THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS VOTED UNANIMOUSLY to partially "de-Teeter" the Brooktrails Community Services District. The County will no longer pay to Brooktrails the assessments for sewer, water, and fire, which amount to $120 per vacant lot unless the payments are actually received by the County. The County will continue to pay the taxes assessed on the Brooktrails lots because the Auditor Controller's office staff and the Treasurer Tax Collector said it was too much work to un-Teeter the taxes. In fact, the Auditor's staff (the auditor was not present) and the Treasurer seemed downright miffed that the scam was coming unraveled and blissfully unconcerned about the financial impact to the County. Their original recommendation, when McCowen brought the issue up in March, was to do nothing. Having had three more months to think about it, and increasingly under scrutiny for their mishandling of Teeter (the Grand Jury just released a report on Teeter) they recommended the in between step of de-Teetering the assessments, but not the taxes.
COUNTIES THAT OPT INTO THE TEETER PLAN are required to pay up front all taxes and assessments due to Cities, Schools and Special Districts, and are supposed to benefit when the delinquent taxes are paid back with fees and penalties with 18% annual interest tagged on. The plan is a moneymaker everywhere but Mendocino County where Dennis Huey and Tim Knudsen served as Auditor Controller and Treasurer Tax Collector since approximately the end of the last ice age. Huey and Knudsen, who ran the retirement board for decades, were also the architects of the non-existent "excess earnings," an audacious fiction that defrauded the retirement system out of tens of millions of dollars that the County is on the hook for.
INSTEAD OF USING TEETER PROFITS to pay off the original Teeter debt, (the buy out of the then existing 5.5 million in delinquent taxes), the Teeter revenues were dumped into the General Fund where they were used to fuel a year end spending spree, with the result that the Teeter debt doubled in size to over $11 million. It should have been paid off at least a dozen years ago. Except the so-called financially responsible people at the County, the aforementioned Huey and Knudsen, were not doing their jobs.
THE CURRENT BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, who have been tasked with cleaning up the financial wreckage created by their predecessors, insisted several years ago that all Teeter revenue be directed to paying down the Teeter debt, which has been reduced several million dollars.
COMPLICATING TEETER is the Brooktrails CSD, a sprawling rural subdivision of 6,000 lots with water for only 1,500. The lack of water and the steadily increasing assessments for sewer, water and fire, compounded by the financial downturn, have convinced many Brooktrails lot owners to discontinue making payments on their property. And when they let the payments go they also let the taxes go. After five years the County can sell the tax delinquent properties at auction to recover the back taxes, penalties and interest. Historically, the lots have been purchased by speculators who turn around and market the lots to unsuspecting urban buyers who think water comes out a pipe while sewage disappears down another. It never occurs to the new buyers that they have bought a lot that lacks basic infrastructure like water and sewer.
HISTORICALLY, EVERYONE BENEFITED FROM THIS SERIAL SCAM, except the unsuspecting lot owner. Brooktrails got the full amount of its taxes and assessments paid up front; the County sold the lots at auction to recover the delinquent taxes with 18% interest; and the speculators got to buy the tax defaulted properties back at auction and resell them to the next wave of unsuspecting marks.
SUPERVISOR JOHN MCCOWEN highlighted the scam last year when he pulled a routine item from the consent calendar authorizing the sale of tax delinquent properties, including scores of vacant lots located in Brooktrails. McCowen objected to the County's complicity in the on-going scam, insisting that the County needed to at least disclose that the lots were mostly unbuildable. The Board turned a deaf ear to McCowen's concerns and approved the item 4-1. McCowen raised the issue again this year, augmented by old-fashioned reporting by Linda Williams of the Willits News, who revealed that the tax defaulted Brooktrails properties were no longer selling at auction and hadn't been selling for several years. After fifty years the Ponzi scheme had Ponzied out, as even the speculators were no longer interested in buying the Brooktrails vacant lots.
AS DOCUMENTED BY LINDA WILLIAMS, the number of Brooktrails lots unsold at auction steadily escalated in the last several years. The number of unsold lots reached 67 in the latest auction. If the lots never sell the County will never recover the taxes and assessments it has already paid out. The 67 unsold lots, which have been in the pipeline for five years, the time needed for tax delinquent property to become eligible for sale, are just the tip of the iceberg. The total number of tax delinquent Brooktrails lots stood at 589 in 2010-11. The only mystery is why the other 4,000 or so vacant lot owners are still paying the taxes and assessments when there are water connections for less than 1% of that total.
BROOKTRAILS WAS UNDER A WATER MORATORIUM for years until they convinced the state they really had enough water for another couple of dozen homes. When the state agreed, the Brooktrails Board of Directors promptly raised the water connection fees to around $20,000, which guaranteed that no one would apply for a hookup. But as long as the 24 prohibitively expensive hook ups are on the books, Brooktrails can say their is no water moratorium, thereby allowing all 4,500 lot owners to think that they too can someday build their American dream home on their Brooktrails lot.
