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Angels City Management Disputes Parts Of Grand Jury Report

Angels Camp, CA – Acknowledging a grand jury’s report of mismanagement among Angels Camp City administrators, its council and staff are disputing several of the findings to the presiding judge.

At last week’s city council meeting, the City of Angels City Council approved issuing a formal letter to Calaveras County Superior Court Judge Grant V. Barrett, responding to several negative findings made against city management by the 2016-17 County Grand Jury in its final report issued in June, as reported here.

A footnote within the letter explained that, as some of the findings and recommendations within the report requested responses from the City Administrator, Mary Kelly, and City Attorney, Derek Cole, the letter’s content comprises those as part of the City’s official consensus response.

The Grand Jury shared that while looking into an actual complaint of mismanagement by the City of Angels Camp, it discovered that its administration had not been reviewed in over a decade. While delving through its subsequent investigation the jury members conducted council member, staff and independent third-party auditor interviews; review of procedural, meeting and financial documents; employment contracts and evaluations; election filings and results. Through the process the Grand Jury tagged what they called several areas of mismanagement.

In its conclusion the members made eight findings under which they also made recommendations. While the council partially concurs with criticisms of a former city manager’s actions, it vigorously calls out the jury for the finding stating that the council has sufficient reasons for proposing a dissolution of the city.

Provided below is the City’s formal response to the Grand Jury’s conclusions…

Finding #1: There is a lack of public interest in filling the elected positions of the City of
Angels Camp.

The City disagrees with this finding. The 2016 election to replace three seats on the City Council attracted only two people who successfully filed their paperwork. However, this is not indicative of a lack of support in the community for continuing local governance.

There is also a strong volunteer base that includes business owners and other interested citizens. Destination Angels Camp, Angels Camp Business Association and the Museum are just a few examples where citizens and business owners contribute substantial time, effort and money to make the City a better place to live and work.

Recommendation #1: The City Council should reinforce the need for greater public
involvement at every opportunity.

The City agrees with the intent of this recommendation but disagrees with the recommendation to the extent it suggests the City has not attempted to do what is recommended. While all legal requirements for notifications are in compliance, improvements through the use of technology should be considered. Email notifications for routine and critical City business will be considered for implementation through links in the City website. In addition, the City will explore the potential for improved communications through social media.

Recommendation #2: The City Council should create a public awareness program for the purpose of gaining greater involvement in local government.

The City Council disagrees with this recommendation for reasons stated above and because much effort is already dedicated to this end. The City has recently updated its website and a City official sits on many committees. The City publicizes all openings in the local government. Putting more resources to this end would require taking time and money from other areas and our resources are better utilized elsewhere.

Finding #2: The current City Council and staff are looking into reorganizing the structure of government options.

While a response to this finding was not requested, the City notes it is a sign of prudent management to always seek improvement in operations.

Finding #3: A former city administrator was acting in violation of the city handbook by independently crafting policies and procedures rather than implementing the policies as set by the Council

The City agrees with this finding.

Recommendation: The City Council, City Administrator and City Staff should follow the
established policies and procedures in accordance with the city handbook and set by the
Council.

As the Grand Jury Report notes, the City Council approved a written policy in 2015 governing the practice of employees taking salary advances. For approximately the next two years, a formal policy governing the practice was in place. In July 2017, the City Council adopted a resolution rescinding the right of employees to take salary advances. On this and other subjects, the City is strictly enforcing employment policies and procedures state in its employee handbook and in other sources.

Finding #4: The at-will performance evaluation form is inadequate.

The City disagrees that the performance evaluation form it has used in the past is inadequate.

Recommendation #1: The evaluation form should be modified to ensure number ratings are more aligned with behaviors, roles, responsibilities, and performance of at-will employees.

Despite the City’s disagreement with the finding on this subject, the City agrees that there is always room for improvement of the evaluation forms. The current form has a numbered rating system and it also has room for a narrative evaluation to allow for comment where the numbered rating system falls short. This more generic form allows the flexibility for it to cover the various positions and responsibilities that the at-will employees represent. This recommendation will be taken under consideration.

Recommendation #2: Performance areas needing improvement should have action plans and timelines.

