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Cooler Heads Missing In Action

To listen to both County employees and Supervisor John McCowen it is clear that the County’s hope that the budget gap of about $500k will be closed will never happen, and that the “balanced” budget is yet another pipe dream.<!--sell price="25" recurring="1Y" group="101"-->

The employees ratcheted up their rhetoric at last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, stoked in large part by Board Chair Kendall Smith’s inevitable whining that she couldn't possible cut her salary any further.

This exchange between County employee Barbie Svendsen and the Supervisors was typical.

Svendsen: “I’ve been a County employee for seven years: I just don't think that you guys understand how hard it is for us and how demeaning it is for us to come to our jobs every day that we are very good at and to be the lower paid county workers and continue to take pay decreases. It’s very, very hard. I would just hope that you keep that in mind. Also, I have a question for all of you. I want to know if all of you are also taking a pay cut? Can you answer that for me? Is that possible?

Supervisor Carre Brown: “I will respond. I have consistently taken a 10% wage reduction since I came into office in 2009.”

Supervisor John McCowen: “Likewise, from my first day on the job, I took a 10% pay cut, so I've never taken my full salary. I also don't seek reimbursement for travel out of the County. And I cut my travel budget to 50%.”

Then it was Chair Smith’s turn: “I do not and I did a calculation with SEIU's wages as I did with the other elected officials and if I had received the same wages you did over the past four year period as with the average of all the other elected officials and then took a 10% pay I would be looking, making more than I do now. Currently this board of supervisors in a regional equation, which is the best measurement for elected officials in a regional comparative, we are 25% out of market. And I don't think there is any category in the county currently including the attorneys that were I believe before, I mean after the last wage issues that we addressed, I believe they were 20% out, or 25% out of market at the stated salary. So, no, I haven't.”

Then it was Supervisor Dan Hamburg’s turn.

Silence. … Silence. … Silence…

Apparently Supervisor Hamburg had no intention of explaining his salary, pro or con. He took a voluntary 10% pay cut as did most of his colleagues did. His silence on the issue was mystifying.

Realizing that the Sphinx was not going to speak, Supervisor Pinches took up the baton: “Yes, I've taken the 10% pay cut going on, I think, going on three years now but, and personally I'm kind of fairly well off financially in good shape. I also have a daughter who is a single mother and raising four little grandkids, so I'm really close to the, to what people in this county and not only this county are facing every day about trying to feed their families and trying to get them to school and all the things that are just the basic needs. I'm quite aware of that. I'm around people every day that are in that situation.”

We pause briefly here to note that the four Supervisors who at least took pay cuts, took VOLUNTARY pay cuts. And no benefit cuts. If push came to shove they could simply stop taking their voluntary $6800 (10% of $68,000) pay cuts and take all the money. They have steadfastly refused to consider a permanent pay cut of the type they expect from their employees.

Svendsen: “I do appreciate those of you who are taking the pay cut. But I would just like you to really really keep in mind that your wages are not comparative to ours. It's very very very tough to get through life on a smaller salary.”

Smith, the lame duck — perhaps the lamest duck ever — from the 4th District, replied, “I would also like to comment that I would've liked to have had the offer that you had that I believe your bargaining group did not bring to you for a 30 day period which was a 36 hour [a week] agreement that was in their hands for over 30 days. I would have liked to, I would've, I would have signed on to that in a minute because what it would have meant is that it would have meant instead of a 60 hour week I would have been working 36 hours.”

Get that woman a hair shirt and a bed of nails!!

Supervisor Brown belatedly realized that she’d opened a Big Can of Smith when she decided to defend her pay cut: “I think it's out of order…”

Smith: “Well, no!”

Brown: “No! I do. I think it's, it's…”

Smith to Brown: “Supervisor, I think I have the right to respond to the question about wages. You chose to, and and I, I think the chair does as well.”

McCowen also made a feeble attempt to cut Smith off: “Well, you're kind of going into the negotiation realm almost.”

