Board of Supervisors Prepares for Auditor Controller Do-Over, Public Defender Appointment


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  • County of Humboldt
  • Jeffrey Blanck

On April 24 the board voted unanimously to appoint Dillingham to the postion.


The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will consider Tuesday appointing Cheryl Dillingham as interim auditor-controller. Again.

The board voted unanimously at its April 3 meeting to appoint Dillingham to the post. But the item on the board's agenda that day was to accept the resignation of outgoing Auditor Controller Joe Mellett and to consider launching a recruitment process for an interim replacement, leading one expert to opine that the board had violated state open meeting laws by appointing Dillingham without giving the public advance notice.

In addition to Dillingham's appointment, the board is also set to meet in closed session to discuss the appointment of a new public defender, a role that's currently being filled in an interim capacity by Marek Reavis (the office has been without a permanent leader since the resignation of David Marcus last year). In addition to the two appointments, the board is set to consider a slate of topics, including a presentation on Measure Z funding and a list of county road repairs funded by the recently-passed gas tax (The Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.) The full agenda can be found here.

If approved, Dillingham's appointment as interim auditor-controller will last up until the newly-elected auditor controller takes the oath of office next year. Current Auditor-Controller Joe Mellett recently decided to resign early in the wake of ongoing complaints in the embattled office, where Assistant Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez allegedly filed a sexual harassment complaint against Mellett. Paz Dominguez said in an interview that she too had been the subject of a hostile work environment complaint by her coworkers in the office. (See past coverage here.)

In response to this ongoing drama and faced with the prospect of beginning a time- and finance-consuming recruitment process for Mellett's temporary successor, the board voted on Apr. 3 to appoint retired annuitant Cheryl Dillingham (who previously worked in the office). According to Terry Francke, legal counsel and founder of public forum watchdog CalAware, this surprise appointment of Dillingham — who was coincidentally in chambers when the subject arose — constituted a violation of California's open meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, because the public did not have advance notice of and the opportunity to comment on her appointment.

We reached out to Blanck to ask whether or not the April 24 agenda item was a response to a "cure and correct" letter about the Brown Act violation. He said it was not and that he doesn't think Dillingham's appointment was a violation. But Blanck said heard there might be allegations of a Brown Act violation and decided to self-correct in order to keep the appointment in the clear.

"I felt it was sufficient but, rather than argue about sufficiency, I decided to put it back on the agenda," he said.

If he were to have to argue that the board was in the right, Blanck said he believes there's sufficient leeway under the Brown Act that — given that Mellett's resignation had been announced and the board had made clear its intention to find an interim replacement — the public was suitably informed enough to make comment.

The board is also scheduled to discuss appointment of a public defender. This comes nearly six months after the resignation of troubled public defender David Marcus, whose nine months in office was marred by mass staff resignations, complaints and a lawsuit. Through most of that time, the board stood by its decision to appoint Marcus, whose lack of qualifications, dubious interview process and troubling job history made him a controversial choice. For more information on that story, you can find previous coverage here


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