This recommendation requires further analysis and consideration. The City Council will consider this subject in advance of the next regularly scheduled cycle of City employee evaluations.

Finding #5: It was determined that city staff were aware misuse of public funds occurred.

The City agrees in part and disagrees in part with this finding. The finding is vague as to when it asserts City staff were “aware” of the misuse of public funds. City staff did become aware of the potential misuse of public funds in association with the preparation of the Fiscal Year 2015-16 audit. But City staff were not aware of the misuse of public funds prior to that time.

Recommendation #1: The City should hire a forensic accountant to review the City’s
financial records

The recommendation has been implemented. The City has properly identified the scope of inappropriate behavior in which the former management employee engaged. The City has also enacted measures to assure the behavior does not happen again. The affected employee is no longer employed with the City. To the extent further issues need to be examined concerning this employee, the City believes that those issues may only properly be evaluated by law enforcement agencies.

Finding #6: The City of Angels Camp has a payroll advance policy that has been abused and mismanaged.

The City disagrees with this finding as written. As noted in response to Finding #4, the abuse of payroll advances occurred before any policy was put in place. The problem thus was not the abuse, but the absence, of a policy. The City agrees that the practice of payroll advances was abused before this policy was put into place.

Recommendation: Remove the payroll advance policy.

The City Council has implemented this recommendation effective July 2017 with the City Council’s adoption of a resolution rescinding its former policy.

Finding #7: Administrative staff was taking more administrative leave than was accrued,
resulting in a loss to the city of at least $29,000.

The City agrees with this finding, but does not necessarily agree with the amount of excess leave paid as stated.

Recommendation: The city should hire a forensic accountant to determine the full extent of over-payments.

This recommendation is not warranted. As noted in response to Finding #5, the City has taken measures necessary to prevent against the misuse of administrative leave and public funds. The affected employee is no longer employed by the City. To the extent any further action may be taken to evaluate the actions of this employee, only law enforcement agencies would have the appropriate capability to conduct such analysis.

Finding #8: The City of Angels Camp has reasons for proposing dissolution of a city.

The City disagrees with this finding. After one hundred and five years as an incorporated city, it seems quite clear that the citizens of the community have valued local governance over one provided by the County for a substantial period of time. Rural governments almost everywhere struggle with economic viability. The financial constraints faced by the City, while severe, can be solved. Given the issues that exist in the county today, This City Council does not believe that County services would match or exceed those currently provided by the City of Angels to its citizens.

The City notes that it was able to reorganize part of its administration by distributing and reassigning responsibilities among the staff. The end result was the elimination of a high paying position at a significant savings to the City with no change in service. This was an improvement and arguably eliminated years of top heavy waste caused by administrations dating back 10 years or more. This was a good thing, not a reason for dissolution. In fact, pending budget action before the Council will likely result in an overall improvement in the City’s budget reserve position.

This City Council feels that this recommendation to consider dissolution was the subjective, politically motivated and biased opinion of the Grand Jury and not a recommendation based on actual merit. The motivations of the Grand Jury should be investigated. Evidence of their bias can be seen not only in this unwarranted recommendation, but also on the cover of the report and in the foreperson’s initial letter to Judge Healy. While it was a Calaveras County Grand Jury Report, not only did they have the nerve to put a cartoon on the cover, it clearly emphasized the City of Angels.

In the foreperson’s letter, instead of an unbiased investigation to find the truth, he clearly states that they took action ” … to properly represent the perspective and feelings of those that submitted complaints.” Further, he states that “This Grand Jury’s greatest strength was its emotional connection to the County … “. Emotion rather than rational, informed thought guided this Grand Jury. Finally, he likens this process to playing a game. This is not a game and the Grand Jury’s opinion has consequences.

Recommendation #1: The City Council and staff should review and discuss Government Code § 56668.

The City Council will not implement this recommendation as it is not warranted for the reasons stated in response to Finding #8.

Recommendation #2: The City Council should hold an open meeting to discuss with the public if dissolution is the right choice.

The public is within its right to ask for this agenda item. However, since the Grand Jury did not make an intelligent case to warrant the City initiating this meeting, this recommendation is not warranted or reasonable. The City is a viable entity and it provides vital services to the community. The focus should be its continued improvement in operations so that it can better serve its citizens.