still did not get enough money???? sounds like a laundering operation to me. you are acting in a lawless manner! why should anyone respect that activity???
    how bout this? i stop paying…you figure out your bravo sierra. you don’t like that??? you can come knocking on my door collecting, and let’s see how that all works out.

  12. Why isn’t Cubbison setting a deadline for the other accounts to submit their information in order for her to submit a timely report to the BOS, who she needs to be answering to? The ball is being dropped somewhere and all I see are excuses coming from her.

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Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith is a radio and print reporter working in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, focusing on local politics and environmental news.

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