Saturday, September 23, 2023

Citing Decades of Bad Budgetary Practices, Mendo’s Board of Supervisors Proposes Establishing a Department of Finance 

(L to R) 4th District Supervisor Dan Gjerde, Treasurer-Tax Collector Auditor Controller Chamisse Cubbison, 2nd District Supervisor Mo Mulheren, 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak, 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams, 1st District Supervisor Glenn McGourty [Screenshots from the County of Mendocino Facebook page]

The Board of Supervisors took a first step in planning for the creation of a department of finance this week. The item, “Discussion and possible action including direction to staff to develop a contingency plan for the creation of Department of Finance based on best practices of successful counties,” earned the ire of Treasurer Tax Collector Auditor Controller Chamisse Cubbison. She told the Board that upgrades to the finance system, shake-ups at top levels of key departments, and the pandemic have all played a role in the recent financial confusion. But she identified another source of confusion, as well, saying, “I continue to feel like a scapegoat for your lack of understanding of financial matters related to the county, and your inability to make hard decisions.”

Supervisor Glenn McGourty, who co-sponsored the item with Supervisor Ted Williams, said he wants a higher level of professionalism in the county’s financial sector. Cubbison’s was not the only department in his sights. “Having people handling the public’s money, it’s absolutely critical that we have the best person in place,” he declared. “While we have hard-working people with this task, they don’t necessarily always have the capacity to really deliver the information that we need. As supervisors, we have no control over them, since they’re elected officials. Then we’re being held to task when something goes wrong, like when money has not been properly allocated to pay our insurance premiums, or reports don’t occur on time for closing the books…properties aren’t properly assessed or tax bills sent out…We’re hoping for a level of professionalism that can raise the overall quality of the government we deliver.”

Supervisor Dan Gjerde noted that in order for property taxes to be collected, they have to be assessed. He said the vacancy rate in the assessor’s office has been as high as 67% in the past few years, and is now down to about 25%. “But there’s going to take some time for the assessor’s office to catch up, and start bringing these buildings onto the tax rolls, which is just the first step in the process of billing it,” he explained. “As we discuss this, the challenges with the county’s finances involve many county departments, and they’re not solely resting in any one department.”

Williams added that there is a history of missing records, saying that, “It’s difficult to generate reports if you don’t have good record-keeping. And it’s not about one person. Because this is a long-term situation. It’s been building, probably, for decades in this county. The quality of the records I expect, and the reporting, is such that, if some money were missing, hypothetically, we would be able to look at a transaction log and see when it went missing and where it went.  You don’t have that today in this county. Believe me, ask your staff if they can get a transaction report going back ten years…We don’t know where the money goes. So checks and balances? Today? We don’t have them.” 

Cubbison complained that the Board has not communicated clearly what they want from her, and that she correctly predicted that top staff would quit when the auditor controller and treasurer tax collector department head positions were merged into one. But she said she is highly qualified for the position. “My staff has worked through the combining of the office,” she told the Board. “They have stuck by me because I am a leader and I take care of them. I make sure they have what they need. And I take exception to the idea that somehow I am the wrong person for the job. There is no one else in your county system who has the experience and the background that I do.” She told the Board that when Marin County appointed a director of finance, the formerly elected official ended up in the position. “After a nationwide search, they still ended up with the same person,” she concluded.

County Counsel Christian Curtis said the voters would have to decide two questions if the Board decided to move ahead with creating a department of finance: One is whether or not to create the department in the first place, and the second is whether that position would be elected or appointed.

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Supervisor John Haschak, who was the only vote against consolidating Cubbison’s two positions, had some concerns, including, “If we’re going to put it all into the CEO’s office and have this fiscal department reside there. Right now, we have a CEO that we really trust and have a lot of confidence in, but we can’t make policy based on personalities…I don’t see it moving into the CEO’s office in the immediate future.”  

“I think that would be one of the considerations that would be undertaken while trying to develop a plan, is what does it actually look like,” replied Supervisor Maureen Mulheren. She added that her priorities are reporting and redundancy, “And making sure that there are multiple layers of people that know how to serve functions. Especially as it relates to our financial system…If everybody in a department up and moved to Arruba, who knows how to do the job, or what kind of guidance document is there to be able to move forward and complete the job.”

The direction to staff was low on detail, and did not include a date to report back with findings. Mulheren’s colleagues agreed unanimously with her interpretation of the item to, “Formally direct that staff look at a contingency plan. Not that the plan won’t happen, not that it will be brought to the voters, but that this is a formal direction from the five board members to direct staff to look into these items.”

