A series of retroactive funding requests by Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ staff are drawing concern from two county supervisors, while the sheriff’s department says they’re working to prevent more requests from happening in the future.
The sheriff’s department has sought five retroactive approvals for contracts and invoices since the start of this year, totaling just over $160,000. Supervisors in the past also have called out the department for bringing too many retroactive approval requests.
“It’s just retro, retro, retro. I mean, we’re running this county backwards,” said supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer at the last county supervisors meeting, where another retroactive request came up for approval.
“The board is supposed to approve things proactively, not retroactively. And yet it seems to be – it’s not the exception anymore. It’s becoming the rule.”
Supervisor Michelle Steel echoed Spitzer’s concerns.
“I believe that it will occasionally happen that a retroactive approval is needed for unforeseen circumstances. But we have been getting many retroactive requests in the last few meetings and this is a problem that must be corrected,” Steel wrote in an email to Voice of OC.
“All departments have to make sure that their staff is trained to file these requests in a timely manner.”
Sheriff’s officials say they’ve been educating their staff about retroactive requests and how to prevent them – particularly by making sure that purchases fall within the financial limits of existing contracts.
“We’re making it a point now to really make sure that everybody in the division understands” what a retroactive contract is and how to avoid it, said Lt. Jeff Hallock, the chief spokesman for the sheriff’s department.
Hallock said much of the issue is related to a high amount of turnover among division commanders, who sometimes aren’t aware of limitations in specific purchasing contracts.
Last fiscal year, the department had 18 to 20 retroactive requests out of thousands of invoices, he added.
“Percentage-wise, it’s a very very very low percentage” of overall invoices, Hallock said. “We’re doing everything we can to prevent and limit the number of retroactive contracts.”
The largest retroactive approval for the sheriff’s department this year has been a $144,000 contract for driving and use-of-force training from the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
That contract, which came to the board on March 3, is backdated to July 2014. In their staff report, sheriff’s officials said the contract wasn’t provided by the state until Jan. 21 of this year.
Other retroactive requests this year have been a $6,000 contract for access to a maps database, $5,000 in invoices for driver training, $3,400 in invoices for web hosting services and $2,100 in invoices for telephone number data for the county’s emergency alert system.
Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Lisa Bartlett didn’t respond to messages seeking comment, and Supervisor Andrew Do declined to comment through a staff member.