A Madera County grand jury report released May 15 supported allegations that Eric Fleming, county administrative officer, exhibits a domineering, over controlling management style at times. The report, released after a six month investigation, said Fleming "is considered aggressive, impatient and short tempered by some of his subordinates ... and has used intimidation and threats to obtain compliance with his directions."
The report further states Fleming has negatively affected the morale and motivation of some employees with whom he interfaces, and has publicly demonstrated animosity and a lack of professionalism toward Tracy Kennedy, the county's treasurer-tax collector and Rebecca Martinez, the county's clerk-recorder.
The jury recommends the county board of supervisors meet with Fleming to direct him to curtail his aggressive and intimidating management practices and to create an "open" county management team promoting an exchange of ideas so that all department heads feel free to express their opinion without repercussions.
In a prepared statement, Fleming called the grand jury report a disservice to the residents of Madera County by neglecting its legal obligation to adopt findings and make recommendations which are based on substantiated, factual and legal information.
"Instead, it appears as though they had subscribed to the theory of a handful of disgruntled individuals and relied on rumor and guesswork as the basis for this report," Fleming said.
Madera County District 2 Supervisor David Rogers defended Fleming.
"In my opinion, Eric Fleming was mischaracterized by the grand jury report," Rogers said. "I have been around him in multiple situations both on a staff level and in public. I have never seen him loose his cool. Eric is very direct sometimes, his job requires that of him, and some people just can't handle the truth. I believe that this is why they have complained. Eric is leading a large institution and you are going to draw fire when you are leading the charge. He has my full confidence."
The report said while investigating the allegations about Fleming, the jury discovered related problems with the county-appointed auditor-controller Macia Hall, treasurer-tax collector Tracy Kennedy and the lack of oversight by the board of supervisors.
The filing of the county's 'single audit' with the state controller's office has been delayed for more than one year and has resulted in the late or lost receipt of more than $3 million of federal and state funds for road and grant projects," the report states.
Needless bickering by top county officials is a distraction and obscures a major problem, the failure to file the annual mandatory 'single audit', said the report.
The report also said the board of supervisors failed to direct corrective action be taken to solve cash account issues after being provided detailed recommendations from previous outside audits; allowed the delay for more than one year of the filing of the outside audit (Single Audit) without determining the actual cause of this failure; failed to request findings of the 2009 and 2010 audits; failed to take effective action to eliminate the friction which exists between the Treasurer, the CAO and the Auditor-Controller.
Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler said he felt some of the allegations in the report are inaccurate.
He said her disagrees with the jury's finding that the board of supervisors allowed the delay of the filing of the outside audit (Single Audit) without determining the actual cause of the delay and that supervisors failed to direct corrective action to be taken to solve cash account issues after being provided detailed recommendations from previous outside audits.
"It's just not true that we (supervisors) failed to take action." Wheeler said. "These issues have been on our agenda a number of times and auditor controller Marcia Hall has been working on them."
The report criticized the supervisors for not recognizing the potential liability resulting from the CAO's actions as well as the loss of productivity due to the contentious work environment and avoids responsibility by allowing the CAO to exceed his authority.
An unnamed county official feels some of the complaints over Fleming's management style are the result of Fleming advising supervisors in late February to hire an outside accounting firm to perform an audit of Kennedy's department and its procedures over cash handling and internal controls. There has also been friction between Kennedy and Marcia Hall, the county's appointed auditor-controller who reported to the supervisors she had concerns with the department.
The Fresno accounting firm of Hemming, Morse, were retained by the county to perform the audit. The audit is expected to be completed by the end of June.
At the time, Kennedy said she would continue to cooperate with the auditors and looks forward to the conclusion of the audit.
The grand jury found Hall has not completed the mandated outside audit (Single Audit) as required by the State Controller and Federal Government for fiscal year ending June 2011 which precludes the County from receiving certain road funds and other grants from State and Federal programs; unilaterally implemented a number of payroll, accounting and procedural changes without communication or input from other affected departments; at times lacks consistency in interactions with subordinates and peers and failed to present supervisors the findings of 2009 an 2010 outside audits.
Although the grand jury said Kennedy implemented some of the changes recommended in a review conducted by Hall and repeatedly requested cooperation from Hall and Fleming to assist in resolving issues, the report said she has not exercised best practices in cash handling procedures, exposing the office to liability, criticism and suspicion. The jury recommended she relinquish all check writing authority to the auditor-controller.
On Monday, Martinez said she wanted to thank grand jury for all their efforts, and all the time spent interviewing department heads and employees.
"It could not have been an easy report to write," Kennedy said. "The report is matter of fact and clearly reflects a lack of leadership. But of greater concern is that the county is exposed to liability due to the stated hostile environment that exists. The bottom line is that all of this takes the focus away from doing the work of the people, which is why we are here and that saddens me greatly."
The report states the grand jury investigation was conducted over a six month period. Many county employees at all levels were interviewed and members of the jury attended numerous supervisor meetings. The jury reviewed contracts, board of supervisor letters, supervisor meeting videos, emails, public websites, government code and audit reports "to determine the facts in this matter."
-- To see all 12 grand jury reports, go to www.madera-county.com/index.php/grand-jury-reports/2012-2013. Eric Fleming's complete statement in response to the recent jury report can be seen on page A10 of today's paper or read now at this link.