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  1. Good move. Imagine if your business had a bookkeeper who didn’t think she worked for you and didn’t provide the basic financial information you needed to run your business. And then overlay that problem with the fiduciary responsibility you have to the public.

    I am willing to believe Ms. Cubbison is well qualified in which case she would be a good candidate for the new position. Which should definitely not be an elected position. The BOS definitely needs a tighter rein on the County’s finances.

    • Appointed DOF
      Controlled by the BOS whose experience to their job is living in a district and having a high school diploma.
      Financial reports could be crafted/presented to the current board political agenda at the time rather than actual.
      Appointed DOF employment is subject to the Board whims.
      Leaves BOS controlling purse strings leaving those whose job is to set policy/legislation as executive branch, potential for massive abuse of public funds.
      No term limits.
      If you like taxation without representation this is your choice.

      Elected DOF
      Answerable to the People, elected by the People.
      An independent office for checks and balances, keeping the Board spending in check.
      Can be removed every 4 yrs by the People or under recall.
      If you like to have a say in you future and your county with a Vote, this is your choice.

      No matter how you feel about the current ACOTTC, this should never be an appointed position.

  2. “There is no one else in your county system who has the experience and the background that I do.” – Legacy knowledge is reason all this has reared it’s ugly head. For this reason, I would appoint someone with experience from outside world with real life experience and no conflict of interest issues.

  3. Six top public official who personally take in quite a large chunk of county tax funds, but collectively lack the ability to enable or require the county government to provide the numbers or produce a certified balance sheet. Maybe they just need another raise in salary to enable them do the job. Just kidding. They are either collectively or individually incompetent or just pulling a skim-scam on us trusting and hapless peons. But the real blame goes to the citizens who elected them and then allowed them to get away with a waste of our taxpayer funds. If this is the best we can do, why bother. If the democratic system cannot elect, monitor and control those elected, then let’s just spin the wheel to pick council members. It is beyond pathetic to hear their ridiculous excuses.

    • Elected offices, like the Sheriff, Auditor(Now combined w/ Tax collector), and Assessor are not competitive historically and the winner at every election tends to be (nearly always) the incumbent if their is an alternative choice to vote in. The elections are sort of useless for these offices given no one can afford to run a campaign from the outside competitively nor do they have the influence of legacy working in their favor. No one ran against the the acting Assessor, Auditor or Tax Collector in the last election cycle (given all the fiscal problems) but two BOS seats had more vying candidates to choose from making for a more competitive election. The BOS tends to have more than one person competing for the elected position in each district. The BOS would also be more liable for the failure of a appointed position. The City Council of Ukiah appoints their Chief of Police which means they can remove them quickly when something like police brutality hits the media which happened back in 2022. (1) In an elected seat this would be nearly impossible to remove unless it was overt criminality. (2) (https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/ukiah-police-chief-fired-after-being-placed-on-leave-amid-investigation/) (1)
      (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/nov/16/alex-villanueva-la-county-sheriff-loses-robert-luna) (2)

    • They were been led around by the old CEO Carnel Angelo, she told them how to think, now they are lost and befuddled. Apparently Darcie Antle is not as good at manipulation or pulling the wool over the BOS eyes. Or just like LE in Mendocino County the CEO and BOS are corrupt.

  4. The board is playing with fire. My guess is voters would choose to make the DOF position up for a vote of the people, assuming the voters even want a DOF in the first place. Depending on how the DOF ordinance is written, it could create a new rival power structure to the board, by making the DOF the defacto CEO. It all depends on how the ordinance is written. Because what is the point of creating a DOF if they don’t also have budgetary authority in addition to ACTTC roles? If they don’t give the DOF budgetary authority then all they are doing is renaming the ACTTC. this is why these financial positions are split up in the first place. Five duncehead board members will get played like a fiddle along with all the other department heads by such an elected position during any budget process. Especially if they’re smooth political operators. I don’t think Chamise is such a smooth political operator, but the Board is opening the door to her, or to someone else. Chamise should look at this as an opportunity. But she probably wont. If I were her, I would actually start drafting my own competing DOF ordinance and getting it ready to compete with whatever crap the board puts together. Get the DOF real power and even consolidate the Executive Office into DOF, essentially making the County CEO elected. Get signatures and put it on the ballot if it goes that far. Now, that’s a winner for a politically astute player. The board is playing with fire.

  5. The State is coming in to audit the BOS handling and accounting of taxpayer dollars and the BOS only has excuses. We want the answers to where tens of millions of dollars have disappeared to. How can you a pass a budget year after year and only now say that the BOS hasn’t known the financial situation of the county for decades due to poor record keeping? We want the results of the State of California’s audit of this county’s finances. We won’t take the BOS excuses or half ass answers anymore.

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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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