Orange County supervisors Tuesday approved a $6.5 billion budget Tuesday, cutting nearly $1 million out of the money allocated for Auditor-Controller Eric Woolery’s office, which will be restructured and trimmed.
The board voted 4-1, with Supervisor Todd Spitzer dissenting, for a plan to bring back the Internal Audit Department, which was disbanded a few years ago as it was folded into Woolery’s office.
However, supervisors grew disenchanted with Woolery’s management of his office, and some of his top former lieutenants told the board Tuesday the office grew fat with waste and duplication of services.
Board of Supervisors chairman Andrew Do noted, for example, that Woolery’s office has a $500,000 contract with a consultant to make informational videos on his office for voters.
A message left with Woolery was not immediately returned.
Woolery’s office will still maintain the auditing duties required by state law, but auditing requests outside of those tasks will be delegated to the reinstated Internal Audit Department.
Funding for Woolery’s office was reduced by $656,000, and the supervisors also rejected requests from Woolery to boost his budget by $385,639.
Spitzer criticized the gutting of Woolery’s office as he argued for putting the brakes on it until county staff could do more homework on implementing the transfer of some of Woolery’s employees into the revived Internal Audit Department.
“You are making public policy on the fly,” Spitzer said. “I’ve never, ever seen this… And you have legitimate meet-and-confer issues with the unions.”
Spitzer also argued that the discussion on Woolery’s office should have been done before the election. Woolery won by a wide margin.
“If you wanted to have this conversation you should have done it long before the election,” Spitzer said.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson argued that the county needed to revive the Internal Audit Department because it was more independent than the elected office.
“We had a good system, and it was independent and it was transparent and it worked for a very long time, very well,” Nelson said.
Having Woolery do non-state-mandated audits “is not as good as a stand-alone independent person who doesn’t have to go out and get re-elected and pander to voters. We’re better served to have an independent auditor,” Nelson said.
Toni Smart, who previously directed the office’s internal audit division and filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against Woolery earlier this year, ran against Woolery in the June 5 primary and lost.
Smart told the supervisors that “The elected auditor-controller is auditing himself. This reported structure puts the county at risk.”
The supervisors also restored the Office of Independent Review, which was gutted a couple of weeks ago, but now the office will focus mainly on homeless issues in the county. Do, who was a tie-breaking vote that capsized the newly created office a couple of weeks ago, crafted a new “work plan” for the oversight agency.
The impetus for the OIR grew out of the so-called snitch scandal regarding allegations of abuses of jailhouse informants.
The 2018-19 fiscal year budget is a 4.1 percent, or $252.8 million, increase over the current year’s. Chief Executive Officer Frank Kim told the supervisors earlier this month that it represented the first budget since the bankruptcy in the 1990s to not include any expenses related to that scandal.
This year’s spending plan also represents the last payment — $55 million — stemming from a dispute the county lost to the state over vehicle license fee funding.
The county, however, is about $54 million shy of what it wants in its reserves, officials said.
County officials expect a $48 million increase in property tax revenue. On average, the county spends $40 million less than budgeted, so that can replenish the reserves, officials say.
The supervisors earlier this month also approved spending $70.5 million in mental health funding on 11 new housing projects for transients. The county’s plan also includes developing 2,700 housing units for the homeless and took steps to apply for $15.5 million in state funding for the homeless by declaring a shelter crisis.
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