Investigation Finds Paz Dominguez Fostered an Atmosphere of Hostility and Intimidation as His Financial Decisions Cost the County Money, Staff Report Says | Lost Coast Outpost

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Screenshot of the supervisory board from Tuesday’s meeting.

PREVIOUSLY: Supervisory board considers censoring auditor-controller Karen Paz Dominguez

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Earlier today, we reported that the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to meet on Monday, April 4, to consider censuring Auditor-Comptroller Karen Paz Dominguez. Thanks to the release of an information report from the council’s closed hearing this morning, we now know more about why.

According to the report – which was also unanimously approved for release by the board – an independent, third-party investigation into the allegations against Paz Dominguez found that she had engaged in retaliatory acts, harassment and/or bullying.

The investigation also found that the auditor-comptroller’s financial decisions increased staff workloads and caused financial losses to the county, the report said.

Deputy County Administrative Officer Sean Quincey noted in an email that the Board of Supervisors has limited power to direct the actions of the auditor-controller, who is independently elected and therefore ultimately answers. account to voters.

“However,” Quincey said, “her actions, including the treatment of staff and others with whom she interacts, impact the entire county government, employees and community.”

He was careful to differentiate between “censorship” and its namesake, “censorship.” The council does not suppress the speech of the auditor-controller.

“A censure is an official reprimand or an opportunity to express disapproval,” Quincey said, adding that the reprimand is intended “to induce a person to change their actions or at least prevent future criminal actions.”

The investigation was conducted by Filomeo Investigative Services and law firm Prentice|Long. The staff report released today, which was written by the county attorney, also reveals that there was a previous independent investigation into Paz Dominguez, conducted in 2018, which came to similar conclusions.

Namely, he found that she mismanaged her department, showing a lack of leadership and making poor policy decisions; that his actions and comments have caused animosity, stress and anxiety among employees; and that she had been inconsistent in her directives while blaming her own mistakes on her subordinates, according to the staff report released today.

It’s unclear exactly what allegations prompted this latest investigation into Paz Dominguez. On November 3, a group of department heads, deputy directors and other unnamed employees sent the board a letter expressing concern about a “serious” and “imminent” budget crisis allegedly caused by “Failures and Financial Missteps” by Paz Dominguez. The letter said the unidentified employees were considering a range of options, including legal action against the county, the board of supervisors or individual elected officials.

Less than three weeks later, the board of supervisors passed a resolution expressing “no confidence” in Paz Dominguez by a 3-2 vote, with supervisors Mike Wilson and Steve Madrone dissenting. A staff report from that hearing listed a long list of alleged deficiencies in Paz Dominguez’s tenure as auditor-comptroller, including chronic delays in legally mandated tax reporting; late payments to suppliers, child support recipients and employees; and the lack of response to manage the county payroll, among others. You can read this report here.

We reached out to Paz Dominguez for an answer. She replied by email: ‘It is inappropriate that you received information during a closed council session and it is inappropriate that I have it now. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on this material and I pass it on to my attorney.

Quincey reiterated that the Supervisory Board had authorized the material to be released with this morning’s vote behind closed doors.

When we conveyed this point to Paz Dominguez, she sent a follow-up email, saying, “As I have not received any communication or supporting documentation from the Commission or [County Administrative Office] or the county attorney on this, I will not comment on the content of the document you shared. I also don’t know how this information was published or if this is in fact the ‘in camera update as discussed’ that [County Counsel] Jefferson [Billingsley] reference. Should the evidence be made public in its entirety for review in an official capacity, I will be happy to comment.

The county attorney’s report from this morning’s closed hearing is reproduced below:

Last year, your council authorized an investigation into allegations of work misconduct and late payment by auditor Ms. Paz Dominguez. Your council also authorized an agreement to retain the services of an independent third-party investigator to investigate the allegations and ordered county staff and officials to participate.

Due to several factors, this investigation suffered significant delays, but is now complete. The retained third party counsel investigator reached conclusions in this investigation which are summarized below. These conclusions were based on numerous interviews with witnesses and written documents:

  • If Karen Paz Dominguez has engaged in retaliatory, harassing and/or intimidating behavior in the performance of her duties as elected auditor-controller.

This allegation was supported by the investigator.

The report notes broad agreement among witnesses interviewed outside the auditor-controller’s office that they saw a change in the levels and tone of communication after challenging or criticizing the auditor- controller. Many believed that once the CA was challenged, it would intentionally stop processing applications, or at least significantly delay them. They also claim that she will stop communicating with that service or person who is challenging or criticizing her. Other witnesses described acts of retaliation, intimidation and/or harassment.

  • If Karen Paz Dominguez’s financial decisions have resulted in increased staff workloads and financial losses for the county.

This allegation was supported by the investigator.

Regarding findings of workplace misconduct, an earlier investigation in 2018 came to similar findings regarding the conditions created by Ms. Paz Dominguez. Highlights of the findings of this third-party report are below:

  • Ms. Paz Dominguez maintained an atmosphere of hostility, retaliation and intimidation.
  • Ms. Paz Dominguez showed a lack of leadership, bad management and made bad political decisions.
  • Ms. Paz Dominguez’s actions and comments have caused animosity among employees and increased employee stress and anxiety.
  • Ms. Paz Dominguez was repeatedly inconsistent in her direction and blamed her errors on her subordinates.

As your Board knows, the Auditor-Comptroller is an elected official over whom your Board has limited oversight and no power to impose disciplinary measures. However, the types of behavior that the Investigator has documented demonstrate harassing and bullying behavior in the workplace that is not acceptable under Humboldt County and other policies. Possible actions in response to these working conditions and the corresponding effects on county employees will be discussed during the closed session.

There are also the delayed transaction findings and reports that have already been discussed publicly by your board on numerous occasions over the past few years.

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