BASED ON THE SUPES ACTION, the County is still on the hook for taxes paid out up front; Brooktrails will no longer be paid the fire, water and sewer assessments up front; no one will buy the tax delinquent Brooktrails properties at auction and more and more lot owners are likely to quit paying the taxes and assessments as they realize they have bought a lot that is unbuildable.
THE SUPES ALSO VOTED UNANIMOUSLY to deny the rezone of 17 acres on Lovers Lane in the Ukiah area. The land is owned by Pinoleville Development, LLC, a shadowy subsidiary of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation, which is trying to build a casino at the former site of Ken Fowler Motors on North State Street. The Planning and Building Department was sponsoring the rezone to satisfy a lawsuit settlement with Legal Services of Northern California which uses lawsuits against the County to fund their operations. The settlement called for the rezone of 24 acres within the boundaries of the Ukiah Valley Area Plan (UVAP) to allow a density of up to 24 units per acre. The end of the road 17 acres in question, remote from services, and bordered on two sides by ag land, was an unlikely candidate for multi-family housing, but would have met the criteria of the lawsuit settlement. The Planning Commission voted 5-2 against the rezone. And after hearing from a dozen or so neighboring landowners who were opposed, the Board unanimously followed suit.
ON TUESDAY (June 12), The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the fiscal year 2012-2013 budget recommendations as calculated by CEO Carmel Angelo and staff. The recommended budget will come back for approval in 60 days with final budget hearings scheduled for September. There was little objection to the Good Ship Mendo's fiscal plans pegged to a “structural deficit” of just over a million dollars.
THIS DEFICIT results from the predictable yearly increase in health care and retirement contribution costs, and is only partially offset by a modest increase in projected revenue. Instead of closing the projected million dollar gap by asking the departments to further cut costs, which likely would have involved another round of staffing reductions, the Executive Office proposed to reduce the General Fund transfer to the previously sacrosanct Department of Transportation (DOT) Road Fund. Road money inspired the only argument of the day apart from a 4-1 approval of a tax-paid travel jaunt for lame duck supervisor, Kendall Smith, which we'll get to.
SINCE THE DAYS OF BUDGE CAMPBELL, who functioned for many years as a kind of independent fiefdom at the County's Department of Transportation until he abruptly retired in the 90s after then-newly elected John Pinches raised a question of how much money he was sitting on, it has been assumed that the Road Fund got a set percentage of the annual property tax. Perpetual County Administrator Al Beltrami and long-time Auditor Controller Dennis Huey always backed Campbell's automatic draw on property taxes, fending off repeated inquiries about the legal basis of the annual transfer, insisting that it was required based on the Road Fund's status as a Special District.
KYLE KNOPP, Mendo’s Budget Officer in the CEO’s office reported that the CEO's office had again questioned the legal authority supporting a mandatory transfer of funds to, basically, County Roads. County Counsel Jeanine Nadel said that it was her opinion, based on changes in state law, that there was no legal requirement for the transfer beyond the say-so of the Supervisors, and the die was cast that a long-time budgetary practice was about to end. It was also proof that all this had been worked out ahead of time, as…
HOWARD DASHIELL, Campbell's successor at Roads (aka the Transportation Department), hustled to the podium to express concern about the recommendation, although he candidly admitted that he agreed with the opinion of County Counsel. He also stated that in most counties in the state, the Road Fund was supported solely by the gas tax and did not get General Fund money. The projected draw for next fiscal year would be about $3.3 million, bringing the Road Fund balance up to about $6.8 million. The Executive Office was recommending a one time reduction in the transfer of about $1.3 million, to be used to pay off the County Microwave System and something called the Southwest Border Patrol settlement, which resulted from a previous District Attorney named Norm Vroman who either mis-used the dough or did not properly document use of federal grant money intended for the prosecution of illegal aliens. In short, the money that usually goes to Roads was freed up to pay down the Microwave bill and the disappeared Southwest Border Patrol tab.
TRANSPORTATION DIRECTOR DASHIELL expressed concern that the reduced transfer was the start down a slippery slope that could result in future year reductions or even elimination of the transfer which could cripple the ability of Roads to properly maintain the 1,000+ miles of County pavement. He discussed various scenarios under which Roads would need every dollar of the transfer but also conceded that the department could absorb the recommended one time transfer. Although he said he agreed with County Counsel's interpretation (which amounted to a back-handed admission that he knew all along that legal authority for the transfer did not exist), he also called for the Board to hire outside counsel to provide an independent opinion.
SUPERVISOR HAMBURG expressed concern for the roads in the sprawling Fifth district and that of the Third district, which combined have about 70% of the County's maintained road system. Supervisor Pinches strongly asserted that he would not support the recommendation if he thought it was anything but a one-time transfer and wanted Board confirmation to that effect. County Counsel stated that the Board could set that as policy but could not obligate future boards to do the same.
