Report slams Oroville, auditor

Nepotism. Misappropriation of funds. Unions circumvented. City officials failing to meet job requirements.

The 2005-06 Butte County Grand Jury Final Report is filled with eye-popping findings. And those are just for Oroville.

The hefty volume also raises concerns about health care and the handling of student-body funds in the Chico Unified School District; employment issues in the Chico Police Department; teachers’ salaries and pensions in Gridley; medical care, documentation and women’s facilities at the County Jail; and a list too long to summarize of issues in the county auditor-controller’s office.

At the proceeding last Friday (June 30) where the grand jury released its report and successors got sworn in, foreman Ivor Thomas said “this report card for county agencies” didn’t include all the ones “in good health.” Good thing, or the report would have caused some hernias.

The auditor’s office and Oroville took the brunt of the criticism. Auditor-Controller David Houser, re-elected to a fifth term June 6 running unopposed, was found to have a “lack of management skills” leading to “a work environment where employees are fearful for their safety/well being.” The report also questioned the qualifications and management style of the assistant auditor-controller, as well as the behavior of the cost section supervisor.

Wait, there’s more. Grand jurors found “insufficient separation of duties or internal controls” in the department and insufficient “management and security of the financial data” in its Pentamation financial system. Distrust in that system has led some departments to keep their own books. On the findings go, totaling 45 over three sections.

Among its 29 recommendations, the grand jury called for a ballot initiative to eliminate, reorganize or increase the accountability of the auditor-controller position. It also suggested cutting Houser’s pay by 25 percent and changing an array of policies and procedures.

The auditor’s office—as well as every other agency and overseer named in the report—has 90 days to respond to the findings and recommendations, at which time a follow-up will be released.

Oroville officials have a lot of typing on the horizon.

The most serious findings center on personnel matters. Both a son and niece of City Administrator Sharon Atteberry work for the city, in apparent violation of the municipal nepotism policy. Atteberry and Fire Chief David Pittman “do not meet the minimum education requirements specified in their job descriptions"—Atteberry because she lacks an AA or bachelor’s degree, Pittman because his AA is not in a firefighting-related field. The City Council approved changes in job duties and descriptions without consulting unions, “thus possibly violating the ‘Meet and Confer’ process.”

Meanwhile, the grand jury determined the Feather River Recreation and Parks District board “appears to have violated its fiduciary responsibilities by mishandling public funds,” in regard to expenditures for the Bedrock Skate and Bike Park.

Schools and safety are prime concerns for Chico.

The report cites a student-to-nurse ratio of 3,000 to 1 at elementary schools in the Chico Unified School District—four times higher than the 750 to 1 recommended by the National Association of School Nurses. Despite a report by the 2004-05 grand jury regarding Associated Student Body funds, CUSD schools still fall short in tracking and handling these monies.

The Chico Police Department got validation of its officer-involved shootings last year, with the grand jury deeming justified all four cases in which an officer fired on a suspect. However, CPD also took some hits, with critiques over advancement policies and equipment for community service officers and documenting disciplinary actions.

The 2005-06 grand jury members came from across the county but mostly from the Chico vicinity; the 2006-07 panel is no different. Of the 19 members, nine reside in Chico, two in Paradise, two in Oroville, two in Berry Creek, two in Bangor, one in Durham and one in Magalia.