The May 24th debate over the layoffs of six deputies saw the same basic positions from all the players that we've seen since 2009 when it became clear the economy had gone south, probably forever. Those with connections to the Health and Human Services department (which have already suffered large numbers of retirements, resignations and layoffs) like to think that they are part of public safety just like uniformed officers. They also insist that reductions in their services (alcohol and drug prevention and related treatment programs, public health, social services, etc.) translate into more crime and, of course, more muscular social work for the cops.
Supporters of the helping professions are Dan Hamburg and Kendall Smith. They also take the position that Mendo has “kicked the can” down the road too long by not laying off deputies while larger numbers of staffers in other departments are laid off, neglecting to mention that public safety is the County's sole mandate. It's got to be provided. Nothing else, if it comes to it, comes as a mandate, a must-do that goes all the way back to statehood.
Supervisors Carre Brown and John McCowen are less inclined to buy the “kick the can” argument and are more reluctant to vote for deputy layoffs.
The swing-vote on the layoffs, John Pinches, basically wants to see cash in hand to cover the deputy costs before he votes one way or the other. Pinches said last week that a modest cash windfall from Indian gaming has made the dire budget situation temporarily less dire for the deputies, hence his vote with McCowen and Brown to delay the layoffs. Pinches also said he expected the state to continue vehicle license fees likely to return money to the County.
Hamburg explained his first vote in favor of the lay-offs on May 24th by saying, “Let’s treat people like grownups. What good does kicking the can down the road do? I want people to know that these cuts are really going to happen. We need to stop treating our employees and the public like children. We have no plan B. We must protect the fiscal integrity of this county. That’s job one for this supervisor.”
Supervisor Brown disagreed, “I take exception to that, Supervisor Hamburg. We have not been just kicking the can down the road. First, we have a structural deficit. Now we find that the actuarial was wrong and we have to make bigger pension contributions.”
Hamburg replied, “I’m for public safety, but we don’t have the money to backfill. I pray the VLF funds come through. I’m sorry the kick the can thing was taken as an insult. But the Board has not been conservative enough in terms of handling our fiscal house. Don’t think I’m opposed to public safety. But to protect fiscal integrity we have to not kick the can down the road.” Hamburg then made the motion to go ahead with the six deputy layoffs and the board voted 3-2 (Pinches Hamburg and Smith in favor; Brown and McCowen against.
Then on June 7, in a closed session discussion of a “pending lawsuit” (Sheriff Allman had threatened to sue the board for dictating which layoffs had to be made), Pinches switched his vote when he was told that about $80k of Indian Gaming Revenue (from the Hopland Reservation/Casino) was being allocated which would buy enough time to retain the deputies for two more months when the Vehicle License Fee revenue picture become clear. So the layoffs were postponed for two months. But Hamburg and Smith continued to vote for layoffs.
After a year of stalled negotiations between the County’s largest union, SEIU Local 1021, and the Board of Supervisors and their negotiators, both sides issued press releases last week that basically cut regular hours from 40 to 36 hours a week to become four nine-hour work days for most County employees — a classic case of the mountain laboring long and hard to give birth to a mouse — or maybe a goldfish. The Board of Supervisors could have declared an abbreviated workweek a year ago and not only avoided all the tension and expense —the highly-paid labor negotiator, dragged out the process for all that time, apparently to run up his bill — while the Supes saving public money for the year that it took the alleged negotiator to arrive at the only alternative. Instead, the Supervisors simply went along with a bogus negotiating process all these months, saying the union had to take a 15% pay cut and that was that. (SEIU Local 1021 represents about 750 Mendocino County workers in public libraries, elections, road maintenance, health The labor agreement, which will be effective for two years, not one, will mean that many County offices will only be open four days a week. However, according to a memo from CEO Carmel Angelo “Urgent, emergent and 24-hour services will still continue as needed and as mandated.”
Given a choice between working 10% fewer hours (with an extra day off every week), or working the same hours for a 10% salary cut, it seems obvious that the extra day off is the best deal for the worker, but maybe not such a good deal for the public who will now find the doors at the County offices locked one extra day a week. In either case, it works out to a 10% salary savings for the County, said to be worth about $1.5 million annually. The County was clear from the beginning, all the way back to the adoption of the final budget last September, that it intended to seek salary savings as a budget balancing measure and to replenish the reserves, the last $2.2 million of which were committed to “balance” the current fiscal year budget.
The bargaining units appeared to be negotiating from a position of denial, particularly the attorneys, who seemed to think they should be exempt from cuts. The attorneys, represented by the Teamsters, stonewalled the County for a year, but with the threat of a 20% imposed pay cut staring them in the face, they finally agreed to take a 12.5% pay cut. SEIU, following the stalling tactic of the attorneys, made repeated demands for information about the value of previous wage concessions, the savings from layoffs and vacant positions, the budget deficit and so on.
SEIU claims the county refused to provide the requested information, but based on some of the “analysis” coming from the union, it seems more likely they did not understand the information they were given. (Some of it is intentionally obtuse and bureaucratic.) Union representatives, addressing the Board of Supervisors at public expression a few weeks ago, presented an oversized chart showing 100 vacant positions that they said were worth $7.5 million annually. Given that the County is down about 400 employees from peak employment levels, they extrapolated the annual savings from 400 vacant positions to be about $30 million. Where is the $30 million?, the union wanted to know. The $30 million is not money the County received; it is money it did not spend because it did not have it to spend. That is why the County has had to cut 400 positions, more than 25% of the workforce, in the last several years (mostly from attrition). Most of the job cuts were in Health and Human Services where 85% or more of the cost is a pass through from the state or feds. Further cuts can be expected as state and federal revenue streams continue to shrink.
SEIU may lack financial savvy, but seems to have pulled off a coup in negotiating a shortened workweek instead of a straight 10% cut in wages. Other bargaining units are said to have offered a range of options instead of pay cuts, which would have produced the same dollar savings, but the County held firm and one by one the other groups accepted the seemingly inevitable cut in base pay and benefits. It remains to be seen what kind of backlash the Supes will get from the other seven bar-gaining units who took a straight cut in pay. Or from the public who will now find the doors locked on Fridays.
The Sheriff’s Office, DA, Probation, and others have a mix of bargaining units. Support staff tends to be SEIU members, while attorneys, deputies and probation officers are in their own bargaining units. Who will answer the phones on Friday's when SEIU will be out enjoying a three day weekend but the attorney's and probation officers will still be coming into the office and going to court? What happens at Environmental Health, Planning and Building, Air Quality, Ag or DOT when you need a permit or an inspection on Friday? And how long will it be before the other bargaining units say they would like a three-day weekend also?
SEIU demanded volumes of information on the budget and how savings were applied in a desperate attempt to prove that the County didn't really need wage concessions. SEIU repeatedly hammered CEO Carmel Angelo, deriding her supposed lack of management and budget experience, and mocking her background as a nurse. But Angelo had risen to a management position in San Diego and presided over the downsizing of her department there before moving here to take the helm of the County’s large and newly formed Health and Human Services Agency. Angelo soon drew heat for moving forward with the consolidation of Social Services, Mental Health and Environmental Health. The latter, in particular, had carved out for themselves an island culture free of meaningful oversight or accountability. Angelo also moved forward with layoffs to downsize the agency in anticipation of state and federal cuts, while the rest of the County was floundering under the hands off “leadership” of former CEO Tom Mitchell. Mitchell, perhaps knowing his days were numbered, and having some sense of responsibility to the organization, brought Angelo into the CEO's office about six months prior to his departure and her subsequent anointment as CEO.
What Ms. Angelo in experience, she more than makes up for with a steely-eyed determination to bring the budget under control, repeatedly demanding that the Supes take action to cut spending, cut programs and lay off employees. Angelo is believed to be the driving force behind the demand that wages needed to be cut 10% across the board. Why then has the County suddenly abandoned its position of demanding a 10% or greater cut in wages in preference for a 10% cut in hours for SEIU?
CEO Angelo seems an unlikely candidate to have shifted her position. That leaves the Board. Without being privy to the closed session negotiations, it’s all speculation. But speculation we’re hearing is that Super-visor Kendall Smith got tired of hearing the employee groups take her to task for imposing a 10% wage cut on them while refusing to take a cut herself. Smith, who is seeking re-election to a third term, after reneging on her pledge to serve only two terms, is also aware that SEIU is the largest employee bargaining group and when you add in family and friends, they constitute a significant voting block.
Supervisor Smith, who believes she is misunderstood and much put upon by the ignorant rabble, is believed to have become increasingly desperate to avoid a showdown that would have packed the Board chambers and featured a parade of SEIU members and their families coming to the podium to plead their case while simultaneously pointing an accusing finger at Smith, who imperiously refuses to take the same cut she is eager to force on everyone else. One may also speculate that Supervisor Hamburg, who regularly speaks with anguish about the cuts to social service programs, only needed a modest push from Smith to move off the demand for a straight 10% pay cut for SEIU, most of whom work in Social Services. Factor in that Supervisor John Pinches has long been a proponent of the County going to a four-day workweek, at either 32 or 36 hours, and it is plausible to see how the Supes may have shifted their position.
A reduced workweek was previously identified as one of the top budget balancing strategies using the decision-making matrix that consultant Steve Zuieback led the Supes through earlier this year. SEIU was openly fearful that they would be forced to take a 10% pay cut this year, followed by a reduced work week the next, resulting in more like a 20% total cut in pay. SEIU's fear of back to back hits also explains their insistence on a two year agreement. The attorneys repeatedly sought a multi-year agreement, but were rebuffed by the County. It is ironic that SEIU, which has repeatedly insisted that all bargaining units be treated the same, was the driving force in insisting that they be treated differently. The Supes may have bought labor peace with SEIU, but many in Ukiah expect serious fallout from the other bargaining units. And now that the four-day workweek is about to be locked in for two years, what happens if the deal doesn't work out for the County or the public?
CEO Angelo’s surprise move last week to add $1 mil-lion dollars to the Sheriff's budget for next fiscal year may be seen as a tacit admission that the Sheriff's budget has been chronically underfunded. Each of the last three years the Sheriff has operated at a general fund deficit that ranges between $500,000 and $800,000, despite the Sheriff's concerted efforts to cut costs and/or find addi-tional funding. And the additional $1 million being added next fiscal year will be entirely offset by increased retirement costs, likely throwing the Sheriff back into a deficit position again.
SEIU's long-standing fear is that cuts in HHSA will be used to backfill deficits in the Sheriff's Office. Some are already saying that the extra million for the Sheriff is coming out of the $1.5 million in annual savings from the agreement they are about to reach with the County. SEIU's real problem may be that they are 85-90% per cent state and federal funded and when the state and feds cut funding, as they are, the County has no choice but to cut programs and jobs. The proposed salary agreement will conclude the County's current round of negotiations with the eight bargaining units without resolving the on-going tension regarding Sheriff's Office funding or prioritization of County services.
It remains to be seen what other perks may be included in the deal. SEIU is known to have been asking for “parity” in terms of fringe benefits like the generous computer loan program. Maybe it made sense in the Paleolithic era of home computing, when not everyone had a computer at home and there was an arguable benefit for to the County if the upper level managers had home computers. But ever since the Slavin pay raises back in the 90s, most people can afford to buy their own, and no one pretends the line staff are going to rush home so they can do County biz on their home computers. A benefit that once made sense for a limited class becomes an entitlement that all must have. Why not grant each employee a management training allowance? Don't they deserve an occasional junket?
The Board voted 4-1, with Chair Kendall Smith dissenting, to approve the CEO's budget recommendations last week, including the additional $1 million dollars for the Sheriff. The CEO made a pitch to approve the recommendations as presented, given that so much uncertainty existed around what the State budget might look like. Supervisor John McCowen asked Smith to explain her vote, something that is standard on a split vote, to which the imperious Smith replied, in her best Red Queen sort of way, “Oh, I, I don't, don’t think I need to — don't need to do that.” Why should Smith, who thumbs her nose at the employees and the public by not taking a pay cut and by cheating on her travel costs, be accountable for how she votes?