THE PUBLIC DEFENDER, Alternate Public Defender and DA Dave Eyster then addressed the Board, all expressing some concern about the budget process and the impact to their operations. John Sakowicz, who has expanded his horizons from government gadfly outsider to Grand Jury, Redevelopment Phase Down and Retirement Board insider, rose to agree with the suggestion for an outside legal opinion on the reduced transfer to the Road Fund, cautioning that if the action of the County was improper it would be detected by the County's outside auditor, resulting in damage to the County's credit rating.
SAKO ALSO MANAGED to push a couple of hot buttons by referring to the Southwest Border Patrol settlement as “lost litigation” and by claiming that Gallina, the County's outside auditor, ordered the County to put Teeter on an amortization schedule. Chair McCowen quickly corrected Sako that the current Board of Supes directed that the Teeter debt be put on an amortization schedule with all Teeter revenue segregated and directed to paying off the accumulated Teeter debt. Once the County did the right thing by Teeter, Gallina, which had repeatedly turned a blind eye to the problem, suddenly highlighted it as a mega financial red flag for the County.
COUNTY COUNSEL JEANINE NADEL took exception to the “lost litigation” comment, saying that her office did not lose litigation (translation: we settle the cases we know we can't win) and that the Southwest Board Patrol settlement resulted from the screw-up of a previous District Attorney. Left unsaid was whether the offending DA was the notoriously incompetent Meredith Lintott or the libertarian Vroman (who actually ran the office pretty well). If the screw-up was a result of incompetence, it would have been Lintott's. If it was a matter of grabbing a pot of money that Vroman could put to whatever purpose he felt like putting it, Vroman did it.
AFTER LENGTHY DISCUSSION, Supervisor Pinches made the recommended motion to take the Road money. The call for a second was met with silence. Board Chair McCowen then passed the gavel to Vice Chair Hamburg in order to make the second. None of the three rural Supes wanted their name on a motion that could result in diminished funds for maintaining the County’s ever deteriorating roads in their districts. Supervisor Carre Brown also raised the issue of inclusion in the recommended budget of proposed fee increases, the next item on the agenda that had not yet been approved by the Board, stating she would be voting no on the motion for that reason. The motion was quickly amended to delete the not yet approved fees. Supervisor Brown has rightly complained in the past that inclusion of fees before they are approved by the Board undermines the Board's authority and makes it look like they are a mere rubberstamp for the CEO. And of course they are (mostly) a rubberstamp for the CEO. Or at least that is the way it looks to the public. But why reinforce that perception?
NO ONE WAS PRESENT from the local SEIU (Service Employees International Union), the County's largest bargaining group, during discussion of the recommended budget. SEIU habitually complains that they are not consulted about issues that affect them, but when big-ticket budget issues are on the agenda, their reps don't even bother to show up. But SEIU wasted no time after the fact in complaining that the County should have tapped the Road Fund last year to avoid the employee wage cuts. Except last year the Auditor and the Department of Transportation (DOT) Director were still maintaining the ruse that the Road Funds could not be tapped. SEIU maintains the County failed to act last year just so they could justify forcing a pay cut on the employees. Never mind that tapping the Road Fund would, at best, have been a temporary fix unless it was made permanent, something the Supes showed no support for. The paranoids in SEIU also say disclosure of the ability to limit the transfer to DOT was kept secret until after the election so as not to damage McCowen's chances for re-election. Which only shows that the incompetents running SEIU into the ground are both stupid and paranoid. Since McCowen only has about five miles of County maintained roads in his district, raiding the Road Fund to pay for other essential County services is not likely to be much of an issue in his district. And it is a measure of just how far out of touch with reality SEIU is if they think anything could have changed the landslide re-election of McCowen given that the SEIU candidate was running on the sole issue of the pay cuts, which were necessary, in the minds of any reasonable observer, to stabilize the financial condition of the County.
IT HAS BEEN AN OPEN SECRET for some time around the County offices that the Auditor-Controller's office does not freely share information. A regular feature of budget discussions involves the last minute submission of information from the Auditor's Office, which has rarely submitted information in advance. The prevailing attitude seems to have been that the less time the Supes and CEO have to scrutinize the info before acting on it, the better. The lack of an open exchange of information makes it harder for the Executive Office to develop the budget. Withholding information until the last minute, or not providing the justification for certain functions, are strategies used to maintain control of the budget process. Former Auditor-Controller Dennis Huey was a master of manipulating the process.
