Thursday, July 01, 2010

2009-2010 Grand Jury Report - Poor office management practices and communication continue to plague the District Attorney's Office

Poor office management practices and communication continue to plague the District Attorney's Office, after first being noted in the FY 2004-05 Grand Jury report.

link
The 13 cases that did lead to formal Findings and Recommendations are as follows (in alphabetical order):
Board of Supervisors Salaries
County Government’s Accounting Standards
County Government Management
Delayed Action on the Part of the District Attorney’s Office
Elk River Land Use
Ethnic Tensions in Public Schools
Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG)
Humboldt First Five
Sites Visits, Law Enforcement (including Sheriff’s Office and all facilities,
Coroner’s office, all Police Departments, Juvenile Probation, and government operated
animal shelters)
Victim Witness Program

Grand Jury Report 2010-HESS-03:
Delayed Action on the Part of the District Attorney’s Office

Required Response

Pursuant to California Penal Code Sections 933 to 933.05, response to the Findings
and Recommendations of this report shall be provided as follows:

• District Attorney shall respond to Finding 1 and Recommendation 1.

Background

The underlying case had to do with the County taking complainants’ three young nieces and nephews from her care without advising her of reasons or their whereabouts. She was originally given custody of them because of alleged abuse at the hands of other custodial relatives.

REPORT:

The Grand Jury determined that an interview of the County Child Welfare case worker was needed. She informed the Grand Jury that a subpoena would be necessary in order to do this. Following is the sequence of efforts to obtain the subpoena

October 16, 2009 - Grand Jury requested the County Counsel to obtain a subpoena. County Counsel, citing conflict of interest, referred the Grand Jury to the District Attorney's office;

October 22, 2009 - Grand Jury contacted District Attorney's office, providing requested information;

October 25, 2009 - District Attorney’s office requested more information;

December 2, 2009 - County Counsel asked DA's office for an update. DA's office indicated that three petitions had been signed;

December 3, 2009 - DA's office said addresses were needed;

December 5, 2009 - Two Grand Jury members waited in DA's office for over an hour for a meeting with the Deputy DA assigned to the case. No meeting occurred and no response was received concerning Deputy's failures to meet;

December 16, 2009 - Grand Jury members met Deputy DA by chance; inquired of progress on subpoena. Deputy DA indicated that he would check on whether an “827” has been filed, also needed address of grandparents. (Second time info was provided);

January 5, 2010 - Grand Jury supplied grandparent addresses to DA's office;

January 27, 2010 - County Counsel again requested status of the subpoena from Assistant DA;

March 2, 2010 - GJ Foreperson wrote to the judge requesting his help regarding the subpoena;

March 16, 2010 - Another query by the foreperson to the judge;

March 19 2010 - The judge said he had contacted the DA’s office;

March 23, 2010: The judge informed the Grand Jury that the DA’s office was now commencing the “827” process which is lengthy and complicated;

March 27, 2010 - Asst. DA responded that the “827” forms had been prepared but that files had not.

Findings:
This report sheds light on:
1. Inefficiency and/or lack of cooperation from the District Attorney’s office.

Recommendation:
1. That the District Attorney’s office, when presented a request by the Grand Jury, act responsibly and promptly on the matter.


***

Grand Jury Report 2010-LJ-01
Victim-Witness Program
Required Responses:

Pursuant to California Penal Code Sections 933 to 933.05, responses to the Findings and
Recommendations of this report shall be provided for as follows:
1. The County Administrative Officer and the County Auditor-Controller shall respond to
Recommendation 1.
2. The Board of Supervisors and the Personnel Department shall respond to
Recommendations 2 and 3.
3. The District Attorney shall respond to Findings 1 through 6, and to Recommendation 4.

Background:
This report, regarding administrative management issues and the failure to submit claims for grant reimbursement by the District Attorney's Office, originated with an investigation that was initiated by the previous Grand Jury (2008-2009). That Grand Jury could not bring the case to a conclusion before its term expired, largely because the principals from the District Attorney's Office delayed responding to Grand Jury requests for information. Thus, at the direction of the Presiding Judge, the current Grand Jury reinitiated the investigation.

The main issues this Grand Jury investigated were:
D.A.’s Office failure to file for at least two quarters of grant fund reimbursement documents for the Victim-Witness program with the State Office of Emergency Services (OES) in FY 2006-07, resulting in substantial funds being reverted to the State;
• Problems with the timely submission of requests for grant reimbuursement claims that resulted in the loss of revenue for the County;
Complaints from District Attorney's Office staff of nepotism and favoritism toward relatives of supervisory personnel;
The failure to complete District Attorney's Office personnel evaluations, as required by the agreement between the County and the American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 1684, and reflected in County Merit System rules.
Report:

A. Grant Monies
Monies received from grant funds are a mainstay for ensuring the overall operation of the District Attorney’s Office, as well as many departments in the County. Typically, State grants are applied for on a fiscal year basis and are paid to the department in arrears, in the form of periodic reimbursement for wages and other expenses associated with a particular activity. Actual expenses and wages are paid out of the County’s General Fund which is subsequently reimbursed after a reimbursement claim is filed with the granting authority.

To obtain the reimbursement the applying department must submit documentation proving the amounts expended are eligible for reimbursement. In the instance specific to this investigation, the reimbursement filing period was quarterly (with the State OES). For the last two quarters of FY 2006-07, the District Attorney’s Office failed to file for the reimbursement, resulting in those accumulated expenses NOT being recovered and the state reverting those funds to itself for other uses.

The funds NOT recovered were subsequently replaced by monies from the County’s General Fund.