The County’s Indian Gaming Benefit Committee met recently to divvy up about a quarter of a million dollars paid into a fund by the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians to mitigate impacts from tribal gaming. No other tribal casino in Mendocino County is required to make these payments, which were a condition of the tribal compact between Hopland and the State. About half of the funds can only go to a city or county that borders the tribal lands of the tribe paying into the fund, which, in this case, meant only Mendocino County qualified for that portion of the funding. The rest of the funds can go to any government jurisdiction in the County, including special districts, that can show an impact from tribal gaming.
The Sheriff was requesting funding for two deputies, which would just about have wiped out the fund. The DA wanted about $50k for the Victim Witness program. Hopland Fire, which responds to emergencies at the Hopland Casino wanted another $50k. Laytonville wanted $50k for part one of a two-year request to buy a new ambulance. The County’s already scaled back Alcohol and Other Drug Programs wanted money to screen their clients for gambling problems. And Air Quality wanted about $50k for monitoring equipment and an alternative fuel vehicle, with other departments and districts asking for lesser amounts. Air Quality? Those gambling buses emit lots of fumes, doncha know? Once word gets around, expect every department and special district in the County to make the necessary stretch to allege an impact so they can submit an application.
Supervisor Hamburg and McCowen, along with two representatives from the Hopland Tribe, and Anne Mol-gaard make up the Committee. Anne Molgaard? Yes, the same Anne Molgaard who heads up First Five, and who implausibly accused the Sheriff of “threatening” her out-side the Board of Supervisor's chambers last month. This being Mendocino County, where a large segment of the population is hopelessly afflicted with nice peopleism, if the Sheriff so much as wagged his finger and disagreed with her, that would be interpreted as a threat.
The Sheriff was given funding for $82k, about 75% of one deputy’s total cost. The DA’s Victim Witness Program got what they were asking for, as did Hopland Fire, and we say, good for them, because tribal casinos, like booze and gambling emporiums of any ethnicity, certainly create calls for service and victims. And the rural fire districts need all the help they can get. The rest got parceled out for this and that, but the showdown came when it got down to additional funding for the Sheriff vs an ambulance for Laytonville. Anne Molgaard and one of the tribal reps favored the ambulance for Laytonville while McCowen and the other tribal rep favored more funding for the Sheriff. Given the chance to vote for more funding to support the Sheriff's office, and by extension support retention of two resident deputies in Anderson Valley, Hamburg voted for the Laytonville ambulance.
The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 last week (Smith and Hamburg dissenting) to rescind (or at least postpone) the layoff of six deputies. The vote was taken in closed session and was reported out as having been taken under threat of litigation. A resolution finalizing the action was on this week’s consent calendar, along with a resolution rescinding the accompanying layoffs in the DA's office and probation. The layoffs had been approved at the previous meeting, also on a 3-2 vote, with Supervisor Carre Brown and McCowen dissenting. The Board will revisit the issue in 60 days. By then it will be known whether or not the Republicans and Democrats in the State Legislature were able to quit posturing and finger-pointing at each other long enough to restore funding for the COPS (Community Oriented Policing) program that brings in $1.2 million annually to Mendocino County for the Sheriff, Probation and the DA. The Sheriff gets about $700k of the total, enough to fund the six deputies. The layoffs were contingent on funding for the COPS pro-gram, set to expire June 30, not being renewed.
Sheriff Allman previously announced that he would hire an attorney and sue the County to prevent layoffs of deputies, arguing that the Board could set his budget, but not tell him how to staff his department or which positions to eliminate. State law clearly says the Board has final authority to set the budget, and may also adopt a position allocation table, implying that they can control, or layoff, positions simply by eliminating them from the position allocation table. State law just as clearly says the Board cannot take action that will materially impair the ability of the Sheriff (an independently elected constitutional officer of the State, no less) to fulfill his duties. The State Legislature, mostly a bunch of lawyers, is good at setting up inherent conflicts like this that are guaranteed to result in expensive litigation. But John Pinches, either to avoid litigation, or maybe because he was hearing from the home folks that they did not want six deputies laid off, with the resident deputies in Covelo being the first to go, cast the deciding vote to keep the deputies on the job, at least for now.
