‘Shocking’ accounting mess at probation
June 7, 2010
Over the past five years, the Board of Supervisors has allocated $79 million to the county’s Probation Department to improve its juvenile facilities and reorganize its management structure.
The question on Tuesday: Where’d all that money go?
In a report to the board that triggered sharp reactions, the Chief Executive Office acknowledged that it could not definitively determine whether probation officials had spent the funding for its intended purposes—including the hiring of 901 employees—“because of the inadequacy of the department’s records.”
“The depth of the problems in this department are shocking,” Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka told the supervisors.
Fujioka’s statements drew strong criticism from the supervisors, who for months have expressed concern about why the department was continuing to compile deficits when the board had provided so much money. In April, voting on a motion by Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe, the board directed the CEO to investigate the matter, leading to Tuesday’s report, which fell far short of the answers the board wanted to hear.
“Seventy-nine million is allocated to this department and nobody knows where it went?” Yaroslavsky asked incredulously during Tuesday’s board. Criticizing both the department and the CEO’s office for the slowness of the inquiry, he added: “This sounds to me like it is a colossal mess.”
Supervisor Gloria Molina didn’t pull punches, either.
“If it was your own checkbook that was paying for this, believe me you’d be up all night along trying to figure out where it’s going,” she said, questioning whether staffers were working intensely enough to find the answers.
Molina also raised the possibility that the lack of records leaves open the possibility that the department has hired “ghost employees” who don’t really exist or employees who collect paychecks but don’t actually show up to work.
At the end of the heated discussion, the board, frustrated by what it considered the slow pace of the inquiry, approved a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to bring the Auditor-Controller’s Office on board. The CEO, Probation and Auditor-Controller will report results back to Supervisors in early July.
Most of the $79 million had been allocated to bring the Probation Department into compliance with mandates issued in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Justice, including a directive to improve client-to-staff ratios and increase personnel for health and mental health care. In all, 901 employees were to be hired.
But the Probation Department has been unable to provide a full accounting of the personnel.
A recent spot check of staffing at the department’s Downey headquarters using payroll data showed that the department’s records do not accurately reveal the location of the new workers. Chief Probation Officer Donald Blevins, who arrived in April and was charged by the supervisors with fixing longstanding problems, said that 146 of the 548 staffers nominally working at headquarters were actually assigned to another office, despite records to the contrary.
He extrapolated that up to 2,000 of the department’s 6,100 employees may work at locations other than those shown in Probation records and promised he’d continue to “aggressively [track]” the locations of all employees.
Blevins and the CEO also noted that they believe newly hired employees were working in the areas intended because the department had satisfied the Justice Department’s issues. “But we cannot report with certainty which positions were hired, or where those staff were deployed at the time,” the CEO’s report.
The report did disclose two funding problems in which money intended to solve particular issues did not reach the intended target.
In 2008-9, supervisors appropriated $6.5 million toward the purchase of a medical records system called PEMRS, but spent only $500,000 on the program. The other $6 million helped offset the department’s deficit that year. The supervisors had to allocate another $6 million the following year to buy the records system.
In addition, about $2.5 million earmarked for rents in 2008-2009 was apparently applied to the department’s deficit.
During Tuesday’s discussion, Molina told Blevins, the new probation chief, “we’re not blaming you, because we know you inherited it. But we’re asking you to really take command of it.”
Blevins, for his part, assured the supervisors that he was doing his best to account for the department’s funds and personnel.
“We are aggressively tracking this,” Blevins said.