What does Kern County need drums for?

A drum circle, of course.

Shuffling through the database of purchase card expenses from the county of Kern is at turns pedestrian, surprising and amusing.

Streams of purchases of flash drives, airfare, conference registrations and tires give way to acquisitions of 24 polyester mumu dresses, two sets of snow shoes and yes, a djembe African drum.

INSIGHT

Even a brief exploration of the list of $6.6 million in itemized payments from the 2016-17 fiscal year offers the public a unique glimpse into the scope and quirkiness of the county’s operations.

Who uses those snowshoes (price tag $586.40 for two pairs from Dick’s Sporting Goods) and what do they use them for?

It turns out that Kern County maintains a host of communications installations on mountain peaks across the county.

When one of those installations goes down in the middle of winter, it takes a snowcat and some serious snow-top off-roading to fix them, said interim General Services Director Geoffrey Hill.

“Snowshoes are for our communications folks to access the 12 mountaintop communication sites — snowcapped,” he said. “We need those snowshoes to walk around the site. Sometimes we have to walk quite a ways.”

How about the 12,000 “dog waste bags” General Services bought for $252.72 from DogWasteDepot.com?

The county runs dog parks and maintains dog-waste stations in “many, many parks,” Hill said.

It’s always better to give the public a bag for a quick cleanup rather than wait for county staff to do it.

Per-poop pickup cost?

A couple of pennies.

OVERSIGHT

Questions naturally spring up any time citizens look closely into the details of a government operation.

And, for the public’s sake, the county pays people to look at the same lists and ask the same questions, said Kern County Auditor-Controller Mary Bedard.

Departments go through a strict approval process internally, many with prior supervisor approval, as well as detailed records reviews and double-checking after the purchase.

But the auditors go over all P-card spending each month, before the credit card bill is paid, and question quirky spending patterns, Bedard said.

Now The Californian has sampled some of those expenditures and tossed out some questions of its own.

DRESSED

So what about those mumus?

In the summer of 2016 and spring of 2017, the Kern County Probation Department bought a total of 24 mumu dresses, priced at $604.11, from online retailers.

Why?

They’re for girls who are in residential programs run by Probation.

“At any given time, we house between 35 to 50 female youths,” wrote Kern County Probation Chief T.R. Merickel. “We have 23 beds at our Pathways Academy program. This is a long-term commitment program the court orders for mainly high-risk female youth. The program consists of discipline, schooling, evidence-based treatment programs, enrichment activities and outside volunteer programs. We also house female youth in the juvenile hall. These youth are typically pending the outcome of their court case or are serving shorter juvenile hall commitments.”

So what are the dresses for?

“We use these mumus for two different purposes. The colorful mumus are the shower gowns all female youth in custody are assigned,” Merickel wrote. “The mumus we purchase in gray are their nightgowns. We purchase them in a variety of sizes and replace them as needed.”

RHYTHM

So how about that djembe?

The African drum, similar to a more familiar bongo, was purchased from Amazon for $82.99 in March by staff of Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.

It was needed for the Consumer Family Learning Center.

Behavioral Health Director Bill Walker said the CFLC is a client center that is run primarily by clients who provide groups and training for other clients.

One of the host of events and services offered there, along with movie nights (the Netflix contract was paid with through a county P-card, too), is a Drum Empowerment Group.

The djembe is one of “many other drums” used in the group, according to Candee Del Rio, the business manager for Behavioral Health.

James Burger can be reached at 661‑395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @KernQuirks.

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