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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Brown Proposes NorCo Fiscal Overhaul

Lamont McClure has lots of questions
Northampton County Executive John Brown has proposed a sweeping overhaul of the County's Fiscal Affairs Department. It's a plan that calls for county accountants to be responsible to other accountants instead of department heads. Acting Fiscal Affairs Director Doran J. Hamann, who has been employed at Northampton County for 35 years, likes what he sees, believing it will go a long way towards resolving "material weaknesses" identified in the County's last two independent audits. Brown told Council's Personnel Committee yesterday that, at the end of the day, it should save taxpayers money.

What makes this plan controversial to some is that it calls for a major promotion of an accountant whose mother happens to be Council President Peg Ferraro. This accountant, Mary Alice Einfalt, is a CPA who in four years has taken over responsibility for General Purpose Financial Statements (GPFS) and the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). She's transformed Payroll, initiating paperless pay, eliminating OT there by 97%, and has taken some Human Resources tracking from there to Payroll. She has identified and eliminated internal control weaknesses missed by the outside auditor and Controller. One glaring example of this is eliminating a practice in which the accounts payable department was permitted to create new vendors. She is a cross-training advocate and also a disciple of Continuous Improvement (CI), which ironically was championed by John Brown's opponent, John Callahan. In an interview, she stated she wants accountants reporting to what she calls "other bean counters", not department heads.

But she's Peg Ferraro's daughter, a point that Council member Hayden Phillips mentioned at the Personnel Committee. But after speaking to her, his concerns about nepotism vanished. "I'm very enthused about Mary Alice having this position to the extent that it overcame my concern of even a hint of nepotism," he said. "I really want to make sure that this is purer than Caesar's wife," he added.

Phillips is the only Council member who squarely addressed the nepotism question, which was avoided by other Council members.

"I have to tell you, I'm a fan," said Phillips of Brown's proposal. "I think this is really what the County needs.

Council President Peg Ferarro took no part in the discussion concerning her daughter. Under the County's nepotism policy, put in place in 2007, will be unable to vote for her daughter's promotion

It's a big one. Her salary as Accounting Manager will skyrocket from $66,504 to $87,307.

At the same time, Gracedale's Fiscal Administrator will have his responsibilities reduced. His salary will also be reduced, but only slightly, from $95,341 to $95.005. He will report directly to Einfalt instead of to Gracedale Administrator Dee Herman.

This fiscal overhaul also calls for a new position, Human Services Fiscal Administrator, with a salary ranging between $73,064 and $103,955. Accountants in different human services departments will report to the Fiscal Administrator instead of department heads, giving the County a better idea whether an individual department is going over budget.

Hamann reminded Council that outside audits have identified "material weaknesses" in the internal controls of Human Services departments. "That's not something you want your external auditors to find about your organization," he observed. "In my terms, a 'material weakness' is something that needs to be addressed immediately, if not sooner." Health Choices, Gracedale, Drug and Alcohol and Children and Youth have been identified as problem areas. He completely supports giving the Fiscal Department greater financial oversight in those departments. "We can constantly, on a day-to-day basis, be involved in what's happening, rather than being involved at the 11th hour," he explained.

Controller Steve Barron, however, had reservations. He said the County's Fiscal Policies and Procedures, last updated in 1988, should be addressed first. On three separate occasions in his monologue, he told Council that Brown was "putting the cart in front of the horse." This expression was later picked up by Council member Lamont McClure, who repeated that phrase twice. Ken Kraft repeated it once.

Kraft suggested that the proposal be reviewed by the Finance Committee first, to determine if it has an impact on the Budget. Brown stated the total impact would be under $50,000, and could save much more money.

McClure suggested he might go along with the overhaul if the Executive committed to shedding Premiere, Gracedale's privatized Administrator. Without answering, Brown noted that many of Premiere's recommendations still need to be implemented by Council, including a pool of per diem workers. He added that, since being sworn into office in January, he has paid close attention to Premiere and Gracedale, "There hasn't been a hard line for the Gracedale account into Fiscal," he explained, referring to a need for greater oversight.

McClure also suggested this reorganization would be unnecessary if Brown just appointed a Director of Fiscal Affairs. The Executive answered that he has yet to determine whether that role needs to be filled, but that the accountability problem would persist even if the position were filled.

Council is scheduled to vote on Brown's fiscal reorganization this evening.

The one accounting rule everyone needs to remember is the rule of five. Are there five votes? Kraft stated he likes the idea, and McClure may go along as well.


Anonymous said...

Am not a fan of the Ferraro votes for promotions and money deal. her daughter gest a $20K raise??

Yeah, now I see why tea party Peg supported all of Browns expensive and whacky proposals.

Norco Twink said...

Mclure's new goatee is hot, bet you he is working got a little ginger in his whiskers that really brings out his masculine side

Anonymous said...

The money burning Gracedale whiners don't like it. That means it's sound fiscal policy. It's interesting that outside audits have revealed what Barron is incapable of understanding. No wonder he was caught flat footed.

Anonymous said...

