FAIRFIELD — Solano County supervisors and county officials on Tuesday listened to the Solano County grand jury present three reports that included pointed criticisms, then responded with a few criticisms of their own.
The 2013-14 grand jury issued 17 reports. The ones presented verbally to supervisors addressed homelessness, criminal justice realignment and the county’s efforts to implement an automated payroll system.
“We appreciate you listening to us,” grand jury member Morland McManigal told supervisors. “I think it’s important.”
Grand jury member Bill Patterson read the report addressing homeless. The county and its cities use a joint powers authority called the Solano Community Action Partnership to spend federal grants on the needy.
But the grand jury found that Solano CAP doesn’t post meeting agendas as required by law and in 2011-12 spent only 14 percent of its $428,559 in revenues on the homeless. It found the county Auditor-Controller’s Office failed to do annual audits of a fund that uses county taxpayers money to handle cash-flow issues with federal grants. This fund has a $322,676 deficit, the grand jury found.
Patterson read the report’s description of the Solano CAP situation as “unconscionable.”
Grand jury member Meir Horvitz read the report on the county’s attempt to start using the Intellitime computerize payroll system to replace a system using paper time sheets. The county has 23 employee bargaining agreements with different rules that complicated the matter and the Human Resources Department failed to provide timely help. The three-year delay pushed the cost from $368,640 to more than $1 million, with the system to be in place in September.
Horvitz also read a report saying the county needs to do more to handle the state’s shift of responsiblity for some felons from the state prison and parole systems to the county jail and probation systems.
Supervisors sat behind the dais listening to the comments with serious faces, sometimes looking at the speaker, sometimes looking at the reports. Then it was their turn to talk.
“I think it’s a disservice to the public when the grand jury presents something the county hasn’t had time to respond to,” Supervisor Jim Spering said.
Auditor-Controller Simona Padilla-Scholtens denied that her office has the responsibility to do the audits for the Solano CAP fund. An independent auditor has the job, she said. She was surprised to find the Auditor-Controller’s Office mentioned in the report when the grand jury never contacted her, she said.
“I think it’s important for the public to know I didn’t fail in my fiduciary responsibilities,” she said.
She also disputed that the cost for the automated payroll system has ballooned from $368,640 to $1 million. About $480,000 that the grand jury included in the costs is actually an accounting requirement, not added costs, she said.
Spering used this cost disagreement as an example of “mischaracterizations” in the grand jury reports. Plus, while there may be cost overruns to the Intellitime project, there are the benefits of bringing the county out of a 19th century system, he said.
He said the grand jury’s work is valuable. But he wanted a type of public presentation that would include a county viewpoint that as of Tuesday was still being formulated.
Supervisor John Vasquez compared criticizing government to harpooning a beached whale. The grand jury looks only at the things that are wrong, he said.
“We’re easy to criticize,” Vasquez said. “We should be criticized, our feet should be held to the fire.”
But clearly, he wanted more balance.
“Eleven of our 17 reports this year were very positive about the departments we investigated,” McManigal said. “Those that are not, we’re only trying to make it better, make Solano County a better place. We can’t change the facts.”
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.