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Imperial County Supervisors Censure Department Head

-Editorial

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors voted to censure County Auditor-Controller Josue Mercado for allegedly neglecting to fulfill the duties of his office.

The board met in the last meeting of the year and voted to pass a resolution against Mercado accusing him of not submitting important financial information to the state of California that affected the rating standing of Imperial County.

County Administration received whistleblower complaints alleging that Auditor-Controller, Josue G. Mercado has failed to respond to inquiries and request for information from S&P Global Ratings concerning the County fiscal policies and procedures, resulting in a pending lowering rating of the County-issued certificates of participation, series from “A” to “BBB+”, and failed to file the County’s 2020-2021 adopted budget with the State Controller’s Office by the December 1st deadline.

In determining the validity of the first complaint, County Administration found that representatives from S&P had made numerous attempts to contact Mercado to request information to assist in establishing a rating for the County. Specifically, S&P requested County fiscal policies and procedures, as well as County budget and audit information. Despite the importance of these requests, it does not appear that Mercado responded to representatives of S&P Global with the requested information. Additionally, County staff said, Mercado made any attempt to notify other County departments that could assist with responding to S&P’s request for information. In their notice to the county concerning the pending lowering of the rating of the county grade, S&P identified that one of the primary factors leading to the rating change was the lack of financial information provided by the county.

County CEO Tony Rohoutas said that upon receiving notice of the pending lowering of the rating of the County, the administration took immediate action to work with the staff of the Auditor-Controller’s Office and other County departments to acquire and submit the information requested by S&P.

“Notably, Mr. Mercado did not provide assistance or respond to requests from County Administration to discuss the matter,” the resolution read, “County administration verified that the County’s 2020-21 adopted budget was not filed with the State Controller’s Office by the Dec. 1st deadline. It does not appear that Mr. Mercado took any action to ensure that the County’s budget was filed in a timely manner, nor does it appear that Mr. Mercado took any action to notify other County officials that the County’s budget would be filed by the deadline.”

Failure to file the County’s adopted budget with the State Controller’s Office, as mandated by State law, could have potentially negative consequences, including but not limited to the issuance of a $1,000 fine against the County.

Supervisor Ray Castillo said if Mercado has responded to clarify this. CEO Tony Rohoutas said that Mercado has not responded to the notification of this agenda item or any other inquiries.

“Can we force Mr. Mercado to meet with the Board and CEO to discuss this matter?” Castillo asked.

“No, we can’t,” Rohoutas responded.

Mercado was elected as Auditor-Controller in 2018 and is the department head of his office. However, he cannot be disciplined the same way as a county employee.

“We expect Departments heads to do their job regardless if they are appointed or elected,” County Board Chairman Luis Plancarte said.

Supervisor Michael Kelley said they should give take this case to a Grand Jury to resolve this. Supervisor Ray Castillo suggested giving Mercado time to come forward and talk to the CEO and if there is no response to put an item on the agenda next month about sending this to the Grand Jury.

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