As we near the end of this woefully dismal year, it’s informative to look at the departure of two Departmental heads who decided to call it quits, while leaving in their wakes troubled and dysfunctional citizen services, the seeming hallmark of governing in the County Seat as we have learned over these many years.
As a political scientist — I don’t have to tell you there’s nothing scientific about politics — I have always followed Mark Twain’s advice: I never let school interfere with my education.
I have spent my entire adult life in government and electoral politics at the federal level and most recently in local government here in Mendocino County. So I’ve acquired what I like to think of as practical experience in governing and politics.
I don’t claim to know everything, or even close to everything about the processes, but I do know and can recognize fairly quickly when things aren’t working right. And here in Mendocino County, more often than not things just don’t work right.
I’ve also learned over the years that most folks, the ones who define our government as being “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” nowadays don’t have very high expectations of those people we elect to represent us. It’s a fact that most people are happy if elected officials and their support staff of bureaucrats practice the physicians’ oath of “Do no harm.”
Anyway, this past week, the Board of Supervisors lauded retiring Director Tammy Moss Chandler, of the County’s Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA), with a proclamation extolling all of her alleged successes while “leading” that department. HHSA’s portfolio includes providing mental health services and dealing with the homeless issue. In Chandler’s tenure as HHSA Director, she essentially paid no attention to restoring adult mental health services on an in-county basis, nor can anyone argue that she took any meaningful actions to address the homeless crisis in this County. She likewise was AWOL as an advocate to re-establish a Psychiatric Health Facility (so-called “Puff Unit”) in-county, even though that was the number one priority buttressing the voter-approved Measure B Mental Health Tax measure three years ago.
Her job performance, in these three areas anyway, would be evaluated as unacceptable in most organizations. Of course, most organizations are not Mendocino County.
Mark Scaramella, of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, hit the nail on the head this week with a succinct but insightful capsulation of the transitory career of the Director of Planning and Building Services:
“We were not surprised to hear that Planning & Building Services Director Brent Schultz resigned on Monday. Not only was he saddled with an impossible to administer pot ordinance, but most of his more than 30 years of experience was in urban planning for the city of Ontario in SoCal, nothing like Mendo’s outback ‘planning,’ which is mostly paperwork for projects that take way too long to process — if they ever get approved. Schultz, who only lasted a little over two years since coming to Mendo in the summer of 2018, was also saddled with a chronically understaffed department and what staff there is is not very experienced and the experienced ones complain about both Schultz and their own nearly untenable situations with a large backlog that gets bigger by the month. When he first arrived, Schultz robotically offered the usual sight-unseen uplift: “I’m excited to be working for the citizens of Mendocino County and look forward to meeting the Planning and Building team and the entire County organization. I’m ready to get new projects off the ground, from small projects like room additions, to brand new homes, to new housing for our growing community and for those who are rebuilding after devastating fires; I love every aspect of the job and hope I can be a helpful resource for my staff and the public.” There was some minor success at first with the 2017 fire recovery. But not much after that. Schultz gave the pot ordinance a well-meaning try at first, announcing early on that he was going to do a “deep dive” into the pot applications and figure out what to do. Predictably Schultz soon drowned in the quicksand of pot applications and the program. Not long after he was brought in, the then-pot program manager Sean Connell quit in frustration. Connell was replaced by Megan Dukett, a well-known CEO loyalist with zero pot program experience who has kept a low profile since being assigned to the pot program. (We half-suspected Ms. Dukett might even have been assigned to Schultz as a way for CEO Angelo to keep her micro-managing eye on Schultz, given the turbulent history of the pot program and its many administrators/victims.) No sympathy for Schultz from here though. He was well paid and, although we were told he “resigned,” we suspect he might be retiring with yet another fat pension, much of it to be provided by Mendo’s over-stressed pension fund.”
In the last analysis, the problem is people are being hired, at least in these two instances, who quite simply were not capable of doing their jobs, yet apparently are going to be rewarded for it.
That’s the very definition of dysfunctional, and that’s got to change. And the only people who can change it are the Board of Supervisors.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)