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County Notes (August 28, 2019)

LAST TUESDAY the Supervisors approved their responses to the Grand Jury about both the management of the county and Measure B, the mental health initiative stalled since it was passed two years ago.

The upshot of the Supes’ response to criticism of the non-progress on Measure B was nicely summarized in the Independent Coast Observer last week as "County Supes, Citizens Oversight Committee Point Fingers at Each Other."

While acknowledging that the project has been moving forward at a pace that couldn't outrun a dedicated snail, the Supervisors blamed the Oversight Committee for not producing recommendations and, as pointed out by ICO reporter William Keller, Sheriff Allman, the Soul of Measure B, insisted that his Committee is "getting more traction and moving forward." The Supervisors thought that more attention should be paid to last year’s Kemper report which recommended that some service upgrades could be done sooner without having to wait for the long-drawn-out facilities construction process.

In a related info-bit, CEO Carmel Angelo told the Board on Tuesday that their top two applicants for Measure B project manager had declined the position for financial reasons in one case and a better paying position in the other case. The CEO is re-posting the position and starting over. Angelo mentioned that the Project Manager should be a long term hire that could last for up to five years or more, casually confirming the Grand Jury's observation that the project was basically stalled.

The Supervisors also approved their vague response to the Grand Jury’s suggestion that they do a better job of managing the county. The Supe’s response? They acknowledged some performance deficits and griping about the Grand Jury’s failure to see how good they’re actually doing, but promised to pick up their game a bit, responding in general terms but with no follow-up or commitments just as the Grand Jury had observed is wrong with them in the first place. They even promised to assemble a grand strategic plan from the various topical plans laying around collecting dust.

THE SUPES had again ignored the Grand Jury's critical assessment of them and County leadership generally, the traditional response of all County departments, those responses being one or two dismissive words. It will never happen in the potemkin context of local government, but if the GJ is ever to have real authority, the grandees of the Superior Court will have to declare the Supes and various department heads in contempt and throw them in jail for a few days. As it is, the conscientious work of many years of grand juries has simply been ignored and often even sneered at by local government.

* * *

But, just when we were about to give up on Mendo’s long-standing giant management reporting gap that has somehow allowed the CEO to avoid any kind of monthly departmental reporting, Supervisor Ted Williams interrupted his Supervisor’s report to note that, “If it wouldn't be too much effort — I like reviewing the vacancy recruitment and update list. But it's hard to get a sense over time looking at the numerical data and vacancy reports — is it possible to generate a chart for each department’s funded positions with an overlay of filled positions so that we can look at say the last few years, whatever could be a few mouse clicks for you? I think it would be useful for the public as well. And I would extend that to the budget. I have been asked by the public about county spending relative to its budget. Some departments go over from time to time and I don't know as a Supervisor if I would have much awareness about that until it comes forward. Would it be possible to include a chart of that in the CEO report showing where we are in the budget year to date?”

Board Chair Carre Brown seemed downright frightened by the prospect of monthly budget and staffing reports: “Why don't you go over our budget process. We usually do have quarterly —“

CEO Angelo, realizing that this might be a debate she would lose in open session, moved quickly to change the subject: “I can work with Supervisor Williams if you like on this. If that's what you're asking Chair Brown?”

Brown continued trying her best to swat down the radical idea of monthly departmental reporting: “Yes. We do have a process for when departments go over budget in the quarterly updates and their responsibility to come forward in open session to the board. I don't know if you are aware of that Supervisor Williams.”

Williams: “I am aware of that. And I know that the public would like to see more of a chart that is updated regularly about how we are doing on filling positions and how we are doing on spending. Because once we notice that we've gone over just looking at the numerical data it’s pretty late. There's always a justification but it's hard for us to say today if we are on track with our budget. I get asked this question and I don't have a good way to answer it because I don't have a chart to pull up. I think that would be useful for all five of us.”

Supervisor McCowen agreed: “We all sit on a number of boards and commissions both as part of our duties here and out of our own interest and just about every other board and commission has a monthly financial report that includes the budget and year to date so you could track it very readily. We have a lot of county departments but if each department is not already tracking expenditures to budget they probably ought to be. I would welcome that information. I don't think it should be that difficult to develop. Again virtually every special district we've ever been on or attended —”

Chair Brown had heard enough about this: “I think you've made your point.”

McCowen: “Thank you.”

CEO Angelo: “I will work with Supervisor Williams and I appreciate Supervisor McCowen’s comments and we will do what we can to get as much information to this board so that you can go public with regard to our budget and our positions. Thank you.”

In Mendo Supes/CEO usage “thank you” usually means “shut up and go away.”

BETS ARE BEING TAKEN ON THIS ONE, TOO. Very long odds will be given but no reasonable offer will be refused. For example, what are the odds that this subject will arise in open session again this year in even an oblique way? 10-1?

* * *

DISTRICT ATTORNEY DAVID EYSTER opened Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting by noting that his County paycheck is from Bank of America, but that Bank of America has departed Mendocino County. The DA suggested Mendo switch to a local bank. Supervisors response was the usual non-responsive — “Thank you.”

