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County Notes (May 19, 2021)

WHY DOES MENDO need upwards of $150k to do an average of 10 highly secretive “personnel investigations” a year?

THE COUNTY COUNSEL’S OFFICE has put out a request for proposals (RFP 013-21) from various private investigators seeking “investigation services for personnel-related matters. The purpose of the RFP is to obtain investigation services to assist County Counsel in a variety of contexts. Matters requiring investigation may include personnel matters, pending litigation, and other topics. The investigator will interview witnesses, review documents, locate and identify relevant evidence, and prepare written reports.” … “investigators work under the direction of counsel. Basic familiarity with rules of evidence, common torts, and employment law is desirable.”

Contractors are also expected to be prepared to testify in court.

The RFP Deadline was April 27. The winning Private Detective(s) selection is expected Tuesday, May 18. As far as we can tell the Supervisors have not been asked to authorize this activity or significant expenditure.

“…contractor acknowledges that the investigations and interviews undertaken under this agreement may reflect the thoughts and impressions of counsel or otherwise contain privileged and/or confidential information. Contractor agrees to keep all information obtained in connection with the performance of this agreement confidential and not publish, disclose or otherwise reveal such information without prior consent of the county, except as required by law.”

During the bidding process prospective vendors asked a few questions about the job. The answers to those questions are more interesting than the basic RFP.

In the posted Q&A we learn that Mendo currently contracts with:

Kevan Kurt & Associates, P.C. (An insurance investigator based in Santa Rosa)

Bob Nishiyama Investigations Services (Former DEA agent and former Director of Mendo’s Drug Task Force)

Whitestar Group, Inc. (An expensive Bay Area-based investigation and security firm)

Jonah S. Walsh (a Ukiah attorney)

and, Cline Investigations, LLC (Former Mendo Sheriff’s investigator Kevin Cline)

Also, the County says it pays between $50 and $100 per hour with an average cost per investigation of about $17k. Further, “It is possible that the contract could include investigations concerning law enforcement personnel, but only a small minority of cases might fall into that category.” And, “Surveillance investigations are not contemplated at this time.” (Our emphasis) “Total payment to any one vendor is not expected to exceed $25,000 in any one year.”

WHY MULTIPLE CONTRACTS? “The County is seeking to contract with multiple firms to have flexibility to address schedule conflicts, conflicts of interest, etc.”

WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THIS? First, we note that these investigations are separate from and in addition to ordinary human resources personnel background and reference checks. We also note that in higher profile cases where Mendo has been sued by former employees, the County has used the much more expensive and cozy long time contract with the SF Law Firm of Cassidy, Liebert and Whitmore to do their “secret” investigations.

SO WHAT KINDS of investigations does that leave that might occur ten times a year involving weeks worth of investigation each? On the one hand, it’s possible that these might involve workplace allegations of harassment or theft or other possible crimes and such. But if that was the case, why does Mendo have to go outside for those investigations? (Never mind, we know the answer: Because Mendo can; Mendo has the money. If money was tight these investigations, if they were done at all, would be done in-house where they can be kept even more secret. Or if the County wanted to keep a crime under the radar because it might indicate bad oversight, just tell the person to resign or face charges.)

ON THE OTHER HAND, there’s a good chance that some of these secret “investigations” are for senior employees who are perceived to be presenting some kind of potential problem for CEO Angelo or her staff, and the CEO wants some dirt dug up on them (via her consigliere, County Counsel Christian Curtis).

AS USUAL, despite the County’s constant references to transparency, these kinds of “personnel matters” are quite secret — until somebody sues. (Nobody dares complain prior to being fired for fear of not getting a good reference, not getting severance pay, being seen as critical in some way, not having any money to pursue a claim, etc.) And then, if somebody does sue, we usually only hear one side of the story.

TRANSPARENT MENDO never responds in public except to say, “We can’t comment, it’s a personnel matter,” or in one legal brief or another, “The plaintiff doesn’t have a case.”

THEN, after the smoke clears, years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees later, a settlement is quietly reached complete with confidentiality clauses.

* * *

ALSO ON TUESDAY, the Supervisor's heard a description of the latest and greatest iteration of marijuana enforcement, which seems like an improvement, on paper at least.

BUT we've heard this before. Mendo has allowed — encouraged by default — the problem to grow unchecked, with unworkable pot rules and minimal enforcement for so long that it’s like they’re now only just starting to chase a boulder that started rolling downhill several years ago. As long as the County (and the state) make it nearly impossible to get legal — with the likelihood that even some of the attempted legals being declared illegal next year as well — there will be major hurdles to jump over to make even a small dent in the illegal pot landscape.

(AND WE’RE not even into the pending/applied for applications, the backdoor jobs where illegal pot is sold out the back door of a legal grow or licensed dispensary, the many unpermitted small grows, the unenforced permit terms, etc.)

* * *

WEDNESDAY MORNING, a pot grower called in to Karen Ottoboni's “TKO” (The Karen Ottoboni) local affairs show on KZYX to say she (the caller) was legal and not a problem and was doing everything right and doesn't appreciate being bunched in with all the illegal pot growers. In response Ms. Ottoboni broke one of KZYX's most important unwritten rules by saying something negative about the grape/wine industry:

OTTOBONI: “I do not focus on the legal side of marijuana growing because KZYX already has a cannabis hour and I let them do that. My whole focus has been on the big, the bad and the ugly. There is a lot of that, and it's not you (the caller). But I need to say something else because I'm seeing this happen in Anderson Valley and I am appalled. I am angry. I do not know where to direct this. But I know there are people who are trying to be legal, who are working to get legal and you guys have had so many restrictions placed on you. I just passed a hill coming to the station today that is— They have ripped off all of the topsoil. They are terraforming this old beautiful hill right off of Highway 128 to do vineyards. And I know for a fact that barely any dirt can even be moved for a legal cannabis farmer. But I have to tell you that I am enraged that a legal cannabis farmer is so much more restricted than wine grapes. I cannot believe it! Sorry, I am just upset.” 

Caller: “It's very hard to be a cannabis farmer and do everything legal and pay our taxes and try to make a living and see the vineyards that are on the creek bed and flowing all the pesticides into the creek beds. We are not even allowed to be within 150 feet of a creek on our own property. Even if we are farming 100% organic. There are so many things going into this unfairness.”

Ottoboni: “The inconsistency between grapes and cannabis is appalling. If anybody is on Highway 128 you see it right there in front of you. They are literally taking down this hill to put grapes in.”

Sattui Hill, Boonville, 2021

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER. Eco-atrocities by the local booze biz have been “appalling” for at least four decades, but it only comes up now in comparison with the hyper-regulation of a few legal pot growers.

One Comment

  1. Angelo Fraud May 20, 2021

    Would be interesting certainly, for the grand jury to have a look into the hours charged to the county by M. Doohan.

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