The Board of Supervisors met in Boonville last week, but the meeting was more remarkable for what was not on the agenda than for what was. Once it was announced that the Supes would be meeting in The Valley, Bev Dutra of Philo began lobbying Supervisor Hamburg to convene a round table discussion between the Board and locals rather than have both parties endure the usual top-down, formal affair we see in Ukiah, with the Supervisors lounging in big leather chairs above the gathered plebes.
Topics of concern at a round table would include the future of the Valley’s resident deputies, suggestions for budget cuts that don't hamstring the Sheriff (like cutting travel and outside consultants), and how to slow the proliferation of wineries with their reservoir sized ponds and drunk driver-inducing tasting rooms. County Counsel, apparently terrified that the Supervisors might engage in an unscripted discussion with the citizens they purport to serve, nixed informality. But then at the upper levels of local government, bureaucrats always feel more comfortable with a tightly scripted format that leads inexorably to a pre-determined, minimally productive outcome.
The Agenda, such as it was, “featured” a General Plan update and a report on the Boonville Fairgrounds from the Fair's capable manager, Jim Brown. The General Plan update consisted of staff saying what a wonderful job they are doing under very difficult circumstances. Public comment focused on the need to actually adopt the General Plan in the faint hope that the wine juggernaut is slowed before every hill and dale is converted to vineyards and The Valley's aquifer is sucked dry. No comment from the Board. Boonville Fair manager Jim Brown confirmed that the State was cutting off any further financial support and the Fair would have to go it alone. Brown estimated the Boonville County fair can maintain current levels of operations for three years without new revenue, basing his projection on current reserves. A maintenance position to be vacated by retirement will not be filled in what may be only the first of several cost cutting measures. Brown and the Fair Board have done an excellent job in keeping the Fairgrounds busy with paying customers. Big time music events plus a variety of other attractions drawing thousands from the Great Outside have put the Fair operation in the fiscal black. Can Brown and Co. keep it there without state subsidies?
Public Safety, the hot button issue of greatest concern to most locals, was conspicuously absent from the agenda. Supervisors Smith and Hamburg have been the most insistent that the Sheriff needs to cut his budget “like everyone else” while Smith continues to try to grab as much public money for herself as she can. Instead of setting priorities and funding them in the order of importance, each year at budget time the Board goes through the motions of assigning a flat 10% or 15% cut to all departments. Each department is expected to submit a budget to the CEO showing the mandated level of cuts. Then the CEO makes a recommendation to the Board. In theory, the Board can overrule the CEO, but that almost never happens, the tail wagging the dog as is customary in Mendocino County for all its public agencies from school boards to the County's Planning and Building Department. Based on the last couple of years, it appears that only Supervisors Pinches and McCowen can be relied upon to read the budget in any detail, much less understand it.
Kendall Smith, who previously worked in Mendo’s Public Health Department where palsy-walsy-ism reigns, often complains that the Sheriff's budget is not being cut enough, repeatedly and falsely claims that every other budget unit is being held to the same standard, a charge that is easily disproved by a quick glance at the Board of Supervisors own budget. Supervisor Pinches made clear a couple of weeks ago, while opposing Smith's request for $1,500 for a travel junket to Portland, that far from 15%, the Board does not cut its own budget by 5% or even 2%. Smith, a reflexive, but unskilled prevaricator, claimed the Board did cut its budget as the numbers proved otherwise. Most of the other general government departments, the ones that work with the CEO on a regular basis, like Treasurer, Auditor-Controller, and County Counsel, have also been spared the budget ax. They routinely submit a budget showing the proposed cuts, but then add notes explaining that for a variety of reasons making the listed cuts will either lower revenue or raise expenses. The CEO then adds a note explaining that the favored department will be spared any cuts because otherwise they won't be able to do their jobs. That seems to work for everyone but the Sheriff.
If the CEO and Smith want to cut the Sheriff, they should come right out and say so, not hide behind the falsehood that his budget is treated the same as everyone else's when clearly it is not. The Sheriff's budget is running a deficit, but that is only because he was not given the same consideration as other departments during the budget hearings. The Supes lack the cajones to lay off field deputies, so they assign a totally unrealistic budget number and then whine when the Sheriff, as expected, goes over budget. The Sheriff is mandated to operate a County Jail and must comply with a host of state and federal requirements, including providing medical care and meeting minimum staffing levels for the jail. It is impossible for him to cut 15% from the jail budget without setting himself up for a federal lawsuit. What that means is that a 15% cut for the Sheriff's Office really means a 30% cut for patrol. A cut of that magnitude will wipe out the resident deputy program plus a lot more. If, as Smith claims, the Sheriff's budget was really treated like every other department, at least the jail budget would be exempt from any further cuts.
During public expression a dozen or so Valley residents took the time to comment on the importance of our resident deputies in protecting us from mopes and lurks of every description, including drunk drivers, tweakers, and drug dealers. Deputies Squires and Walker were repeatedly cited for their ability to detect and apprehend the bad guys and their ability to prevent random criminal activity just because local perps know the odds are high that they will be caught and packed over the hill to the Low Gap Hilton. Supervisor Smith affected an air of studied indifference as the speakers made their points, while Supervisor Hamburg seemed pained to have to listen to the sometimes emotional pleas for maintaining public safety.
Valley residents were left wondering why public safety, an update on the resident deputy program, for example, couldn't be on the agenda. Does anyone doubt that if Chair Smith, who controls the agenda, or 5th District Supervisor Hamburg, to whom Chair Smith is joined at the hippie, er hip, *wanted public safety on the agenda, that it would have been done? By keeping public safety off the agenda, Smith still had to suffer through public expression, but at least she avoided being subjected to an organized presentation by the Sheriff. Supervisor Hamburg, perhaps sensing that the refusal to include public safety on the agenda did not play well with the locals, extended what sounded like a sincere invitation for anyone concerned about the issue to give him a call, pointing out that he is listed in the phone book (467-0329).