* * *

SPEAKING OF PUBLIC ATTORNEYS: Mendo’s public attorneys are happy with their big pay raise, which increases their compensation 35.8% over three years — 12% a year. Now they can spare the County the strike they were threatening, according to their negotiator former Deputy DA Matt Finnigan. (By comparison, the County’s line employees will get a little over 3% per year, which will reportedly bring them closer to “market rates.” But then they aren’t attorneys and, therefore, a lower order of employee. 

CEO ANGELO wasn’t the only senior County staffer who didn’t know how the raises in the two future years will be paid for. (Apparently, the Board hopes to maintain a high vacancy rate to save money for the future, but they haven’t asked anybody to keep track of it and nobody seems to care what impact such vacancy rates will have on the operations of the various departments.)

* * *

SUPERVISOR DAN GJERDE didn’t appreciate being asked by the Grand Jury to hold regular meetings with his Fourth District constituents, keening that he goes to various meetings of various groups and agencies all the time. Golly gee, why didn’t the GJ count those? He said he’s done “more than 30 radio interviews” which he insists is “pretty good!” “I’m making an effort,” said the Supervisor. “We all do in our own way. I prefer to work with groups in my own district on a topic or in general. But not me personally organizing it.”

APPARENTLY, it’s too much work to announce a meeting date and time and location in the Fort Bragg area for an hour or two every month or two on Facebook or the AVA and see who shows up. That kind of “work” is what the Supervisor thinks is “organizing it.”

* * *

THE LOW POINT last Tuesday morning was the appearance of California Public Utilities Commision’s Government Relations liaison for Mendocino County, Dr. Naveed Paytar.

Supervisor John Haschak asked Mr. Paytar: “I was at a meeting at the Little Lake Fire Department last week. The Fire Chief said there will probably be up to four times as many fires caused by people with generators in their homes and out in the field that will cause these fires and people won't have the ability to fight these fires because they don't have the electricity to spray down their own yard or whatever catches on fire.”

Dr. Paytar replied: “Your point was about the risk of fires and people who are perhaps starting a generator for the first time, right? Is this correct? So the power goes out and now I think you were quoted that there would be four times more fires because of these -- these other problems and I think that that's -- that's -- that's definitely an issue, that's something that -- I don't think that's a reason to not do the PSPS per se because you know, that is -- that is -- the decision to do a de— a de-energization could save lives and save people's property and there are other issues honestly that can result from shutting down the enter— shutting down electricity and I think that public awareness is the solution to that to make sure that people — that — and I believe that PG&E offers resources to make sure people know how to start the generators and — and at least have that information and I think that should be a community wide local government and even to the state government and public awareness -- public awareness that how to do these things safely in the event of a de-energization.”

IN GENERAL the thrust of Mr. Paytar’s ridiculously evasive replies went to asking the Board to file comments later in the year (after fire season) to the CPUC during the promised “Phase 2” of the PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoffs) planning process. Everyone in the room was dissatisfied with Mr. Paydar’s responses. But that’s all he had to offer.

AT ONE POINT, in response to Supervisor Ted Williams, Dr. Paydar said that even the grand CPUC itself will get no more than a robo-call notification of a planned outage, just like Mendo. After noting that the request for a human notification and a human confirmation of that notification was “a good question,” Dr. Paytar said Mendo could ask the CPUC for such notifications in Phase 2. Dr. Paydar also had great praise for an unidentified attorney which he said was doing a great job of representing Mendocino at the CPUC hearings, as we wondered who that eminence could possibly be. The person the County has hired to sue PG&E for whatever they can get in damages for the PG&E-caused fires in 2017 in Potter and Redwood Valley?

WHOEVER IT IS, they’re certainly NOT doing much of a job representing Mendo in any hearings. Not that the County seems interested in whatever that representation is.

* * *

AS ONE of 16 citizens looking in on the Supervisors Tuesday, a dispiriting experience recommended only in brief chunks, a pair of slick "bond consultants" — expensive suits and haircuts, faked earnestness — inspired this question from Supervisor Haschak: "“I guess these holdings — you just choose those holdings based on your expertise, right?"

Floont & Haschak

HASCHAK reminds us, in his splendid innocence, of R. Crumb's Flakey Foont. Supervisor McCowen has strong Foont tendencies, but he's positively urbane alongside the 4th District solon.

CARRE BROWN managed to outdo Haschak when, responding to the Grand Jury's blast at her and her colleagues, she cited the County's pot licensing program as a success, a statement so at odds with that resounding failure it calls into question the Supervisor's sanity.

* * *

WHO SAYS the old girl doesn't have a sense of humor? Asked about the absence of Heidi Dunham, boss at Mendo’s Human Resources, County CEO Carmel Angelo responded:

“Dear Mr. Anderson, Good afternoon to you. All the board activity today and that's your question??? LOL… Ms. Dunham has been with the county for many years and recently decided to retire. She will definitely be missed. Thank you, Carmel”

So,  Ms. Dunham is “retiring” at age 57? In the same week as the announced agreements with SEIU and the public attorneys? Interesting. 

One Comment

  1. John August 31, 2019

    I’ve invited Dan Gjerde to breakfast with a local group that meets weekly in Fort Bragg and he has yet to come. Could it be that former Supv. Norman DeVall’s attendance makes him uncomfortable?

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