Issues raised about the county finance department in a grand jury report released Thursday were deemed outdated and in some cases, inaccurate, in a response from the county.
The report, “Yolo County Financing: Tracking Changes,” noted that there has been considerable change in the functions of the county finance department during the past few years and that changes are ongoing as the county transitions to an appointed finance director.
But the grand jury also found issues in a number of areas, including bank reconciliations and financial statements not being completed in a timely manner; new accounting software that has created a need for staff training; an audit of financial staff that shows a need for finance training and staff certification in accounting; and “widespread problems in staff morale, resulting from supervisory demands, staff cuts, lack of communication, dismissal of complaints and favoritism in many departments.”
The grand jury investigation coincided with significant changes already underway, including as a result of voter approval of Measure H last fall, which will eliminate the elected office of auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector in favor of an appointed director of finance. The transition — effective January 2015 when current auditor-controller Howard Newens’ term ends — will combine the fiscal functions currently performed by the county administrator’s office with those of Newens’ office, which includes most countywide accounting, auditing, collections, cash management and investment activity.
Newens said Thursday that while the grand jury report raised some valid points, “the information was outdated because they finished the investigation in January and a lot of things transpired in the first few months of the year.”
For example, the grand jury said the board of supervisors audit committee had not issued a request for proposals for an external auditor. However, Newens said, an RFP was issued in March with a recommendation for an audit firm scheduled to go before the board on Tuesday.
Efforts are also underway to increase staff competency with new financial and payroll software and both the county’s tactical plan and the county’s long-term financial planning efforts are focused already on many of the issues raised by the grand jury, Newens said.
“I just wish they had contacted us for (an update),” he said.
Meanwhile, other aspects of the grand jury report were criticized as inaccurate.
For example, the report raised questions about the board of supervisors’ audit committee — composed of two county supervisors and one private individual — saying the committee “had no financial expertise.”
However, county spokesperson Beth Gabor said the private member, Kathleen Stock, “has been a member of the audit committee since (2011) and has an MBA and finance work experience.”
As far as bank reconciliations and financial statements not being completed in a timely manner, Gabor said while the reporting may be untimely, it has not been statutorily late and no penalties have incurred. Newens added that the county has steadily reduced the delay in reporting and that all bank reconciliations are now current.
The delays, as well as the reports of low staff morale, likely have the same cause, Newens said: In the past four years, his staff has been reduced by one-third, and not all of the staff remaining possess the skills needed for the job.
“We require staff with analytical skills,” he said. “(But) previous job specifications … did not focus sufficiently on analytical skills and were geared mainly for employees of the past where processing transactions was the main responsibility.
“Now, problems need to be solved analytically, and since we don’t have the right kind of staff, staff with the right skills, in many instances there is more work pushed on the people who can do it. But our (human resources) department is the in the process of upgrading staff skills.”
As far as employees reporting a “perceived disparate treatment of non-degreed fiscal employees,” as the grand jury found, Newens said that, too, may be the result of changing skill sets needed for the job.
“We need an accountant with a four-year degree,” he said. “That’s the type of skill that we need. But the reality is the human resources system didn’t require that. It’s a discrepancy between our true needs and the civil service requirements. (And) we are trying to resolve it internally, either (by) redoing our job specifications or reconstructing our career paths so it makes sense.”
It’s all part of the long-term financial planning, he added.
“All of these are valid issues,” he said of the grand jury’s recommendations, “but we have done many of these already and a lot of things are in progress.”
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy