SUPERVISOR MCCOWEN has been elected Board chairman, Supervisor Hamburg, vice chair at the Board's first meeting of the year last week. The vote was a unanimous 5-0. A Lilliputian squabble occurred last year over whether McCowen or Hamburg should be Vice Chair. This year, a larger dispute arose when the Board considered McCowen's recommendations for special assignments. Kendall Smith, who will not run for re-election, strenuously objected to being bounced off the Mendocino Council of Governments, the local transportation funding agency, in favor of Carre Brown. Following a lengthy circular discussion of the kind the Board is known for, the changes were approved 3-2, Hamburg siding with Smith.
McCOWEN HAS GIVEN NOTICE that he intends to run more efficient meetings, but if the above discussion is any indication it looks like the same old aimless drift will prevail. But he has instituted a couple of modest reforms. The minutes and routine Board appointments have been added to the Consent Calendar. And Proclamations are approved automatically unless someone objects, which ends the confusion over whether they are being pulled from the Consent Calendar or not, or being presented and voted on, or voted on and presented, etcetera. After a year of the inept, and relentlessly self-centered Smith at the helm, McCowen is clearly a step forward.
BURIED DEEP IN THE CEO'S REPORT last week was an update on the consolidation of the County workforce. Staff is finally moving out of the Affinito building and into the County owned Avila Center. The County has been paying Affinito more than $25,000. monthly for his barn-like structure on South Franklin Street. The preposterous deal with Affinito was engineered by Supervisor Smith's equivalently inept predecessor, Patti Campbell. For reasons known only to her, Supervisor Smith fought the move out of the Affinito building, delaying it for about six months. Supervisors Pinches and McCowen have been pushing for over a year to consolidate into County-owned buildings to get out from under expensive lease payments to private parties. Overall, the moves are expected to save $1 million dollars annually.
ACCORDING TO THE CEO'S REPORT, Supervisor Smith will have to give up her personal office in the Avila Center to avoid forcing two Fort Bragg-based employees into a round-trip to Willits every day. Unlike Smith, the employees would not be paid for driving back and forth to work. The report notes that "General Services and Executive Office staff are working with the Fourth District Supervisor to explore options including a home office, a virtual office utilizing the Fourth District's county-owned laptop, or leased space." Smith is already paid a communications allowance for a home office, has a fully equipped office on Low Gap, enjoys a County-issued laptop, and is the only Supervisor to have a district office. (Which she seldom visits, incidentally.) Given her lame duck status, Smith should work out of her home office for the coming year, not milk the taxpayers for another leased office, but.....
THIS JUST IN: RUMORS that Supervisor Kendall Smith had refused to give up her office space in Fort Bragg, thus forcing two employees to commute to Willits, were put to rest last week when Board Chair John McCowen conspicuously thanked Supervisor Smith for relinquishing her office in the Avila Center. The Avila Center is crowded-to-overflowing because Coast welfare services have moved from Dominic Affinito’s $28,000 a month building across the street into the older and smaller Avila Center. McCowen may have made the formal “thank you” at last week’s board meeting to convince the notoriously self-centered Smith that she better giver up her seldom-used space rather than suffer more grumbling from her fellow supervisors and many County workers based in Fort Bragg, many of whom already feel trapped between an unsympathetic leadership and bumbling SEIU representation. The County loses experienced but estranged workers every month now to other counties or early retirement.
SEIU IS VOTING THIS WEEK on whether to reach agreement for a 10% pay cut or stay with the 12.5% cut imposed by the County back in November. SEIU was set to vote the first week in January, but the SEIU honchos put the brakes on so they could "educate" the membership on what the vote meant, as if the membership could not figure out for themselves that it was better to have an agreement and an extra 2.5% in pay, or no agreement with the 12.5% cut.
THE SEIU LEADERSHIP seems to prefer no agreement and the 12.5% cut. It could be as simple as not wanting to be seen as giving in to CEO Carmel Angelo, the former director of the Health and Human Services Agency, where most of the SEIU employees are concentrated. As HHSA Director, Angelo made long overdue changes to increase accountability and productivity, consolidated managerial positions and brought forward layoffs to balance the budget.
IF SEIU VOTES IN FAVOR OF THE AGREEMENT it will go to the Board of Supervisors for routine approval on January 24th and will take effect the first pay period in February. Without agreement, SEIU members will be stuck with the 12.5% cut for at least a year, longer if no subsequent agreement can be reached. SEIU could have had an agreement for 10% at any time in the last year, but the leadership parlayed their dislike of the CEO into an unnecessary 12.5% cut for the last three months.
IN RESPONSE TO FEDERAL THREATS the County is expected to junk its innovative 9.31 permit program that allowed marijuana growers to get a permit from the Sheriff to grow up to 99 marijuana plants in return for an inspection from the Sheriff, compliance with a lengthy list of conditions and payment of several thousand dollars in permit fees. The federal threat was apparently delivered in person on January 3rd. The Board discussed the the matter in Closed Session under "threat of litigation" at its meeting last week. The County issued a press release the day after their meeting saying that County Counsel would be bringing forward amendments to the program on January 24th to comply with the federal threat and a recent court case that said local jurisdictions could regulate marijuana but not permit it.
BAY AREA NARCOTICS ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS who were briefed on the federal threat say the County was told they had two weeks to shut down the program or "suffer the consequences." Those "consequences" could have resulted in the arrests of local officials including Sheriff Allman. The U. S. Attorney's office is said to have been meticulously assembling a case against the County — a perennial federal target — in preparation for the takedown of the program. It's no secret that the federal narcs were chomping at the bit during last year's "Operation Full Court Press" when they were flying over Sheriff- approved 99 plant gardens on their way to eradicate devil weed in the Mendocino National Forest. It seems likely that the permit program and the fees that went with it will be a casualty of the federal pushback, but just what shape the overall changes will take remains to be seen.
BRANCHES RESTAURANT, the overbuilt Marin style eatery that was incongruously set down on Airport Park Boulevard (across from Wal Mart) has closed its doors, throwing 65 people out of work. The restaurant received mixed reviews from the beginning with some people praising the food and upscale ambiance, and others complaining of long waits and indifferent service. But in the end it was probably the debt service on the over the top construction costs that did it in. By contrast, the Asian Grand Buffet seems right at home in a strip mall on South Orchard Avenue. The all you can eat buffet style restaurant features several dozen entrees plus numerous side dishes and seems to have captured the remnants of the old all you can eat Fjord's Smorgette crowd. But for Frisco-quality Chinese food, the Asian Village on South State Street remains as good a Chinese restaurant as there is in Northern California.
GAS WARS HAVE COME TO UKIAH with a new station on Talmage Road on the east side of the freeway that opened with the lowest prices in town. Everyone else has been forced to drop their prices to keep market share. Prices seem to have stabilized for the time being, but the new station is still the cheapest. And we have proof once again, if any were needed, that the predatory fuel giants will charge whatever the market will bear as long as they can get away with it.