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Grand jury critical of treasurers in San Luis Obispo County

More supervision is needed of Atascadero’s elected city treasurer, who shows little interest in the financial oversight duties of his job, according to a county grand jury report.

Atascadero’s city manager disputed the report’s characterization of the treasurer’s approach toward his position and said the treasurer has consistent communication with city staff and the City Council.

The report analyzed the appropriateness of electing versus appointing city clerks and treasurers.The grand jury also found that Arroyo Grande’s elected treasurer is an accounting clerk who has deputized her boss in the city manager’s office to do the job.

The elected treasurer in Paso Robles is fully qualified and attentive to his position’s duties, according to the report.

The grand jury recommended that the three cities analyzed in its report should persuade voters to make the city treasurer an appointed position — though voters in the past have rejected such a step.

Doing so may improve efficiency and — in the case of city treasurers — clarify oversight responsibilities.

“There is continued risk of electing treasurers who can win office with a political agenda and no qualifications,” the report stated.

According to the most recent information from the League of California Cities, 143 of California’s 480 cities elect their city clerks, and 173 elect city treasurers.

Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams said the City Council will discuss placing a measure on the November ballot to make the positions appointed, rather than elected. Atascadero hasn’t considered the issue recently, City Manager Wade McKinney said.

Per state law, treasurers comply with all laws governing the deposit and securing of public funds, including making a monthly report to the city clerk that accounts for all receipts, disbursements and fund balances, and files regular reports with the city council.

Atascadero

Atascadero’s elected treasurer, Joe Modica Jr., runs his own tax and financial planning business and signs off on financial reports prepared by city staff, according to the grand jury report.

The grand jury could not access copies of monthly reports from April 2008 to November 2009. However, McKinney said, limited staffing resources in that time delayed the reports, which were approved by the council during a special meeting in January.

The City Council in February approved a new policy requiring investment reports to be submitted quarterly. A monthly report including fund balances is still submitted monthly to the city clerk and the council, McKinney said.

The grand jury also noted that Modica does not attend council meetings, nor does he meet with the council or the city manager every three months as the council’s investment policy dictates.

McKinney said the city does not require Modica to attend meetings. “He communicates with staff and the council, and I don’t think there’s a need for him to be there,” he said.

Modica attends quarterly finance meetings, McKinney said, and goes to City Hall at least once a week.

Arroyo Grande

Arroyo Grande’s treasurer, Michelle Mayfield, worked as an accounting clerk for two years before she ran in 2008 because the city’s director of finance did not live in the city and therefore could not run.

No general election was held in Arroyo Grande that year because all candidates ran unopposed.

She was appointed in lieu of election to a four-year term.

According to the report, Mayfield immediately appointed Angela Kraetsch, the director of financial services, as deputy city treasurer, as allowed by state law.

Adams, the city manager, said voters failed to pass an initiative in 1998 to make the treasurer position appointed rather than elected.

The City Council on June 8 will discuss whether to place a similar measure on the November ballot; the council could vote on that initiative at its June 22 meeting.

City staff had been working on the idea before the grand jury released its report, he said.

“Someone could be elected without qualifications and come in and demand to take over those responsibilities,” he said, “and that could create serious problems for the city.”

The report said that Mayfield has received little training for the position and recommends she be sent to a training session. Adams said it would be appropriate to send her to additional training.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCounty Beat on Twitter.

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