Lamont is now attending committee meetings?

Anyway, Brown is spot on about Premiere's Gracedale recommendations that Council chooses to ignore for political purposes. Privatize food service, laundry, and housekeeping. Use cheaper non-emergency transport. Cut the Cadillac benefits. Until tough decisions are made, the place will continue to lose millions.

Anonymous said...

Good grief! Someone has been off her meds the past few days.

Anonymous said...

John Brown is out of control.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I don't see how this reorganization is "out of control." It makes sense to me.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Am not a fan of the Ferraro votes for promotions and money deal. her daughter gest a $20K raise??"

Other than Phillips, not one member of Council raised this concern. After reviewing the proposal and discussing it in detail with Einfalt, he was basically positive. I heard no objection raised by Kraft or Parsons. McClure tried to make a deal, and Barron would like to see new fiscal policies first.

Basically, this is a good idea. I am no Brown fan,but I am a fan of good government and this is good government.

Anonymous said...

Not a bad idea in principle. However, isn't this a career service position? If so, it needs to follow the county code and be posted, tested for, and interviewed. This is a $20 K promotion, almost unheard of in county government. The person selected would be earning as much or more than exempt cabinet level positions with NO career service protection. Einfelt seems highly qualified, but there could be other internal candidates with equal or higher qualifications who should be given an opportunity to apply. This has been a gravy train ride for Peg's daughter, pure and simple. Brown is basically creating a position tailor-made for Einfelt with NO competition. Peg has been lobbying for a promotion for her daughter for years, and it has finally paid off. But not for taxpayers of the county who will have to foot the bill for this unfair promotion.

Bernie O'Hare said...

All three changes are career service changes. Brown stated yesterday that it does not need to be advertised, but I would want to hear that from an attorney who has looked into the questions you raise. My own knowledge in that area is weak.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"This has been a gravy train ride for Peg's daughter, pure and simple. Brown is basically creating a position tailor-made for Einfelt with NO competition. Peg has been lobbying for a promotion for her daughter for years, and it has finally paid off. But not for taxpayers of the county who will have to foot the bill for this unfair promotion"

One other employee has told me that Peg has been lobbying for this for some time. If so, she is wrong. She needs to stay out of it. But the notion of the taxpayers suffering is also wrong. This reorganization encompasses more than a big raise. It also is designed to save what could be millions annually at Gracedale and other Human Services departments. It adds some financial oversight that is sorely needed.

But does the job need to be advertised so that anyone can apply? You may be right. I honestly do not know.

Anonymous said...

A potential devil in the details here: Human service decisions need to include more than just fiscal concerns. Department heads need to be able to allocate resources based on needs in the community. Programs for children, the disabled, the addicted, the elderly need to be held accountable, for sure, but cost alone should not be the only criteria, and that is a risk if "bean counters" make the final decision. the human element of human services needs to be rigorously protected.

Anonymous said...

11:10 good points. Having bean counters control the purse strings on budgets already approved by council seems draconian. What is the Director of HS getting paid for? Isn't that part of her core responsibilities? And how about her very capable HS Financial Director? Isn't that a core function of her job? So now all of the HS fiscal officers will be reporting to Peg's daughter who will be earning nearly as much as a department director. Why can't people in their current roles achieve the same goals under the strong leadership of the DHS Director? Is there so little faith in her abilities? Just what will she be doing to justify her $90K + salary? This administration seems bent on rewarding favorites with fat contracts or juicy promotions. An unqualified person is now acting Director of Administration probably pulling in over $70 K a year. This at a time when the average Norco taxpayer survives on half that amount, in many cases without the benefit package. Brown is just taking care of his darlings. No better than Reibman in allowing his cronies to feed off the public trough.

Anonymous said...

This is a clear violation of the County's Nepotism policy. I can not see how this can be allowed. I know the policy well, as I have been denied advancement because of it.

Anonymous said...

Note: Don't take out "Human" in Human Services! The Administrators of the programs know what and how to provide for the citizens of the county.

It is great to have a fiscal component and they should be engaged from the beginning, but in no way should they be the final say.

At the end of the day, the people of NorCo pay taxes so either they or someone they know can receive needed services.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The idea here is not to stop human services. It is to enable fiscal to have a better understanding of what is being spent so there are no 11th hour surprises. In fact, if properly implemented, this could make more services available.

Anonymous said...

"if properly implemented, this could make more services available."

In an ideal world this could be true. I have seen the exact opposite in similar situations, however. Preventing child abuse or caring for the elderly or chronically mentally ill are fundamentally different enterprises than most other county level fiscal concerns. Building a parking deck or buying linens for Gracedale are simply different endeavors than providing Human Services. I have seen fiscal decisions based on short term analysis of unfairly calculated unit costs imposed on HS providers that over the long term cost taxpayers money, but looked good short term to the bean counters. There is a true risk here, and we need to be careful of unintended consequences to an already strained safety net.

Anonymous said...

Why did Brown hire such an unqualified person to run such a large and important department.

It sounds like he has no confidence in her ability to oversee the budget.