A BREAKTHROUGH seems to have been made with the absence from the office of the elected County Auditor Controller, Meredith Ford, who has been largely missing in action for the last year or so due to an undisclosed but serious illness. She was not present for the discussion about de-Teetering Brooktrails on Monday, which left her staff fumbling to respond to questions about why they were unable to do the accounting work necessary to de-Teeter Brooktrails. Failure to completely de-Teeter Brooktrails leaves the County at risk for losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in up front tax payments that will never be recovered if the Brooktrails vacant lots, arguably worthless, continue to tax default and continue to fail to sell at auction. Part of the answer about the inability to get the work done seems to be staffing shortages in the office as the Assistant Auditor-Controller, Lloyd Weer, scrambles to cover the duties previously handled by the Auditor. Meaning someone else has to cover his duties, and so on. Having increasingly assumed responsibility for day to day operations, Assistant Auditor-Controller Weer, probably at the urging of the Executive Office, took a fresh look at the issue of the Road Fund transfer and apparently agreed that their was no legal authority to support it, other than the direction of the Board of Supes. The (elected) Auditor-Controller's office has a history of ignoring direction given by the Executive Office and the Board of Supes when they don't agree with it, so without concurrence from the Auditor, the recommended reduction in the Road Fund transfer was unlikely to occur.
THEN THE BOARD proceeded to utterly disgrace itself by approving a travel request from lame duck Supervisor Kendall Smith to attend the National Association of Counties (NACO) junket in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The vote was 4-1 to approve, with only Supervisor McCowen having the guts to vote NO. Smith, of course, was very pleased at yet one more travel freebie for herself courtesy the taxpayers. She prattled on at length, claiming that it was vitally important to the interests of Mendocino County that she attend the meeting so she could personally respond to the “threat” posed to the west coast by — brace yourselves — the flotsam that will soon appear on our beaches from the Japanese tsunami!
IN FULL FREE ASSOCIATION MODE, Smith said that the Supervisors’ travel was very modest in comparison to other County offices which she said traveled all the time at much greater cost.
SMITH WANTS TO GO to this thing to look for her next job. She'll be a double dipper when she leaves her Supe's “job” because she's unequipped for anything but some kind of public employment. (The supervisor would fit right in at First Five. We envision her as Assistant Coordinator of New Paradigms.)
LAST YEAR when Smith made the same pitch to attend the same conference, Pinches and Brown joined McCowen in voting NO. And the net benefit to Mendocino County this year will be zilch because Smith will be out of office at the end of December and never bothers to report back to the Board from her junkets anyway, as if anything useful could ever be learned at these tax-funded vacations masquerading as conventions. Hamburg, natch, seems to view Smith as his favorite charity so long as the money doesn't come straight out of his pocket. This year Pinches and Brown inexplicably voted to send Smith on another tax paid junket.
WE WONDER if the four Supervisors who voted yes on another freebie for Smith considered what that approval looks like to the rest of us? For months now the County has screamed, “We're broke. We're cutting pay and we're lopping off people because we have to.” And then they vote 4-1 for a County-paid week in Pennsylvania for a person adjudicated to be a stone crook by three successive grand juries and the District Attorney of Mendocino County, a person who stole money from the County via fraudulent travel reimbursements. Right now there are people sitting in the County Jail for stealing stuff worth a lot less than the thousands of public dollars Smith ripped off. So four supervisors vote to give her another couple thou. Dizzzzzzgusting!
SUPERVISOR SMITH also sits as the Board of Supes rep to the County Retirement Board, which probably explains why the retirement fund is a couple of hundred million or so in arrears. As previously reported, Richard White, a retired Orange County cop who morphed into a retirement specialist, has been selected as the new Retirement Administrator for the Retirement Board. He replaces triple dipper Jim Andersen who previously retired as Mendocino County CAO and Sonoma County Assistant CAO. White was the only applicant left standing when the others who were invited to interview for the position sent their regrets. Supervisor Smith, who hates all things cop related, as does much of Mendolib still stuck in their Yellow Submarines in Blue Meanie mode, absolutely did not want a cop, an Orange County cop at that, to be in charge of her retirement. Smith tried to derail the appointment on the theory that the Board could not, or at least, should not choose from among a pool of only one applicant. The other qualified applicants apparently got better offers to stay where they were. In typical Smith fashion, when her behind the scenes cabal failed to gain traction, it was she who made the motion to appoint White, who will be paid $120,000 per year, the same as Andersen. The fully loaded cost with the usual Mendo-style executive bennies tops out at just under $190,000.
JIM ANDERSEN RETIRED EFFECTIVE March 31, but in the cozy, spendthrift way that these things are handled, will stay on the payroll at least through August 30. The Retirement Board initially authorized an extra $10,000 for April through June, later adding $15,000 through an amendment. And although his successor has been on the job for nearly a month, the Retirement Board has an item on this week’s agenda to pay Andersen another $25,000 for July and August. Wall Street’s giant bonus babies have nothing on Mendo, comparatively speaking.
