SANTA BARBARA COUNTY GRAND JURY 1995-96

FINAL REPORT

COUNTY CLERK-RECORDER-ASSESSOR DEPARTMENT

Released: June 10, 1996

INTRODUCTION

In early 1996 the Grand Jury received written and oral complaints regarding the operation of the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Department. California Penal Code Section 928 states that every Grand Jury may "...investigate and report upon the abolition or creation of any county offices." California Penal Code Section 925 states, "The Grand Jury shall investigate and report on the operations, accounts and records of the officers, departments, or the functions of the county."

On November 9, 1993 the County Administrator, County Clerk-Recorder and the County Auditor-Controller proposed the consolidation of the County Clerk-Recorder with the County Assessor. On November 23, 1993 the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the consolidation of the Office of County Clerk-Recorder and Assessor. This became effective on December 23, 1993 by Ordinance No. 3134, dated November 23, 1993.

Proponents stated that the consolidation would allow the opportunity for:

Santa Barbara County currently has a tax base of approximately $24 billion in secured and unsecured properties.1 This is of critical importance as the basis for revenue. This revenue is allocated to four main categories:2

OBJECTIVE

To evaluate the effectiveness of management of the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Department since the consolidation in 1993.

APPROACH

The Grand Jury interviewed two County Supervisors, the County Administrator, the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, the Assistant County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, Assistant Personnel Director, the Chief Appraiser, four Division Managers, Auditors and Appraisers, and people who use the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor's service. The Grand Jury interviewed more than 40% of the Appraisal Division's personnel, selected at random, to esure against responding to the complaints of a few disgruntled employees. Some were interviewed more than once. The Grand Jury visited County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor offices in Santa Barbara, Lompoc and Santa Maria.

The Grand Jury conducted a review of the department's goals, effectiveness and efficiency in the following areas: management, leadership, structure, organization, automation, training, and matters pertaining to personnel under the new leadership.

The Grand Jury reviewed recent third party reports available including the Santa Barbara County Assessment Practices Survey by the California State Board of Equalization, the 1993 operational audit by the County Auditor-Controller, and the 1988-89 Grand Jury report.

The Elections Division of the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Department was not included in this investigation.

OBSERVATIONS

THE CONSOLIDATION

The proposal for consolidation included a requirement for progress reports from the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor to the Board of Supervisors at six and twelve month intervals after the consolidation.3 The reports were not submitted. The proposal to the Board of Supervisors had a study attached.4 This study made repeated statements about opportunities for cost savings. Instead of savings, the results of the consolidation reveal a $379,364 increase in annual operational costs:

                             BUDGET                      ACTUAL    
                             FY 95-965               	 FY 92-936 

Assessor	                                      	$3,414,579
Clerk-Recorder	                                 	$4,284,788
Assessor-Clerk-Recorder*     $6,816,449	                
              
	(Subtotal)           $6,816,449		        $7,699,367

Elections**	            ($1,771,644)               ($1,168,925)
Court Services**	                               ($1,865,001)
Assessor-Clerk-Recorder(only)$5,044,805          	$4,665,441
	
                Increase in cost:    $379,364 
An analysis document prepared by the County Auditor-Controller shows that 85.5 full time equivalent (FTE) positions in the former Clerk-Recorder Department were divided as follows: 53 FTE to the Superior Court, and 32.5 FTE to the new Clerk-Recorder- Assessor Department.7 The Assessor Department had 59 FTE; thus the consolidated total was 91.5 FTE. Now the consolidated department is authorized 100 FTE.8

Senior management positions before and after the reorganization are listed as follows:

     BEFORE9                              AFTER10 
    
Clerk-Recorder				Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Assistant Clerk-Recorder	      	Chief Appraiser
Assessor			        Assistant Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
Assistant Assessor		        Five Division Managers:  Operations,
Recorder Division Manager               Recorder, Real Property, Business  
                                        & Minerals, Info Systems

TOTAL    5                               		TOTAL     8

The consolidation resulted in the addition of three new management positions. Also, in the new organization, three managers have only one supervisor reporting to them.

According to testimony, 27 months after the consolidation anticipated improvements have not occurred. The Grand Jury was told that there is a two-month backlog in providing copies of deeds and other recorded documents to the appraisers. In San Luis Obispo County, the departments are not consolidated and their backlog is three to five days.11 In Ventura County, the departments are not consolidated and the backlog is one to two weeks.12

County citizens who have a need to go to the Recorder's office in the Operations Division have reported abruptness and rudeness from the staff.

