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Sheriff Criticized Over Records

Supervisors order agency to comply with guidelines for contracting and spending after a report found poor performance.

October 16, 2002|Daren Briscoe | Times Staff Writer

Frustrated by the Sheriff's Department's repeated shoddy record-keeping, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to yank the sheriff's contracting authority if the problems aren't fixed by year's end.

The department also has failed to curb a long-standing pattern of paying for goods and services without getting the required approval from the Internal Services Department or the Board of Supervisors.

Record-keeping and monitoring by the Sheriff's Department is so poor, supervisors complained, it is difficult to obtain the most basic information about contract expenditures.

"Millions and millions of dollars are contracted out every month through this department," said Supervisor Gloria Molina, who frequently has accused the department of wasteful spending. "They don't audit them, they don't know where the contracts are, when they are for, who they are for."

Under county guidelines, most expenditures between $5,000 and $99,999 require approval from the Internal Services Department, and expenditures of $100,000 and more require approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Many of the problems were outlined in a June report by J. Tyler McCauley, the county auditor-controller.

Among other things, the report found that in fiscal year 2000-01, the Sheriff's Department paid $653,000 to three vendors without the supervisors' approval.

In 105 cases, according to the report, Sheriff's Department employees failed to get approval for expenditures of more than $5,000.

In 11 other cases, the report found, payouts to vendors of more than $5,000 were divided among multiple invoices to avoid the approval process.

"There's a lot of rules that say who gets to approve spending and how much," McCauley said Tuesday.

The Sheriff's Department is "not complying with the rules. It's for expediency. They don't want to do the paperwork."

The problem has persisted more than five years, since auditors first recommended changes in the way the department does business. Also for five years, the Sheriff's Department has asked the board for more time to reform.

The supervisors rejected a recommendation by county Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen that the department have until February to produce a status report on a "corrective action" plan filed earlier this month.

Janssen said that shifting the sheriff's contracting authority to another department would present "some pretty serious administrative problems." But the supervisors vowed to do that if the department doesn't meet a Dec. 31 deadline for complying with county guidelines.

"If it wasn't so violative of the way we do business in this county, it would be funny," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

Paul K. Tanaka, chief of the Sheriff's Department's Administrative Services Division, said the problems are at least partly the result of an understaffed, poorly trained department. But Tanaka said he would push the necessary changes, despite a shortage of funds.

"You can't say that you don't have enough money to do the right thing," he said.

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