These monies were not budgeted for this use and other programs or departments were thus precluded from the opportunity of having access to these funds.

During witness interviews testimony was received indicating that situations like this one had occurred with other County departments and agencies, with similar effects on the County’s General Fund. It was also noted by witnesses that there was no effective tracking of grants, resulting in the County administration’s staff being unaware of these situations until well after the time for reimbursement. The Grand Jury also notes that this issue was identified by the County’s independent audit in its most recent report. [Reference: 1) County of Humboldt, Single Audit Report, dated June 30, 2006, by Donald R. Reynolds, CPA; and 2) Letter from Donald R. Reynolds, CPA, to Board of
Supervisors, dated March 13, 2009.]

Also revealed, while the Grand Jury was investigating the foregoing grant fund issue, were several instances where grant applications were not properly processed or submitted. This resulted in either the resubmission of the grand application (with time lost in repetitive work), and/or the loss of funding for the oft times-mandated programs affiliated with the grants. This would have resulted in General Fund monies being utilized for programs(s) when grant monies were possibly available.

B. Nepotism

Nepotism and/or favoritism toward relatives of supervising personnel is a problem in the District Attorney’s Office. It is the Grand Jury’s belief that the current County policy that nepotism occurs only when there exists a direct line of supervision is ineffective. Depending upon the office positions of the related parties, favoritism can transcend multiple levels of supervision. Quite often it can extend beyond the single level of supervision that the County has identified, and is as much influenced by physical location and individual behavior as it is by the involved individual’s position.

In one instance in the office in question, this issue resulted in confusion on the part of other staff members about the effective chain of command and the correct identity of an individual’s direct
superior.

Nepotism creates tension, provides an unnecessary source of resentment by staff and usually becomes a source of morale and retention issues.

C. Personnel Evaluations

Personnel evaluations are not being done routinely in the District Attorney's Office, as required by the County’s Merit System rules. During the interviews conducted with department staff, it became apparent that evaluations were either done sporadically or not at all. There did not appear to be any systematic evaluation program in place.

By failing to conduct evaluations the County does disservice to itself (e.g., failing to document inadequate performance issues), its employees (loss of means to receive guidance for improved performance) and the community (loss of quality of services).

D. Office Management

Poor office management practices and communication continue to plague the District Attorney's Office, after first being noted in the FY 2004-05 Grand Jury report. These ongoing problems have
been corroborated by the testimony of several witnesses.


Their testimony indicates job-related frustrations, such as: (1) needing to re-do tasks previously completed; (2) delays in the timely completion of routine tasks; and (3) failures in communications between office staff.

Findings:

1. The Victim-Witness program grant fund reimbursements for at least two quarters of FY 2006-07 were not submitted, resulting in the loss of significant reimbursment monies to the County.

2. County General Fund monies made up the Victim-Witness reimbursement shortfall.

3. Grant applications have not always been properly processed, resulting in the loss of potential funds to the County.

4. Nepotism effectively exists in the District Attorney's Office and adversely affects staff.

5. Personnel evaluations are not being routinely done by the District Attorney's Office, as required by County Merit System rules.

6. Poor office management practices continue to plague the District Attorney's Office, many of which are similar in nature to problems noted in the 2004-05 Grand Jury Report.

Recommendations:

1. That the County Administrative Office and the County Auditor collaborate to allocate additional staff to create a centralized grant-management program that is responsible to one or the other of them. The purpose of this new program would be to: (1) better manage and track the many grant funds used by all County departments and agencies; (2) improve opportunities for acquiring and applying for grants, and (3) ensuring that associated activities related to grants (including filings for reimbursement) are accomplished in a manner that does not result in a loss of monies to the County or the use of General Fund monies for unbudgeted programs.

The Grand Jury notes that this issue was also identified by the County’s independent auditor, with a similar recommendation in his last report. [Reference: 1) County of Humboldt, Single Audit Report, dated June 30, 2006, by Donald R. Reynolds, CPA; and 2) Letter from Donald R. Reynolds, CPA, to Board of Supervisors, dated March 13, 2009.] The Grand Jury supports this recommendation.

2. That the Board of Supervisors review their current policy on nepotism. The Grand Jury recommends that an improved policy will clearly disallow relatives from working in the same county department.

One potential remedy would be to separate the affected parties by way of reassignment to different, uninvolved offices or units.The refined policy/ordinance should apply to all County departments and offices. The Board should charge the Personnel Department with the drafting and enforcement of this ordinance, as well as devising appropriate penalites for non-compliance.

3. The Board of Supervisors establish a County ordinance requiring that employee evaluations be accomplished on a set schedule and format. As a County ordinance, the requirement would then be binding on all County employees, including appointed and elected department heads. Said ordinance should be developed by the County’s Personnel Department and contain appropriate language to ensure that evaluations occur and appropriate penalties for non-compliance are spelled out.

4. That the District Attorney recognize the ongoing responsibility of his Department to abide by the administrative, finance and personnel policies of the County when they do not conflict with the position’s State Constitutional duties.

2 comments:

Chris Crawford said...

Hmmm ... violent crime is now higher than 8 years ago when Gags took office, and now the Grand Jury finds that 6 years after taking him to task for poor management, they confirm that it still exists.

A poor and ineffective manager. Time for a change !!

Jon said...

Rose:

Used to be that Grand Juries were outfitted with a Judge. That Judge would issue a Subpoena under the direction of the Grand Jury when such matters compelled the Jury for the Warrant of Subpoena.

So how does it work in your neck of the Redwoods,or is it just a GRAND JURY in the Grand scheme of things?