This Grand Jury surveyed the 58 California counties in regard to combining the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Departments. There were 51 responses:

  Counties with a combined County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor 	 5
  Counties with a combined Assessor/Recorder                  	 5 
  Counties with a separate Assessor Office                      41

MANAGEMENT

Through interviews listed in the Approach to this report, study of the referenced materials, and consideration of 15 separate items of correspondence, the Grand Jury gathered diverse testimony. Some of it is excerpted here:

PERSONNEL ACTIONS

Upon request from the Grand Jury, an information report was provided by the County Personnel Department on March 19, 1996. The request was prompted by complaints that the Grand Jury heard regarding promotions. The Personnel Department states they have no information regarding the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Department's internal search process. The department is not required to provide the Personnel Department with that documentation nor with the documentation related to selection interviews. All such information is kept within the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Department. Based on the sequence of events reported by the Personnel Department and in other testimony, it appeared that the department management arranged circumstances to circumvent personnel policies. In the following three cases, managers seemed to decide whom they wanted to promote, then they proceeded with procedures and documentation to formalize the selection of that person.

According to the records in the Santa Barbara County Personnel Office, no Appraiser Supervisor or Appraiser Analyst Senior in the Appraisal Division has received a performance evaluation since the consolidation. The last performance appraisal for the Chief Appraiser was in November 1992; the Operations Division Manager was reviewed in February 1993, and the Recorder Division Manager was reviewed in May 1990.

STRUCTURE AND ORGANIZATION

This Grand Jury heard repeated testimony that former managers who were in place prior to the consolidation had experience, knowledge and expertise that were not utilized by the new management team. The Grand Jury was told that this action denied the organization of its most valuable assets. A new management official testified "that under the consolidation, some of the prior supervisors did not fit into the mold of the new administration."

Testimony revealed that the Chief Appraiser has 37 years experience in the Assessor Department and has been recognized as one of the most qualified and experienced assessors in the State of California. This resource is immediately available and is not being used in a supervisory capacity.

PRIOR AUDITS AND STUDIES REVIEW

Elected officials in Santa Barbara County do not receive annual performance evaluations. The measure of their performance and that of their departments is by a third-party review, and, of course, by the voters. The recent third party reports reviewed by the Grand Jury include the Santa Barbara County Assessment Practices Survey by the California State Board of Equalization, the 1993 operational audit by the County Auditor-Controller, and the 1988-89 Grand Jury report:

Santa Barbara County Assessment Practices Survey by California State Board of Equalization

The California State Board of Equalization has the authority and the responsibility to periodically review compliance in County Assessor offices. Assessment Practices Surveys are required by Sections 15640 through 15645 of the Government Code. Currently, this is done every five years.

The latest fieldwork for this Assessment Practices Survey was conducted from September 1992 through January 1993 in Santa Barbara County by the State Board of Equalization. This survey included the evaluation of how well the County Assessor is carrying out the sworn duty to assess all taxable property on the local tax roll.

The survey stated, "Due to budget limitations, our survey focuses on tax revenue-related problems and compliance with statutes and regulations. Administration, personnel, systems, equipment, mapping, exemptions, and fiscal needs are not reviewed or reported in this survey unless they relate directly to revenue or legal issues."

The County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor responded to the survey on May 27, 1994 and apologized for the missed deadline. The County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor responded the department would be unable to comply with 13 of the 30 survey recommendations.

Operational Audit of the Santa Barbara County Assessor

The Operational Audit dated November 30, 1993 was issued by the Internal Audit Division, Office of the Santa Barbara County Auditor-Controller. Its primary objective was to assist the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor in reviewing departmental administration and management, including departmental direction, planning, organization, staffing and operations.

When discussing this Operational Audit with Grand Jury members, the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor informed them that this Operational Audit was being used as his "three year plan" or "blueprint" for improvements. During the ensuing Grand Jury investigation, managers in the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Department were asked about the "three year plan." Only one manager was familiar with the document.

Upon Grand Jury request, the Assistant County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor furnished a written report which showed that action was taken on only 10 of the 37 Operational Audit observations and recommendations. The following statements quoted directly from the 1993 audit concur with testimony heard by this Grand Jury in 1996:

1988-1989 Grand Jury Report

Of particular concern to this Grand Jury, in relation to these complaints, was a 1988-1989 Grand Jury Report concerning the County Clerk-Recorder Office. This is presently the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor office. Testimony to this Grand Jury indicates that the following issues identified in the 1988-1989 Grand Jury Report still exist in 1996:

As a result of a 1988-1989 Grand Jury recommendation, the Board of Supervisors removed the Clerk of the Board from the County Clerk-Recorder office due to a lack of accountability. In the 1993 consolidation, the Board of Supervisors moved the Assessor office into the same atmosphere criticized in the 1988-89 Grand Jury report.

