Criminal charges are pending for Imperial County Auditor-Controller Josue Mercado, who was censured by the Imperial County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 22 for failure to do his job on two occasions. Mercado now stands accused of four counts of misappropriation of funds. | COURTESY IMAGES
Imperial County leaders are putting the elected auditor-controller on notice.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to formally censure Auditor-Controller Josue G. Mercado on Tuesday, Dec. 22, and the board could take action to do more at a future meeting.
To censure is to “express severe disapproval of someone or something, especially in a formal statement,” according to the Oxford Languages online dictionary.
The auditor-controller position acts as chief accounting officer of the county board, according to the resolution to censure. The position supervises the accounting forms and methods of keeping the accounts of all offices, departments, and institutions under the control of the Board of Supervisors and of all districts whose funds are kept in the county treasury, the resolution states.
Mercado, who could not be reached for comment for this story, was elected to the position in 2018.
The County Executive Office was approached by a whistleblower who claimed Mercado had failed to respond to representatives of a bond-rating company and failed to file the county’s adopted budget with the state, County Executive Officer Tony Rouhotas Jr. said Tuesday. Those claims were investigated and found to be true. The first claim could lower the county’s bond rating from an “A” to a “BBB+”, while the second could result in a fine of $1,000.
“In determining the validity of the first complaint, County Administration found that representatives from (Standard & Poor’s) had made numerous attempts to contact Mr. Mercado to request information to assist in establishing a rating for the County’s COPs (certificates of participation),” according to the resolution.
“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 Mr. Mercado responded to representatives of S&P Global with the requested information. Additionally, it does not appear that Mr. Mercado made any attempt to notify other County departments that could assist with responding to S&P’s request for information,” the resolution continues.
“In their notice to the County concerning the pending lowering of the rating of the County’s COPs, S&P identified that one of the primary factors leading to the rating change was the lack of fiscal information provided by the County.”
The County Executive Office has since worked with auditor-controller department staff to get the necessary information to the bond-rating company and to file the county’s budget with the state controller’s office.
“Upon verifying that the County’s 2020-21 budget had not been submitted by the December 1st deadline, County Administration took immediate action to work with the staff of the Auditor-Controller’s Office to request an extension from the State to submit the County’s budget,” according to the resolution. “The State agreed to extend the deadline for filing the County’s budget to December 15, 2020, and staff at the Auditor-Controller’s Office was able to submit the County’s 2020-21 adopted budget by this deadline. Notable, Mr. Mercado did not provide assistance or respond to requests from County Administration to discuss this matter.”
To “protect the interest and integrity of the county,” Rouhotas asked the board to approve a resolution censuring Mercado. He also asked for board direction on how they would like to move forward with this matter.
There was no public comment on the issue, but supervisors did ask if the County Executive Office has heard from Mercado, to which Rouhotas said he has not heard comment back from Mercado. Rouhotas added that he has asked Mercado to meet with him multiple times, to which Mercado declined or gave no answer.
A public censure doesn’t take any action to remove Mercado from office, nor is it a form of discipline, County Counsel Adam Crook said. The board can decide at a future meeting if they want to get the grand jury involved or see if there are other actions that need to be taken.
Supervisor Raymond Castillo asked that the board not give direction to move forward in that way yet.
“Maybe Mr. Mercado will see this in the media, the fact that he is being censured by the board,” he said. “Maybe it will inspire him to contact the board and at least work things out.
“We have to resolve this. There has to be some type of resolution whether it’s the DA’s office, or the county grand jury,” Castillo added. “Maybe wait until the next meeting in January and give Mr. Mercado time to resolve whatever dilemma he has. If by our next meeting he hasn’t contacted us, well then it’s time to move on to the next step.”
Supervisor Michael Kelley replied, “Ray, this has been going on for several months.”
Castillo responded, “Well, now it’s going to be public. … If he doesn’t contact us by our next meeting, then something’s really wrong.”
Castillo asked that county officials bring back a plan of action at the board’s Jan. 5 meeting.