Smith: “No! This is off the table! It's not negotiations! But I would have taken that because it would have meant a 10% reduction in my vacation time, 10% in my sick leave, 10% of my holiday pay, and yet I would have been held to a 36 hour workweek and the incremental reduction in retirement would have been a real small thing to have absorbed in that bigger picture with those other reductions, so for me, I would have, I would have signed on to that in a minute and I don't think you had the chance because it never came to you, but I'm just saying, there are a lot of things that are not, they're not relative, and you can't compare, we don't get sick leave, we don't get vacation pay. You just need to understand it's, you know, there are many factors so trying to compare it to elected officials salaries, I really don't think you can do that.”

It had become a dialogue of the deaf, mostly on the Smith end.

Svendsen: “That's what I'm saying. You do need to compare. Because you cannot compare your salaries to ours. That's all.”

Smith: “Not to the CEO. You can't compare ours.”

Svendsen: “Right.”

Smith: “No. You can't.”

Svendsen: “We're the ones who cannot afford it. We cannot afford for gas to continue to go up. We cannot afford a grocery bill. We cannot afford these cuts. We just can't.”

Smith (condescendingly): “Understood. I think we all understand that. Thank you very much.”

Employee Andrea Longoria took it up another notch: “It's really interesting that you say that our membership did not really get to deal, that the members didn't get the information which is totally untrue. I really believe that the reverse is true. The opposite is true. That YOU didn't get the information, the proper information that was given to you when we bargained in good faith. You say nonchalantly that, yes, we all understood, we all understood that less hours, of course vacation and certain other accruals would be affected. But then when you hung us up upside down for every nickel, dime and penny! You’re taking our bereavement! Seriously? I have a daughter who is terminally ill! Are you kidding me?! You are going to fuck with my bereavement?! A 32 hour workweek? I mean, to reduce, to make us permanent part-time employees is just, like, despicable! We had a deal! We all knew that we had a deal! I'm a single mom! I have six kids! I've been in the system on food stamps! With a terminally ill child! Now I work for the county! I was proud! Since the word one! Now I'm ashamed! Ashamed! All I have to say is that we know what was on the table. You don't know. Every time you are offered to come to the table not one of you ever showed up! Not one! When you got offered to go to work sites to see what the pressure and distress that we were all under, not one of you went! Not one! So you sit there on your high pedestals and you tell us, oh well you went through the SEIU, you know, whatever. And you take, you feel okay not taking a cut, Kendall. And you can say whatever you want because I know you got short timer syndrome. You're on your way out. Okay? You know what? We have to live in this community and we are the people who provide the vital services to this community and we want to continue to do that.”

Smith: “We appreciate that you do that.”

Longoria: “I'm not done, Kendall. I think I still have 45 seconds.”

Smith, patronizingly, “No, go ahead.”

Longoria: “How can you people look in the mirror at night knowing that these people all have families. We have children. We have grandchildren.To nickel and dime us? By resolution, right now, 36 hours, we can fix this right now! You have the power to fix it! You, each and every one of you, will be held accountable, you WILL BE held accountable, because there are seats up for election and with every breath of my body, by God, change is going to happen. Change will happen because this community is not going to stand up for it, we won't stand up for this any longer. We are not. We are trying to do the best we can and stand up and do the right thing and we want to give, but we're not allowed to let that happen because you want to bully us.”

Smith: “Well, you give every day and we appreciate it. And you did make a mistake. This supervisor has visited several work sites. In recent times.”

Employee Helen Michael: “My late husband said a man is only as good as his word. And right now your word is nearly worthless. We had a handshake agreement which the county has reneged on and going back on everything we had agreed to. Our good faith has vanished and you are playing shell games with our livelihoods. We will not be walked all over. We will not go quietly. 12.5% reduction is outrageous and unfair. To reduce us to part time employees is a slap in the face. And you have not heard the last from us.”

Employee Lynn Maguire: “You talked, Kendall, about the 36 hour agreement that we didn't know about. Well, we knew about it and we had a good agreement, a handshake agreement and you guys pulled it off the table and you talk about wanting to bargain in good faith and you still have the opportunity to do that. There's nothing at all to stop you since you thought it was so good to put it right back there on the table now. As far as appreciating us, that is the very first time that any of us have heard that. And it does not ring true.”

Smith: “What I meant by that is that you had in your hands a specific agreed-to 36 hour contract with specific language that we thought we were going to vote on and it never happened and you had it for 30 days.”

Maguire: (Inaudible.)

Smith: “No, you didn't.”

County Counsel Jeanine Nadel: “Madam chair, it's inappropriate to be negotiating here, now. Not in public.”

Ukiah-based County employee Don Crawford: “What has happened to our county bargaining unit is nothing short of criminal. Criminal in the moral sense. The entire negotiation process from the beginning has been dominated by a confrontational demeaning agenda set by you and represented by your negotiators. If you retain nothing else of what I say today, retain this: One burning question will always consume me: Why on earth have you been led to treat the hundreds who work for you as your enemy? Not long ago there was great hope that our two parties had gotten beyond the contentiousness and a sane resolution was close. Essentially, what happened next, is that your negotiators inserted dangerous wording into an impending agreement that labeled the entire bargaining unit, 700 people, as part-time. According to state labor laws this was unnecessary. In the state of California, with the agreement of two parties, a 36 hour work week is full-time. I worked under a teamster contract for eight years where 32 hours was full-time. The workers were very concerned that this part time designation would open the door to other manipulations which could further endanger their status including healthcare and thus they considered that designation unacceptable. Aside from that, I'm asking that the current 32 hour people be allowed to continue with 32 hours. The workforce was ready to put this behind us. Now you are the signatories to an ultimatum delivered on Friday to a virtually vacant workplace followed by a weekend with a deadline of Monday afternoon. The tone and character of that offer are all too typical. Your hollow gratitude for all our hard work in these troubling times was simply nauseating. Previous testimonials of impending personal crises and the importance of sound moral judgment and decision-making in matters of this gravity have fallen on deaf ears. If you activate your ultimatum you will undeniably and unnecessarily destroy a number of lives. A normal person would feel some degree of self-disgust over their part in that. When it's over, your pathetic interpretation of missed deadlines will give you little solace. There is a sinister dynamic going on in your decision making process from the beginning. Knowing these consequences, nobody in good conscience could have bought into it. Since you speak with one voice and no one among you has had the moral courage to convince the others about the wrong you are doing, you have lead yourself to a troubling place where good karma does not exist. Few people would want to be you when this is over. Questions from people you have harmed will come fast and furious and they will not go away. Even in this 11th hour you have the power to do what is right. There is simply nothing more I can say.”

Mr. Crawford's articulate, passionate remarks received a loud, long round of applause from the employees in the audience.

Employee Sandy Madrigal, from the Assessor’s office said she was on the employee negotiation team. After an intro about how bad things have been and how bad things have become, she said: “I’m on our negotiating team. All we want is a fair and reasonable agreement. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If you want to give us a 10-15% wage reduction then you need to lead by example and do the same for yourselves because that's what's causing this dissent. The other bargaining units that have already agreed to that have far more disposable income than we have. They say that we already took 10% and you need to shut up and take it too. That's not the democratic way. I ask that you direct your negotiating team to come back to the table and come to a reasonable long-term solution to the financial pickle that we're in. We don't deny that we’re in some kind of financial storm here. And it'll be worse in 2013. I know that our contract is not going to prevent layoffs. Let’s come back to the table and finish the job that we all agreed to do.”

Supervisor John McCowen attempted to summarize his own understanding of the situation: “I want to say that nobody up here has wanted the negotiations to go the way that they've gone. But here we are at a year after negotiations began. The fact that the county was willing to consider a 36 hour work week option for SEIU I believe is in recognition of the fact that we do appreciate the fact in 2009 when we first went to the employees for help, SEIU was the first to step up and they stepped up to the full measure when other groups did not. We've reached agreement with all of our other bargaining units. It's a matter of record. You can look at when their contracts came due and you can look at when they reached a contract agreement. Those units that reached a contract agreement within a month or two of when their contract was due all settled at a straight 10% wage cut. And the groups that did not reach agreement — and blame us or blame them but it's kind of a two-part thing — those groups that did not reach an agreement for an extended period of time took a 12.5% pay cut straight pay cut when they eventually got an agreement. After negotiating with SEIU for nine months, again all public record, the county declared impasse and at that time the SEIU insisted that, No we are not really at impasse, how about the 36 hours? What the county agreed to do was to consider a 36 hour workweek concept. Everybody knew or should have known that there were dozens of details that would need to be worked out with what that actually meant when you translate it because it was always based on the understanding the reduced workweek would be the equivalent of a 10% salary savings. 10% salary savings is pretty clear. It's cut and dried. It's 10%, at 10%. 10% savings based on a 36 hour work week is a lot different to calculate out every little detail and there was basically a team of county department heads and employees that were studying what does that mean? For several weeks. That's what the July 21st proposal was based on what the county ultimately submitted. Unfortunately, SEIU voted approximately June 20-23, SEIU voted on a contract settlement summary, a settlement summary, and when the county found out that you were voting on that document and what the elements of it were, the leadership was notified that there were things in there that the county had not agreed to and they were asked to delay the vote until we worked out the details and were both voting on something we both agreed to. But no, you chose to go forward. And that's why there was an all-staff email that went out that said you're voting on things that have not been agreed to, so that really didn't serve anyone well I don't believe. And so the County did put the July 21 proposal on the table. There was no response to that proposal, to either accept it, reject it, or counter it, and on August 23 the board or the county set a deadline of September 2, to accept that proposal, and again there was no response to accept it, reject it or counter it and then the 36 hours was taken off the table so it's been a very tough, long, excruciating drawn-out process, but again, the fact that the county spent three months considering the 36-hour workweek option was something we did for no other group and I think that's an indication that we do understand the position that SEIU is in, that many of you are the lower paid employees, and we were willing to consider that option that hopefully would soften the blow and what we found out through the process was there were things involved with the 36 hour work week and we translate that out so that it's the equivalent to you as it is to the other employees, there were things in there that you found very difficult to accept and we also I think came to realize that it was problematical on our end as well and so now here we are where we are and I'm not going to say more about what I said up to now but I believe that is an accurate statement of factual information that is all publicly known and we’re trying to, our interest is, to back this up as quickly and as fairly as we can. The longer it goes out the uglier it gets and the more I think everybody probably loses.”

There’s a kernel of agreement in there though, if one reads these statements carefully. Especially if, according to the budget, the County wants about $500k in salary savings over the next fiscal year from SEIU. 700 employees, $500k over a year, that’s a little over $700 per employee per year, or about $15 per week per employee.

Even if the savings per employee has to be, say, twice that because of the dragged out negotiations, certainly they can get reach that level of salary savings or more with a 36-hour work week.

What’s the problem?

The problem is that the County (as exemplified by Supervisor McCowen) and the union are spending too much time insisting that their “facts” are THE facts. A few days later it all got worse when both parties — the Union and the County — filed suit against each other alleging unfair labor practices and failure to bargain in good faith.

Obviously there’s basic agreement on a 36 hour work week with, as both sides admit, “some details to work out.”

Well, work them out, you fools! Get this over with!

All this bad blood, all this hyper-defensiveness, all this incompetent negotiating — for nothing.

By week’s end, there did seem to be some softening of positions with several people, mostly union people actually, declaring, “We’re close to an agreement.”

Let’s hope so.



The Board approved a precariously “balanced” budget without much discussion last week, even with the $500k union wage concession gap which may yet be closed if cool heads can be found to work out the details. Before the vote, Deputy CEO Kyle Knopp told the Board that revenues were not likely to recover any time soon: “We talking about a long duration recession with slow or stagnant growth all the way into 2015,” said Knopp.

The Board tripped over themselves in praise of Health and Human Services Director Stacy Cryer who, by slashing staff, mostly in Mental Health which has been running a chronic deficit over the three previous years (mostly due to byzantine mental health financing, but also because many non-mandated services turned out to “non-reimburseable”).

The praise heaped on Ms. Cryer was in stark contrast to the praise withheld from Sheriff Tom Allman who cut his budget deficit from about $1.8 million down to about $400k before year’s end (June 30, 2011) with relatively little disruption in service. Not one Supervisor thanked the Sheriff for bringing his budget deficit down by almost $1.5 million. Nevertheless, the Sheriff’s budget seems stable for the time being, so much so that they’ve acquired the police dog slated for Anderson Valley resident deputy Craig Walker. Deputy Dawg was paid for out of funds donated by the Anderson Valley Unity Club. The dog arrived from Europe a couple of weeks ago and is slated for assignment in the next week or two.

* * *

Several people asked the Board to consider implementation of Laura’s Law, passed by the state legislature a few years ago that allows counties to opt-in and set up a program called “assisted outpatient treatment” (AOT) which involves court-coercion for people who have serious mental health problems based on strict criteria being met.

Health and Human Services Director Stacy Cryer said she wasn’t against the idea but that she first “need[ed] to look at our county processes and how it can be integrated into our county services” and run it through the Mental Health Advisory board. “We need to do a good analysis of this,” Cryer concluded — meaning don’t hold your breath.

* * *

Some 18 Anderson Valley residents called on the Board to consider a temporary moratorium on pot dispensaries. Most of Valley contingent made the now familiar arguments about the affect on youth, that and the poor location of Laura Hamburg’s proposed dispensary next door to the Valley Bible Fellowship.

AV resident Bob Sites’s comment was representative. After briefly describing (and recommending) the Alcohol Beverage Control permit process, Mr. Sites said, “But there’s no regulation or jurisdiction to control this [marijuana sales]. They call marijuana a controlled substance, but that’s a joke. You can get it anywhere on the street or on the street corner. But when you have it where the public can just come in and get it with a marijuana card, it’s a whole different thing. You need to look at that. It’s time for you to pass some regulations on this. It’s ridiculous that we don’t. I’m not opposed to marijuana. But it’s like calling the Patriot Act “The Patriot Act” — there’s nothing patriotic about it. It’s the opposite. Two major cities [in Mendocino County] have banned dispensaries in their cities. But we are not incorporated. We have to come to you. Please look at this and take the Grand Jury’s advice in this matter.”

After listening to the Anderson Valley demands for a moratorium (unargued — no one was there in support of the dispensary last week) Supervisor Carre Brown, citing the Grand Jury recommendation, requested that a moratorium be put on this week’s Board agenda (Tuesday, September 20). Apparently they need a four-fifths vote to approve it as an urgency ordinance. Assuming Ms. Hamburg’s father, Supervisor Dan Hamburg, recuses himself over the appearance of a conflict of interest, and based on Supervisor John Pinches previous remarks, we doubt they’ll vote for the moratorium as we go to press on Tuesday afternoon.

As the meeting wound down, Supervisor McCowen gave a brief report on the status of his one-man committee that’s working on drafting a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance.

McCowen: “On Friday, County Counsel and I met with probably about 40 people [ms notes: we were there and estimated to crowd to be in the neighborhood of 100] from the community to discuss a draft of medical marijuana dispensary regulations. Most of the comments were general in nature. Some people had specific suggestions. We didn’t have a working draft on the table. We will get there and probably at that time people will be more willing to say specifically what they favor and don’t favor. I’m looking to schedule the next meeting on the Coast either in Mendocino or Fort Bragg. Followed by a meeting in the north county, perhaps Laytonville. We may have one in Anderson Valley. I hope to bring this item back to the board before the end of the year.”

Pinches: “I watched your complete meeting in Humboldt County.”

McCowen: “You’re just a glutton for punishment, aren’t you?”

Hamburg: “Why?”

McCowen: “You don’t hear enough from me down here on the Board?”

Pinches: “I wanted to make sure what you say in Mendocino County is the same thing you say in Humboldt County.”

McCowen: “How does it square up?”

Pinches: “Pretty well.”

Hamburg: “Pretty well.”

McCowen: “Thank you.”

Pinches: “I’ll give you all an A-.”

Being generous, we give them all a D.


  1. Pam Partee September 21, 2011

    Mark, your report on “Cooler Heads” was on target until the concluding remarks. The $1.469M that the county has wanted to glean from SEIU wage concessions for the 2011-12 fiscal year only counts the General Fund savings. The 10% cuts run across all departments, many of which are Federal and State funded. When you count those employees who are not altogether or not at all funded from the county’s discretionary general funds, the wage concessions are closer to $5M. Your estimation of how much each employee’s yearly and weekly gross pay would be reduced is way under calculated.

  2. Trelanie Hill September 22, 2011

    James Hill commented on
    McCowen continues to use the cannabis debate to fuel his re-election strategy. First, a 6 plant limit with Measure B, then a run for County Supervisor and a 99 plant limit using 9.31 and now all the free media coverage with his dispensary plan. McCowen’s challenger will do well to compete with all the media exposure McCowen is generating for himself. Those keeping track of his free media exposure using cannabis, will count this one as number 8.
    As always just my opinion,
    Jim Hill
    Potter Valley

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