THE JUNE RETIREMENT BOARD AGENDA also has an interesting item to extend an MOU between the Retirement Board and the Assessor (who is also the Clerk-Recorder) to allow Auditor-Assessor Randy Goodman, who works under Auditor Controller Meredith Ford, to continue to provide financial services to the Retirement Board until September 30th. Goodman also happens to be a member of the Retirement Board, elected by the active employees. The plan is to replace Goodman with a full time “fiscal position” that will prepare financial statements, monitor investment strategy and recommend cash and investment strategy (don’t we already have an expensive investment advisor for that?), co-ordinate cooking the books with the Retirement Board actuary, and with Gallina (the so-called independent auditor hired by both the County and the Retirement Board), prepare the annual report to the State Controller’s Office, and prepare a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). The CAFR was probably called for by newly appointed Retirement Board member Jon Sakowicz who has called on Mendocino County to prepare one, claiming the County stands alone among California counties by its refusal to do so.
THE MOU WITH THE AUDITOR has apparently been in place for the last year, and allows Goodman to work half-time for both the Retirement Board and the Auditor. The web of conflicting inter-relationships might seem odd, except this is Mendocino County where such things are standard operating procedure — especially with the Retirement Board. For the better part of three decades, until Andersen was hired a few years ago, the Retirement Board was run by long time County Treasurer Tim Knudsen, who still sits on the Board, and his sidekick in obfuscation, Dennis Huey, the equally long-time County Auditor-Controller, who finally stepped down from the Retirement Board last year. Knudsen and Huey were the engineers of the fraudulent “excess earnings” scam that plundered the retirement fund to the tune of $50 million or more to pay retiree health insurance. As long as the national Ponzi scheme called Wall Street was riding an inflationary wave, everything looked rosy. Once the wave broke, the mis-managed retirement fund headed for the rocks. Huey and Knudsen have mainly functioned to prevent anyone from digging too deeply into the wreckage.
SUPERVISOR SMITH also introduced a new policy to the Retirement Board, to require pre-approval by the Retirement Administrator and the Board Chair before items can be added to the agenda by Board members. Smith’s policy is transparently directed at insurgent Retirement Board members Ted Stephens and John Sakowicz, who were appointed on 3-2 votes to watchdog the Retirement Board. Stephens and Sakowicz, each long time critics of the Retirement Board prior to their appointments, have lots of questions. Smith, who accepted without question the diversion of the non-existent excess earnings from the retirement fund, would like to stop Stephens and Sako from asking impertinent questions. The rest of the Retirement Board agreed.
BUCK CONSULTANTS, the previous actuary for the Retirement Board, was fired following a series of expensive mathematical “mistakes,” one of which cost the County about $750,000 by basing employee contributions on faulty retirement assumptions. Hundreds of County employees were also dinged with improperly high contributions because of the “mistake” and are now due refunds. The Retirement Board reached a settlement with Buck that required Buck to pay for their mistakes, which they have. The County was told to pay an extra $750,000, which they have also done. The only thing that remains to be done, nearly a year after the fact now, is to refund the overcharges due to the employees. The Retirement Board says they have sent all the necessary information to the Auditor Controller. The Auditor Controller, predictably, says they don’t have the staff to do the job. Probably true as far as it goes, since they have loaned out Mr. Goodman to help the Retirement Board prepare the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (for them) that the County can not, or will not, do for themselves. Following a long run of questionable decisions and actions, now that they are beginning to face greater public scrutiny, the wheels may be about to fall off at the Auditor Controller’s Office.
MENDOCINO COUNTY MUSEUM Celebrates 40 Years with an Anniversary Dinner and Chautauqua Show on Sunday, June 24. The Mendocino County Museum is celebrating 40 Years of making history with an Anniversary Dinner and Chautauqua-style Variety Show on Sunday, June 24, 2012, from 3:30-7:30 PM at the Museum in Willits. The program will include an amazing line-up of Mendocino County performers and musicians focusing on different aspects of the Museum and local history. Kate Magruder will read from Voices of the Frolic, a play about the Frolic shipwreck which is featured in the Museum; Linda Pack will share characters and stories she has gleaned from Mendocino Remembered, a set of oral histories in the Museum's collection; Joe Regelski, via recording, will introduce the radio broadcast of Seabiscuit's match race with War Admiral in 1938; and Dan Barth will speak through poetry. Elizabeth McDougall, Patrick Nagel, Clay Hawkins, and Antonia Lamb will share their musical talents. The Coyote Valley Dancers and Northern Drums will share Pomo culture and music. A wonderful dinner buffet and local wines and beer will be served. This is a special event and funds will go to new and refurbished Museum exhibits, public programs, and school field trips. Everyone who loves museums is invited to join us on Sunday, June 24. Tickets are $50 per person and must be purchased in advance, from the Mendocino County Museum in Willits, or at Mendocino Book Company in Ukiah, Good's Stamp Shoppe in Willits, or Cheshire Books in Fort Bragg. For more information, please call 459-2736 or go to the website: www.MendocinoMuseum.org.