AUTOMATION

In 1993, the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Department was authorized by the Board of Supervisors to create an Information Systems Division. That division's purpose was to design computer systems to replace the current systems being used by the Appraisal Division and the Operations Divisions. Management stated this was necessary in order to improve the efficiency of the divisions.

In order to staff the Information Systems Division, four programmers were transferred from the existing Data Services Department in the county, and an additional eight persons were hired. The four transferred persons were to maintain the current systems which the divisions were using. The eight new workers were to create and develop the new systems. Meetings were held with the Information Systems Division managers and priorities were set as to what order the systems were to be developed. It was decided that the first system to be created and developed would replace the one currently being used by the Real Property Division.

Testimony to the Grand Jury indicated that the progress of the development of the new appraisal system was being hampered by the fact that the Information Systems Division personnel were meeting opposition from the Real Property Division users in providing information necessary to create the new system. It was testified to the Grand Jury that the lack of cooperation is primarily generated by the Real Property Division Manager, who on occasion had instructed his staff not to interact with members of the Information Systems Division, except through him.

It was testified that in order to create the new system, it is necessary to confer with the line personnel in order to assess their needs. It was further testified that alterations to the system presently being used have been made by the Real Property Division Manager personally, rather than going through the Information Systems Division, as protocol dictates. As a result of this action the current system has on occasion been made inoperable, which caused unnecessary delays in the operation, according to testimony. Other testimony indicated a division manager has attempted to deviate from established priorities to have needs met ahead of the priorities established by management.

Testimony to the Grand Jury revealed that software packages to provide property system capabilities are available on the market for immediate installation. The Grand Jury was told that purchasing vendor software would eliminate the requirement for the current multi-year internal development project. San Francisco and San Mateo counties are in the process of contracting for such software now.

The schedule given to the Grand Jury by the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor for the internal development of property system capabilities contains the following milestones:

A status report to ISAC on May 20, 1996 contains a schedule showing that the first milestone has been delayed until July 31, 1996. A new timeline for completing the subsequent stages is not available.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:

FINDING 1: Employees in the Appraisal Divisions demonstrate considerable frustration stemming from inadequate communication between management and staff.

FINDING 2: Inadequate resources have been dedicated to the training and continuing education of staff. Management has not effectively communicated a departmental Missions and Goals statement, or Standard Operating Procedures. FINDING 3: There is a climate of distrust, discontent and disrespect for department managers. Identified problems have not been corrected. A general consensus regarding the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of management is pervasive throughout the department. FINDING 4: The issues expressed in the 1988-89 Grand Jury Report concerning management practices regarding personnel are still valid in 1996. This Grand Jury found that questionable personnel procedures are causing low employee morale. FINDING 5: Performance evaluations, although required, are not accomplished on an annual basis. Performance evaluations are essential to provide staff and management with employment histories of personnel. FINDING 6: Compliance measures for the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor are performed by the State Board of Equalization every five years. Measures of performance can be assessed by the Santa Barbara County Auditor-Controller, a third party, or Grand Jury reports. FINDING 7: The office space within the Santa Barbara and Lompoc offices appears to be inadequate and needs immediate attention. The County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor was allotted money to remedy this situation only for the Santa Barbara office. FINDING 8: The Real Property Division Manager is causing a delay in the creation of a new and improved data system for the Appraisal Divisions. FINDING 9: Division managers are attempting to circumvent priorities established by the entire management staff in the establishment of data systems. FINDING 10: The consolidation of the County Clerk-Recorder with the Assessor was based on sound logic regarding the Recorder-Assessor relationship. The office of the Assessor requires a highly specialized body of knowledge for the complex issues of its duties. The FY 1995-96 costs are budgeted to be higher than the costs before consolidation. The realization of service enhancements and process improvements is highly questionable. AFFECTED AGENCIES (California Penal Code Section 933c requires that comments to Grand Jury Findings and Recommendations be made in writing within 60 days by all affected agencies except governing bodies, which are allowed 90 days. The Grand Jury requires all responses be submitted on computer disk along with the printed response): LIST OF REFERENCES END NOTES