CALIFORNIA CITY — California City found itself once more under scrutiny from the Kern County Grand Jury after a report was released Monday, Aug. 3 criticizing the city’s purchasing procedures.
The grand jury report found that members of Cal City’s city council continued to interfere with a 2013 ordinance that dictates purchasing procedures.
Prefacing its report with a Henry Ford’s quote “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself,” the grand jury asked whether everyone was in fact on the right page.
The grand jury report indicated it did not, alleging that attempts by council members to insert themselves in the day-to-day operations created animosity between the council and various department employees.
“During interviews with several City employees, they stated their concerns about working conditions,” the grand jury reported. “They allege they have been harassed by City Council members at work and threatened with termination; that they were not doing their job and lying about their work.”
Additionally, the interviewed employees alleged that council members did not complete state-mandated ethics training.
“The City Council’s failure to complete required ethics training fuels ongoing trust issues with residents,” the grand jury reported.
The report added that as a California municipality, individual councilmembers or the mayor cannot directly provide orders to any city employee other than the city manager. In general law cities like Cal City, the city manager oversees day-to-day operations of city employees in coordination with department heads.
The grand jury report alleged that department heads are unaware of operations and maintenance budgets, effectively wasting money. Other findings include:
— The city underutilizes its Caselle software system, limiting it to the city finance department. The software suite is “designed to create a uniform system of all city functions and standardize workflow throughout the City.” The grand jury recommended the city expanding the software’s capabilities since it spends $2,122 a month on it.
— Using credit cards to bypass a purchase order process exceeding the $100 limit, a violation of city policy.
— That City Manager Anna Linn “is overwhelmed with the duties as the Purchasing Agent in addition to the City’s day-to-day operations.”
— Not keeping a list of local contractors as required by a 2013 ordinance for the purpose of facilitating public projects. “Because of this, local businesses have no incentive to bid on public projects. As a result, the Local Business Preference Program for bids or proposals is no longer needed or relevant.”
— Potential fraud and waste of funds linked to a lack of a central fuel card account. The grand jury report stated that the city has 230 valid fuel cards, most issued to individuals. Cal City contracts with Mojave-based RSI Petroleum as its fuel provider.
In a story reported by the Bakersfield Californian on Monday, Linn stated that grand jury recommendations are underway, adding the report painted Cal City in a bad light.
"I am extremely disappointed in how the GJ represented the current staff," Linn told the Californian. "The story they told is an old one that the current staff is fervently taking steps to correct. Albeit an uphill climb, we are climbing out of the years of mismanagement."
Linn was appointed interim city manager in May 2019 after the council placed the previous city manager Robert Stockwell on administrative leave. Stockwell resigned May 14, 2019. Linn’s appointment was made permanent in September 2019.
The grand jury reported that its investigation began in October 2019.
The topic of purchasing was discussed during a June 23 council meeting. At that meeting, Linn said that a request had been submitted to council to suspend purchases pending an audit.
“Some things were doubled and some things were never canceled,” Linn told the council in June.
The recommendations provided by the Grand Jury include
— Providing training to all department heads regarding their budget and purchasing procedures;
— Update its credit card policies and procedures to include ethics training and improve control over card issuance.
— Appoint a purchasing agent assigned to the finance department and increase spending limits from $1,000 to $5,000 without council approval, as well as increase spending limits for Department heads without Purchasing Agent approval from $100 to $500.
California City has come under fire by the Grand Jury in the past. In 2018, the grand jury issued two separate reports. One report, issued in April 2018, was based on an 2017 investigation claiming that leaders violated open meeting laws, employees reporting they were being harassed and micromanaged staff. The second report, released in June 2018, alleged that city employees found themselves under additional harassment and retaliation following interviews with grand jury members in previous reports.
California City will need to respond to the grand jury report within 90 days.