The Sheriff’s Ad Hoc Committee, composed of Supervisors Smith and McCowen, was appointed back in March to work with the Sheriff and CEO to decide if there was any point in hiring a consultant to conduct an independent review of the Sheriff's Office budget and operations, and if so to recommend a consultant and how to pay for it. The Board, Sheriff and CEO have all said they favor an independent review, but no one was willing to come up with a plan or money to pay for it. The consent calendar for this week contains an item from the ad hoc committee recommending hiring a consultant for $27,500 to be paid from “unanticipated revenue,” most likely the after the fact eradication fees that District Attorney Eyster is directing to the Sheriff's Office as part of the settlement of outstanding marijuana cultivation cases.
Supervisor Brown originally brought the item for-ward, famously saying that the Sheriff and CEO “needed a referee.” The tension between the two is always bubbling just beneath the surface. The Sheriff is determined to protect his department from further cuts, especially those that would result in layoffs, and the CEO is equally determined to bring the budget under control and eliminate deficits. The consultant firm has at least some local experience, having previously prepared a “Criminal Jus-tice Needs Assessment” for Mendocino County. It will be a surprise if the new study does anything except go on the shelf to gather dust next to the old one.
A proposed contract extension with Empire Waste Management for Franchise Area #2 was also on the Supes agenda this week. Franchise Area #2 includes a coastal zone from north of the Navarro River up to the Westport area, and an inland zone from the Hopland area to Redwood Valley. The two zones include all the unincorporated area around Fort Bragg and Ukiah, but not the cities themselves, which have their own agreements. Mike Sweeney, the General Manager of the Mendocino Solid Waste Management Authority, who initially botched the contracts for running the County transfer stations, was also the staff person for the County on this item.
Empire Waste has failed miserably to achieve the targeted diversion rate from the waste stream of 45% (coming in at a paltry 35%) but Sweeney is placidly recommending a three-year renewal. The other options would be to negotiate a different agreement with the hauler, or put the contracts out for bid which would give local guy Jerry Ward, owner of Solid Waste of Willits, a chance at taking on the big boys, with Empire Waste being affiliated with the largest garbage conglomerate in the nation, if not the world. And there is money on the table.
Empire Waste offered $500,000 to the County for a ten-year extension and half of that amount to Fort Bragg for a similar extension of the Fort Bragg franchise, which is currently set to expire in 2014. But the franchise con-tract expires June 30. Sweeney has been “on it” for months, but he couldn't get it together to put the item in front of the Board of Supervisor with enough lead time for the County to do anything but automatically renew the agreement. So there will be no half-million dollar payment to the County and no competitive bidding process because Sweeney — who now makes over $100k per year himself since the Supes turned everything garbage related over to him — dropped the ball again. And where are the PC brigades to protest this on-going give away to an outside corporation of this valuable public resource? I know, I know, it is too much to expect intellectual honesty or consistency from Coast and Inland Lib.
Willits News reporter Linda Williams recently published an interesting comparison of Mendocino County’s budget with Humboldt County's. Among the most striking differences were levels of debt, management cost and law enforcement.
A whopping $19 million (almost 40%) of Mendo’s dwindling $52 million general fund goes to pay off past debt. Humco had only $1.9 million in debt service.
The cost for the Board of Supervisors and “General Administration” in Humco for 2010 was $600k. Mendo was almost triple that at $1.6 million. In addition, Humco’s “General Management” came in at $11.9 million, whereas Mendo’s “General Management” cost $15.7 million.
Non-Jail Sheriff’s operations in Mendo cost $10.6 million compared to $14.9 million in Humco. Similarly, Mendo’s District Attorney’s office cost $6.8 million and Humco’s DA’s office cost $9.7 million.
Humboldt County’s census population (134,623) is substantially larger than Mendo’s (87,841), but both counties are similar in geographic size — Mendo at about 3500 square miles and Humboldt at about 3600 square miles.