Humboldt County Auditor-Comptroller Karen Paz Dominguez had been given a firm deadline of March 16 to submit a long-overdue Financial Transactions Report (FTR) to the state comptroller’s office, and with repercussions legal stakes, she and her staff seem to have done so – barely.
“It was after 10 [p.m.] when we finished the FTR,” Paz Dominguez told the Outpost via text this morning, “but it’s over and submitted.”
The state comptroller’s office confirmed by email this morning that the county submitted financial data last night, although agency press secretary Jennifer Hanson added, “I can’t confirm whether that [submittal] constitutes a complete and correct submission until SCO has completed its review. »
A “final demand letter” sent by the attorney general’s office on Feb. 24 said the county’s 2019/20 financial transactions report had been overdue for more than a year, even though Paz Dominguez had told the court. State last June “that the data has been collected and is being processed, and the completion of the report was an “urgent priority”.
At a March 1 meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, Paz Dominguez said she believed the “final demand letter” may have been sent in error because a team of auditors visiting from the state comptroller’s office knew nothing about it. However, both the State Comptroller’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office later confirmed that there was no error.
That March 1 meeting was also notable because Paz Dominguez went on the offensive, listing a series of alleged tax misdeeds from multiple county departments. His charges ranged from relatively minor offences, such as departments not submitting invoices in a timely manner, to serious charges suggesting possible criminality.
For example, she accused the county administrative office of falsifying an actuarial report and sending it to the state comptroller’s office. She said the Department of Health and Human Services and the County Administrative Office had “manipulated information” on the bills. And she accused First District Supervisor Rex Bohn of pressuring departments to perform tasks for him or his friends.
At one point, Board Chair and Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass stepped in to ask Paz Dominguez if she had any evidence to support these allegations, and the auditor-controller assured her that she had. Supervisors ended up voting unanimously to have Paz Dominguez return to the March 15 meeting with a written report offering evidence of his accusations.
However, that did not happen. A special meeting planned afterwards also did not materialize. Here is what happened :
On Thursday, March 10, nine days after filing the charges, Paz Dominguez emailed board clerk Kathy Hayes saying she hadn’t opened an item in Legistar, the system for county agenda management, in time for this item to be reviewed and placed on the agenda for the March 15 meeting.
“That was my oversight and I apologize,” she wrote, and asked if a special meeting could be scheduled, or something added to an already scheduled meeting.
Shortly before 1 p.m., Hayes sent a response, saying none of the options would be possible given the council’s busy schedule this month, although she added that it was not too late. : if Paz Dominguez could upload his article to the system before 5 p.m. , the staff could still manage to put it on the March 15 agenda.
Paz Dominguez replied at 10:46 p.m., saying she had been busy working on payroll, which she had just finished.
“I will explore other options for sharing this information with the public and will provide the information to the Board via email,” she wrote.
But the next morning, Friday, Hayes responded with an alternative solution. “I went back and reviewed the calendars of the board members and we were able to schedule a special meeting of the supervisory board on Monday March 21 at 9:00 a.m. to take your agenda item into account,” she wrote. “In order to have enough time for the review, we will need to upload and move your agenda item into the workflow by Monday, March 14 at noon.”
Later that morning, County Administrative Officer Elishia Hayes also emailed Paz Dominguez. “The department heads asked about this at yesterday’s meeting,” she said. “I would suggest you update them on the timeline and also send them a draft with plenty of time to respond.”
That didn’t happen either. Instead, at noon March 15, Paz Dominguez appeared on the steps of the county courthouse to announce her re-election campaign and bring new charges against county department heads, supervisors and staff. The county’s budget management system is sick, she said, “and the sickness is caused by the continued decentralization of accounting functions.”
In response to calls for evidence, Paz Dominguez directed people to an online treasure trove of (mainly) e-mail exchanges between herself and county staff members, department heads and supervisors. These records were evidently obtained (and titled records) by Thomas Edrington, a cannabis industry consultant who volunteered on behalf of Paz Dominguez. (He offered to work for his re-election campaign, she told the Outpost, adding that she hasn’t officially formed one yet.)
the Outpost reviewed the emails and will report back in more detail soon. They date from November 2017 to November 2021, and although several of the accusations made by Paz Dominguez at the March 1 supervisory board meeting are also made in his emails, it does not appear, on first reading, that there are many evidentiary hurdles documenting “confirmed cases” of fraud or forgery, which were among his March 1 allegations.
We emailed Paz Dominguez this morning asking for any additional documentation she may have to support the allegation that the county administrative office falsified an actuarial report. (There are a “Pension Analysis” report reproduced in emails, from September 2019, which states that the information it contains has been “reviewed by an accredited actuary”, but it does not purport to be an actuarial report.) We will report any such documentation if and when we hear back.
As for the special meeting scheduled for March 21, Kathy Hayes sent an email yesterday morning to supervisors, department heads and a few staff members announcing that the meeting had been cancelled.
“The Board has not responded to numerous emails related to the special meeting she requested on Monday, March 21,” Hayes wrote. “Therefore, I am canceling the meeting and removing it from your calendars. Thank you.”
Minutes later, Paz Dominguez replied to all of them, telling Hayes that she (Hayes) had only sent one email “once to say you scheduled the meeting but before I could confirm, you let others know this was happening. You sent me a second email yesterday when I was unavailable and I didn’t get a chance to respond. Now you’re canceling a meeting that I I haven’t even had a chance to confirm.
She continued: “The BOS/CAO has scheduled several meetings on the Board without the Board in the past and I don’t know why this can’t be done now given that you control all the agendas. If you have already scheduled the meeting, I think you should keep it. Or at least communicate that it was scheduled without AC confirmation and is now overridden by BOS choice. I can make myself available if you leave it scheduled.
Reached by phone this morning, Hayes said the meeting had to be canceled because no one initiated a meeting by uploading an item to the county’s electronic workflow module. The diary management system requires departments to upload their items and documents several days in advance for review by the county attorney, CAO, and, if related to county finances, the auditor-comptroller .
In this case, Hayes said, the responsibility lay with the auditor-controller, “because it was a request that came out of a live board meeting. [Paz Dominguez] indicated at [the board] that she would bring this article along with backup documentation to back up some of the claims. She agreed to do it, and it never happened.
Another development this week to report: On Tuesday evening, Humboldt County Economic Development Director Scott Adair received an email from Veronica Champayne, a regional counselor with the California Employment Development Department.
She was informing him that because the county’s 2019/20 one-time audit has yet to be submitted to the state, our local workforce development area has been placed on ‘cash hold’. , preventing the county from tapping into federal grants that pass through the agency. The effective date was March 4.
Adair explained that this sanction prevents the county from seeking reimbursement for any expenses arising from programs funded by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). In the long term, he added, that could impact the county’s ability to get new grants.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Paz Dominguez said the one-time overdue 2019/20 audit is being completed by external accounting firm CliftonLarsenAllen (CLA), and they have set a target completion date of March 31. .
Regarding the ‘withholding cash’ sanction, Paz Dominguez said, “I can’t speak to the impact this has on us in the present, as it’s not clear from the e -email if it is funding that was expected last week, this week or next month. This is another example of the challenge of decentralization because the AC office does not see the grant applications that economic development submits or does not know how often this happens.