TYPE CASTING: (Press Release from Jim Mastin): “Hello All, Plane Crash! — the play. There is a delightful reading of a local play at the Ukiah Players Theater Wednesday (6/13) evening. Plane Crash is a comedy and was written and directed by Andrea Onstad of Willits. It is the second production in this season's Readers Theater series. This may be the first and last time you'll see me act (key word!) as a stoned Mendocino grower who's lusting to turn cannibal. This performance will be a staged reading and the cost is a mere $5. Showtime is 7pm. I've attached the flyer and program and hope you're able to attend."
POT SEASON IS HERE! Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies, aka The Mendocino Marijuana Price Support Unit, pulled up 600 devil weed plants Tuesday in the Mid Mountain area of Potter Valley. No arrests were made as the raid team hit “several locations,” as the press release from the Sheriff's Department put it. The big state and federally-backed eradication raids will begin at the end of July, according to the Department.
A CONTAINER that washed up on a Mendocino County beach last week has not been identified as debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office reported. According to the MCSO, on June 6 the Mendocino County Office of Emergency Services received a report that a five-gallon container had washed ashore. The container had a small amount of an unknown liquid inside, and appeared to be a generic type of flammable liquids container “similar to gas or fuel cans sold in the United States.” The container had both Japanese and Chinese writing imprinted on it, but no “owner applied markings” that could have been used to determine its origin. Tests for any known hazardous substances did not come back positive and the substance was disposed of. The MCSO reports that “it is not possible to determine if the container was debris from the tsunami in Japan,” and that marine debris in the Pacific Ocean is “a continuous problem.”
THE LEAD SENTENCE from last week's Fort Bragg Advocate/Beacon: “Last Tuesday, June 5, the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco upheld the 2009 conviction of Kenneth Rogers, 54, of Westport, in his murder-for-hire case in which Alan Simon was shot multiple times on June 17, 2005 at 10:26 p.m.”
SIMON WAS NOT SHOT. His front door was shot. He might have been shot if he answered the door when the shooter knocked on it, but that's not what happened. The Advocate's unsigned story also left out those facts that work in Rogers' favor, including the one that Rogers was offered a much less severe deal that would have given him a few months in the County Jail, meaning the whole affair was regarded as relatively unserious until, well, we've already gone into that at length. The shooter was a hard man, as the Irish call tough guys, named Peacock, He has never said why he emptied a .22 hand gun into Simon's door, but may have done it simply out of loyalty to Rogers for Rogers' many kindnesses to him, an ex-con who otherwise would not have found post-release work. The case was circumstantial front-to-back, not that circumstantial cases are necessarily weak, and Tim Stoen of the DA's office put the circumstances together in a much more coherent narrative than Rogers' attorneys, who were weak and only marginally competent.
INTERESTING STORY by K.C. Meadows in Friday's Ukiah Daily Journal on Hubert Germain-Robin, creator of Mendocino County's finest booze product, Germain-Robin brandy. Back in the mid-1980s when Hube was just starting out in Ukiah, I got a sample bottle for Christmas from Hube himself who, needing appreciative notice of his fine product, certainly got that appreciation from me. I wrote it up as the best hooch ever to make its way on down into my indiscriminate gullet. Hube was so pleased with my review that for a few succeeding Christmases I received free bottles, which retail for upwards of forty per and outta my price range. Germain-Robin soon caught on and, sob, the Boonville newspaper was left behind as the booze world rushed in and the high-end mags and newspapers were touting the stuff, and presidents served it at state dinners. Ol' Hube sold the still to whatever conglomerate owns it now but he still lives in Redwood Valley, venturing out as a consultant, and good on him for all the success he has had. Not many people can say they started something as good as Hube's brandy from a little copper still in the hills above a dying town in Mendocino County.
LOOKS LIKE THE UKIAH GOLF COURSE is about to be privatized. Ukiah says the course is not self-sufficient and presently operating under a “significant deficit.” Ukiah's managers are fuzzy on exactly why this should be so other than the city is still paying off its back nine when it went to 18 holes a few years ago. Maybe fewer people are playing, maybe it's not particularly well-managed. Whatever the reason it's probably going to be raffled off, and three workers are likely to lose their jobs.
THE STATE LEGISLATURE’S SHIFT of responsibility for prisoners from state to local custody began in October and, as Linda Williams of the Willits News reports, Sheriff Allman says the shift is “going as expected.” Allman says his jail population is up about 20% since the program began. “Before, the jail had an average daily population of 190 to 195; now it is running between 250 and 255.” The maximum County Jail population is 302. Allman did say, however, that he didn't anticipate “the increased need for mental health services and long-term medical care. The new class of inmates requires more of these services per person than the traditional jail population.”
