Grand Jury Audit Function

Summary

Because of the complex issues it investigates, the Grand Jury at times needs to hire experts and auditors. The Penal Code authorizes the expenditure of up to $30,000 annually for such assistance. However, there is no money in the Grand Jury’s budget for this purpose. Instead, the Grand Jury must request funds from the Board of Supervisors on a case-by-case basis. There is no guarantee that the funds will be approved. The timeframes involved with Grand Jury investigations makes this process cumbersome at best.

Findings

  1. The Grand Jury has an audit function and may hire independent auditors and experts.
  2. There is no money in the Grand Jury’s budget for this purpose.
  3. The last professional audit commissioned by the Grand Jury occurred in 1988.
  4. The Presiding Superior Court Judge must approve all expenditures for audits and expert services.

Conclusions

  1. The Grand Jury needs a consistent sum of money available to hire experts and auditors.

Recommendations

  1. The Amador County Board of Supervisors established a trust account for the Grand Jury.
  2. The Board of Supervisors appropriates a sum of money to be placed in the trust account for the express purpose of hiring experts and auditors.
  3. The Board of Supervisors give prior approval for the Amador County Auditor/Treasurer to withdraw funds from the trust account and place them in the Grand Jury’s regular operating budget upon receiving a request from the Grand Jury.
  4. The Presiding Judge of the Amador County Superior Court approves all proposals to hire experts or auditors.

Comment Requirements

The Grand Jury requests the Board of Supervisors respond within 90 days from the official filing date of this report as required by Penal Code 933(c).

Authority to Investigate

Penal Code Section 925 authorizes the Grand Jury to review the operation of county government. As required by Penal Code Section 916, at least twelve Grand Jurors voted to review the methods of funding Grand Jury audits and hiring experts.

Method of Review

Members of the Grand Jury conducted interviews with the following people:

Grand Jury members also reviewed the Penal Code sections relating to the Grand Jury’s audit function

Background

The Penal Code gives the Grand Jury the authority to examine the records and accounts of local government entities. The Grand Jury may with approval of the Superior Court, hire or otherwise employ experts to help in its official government oversight responsibilities. The Grand Jury may expend up to $30,000 yearly for this purpose. If the expenditures exceed this amount, approval by the Board of Supervisors is required.

The Grand Jury may use experts in its investigations of the following governmental agencies:

The Grand Jury has not conducted an audit or hired an expert to assist with its investigations since 1988. The 1997/98 Grand Jury found several occasions where expert help was desirable; however, none was hired. There were no funds budgeted for hiring auditors and experts.

Without the institutional memory of other county agencies, the Grand Jury must rediscover its authorities each year. This process can consume most of the Jury’s term, making it difficult to acquire a budget augmentation. The Grand Jury can request a budget augmentation as the need arises from the Board of Supervisors. However, completing this process in time to hire experts for the final report can be difficult.

If the sitting Grand Jury fails to include funds for auditing and expert assistance in the budget proposal for the next year’s Grand Jury, no funds are budgeted for auditing purposes.

Complicating the issue is the fact that not every Grand Jury needs to hire experts or conduct independent audits. Therefore, a reoccurring budget allotment might go unexpended for several years giving the impression that funds for auditing are not needed.

The Grand Jury discussed the problem of funding with the Auditor/Treasurer. He suggested establishing a trust account for the Grand Jury. Money would be budgeted in the first year to be transferred into the trust account. That money would remain in the trust account until a future Grand Jury needed to use part or all of it to hire auditors or experts. With Board of Supervisors’ approval, the Auditor/Treasurer would transfer the required funds from the trust account to the Grand Jury’s regular operating budget when requested. The Grand Jury would ask for replacement of any funds withdrawn from the trust account as part of the regular budget process.

Management control of this system rests with the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court. According to the Auditor/Treasurer, the Board of Supervisors can allow him to make transfers from a trust account without first obtaining approval from the Board. The Grand Jury favors this approach because it ensures that the secrecy of Grand Jury proceedings is maintained.

Supplementary Information

Amador County Counsel opinion

Management audit reports conducted by experts for the Grand Jury in 1984 and 1988