JOHN McCOWEN on what really happened during his last week in office:
The issue was never return of property. It was about the petty and vindictive dictates of our autocratic CEO. My official date of retirement was January 9. On Dec. 17 without notice to me Angelo ordered the entire contents of my office boxed up and moved to storage. If the police want to seize your property they need a search warrant.
On leaving office I requested the County release the phone number back to the carrier so I could assume it. This is common practice in Mendocino County and many other locations where public employees are allowed to retain phone numbers closely identified with them. Angelo instructed County officials to lie and say this was not done in Mendocino County and could not be done for me.
I was not humiliated by the gratuitous announcement out of closed session [that a small claims action had been initiated] which reeked of bad faith. The usual announcement out of closed session is “direction was given to staff” and that would have sufficed in this case. In fact, there was no reason for the closed session since the small claims issue was already on calendar and would be resolved one way or the other without taking it to closed session. Which means the closed session and the announcement afterward was nothing more than a clumsy effort at public shaming.
Bad faith is further shown by the small claims filing by the County wherein it was alleged that the need to take action began on January 9, my last day as a County employee. In addition to return of property the County sought reimbursement for the cost of rekeying the administration building. Except the building was rekeyed on January 8, a day prior to when the County said the need for action arose. Keep in mind that Angelo was in possession of the entire contents of my office including all my files and personal property which she illegally ordered seized while I still held office. :o)
Things came to a head when the District Attorney became aware of the situation. He called me and the first thing he said was “This is bs! What’s going on?” When I told him he said, “I’ll fix it.” And he did. The County released the phone number (common practice), sold me the phone at its market value (not at all uncommon), and all other property was exchanged. The whole thing was an abuse of power by the CEO aided and abetted by County Counsel who failed to protect the interest of the County, preferring instead to act at the vindictive whim of the CEO. Regrettably, this unfortunate episode is only the tip of the iceberg of the CEO’s malfeasance and misfeasance.
PS. I accepted long ago that people will say and do what they choose regardless of what I say or do or what my intentions are. When it comes to Angelo and her misdeeds, it really is pretty spectacular how she’s able to get away with it. I do think my former colleagues were and are afraid of her and they have only to look at what happened to me as an object lesson. And the phone caper was the least part of the false and unethical behavior that the CEO and County Counsel, engaged in. Maybe I’ll be ready to tell that part of the story at some point, but I can tell you the abuse of power is pervasive.
PPS. It’s not how I intended to end my term of office. As an on-line commenter said, this episode “is a clear indicator of her sheer power and her shamelessness.” And mine is not an isolated case as you and many others know.
DA DAVID EYSTER replies to McCowen:
John … this is way too dramatic of a presentation and leaves out way too much information.
Putting my attributed statement into context, I did say to you that “this is BS,” but my indignation related to County Counsel’s public announcement coming out of closed session that “the County” was pursuing a Small Claims action against you.
What you have also left out is that the Admin Office was closed down due to C19 safeguards at the time you went out of office. Your office materials (and former Supervisor Brown’s office materials) were carefully boxed up and put in holding pending directions from the two of you where the respective boxes for each should be delivered.
However, you were in a tiff because you wanted to be the one to have boxed up your own items because “that was a courtesy given in years past to all supervisors going out of office.” Unfortunately, 2020 was not just any year and, as I kept trying to explain to you, that ship had sailed. In the final analysis, Carrie Brown’s items were treated comparable to your property … but with no drama or recriminations. When the boxes were eventually delivered, you affirmed with me that everything was present and nothing had been held back.
It is unfortunate that you also left out that Ms. Angelo was the person — from the beginning to the end — who cut through the bureaucracy to expedite the return of your things. She provided zero resistance in returning that which was obviously yours; again, she expedited the overall closure, the sale to you of the cell phone, and even the transfer of the phone number that you desired.
However, based on your Luddite tendencies, you were still the one who needed extra persuasion because, among other things, you mistakenly believed you should have access to some information that was on the County servers after you were out of office and/or the ongoing use of a county conference room to look through your 50+ banker boxes.