MENDO'S PRIMARY ELECTION RESULTS are final. County Clerk Sue Ranochak said Friday that the official numbers changed nothing. In the 2nd district congressional election, Democrat Assemblyman Jared Huffman is the winner with 26.67% of the Mendocino County vote to runner up Norman Solomon 22.97%. Solomon is also a Democrat who was favored by progressives over Huffman, who appeals to the middle-of-the-road extremists dominant in the contemporary Democratic Party of the Northcoast. Solomon came in third in the 2nd district overall behind Republican Daniel Roberts; Roberts, who finished third overall in Mendo, now proceeds to a November runoff against Huffman. In the 2nd District supervisor race incumbent John McCowen garnered 66.92% (2,005) of the votes to challenger Andrea Longoria's 32.54% (975 votes). In the 4th supervisor district, Fort Bragg City Councilman Dan Gjerde remained the winner with 91.84% (3,130) of the votes while write-in candidate Rex ‘Slugger’ Gressett had 90 qualifying votes. Measure D in the city of Ukiah, to eliminate the elected Treasurer job, was defeated 53.21% to 46.79%. Measure E, a fire department tax for Brooktrails, which needed a two-thirds vote to pass, was also defeated 63.19% Yes to 36.81% No.
SLUGGER GRESSETT called the other day. Heckuva pleasant guy, upbeat and funny. He told us he ran against Gjerde out of frustration at being ignored by the Fort Bragg City Council when he brought legitimate concerns to them. Slugger said he was not related to Ice Pick Gressett, the x-rated Contra Costa County prosecutor.
NORMAN SOLOMON, as reported here previously, had been holding out hope that final returns would boost him into second place for the congressional seat from this area. Solomon, and everyone else, discounted the chances of a Republican finishing in second place. But despite two Republicans splitting the vote, Dan Roberts is headed to the run-off with vote-leading Jared Huffman in the fall. Roberts got a boost by advertising with a Eureka television station that covered Humboldt and Del Norte counties. The Huffman camp broke out the champagne when Roberts moved into second place, knowing that Roberts will have no chance in November in the heavily Obama-deluded Northcoast district. Huffman, in a continuing demonstration of political tone deafness, had no election night festivities in Sonoma County. Mendocino County celebrants had to find their way to the home of Heidi Dickerson, his Mendocino County campaign manager (and Congressman Mike Thompson’s Mendocino Aide — Dickerson must be hoping for a Huffman patronage job). Dickerson was originally low key in her support, but became increasingly public about her enthusiasm for Huffman as election day neared. The widely respected Dickerson is the prospective district rep for Huffman, a role she has filled for Congressman Mike Thompson for years. In another tone-deaf gaffe, Huffman’s last Mendo County mailer listed Kendall Smith as first among his local endorsers.
SOURCES WITHIN SEIU confirm that Andrea Longoria, who mounted an ineffectual challenge against incumbent Second District (Ukiah area) Supervisor John McCowen, selected herself to run for the post after an SEIU search for a qualified candidate failed. SEIU was also trying to recruit candidates in the First and Fourth (Fort Bragg area) Districts. Presumably SEIU is comfortable with Dan Gjerde, who easily turned back a last minute write-in campaign, because they don't know that he would have voted for the pay cuts that fueled their anger with the Supes. First District (Potter Valley area) Supe Carre Brown was re-elected without opposition. Longoria, a member of the bargaining team that botched the labor negotiations, insisted on running although it was clear, including to many within SEIU, that her chances were slim to none. Once Longoria was in the race the SEIU leadership felt they had to work all out on her behalf in a futile effort to avoid a lopsided defeat that would further tarnish the credibility of SEIU within the community and with their own membership.
DESPITE OUTSPENDING MCCOWEN 4-1, Longoria lost by better than a 2-1 margin. A spread of 55-45 is considered a landslide. McCowen ran a fairly low-key campaign that consisted of a single mailer, his homemade signs which blanketed the community and old-fashioned door-to-door precinct walking by the candidate. Longoria, funded largely by SEIU, with lesser amounts from the Pinoleville Pomo Nation and the utterly debauched local wing of the National Women's Political Caucus, put out slick glossy mailers through a company based in southern California and had the benefit of extensive phone banking and precinct walking organized by SEIU. According to one report, local SEIU guru Joe Louis Wildman, who used to be named Hoffman, joined the precinct walkers. We have always thought that Wildman's reputation for political acumen was seriously over-rated. We are told that the bushy bearded Wildman, described as somewhat disheveled looking and with the wild eyed look of the true believer, is currently the perfect physical incarnation of his chosen surname. For the undecided, Wildman on their doorstep probably tipped the scales in favor of McCowen.
