County supervisors yesterday postponed consideration of a whistleblowing fund and guidelines meant to make reporting financial abuse easier for workers after one member balked at spending a quarter-million dollars for the initial investment.
Supervisor Dave Pine, who is recommending the fund with a list of uses for the money, asked that the board at least hear a presentation on the plan before yanking it from yesterday’s agenda but ultimately agreed to sit on an ad hoc subcommittee with Supervisor Don Horsley, who questioned the idea’s necessity.
The Board of Supervisors will also hold a workshop on the fund before making any decisions at a future meeting.
Pine’s proposal calls for spending an initial $262,600 from non-department reserves followed by annual costs between $70,000 and $80,000. The money would be used to make reporting suspected fraud and abuse easier for employees by creating a single web-based place that consolidates all the guidelines and procedures. The proposal calls for improving the county’s response to the reports so they are more independent and confidential and giving employees ongoing training on ethics, preventing and reporting fraud and performing their own accounting control responsibilities.
The money would also fund a one-time independent evaluation of the controller’s current internal audit practices and expand the office’s use of analytic software to discover unusual financial activities that might point to mistakes, fraud or just weak internal controls.
But Horsley wasn’t ready to hear more at Tuesday’s board meeting and asked for extra time to study what he said "looks like an overly bureaucratic process” which might not even be necessary.
"I just think the process that we have is effective and it works rather well. I just cannot see justifying a quarter millions dollars and $80,000 in ongoing costs,” Horsley said, adding that it cold "lead to potentially a lot of mischief.”
Horsley said he’d prefer a more positive approach which prompted County Manager John Maltbie to recommend the ad hoc committee and board President Adrienne Tissier to suggest a full board workshop.
In 2003, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury recommended the board create a whistleblower process which it did the following year with a method for anonymous reporting.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.