As I see it, you are not without some blame in what can only be characterized as the proverbial making of a mountain out of a molehill. As I have said to your face in the past, you can be difficult to explain things to and also at times less than willing to listen to reasonable explanations that run counter to your belief system. Not everything that you disagree with or don’t understand constitutes proof that there is a nefarious conspiracy against you or that widespread corruption is underway.
Finally, where we can agree is that the County Counsel’s report out of “closed session” regarding the ill-conceived Small Claims court action was the epitome of true BS. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even five for that matter) to realize that the filing of the lawsuit and this statement should never have happened. However, in my experience, such actions don’t occur in a vacuum and probably had majority Board approval, notwithstanding your overwhelming current need to ignore the Board’s involvement and, instead, blame Ms. Angelo for all that you personally perceive as wrong.
In my experience, you were a long-term supporter of Carmel Angelo and she was always supportive of you. It is sad that this strong working relationship that lasted over many years has devolved into such a sad state of affairs. It is time to let go all the perceived wrongs and proven misunderstandings and attempt a return to the friendship that benefited Mendocino County that you two once shared.
There you have it … My three cents! Take it or leave it.
David, We agree the filing of the small claims case and report out of closed session were bs — “the epitome of true bs” as you frame it. The reason for the March 2 closed session was to act on County Counsel’s recommendation to file a separate case in Superior Court. Knowing the small claims case was set for March 4 it’s difficult to see the request to file a separate action as anything but malicious. To their credit, the Board refused to authorize the Superior Court action but went along with the entirely gratuitous report out of closed session.
I won’t fault you for your characterization of how fairly I may have been treated at the end of my term of office and the eight months leading up to it. You’ve heard partial accounts from two people who have offered mutually exclusive versions. There’s enough info to form an opinion but not enough to hit the mark on “beyond a reasonable doubt” or even a preponderance of the evidence. I agree that none of these things occur in a vacuum and my former colleagues and I had a part in the events of the past year.
I will offer one correction. I never sought to retain any information except documents I created and emails authored by or sent directly to me that are defined by law as Public Records. I could not access these prior to the end of my term because I was denied access to my office computer. I suppose one person’s public safety is another’s petty vindictiveness.
CEO Angelo and I worked together for a decade. I respected her advice as I believe she did mine. I also praised and defended her publicly. That said, misunderstandings can be explained and wrongs can be forgiven but sometimes a line is crossed and not all wrongs can easily be made right.
In hindsight I ought to have called you long before County Counsel’s gratuitous display of malicious bs.
I thank you sincerely for correcting one wrong.
DA DAVID EYSTER:
There were thoughts of mine I inadvertently left out of my reply to former Supervisor McCowen yesterday. So … with your permission, Mr. AVA Editor … I will add the following final thoughts as a post scriptum:
Unintentionally or otherwise, it seems to me that Covid-19 has been used as a license by the current (new) Board of Supervisors to try and move forward in difficult times without looking over their shoulders and acknowledging the past.
John McCowen well-served the citizens of Mendocino County during his terms as a Mendocino County Supervisor. He comes from pioneer stock and he has always understood the political and cultural nuances of Mendocino County that go back many generations. I particularly appreciated the fact that he understood and honored the fact that public safety is Job #1 for county-level government.
While he has not asked for same, I personally believe and it should be said that John has not received the requisite public commendations that normally accompany the departure from public life of one who has done as many good deeds as John McCowen. Sadly, the same must be said of Carre Brown. This state of affairs is unfortunate.
With that and public discourse in mind, it is time to put the Board back in the Board room and allow for the People’s affairs to get back to whatever the new normal may be. And it wouldn’t hurt to start that first return to the Board Chambers meeting by inviting John and Carrie back to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. If these invitations are tendered, I will also be there to make appropriate and overdue public comment, as, I’m sure, will be my partner in law enforcement, Sheriff Kendall.