County Civil Grand Jury Calls Out Auditor Joe Harn
ELECTED OFFICIALS CAN REFUSE TO COOPERATE WITH BOTH THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AND THE COUNTY’S CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER
The proliferation of elected officials in El Dorado County pose a particular problem for the Board of Supervisors and the County.
Elected officials may feel no allegiance to the policies set by the Board. Their longevity in office and higher salaries may remove any motivation to cooperate with the Board. Indeed, it has been alleged that the Auditor/Controller has deliberately obstructed Board initiatives in order to cast himself as the white knight crusading against the failures by others.
These elected officials assert they are elected by and their only duty is to the electors. Certainly every elected official has an obligation to serve the electorate. However, the electorate has no valid basis for evaluating the performance of officials performing the specialized and sometimes esoteric duties of these offices. How is the electorate to know whether the Controller is rooting out fraud when he holds up a claim from a vendor or whether he is deliberately trying to discredit the department for whom the vendor worked. An elected official may seek publicity for himself by challenging a decision made by the Board or CAO presenting himself as acting to protect the best interests of the county when in fact his interest is his reelection.
Recently the imbalance and potential for abuse of power by elected officials has been brought to the public’s attention following the County’s Workplace Climate Assessment Survey and ensuing significant criticism of the Auditor/Controller. Whether or not the criticisms directed at the Auditor/Controller are true, they demonstrate clearly the potential for abuse that arises from the structural imbalance between the Board of Supervisors, Chief Administrative Officer and elected officials.
Although the Grand Jury did not investigate the allegations made against the Auditor/Controller following the County’s Workplace Climate Assessment, the Grand Jury did receive substantial testimony from a number of witnesses in several different investigations reporting similar experiences: that the Auditor/Controller refuses to cooperate with the CAO in implementing the Board of Supervisors’ initiatives; that he refuses to engage in constructive problem solving; and that his behavior results in minor issues or questions escalating into serious disputes. Specific allegations made were that the Auditor/Controller will not address problems by telephone, forbids his employees to speak to both staff and department heads, refuses to respond at all to any communication from certain employees and officials, that he is defamatory, disrespectful and disparaging.