MENDOCINO Co., 10/20/23 — Mendocino County’s top accountant was arrested this week on suspicion of felony misappropriation of public funds. Auditor-Controller/Treasurer-Tax Collector Chamise Cubbison, now suspended from her role as a county employee, was formally charged on Friday, Oct. 13. She turned herself in at the Mendocino County Jail on Sunday, Oct. 15.
Charging documents allege that between 2019 and 2022, Cubbison unlawfully paid $68,106 to former county payroll manager Paula June Kennedy, her codefendant. Cubbison’s attorney, Chris Andrian, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Kennedy is being represented by the public defender.
Cubbison and Kennedy have not yet entered a plea, and are scheduled to return to court for that purpose Oct. 31. Both defendants were booked and released at the time of their arrests and are currently out of custody on their own recognizance.
The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors unanimously suspended Cubbison without pay during its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, Oct. 17 — appointing Sara Pierce as Acting Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector pending the outcome of Cubbison’s criminal case. Payroll records with Transparent California indicate Pierce worked as the county’s acting deputy CEO in 2022 and principal administrative analyst before that.
DA’s conflict with Cubbison goes back several years
Cubbison was thrust into a leadership role in Sept. 2021, when former Auditor-Controller Lloyd Weer retired. He recommended Cubbison as his successor, but the board declined to appoint her after remarks from District Attorney David Eyster related to disagreements over the DA’s travel expense reimbursement and the use of asset forfeiture funds.
Eyster described Cubbison as the wrong person at the wrong time and urged the board to find a “higher caliber individual.” At that time, Cubbison said she would not be “intimidated” by Eyster into authorizing improper payments.
Eyster’s sour history with Cubbison could affect the case’s proceedings and outcome. California Penal Code 1424 allows defense attorneys to file a motion with the court seeking to disqualify a district attorney over conflicts of interest.
Despite the Board of Supervisors’ decision not to appoint Cubbison to Weer’s elected position as Auditor-Controller in 2021, his retirement left her doing the job anyway. As assistant auditor-controller, Cubbison became acting auditor-controller after Weer’s departure. She later ran for Auditor-Controller\Treasurer-Tax Collector unopposed in June 2022, after the county consolidated the two departments over Cubbison’s objections over limited staffing.
Meanwhile, Cubbison’s leadership has been a point of contention with the board of supervisors. Arguments over labor negotiations with the county’s unions have often hinged on assertions from board members that the county is not collecting all the taxes and fees that it is due, and that an unknown number of unpermitted housing units are not being taxed at all — which they argued was adversely affecting the county’s ability to pay its workers a living wage.
Then last month State Controller Malia Cohen launched an audit of Mendocino County’s finances over reports that were not filed in a timely fashion and that allegedly contained inaccuracies.
Interested readers can find the county’s press release announcing Cubbison’s charges and Pierce’s appointment below: