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Not Far Enough

Last month Mr. James Bassler was at the podium on Low Gap Road to urge the Supervisors to adopt Laura’s Law, a mental health strategy the anguished Mr. Bassler thinks might have diverted his disturbed son, Aaron, from embarking on his murderous rampage last summer.

“I'm here to speak about your postponement of the Laura's Law discussion,” Bassler announced at December 13th meeting of the Supervisors. “I hope that the postponement is an attempt to get a better solution and not to kind of postpone it to just forget it. Because I for one am not going to forget the issue. I'm going to keep working on it. And I believe that the County's mental health department has a real problem. With the budget cuts, it's falling apart. At least that's what it looks like to me. Everything I can see, they are in a crisis. I want to see the County's mental health department come out of this with a better system. I am most concerned about mentally ill people who are not getting treatment. I am concerned about the mentally ill people who cycle through the jail. I have become aware of people who are going through that system who are getting nowhere. The big problem of course is that the courts and the mental health system, and the criminal justice system, are not working together.”

Mr. Bassler went on to say that in other areas of the state, particularly Nevada County, courts and mental health systems coordinate their efforts to get disturbed persons help outside the jails. Bassler maintained that proper mental health treatment would keep the mentally ill out of jail and save money by treating the mentally ill rather than imprisoning them.

* * *

Health and Human Services Director Stacy Cryer told the board that her “biggest area of concern next year,” as the “recession” slashes away at public spending just as more of it is needed, is in the “social services part of the agency.” Cryer said crucial helping programs, particularly those protecting seniors from abuse, might not be funded. “I have huge concerns for those parts of the agency right now. We have positioned ourselves as well as anyone could to prepare for next year and we are still waiting along with every other county to see what it's going to look like. The federal numbers look like they are going to be cut 8-10% and with realignment some state programs could be cut up to 30%.”

* * *

General Services Director Kristin McMenomey appeared. She said the cost of moving Fort Bragg’s Health and Human Service workers out of Dominic Affinito’s $28k per month rental building and into the Avila Center across the street was supposed to be complete by this week at a remodel cost of almost $250,000.

Supervisor John Pinches asked, “How much of this $248,000 is general fund and how much is federal and state dollars from HHSA?”

McMenomey: “As far as I know there is no general fund money. Nothing is budgeted for general fund. It's all HHSA dollars.”

Supervisor Dan Hamburg asked, “Any local bidders?”

“No,” replied McMenomey. “We did not have any local bidders show up. This is a really, really big project and the timeframe that we had allocated for this project [over the Christmas holidays] I think might have been a bit much for our local bidders, especially when we went out for bids for the entire thing… [Several more costly options were declined.] I'm hoping we will obtain some local bidders by issuing smaller remodel jobs for that area. We have several roofing jobs out right now to local bidders and we have the major remodel going on for mental health. People are really busy because the weather is good.”

Hamburg: “Did you say people are really busy?”

McMenomey: “The contractors are very busy.

Hamburg: “That's something I haven't heard for a long time.”

McMenomey: “Maybe it's just the roofing contractors that are quite busy. We had a very hard time trying to drum up business from local bidders because they were quite busy.”

Board Chair Kendall Smith said, “I understand some of subcontracts will be local contractors. So there will be some local work?”

McMenomey: “Yes. Your general contractors are not local but some of the subcontractors are.”

* * *

Supervisor John McCowen wanted to discuss an item on the County’s never-gonna-happen “legislative priorities” list for the upcoming year.

“We have ‘support legalization of marijuana’ on both the state and federal lists,” noted McCowen. “I think more appropriate wording might be, ‘support the repeal or modification of federal prohibition,’ which is really the solution. … I think one thing we've found out in struggling with this issue is we really need a federal solution…”

Pinches: “Under federal advocacy on page 11 I think it addresses that. It says, Mendocino County supports the regulation, legalization and taxation of marijuana.”

McCowen: “I'm not suggesting changing that last sentence.”

Pinches: “Don't you think that addresses that?”

McCowen: “No.”

Hamburg: “I'm certainly not going to object to adding the sentence. The difference between having it in there that we support the legalization of marijuana and changing that to –”

McCowen: “Well, how about changing that sentence to ‘support the repeal or modification of federal prohibition’ and then leave the last sentence as it is?”

Hamburg: “And tell me what the difference is between repealing prohibition and legalization? I mean, we can get into the intricacies of how alcohol, the repeal of alcohol prohibition was done state-by-state as opposed to a blanket, but I just – it’s just too technical.”

McCowen: “I think it goes to decriminalization which is a lot more palatable to many more people and less threatening than legalization. I think it states it in a way that is more likely to gain acceptance.”

Hamburg: “I used to be for decriminalization of marijuana as opposed to legalization. But it was just too laborious and confusing to explain to people the difference. And I finally gave up. And I just became in favor of legalization. But I will defer to Supervisor Pinches who might have a comment on this.”

Pinches: “You can change it or leave it the same. The whole problem is here we have 435 people in Congress and not one of them will step forward with our position. We do have an opportunity, however. We are basically right now in a new Congressional district and there will be new people running for Congress here right now between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oregon border. I think the counties to the north of us, especially, have similar goals. So I think if the counties would get together maybe we could at least have in place a local congressman who will support our position and get done with the nonsense of this whole marijuana industry. We have to get the conversation going back in Washington DC. We have never been able to do that. It's just been: Oh, legalizing pot — that's just kinda laughable. We need to have a serious conversation about this issue and I think we need to start out by putting a representative in place who supports the wishes of the North Coast counties.”

Smith, incoherent as always, declared, “I think this comes down to semantics or just personal preference. I think, again, all I'd like to reference is platforms, and the kind of document that I think we’re working with should be, is a general platform piece, so I am very open to whatever the language is, I think any of the suggestions are fine, I'm fine.”

The conversation burbled irrelevantly over and under the head of the pin until it was decided to change Mendocino County's position to, “Like, whatever,” as everyone slowly realized it didn’t really matter what the wording was, much less what Mendo wants.

In living fact, Congressman Barney Frank has introduced HR 2306 — the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011. But so far it has only 20 cosponsors, not including Congressman Thompson. HR 1983 — the state’s option approach which a few more congresspeople have signed on to — represents a tiny step toward piecemeal decriminalization, but only for medical marijuana.

* * *

Supervisor McCowen said he'd like to streamline the Board's weekly agenda, simplify it, make it easier for the public to read. But by the time he concluded his pitch for “transparency” — most of McCowen’s very minor suggestions won't change much — the supervisor's proposal had become so opaque his colleagues seemed unable to comment.

Supervisor Pinches ended the meeting with a declaration of his “greatest fear.”

“This meeting concludes my nine years of service on the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors,” said Pinches. “It's been a complete joy working with all the people, present and past. But my biggest fear in my job is that I am just going to turn into another automatic bureaucrat. That's my biggest fear.”

Supervisor Carre Brown: “That's a fear, Supervisor?”

Pinches: “Yes it is.”

Smith: “I don't think we are worried about that. I don't think we’re too worried.”

McCowen: “But you're still about as far to the left of me as you can get.”

Pinches: “Sometimes not far enough.”

McCowen laughed. Pinches didn’t.

Objectively considered, this board of supervisors does pretty well considering that it operates in an economic fire sale context, deciding week after week how to maintain a minimally effective local government with less and less money. All things considered, with the exception of Supervisor Smith whose ever more garbled public comments indicate that she suffers from Early Onset Alzheimer's, they do relatively well, warts and all.

* * *

This week Sheriff Allman will drop the second shoe on the ill-conceived $28,000 “Efficiency Audit” conducted by a couple of consultants — retired cops from the central valley of the Golden State — last October. It was an unusual “efficiency” audit in that it made exactly zero cost saving recommendations, even though there were at least five significant cost savings targets looming up out of the numbers with can't miss bull's eyes on their backs that the consultants never addressed.

Sheriff Allman dropped the first shoe last October right after the audit was published: “This is a fair snapshot. It wasn't done for my benefit or for your benefit. It's done for the benefit of the citizenry to see where the Sheriff's Office is and hopefully where the Sheriff's Office is going to go. I appreciate where the consultants went with this. I think it was money well spent.”

Translation: The audit was clearly of no “benefit” to the Sheriff or the Board but if we say it was useless we'd be admitting that the County had wasted $28,000 on it.

This week the Sheriff threw both shoes back at the Supervisors, making it clear that he has no intention of adopting any of the audit recommendations.

Take the Sheriff’s response to the simple observation that the Sheriff has too many sergeants, several of whom supervise few or no deputies.

“While the consulting firm, which was hired, has an exorbitant [sic] amount of experience in law enforcement,” writes Allman, “their experience is based on much larger law enforcement agencies which have the luxury of having an increased amount of command staff. The MCSO has historically had a limited amount of command staff, and as such, many commanders find themselves with many responsibilities. If the consulting firm had researched our Sergeant positions with a historical focus, they would have found that this type of span of control has worked for MCSO for many years.”

Translation: We might call them Sarge and pay them Sarge pay but they do all kinds of sergeanty things the audit didn't consider.

Another marginal efficiency improvement the consultants suggested was, “Consider folding COMMET (County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team) unit into the general investigations unit and disperse the Bureau’s employees between the two supervisors. Assign two detectives to the COMMET unit, but not one supervisor and one detective. Additional resources for a significant operation can be taken from the general detectives’ pool, the MMCTF (Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force), and patrol on an as-needed and temporary basis. The current sergeant has a span of control ratio of 1:1.”

Allman disagreed: “The consultant did not fully consider the Summer responsibilities of the Marijuana Suppression Unit. During operations including outside agencies this sergeant supervises up to 10 personnel a day. Also, with the current situation involving the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force, it is unknown what additional assignments will be assigned to the MSU.”

The consultant also suggested doing something about the false alarms problem. Burglar alarms are always going off all over the County even when the County's most committed burglars are wintering on Low Gap Road. The cops have to respond, and those responses waste time and money. Turns out, the Sheriff was already working on the alarm prob: “The Sheriff has a Sergeant working on an appropriate burglary alarm response protocol. This protocol will be announced to the public in February, 2012.”

As will, perhaps, the end of America as we have known it.

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