Sunday, March 18, 2018

Flight for $50 million check questioned as unnecessary use of public funds

County Airports Director Todd McNamee made an extraordinary flight to Sacramento late last year to pick up a $50 million check.

Top county executives asked him to take his single-engine Piper plane to the capital on November 22, the day before Thanksgiving. They had a payroll of roughly $6 million looming for 1,400 health care workers, a state office worker had tracked down the check following three weeks of county inquiries and there was interest to be made once the big check was deposited, officials said.

But two county fiscal officials — Auditor-Controller Jeff Burgh and Treasurer-Tax Collector Steven Hintz — say the trip was an unnecessary use of public funds and McNamee's time.  

"If someone had called me, if someone had called (Hintz), we would have said, 'Stop, we can do something else,' " Burgh said.

The five-hour, 778-mile trip cost $416 for McNamee's mileage and diverted the $90-an-hour manager from his normal duties that day.

McNamee would have been paid anyway so the trip did not involve any additional personnel costs, but his compensation over the period equates to close to $500. 

Burgh said the money could have been deposited electronically, an option state officials said they do offer at no cost for the payment in question. The $50 million check comes from an incentive program aimed at improving care in California public hospitals, which includes Ventura County Medical Center.

The medical center includes the main hospital in Ventura, the affiliated Santa Paula Hospital and an assortment of clinics.

But Ventura County officials had to sign up for the direct deposit in advance and did not do so, the state Department of Health Care Services said in an email Thursday. 

County Health Care Agency Director Johnson Gill says he understands from industry sources the electronic transfers are still a work in progress. State officials, however, said Friday the electronic transfer was available at the time of the flight.

Hintz said he informed health care officials that there were three other options for getting the money deposited. But two of them depended on having the check in hand and the third relied on a business arrangement that was not in effect for this payment.

Still, communication between VCMC and Hintz's office might have ensured that the check was credited that day in time to cover payroll. Instead, the hospital system had to borrow $1.5 million from the county general fund for the expense, Burgh said.

Hintz says he was not told about the deposit until 11:30 a.m. on the day of the flight when a VCMC employee called and asked him to keep his office open late to receive the check. She was told the county treasury stops accepting deposits at 2:30 p.m. each day, he said.

That turned out to be too early for McNamee's return. At 3:43 p.m. VCMC requested the loan, Burgh said. 

General fund loans to cover the medical center's payroll are fairly routine. The agency borrowed the day before checks were due for 14 of 26 pay periods over the last 12 months, Burgh said.

But VCMC had expected to be able to cover payroll that week, he said.

Gill said he was unaware of cheaper alternatives at the time officials requested the flight. He is trying to work out an arrangement for electronic payments in the future, he said. 

Gill said the funds go toward supporting or developing programs to improve the quality of care, including infrastructure, technology, training and personnel. That all takes money so it's important to get funding in a timely manner, he said.

By the Friday after Thanksgiving, the money had been credited to the hospital system's accounts. The infusion brought the cash balance for the medical center from $238,000 to almost $5 million and reduced the ongoing loan balance from the general fund to $74.6 million.

Managers did not research the cost of McNamee's flight compared with sending a staff person on a commercial flight. But they knew from experience that it would be cheaper for McNamee to fly his own plane the day before a major holiday if a seat on a commercial flight could even be found, Gill said.

Gill said he wanted to physically obtain the check, fearing it could be lost in the mail. He said that every time county fiscal workers called state officials about the check, they got different answers. By the time a state worker tracked it down, it looked like the best way to get it was to grab it before the long holiday weekend, he said,

"Obviously $50 million is not a little amount," he said.

State health officials said they reached out to the state Controller's Office to expedite the processing of the check once they learned about the delay. Checks are sent by mail if the recipient does not request electronic deposits, state officials said.

Burgh said he learned about the flight a few days afterward and spoke with Gill, Assistant Executive Officer Matt Carroll and County Executive Officer Mike Powers.

"At the end of the day we are working to change this procedure," Burgh said. "I would hope it would not happen in the future."

McNamee's mileage costs will be paid from VCMC's operating revenues, he said. 

The flight was allowed under a policy that permits McNamee to fly his private plane on county business with permission from the County Executive Office. He normally flies to conferences with other airport managers. It was the first time he has ever used his plane to pick up a check, he said.

Carroll said the flight was justified primarily because of the daily interest that was lost by not having the money on deposit. He estimated that those earnings would total $2,000 a day compared with the cost of the $416 flight.

"This was the most cost-effective way and maybe the only way other than having someone drive," he said.

McNamee was paid 53.5 cents a mile, the same as for a private vehicle.

The airport boss said he was working that day, had a relatively light schedule and did not have to rearrange any appointments.

He flew his 1976 single-engine Piper to Sacramento Executive Airport, took an Uber to a state office building, had the driver wait while he picked up the check and then took the Uber back to the airport.

McNamee said he could have said no when he got the request for the flight from county managers, but he prefers to be collaborative.

"One of my fellow agencies needed help that day and I was able to provide it," he said.

Original article can be found here ➤  http://www.vcstar.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ha Ha Ha, Burgh is upset because they missed his 2:30 deadline to deposit the check! But wait, he then can charge them interest over the holiday. Who is running that treasures office? A clerk who set a policy for people bringing in their water bill payment at 10 minutes before quitting time? Sounds like loser politics and ruffled feathers are the norm in that government.