Grand jury flags Humboldt County’s ‘poor cash handling’ policies, ‘improper’ accounting practices

Report finds county funds could be open to misuse

Grand jury flags Humboldt County’s ‘poor cash handling’ policies, ‘improper’ accounting practices

For its final yearly report, the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury released today its own examination of an independent review of the county’s auditor-controller office, finding issues with the office’s staffing levels and the county’s financial accountability.

The jury found a lack of “adequate” documentation and adherence to state standards, as well as a shortage in various levels of training within several departments. If the county doesn’t get up to par in certain areas of accountability, its money could be in danger of financial misuse, the jury found.

“There is a high risk of fraud in a number of county departments due to their poor cash handling policies and procedures, improper accounting, and a lack of accountability,” the jury wrote.

It additionally found issues between the Human Resources department’s level of cooperation with the auditor-controller’s office. Payroll is handled through Human Resources, but the grand jury says the auditor still “lacks the data” to properly assess payroll disbursement methods.

The jury recommended the county direct the auditor-controller to assess payroll methods in the Human Resources office before Oct. 1.

Karen Paz-Dominguez, the county’s elected auditor-controller, has publicly spoken about issues between her office and Human Resources. She praised the report to the Times-Standard today ahead of releasing her formal responses to the jury’s findings.

Paz Dominguez

“I was so excited to see the report, because this has all the things I’ve been saying since before I was elected,” she said.

The grand jury’s decision to assess her office at all stemmed from Paz-Dominguez’s public comments at a Board of Supervisors meeting in 2017, where she raised alarm about the office’s practices. At the time, Paz-Dominguez was a staff member in the auditor’s office.

Her comments triggered independent audits of the office by several outside consultants. The grand jury laid out assessments of the consultants’ findings while offering its own recommendations in the published report.

County spokesperson Sean Quincey noted that numerous independent investigations now have found no cases of fraud or misuse of public funds within the county.

“For several months now the entire county has been working closely with the Auditor and several professional leadership and accounting consultants on many of the process-related practices detailed in today’s Grand Jury report,” Quincey wrote in an email.

“We believe many of these changes are positive and will provide for increased transparency,” he continued. “However, what has been stated in prior investigative reports delivered to the Board in open session remains true: it is vital that all departments work well together to achieve real results.”

Quincey went on to point out that “organization-wide changes” should be made with care, given the area’s population size and the county government’s large number of employees.

The grand jury’s report marks its final published set of findings for 2019. The jury’s other assessments released in recent weeks include an assessment of the county’s homelessness problem and an examination of mental health care for inmates at the Humboldt County jail.

Several county officials will now have the opportunity to respond to the jury’s findings, upon the jury’s own request.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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