McCOWEN GOT AN UNINTENTIONAL ASSIST when Longoria's campaign disclosure statement revealed she had been spending her campaign money on food, clothing, gasoline and “holistic healing” — because, we guess, the stress of being a candidate is so great. Imagine the stress if she'd gotten elected. If Longoria or her campaign treasurer had bothered to read the instructions for filling out the disclosure form, they would have known that individual expenditures of less than $100 don't need to be itemized. But then The Great Unwashed wouldn't have known that Longoria was splurging at Fashion Bug, In-N-Out Burger and whatever holistic healing entails. Longoria, who said she was all for the local economy spent most of her campaign money in southern California.
LONGORIA WAS ALSO COACHED by Paul Kaplan, full-time SEIU political organizer, who was brought in to run the campaign to throw the bums out and install a labor-friendly majority on the Board of Supes. When the effort to field a full slate of candidates fizzled, with only Longoria taking on McCowen, SEIU was faced with the dilemma of letting Longoria run on her own (with an endorsement and token campaign contribution) or throwing their full weight behind her. In a continuation of poorly thought out decisions, the SEIU leadership, who blames McCowen for the pay cut, chose the latter. But the SEIU message, that the Supes unfairly cut their wages by 10%, never gained traction with the general public which understands that the economic downturn and steadily escalating health care and retirement costs have driven public employers, like the County, to the brink of insolvency. Joe and Jane Six-Pack, who can only dream of the health care, retirement and other benefits enjoyed by public employees (and SEIU bigshots), probably think it's about time that public sector employees were asked to tighten their belts like everyone else.
BY LAUNCHING an all-out campaign against McCowen and failing, SEIU has bolstered McCowen's stature and diminished their own. SEIU miscalculated that County employees in general, and SEIU members in particular, would form a solid block against McCowen. If 90% of the County employees, (the majority of whom live in the Ukiah area) and their families and friends, voted against McCowen, he would be out. But McCowen has spent a lifetime in the community and has worked with and knows many of the County workers personally. Longoria's largely rhetorical campaign had trouble gaining traction even among the County employees, many of whom realized the pay cut, or some such similar reduction, was needed to balance the County budget, not a plot to punish the employees. Longoria's brochures, apparently written by the same out of the area consultants who printed them, also played up her SEIU connections, but Ukiah is not known to be a union town, and is even less of one now thanks to the SEIU clowns.
SEIU & THE COUNTY get mutual credit for the botched negotiations, but SEIU gets special mention for taking an unnecessarily adversarial tone and for having their membership vote on an agreement that had not been agreed to. Following an agreement in concept for a reduced workweek of 36 hours instead of a 10% pay cut (on the premise that the reduced work week equaled a 10% savings) the SEIU leadership insisted on voting on a version of the reduced workweek that did not generate a 10% savings. SEIU spurned pleas by the County to hold off on the vote until the details could be worked out. Following SEIU's attempt to force the process, negotiations went steadily downhill. County staff is said to have identified a series of flaws with the reduced workweek, number one being that if the work being done in 40 hours could not be done in 36, then the County would be forced to hire extra help or pay overtime. It was also predictable that the County's seven other bargaining units would immediately ask for the same reduced workweek. Except that 24/7 functions like the jail and juvenile hall can't operate on a reduced work week, resulting in increased costs, instead of the hoped for savings.
THE COUNTY NEGOTIATING STRATEGY, spelled out in background materials for the September 2010 budget hearings, was always to balance the budget by cutting employee compensation by 10%. But the SEIU leadership, driven by whatever it was — inattentiveness? incompetence? — steered their membership into a 12.5% cut. John Heise, who was hired on an interim basis as the SEIU business agent, fought to get SEIU to take a 10% cut, the minimum that all seven other bargaining units had already taken. Heise, who was canned from Planning and Building Services on trumped up internet porn charges, had as much reason as anyone to have it in for the County, but he was smart enough to know that if a 10% cut is the best you can do, then you take the 10%. So Heise got sidelined and the membership got hit with a 12.5% cut. As word spread through the SEIU rank and file, the SEIU leadership was finally forced to put the agreement for a 10% cut to a vote, which passed overwhelmingly.
ONCE SEIU AGREED TO THE 10% CUT, it was expected that the Public Attorney's and Probation bargaining units, who earlier took a 12.5% cut after dragging out negotiations for a year, would be knocking on the door demanding they also be allowed to get back to a 10% cut. An attorney familiar with the negotiations says the County is ready to go to 10% as soon as the attorney's and probation agree to a new retirement tier for new hires, something that will have no effect on the wages or benefits of any current employee. By failing to agree to the new tier for new hires, the attorneys and probation are blocking the County from putting it into place for other bargaining units, thereby preventing the County from making its retirement system more sustainable. Logic says making the system more sustainable should be good for those who are depending on it for their future retirement benefit. The parameters of the new tier are defined in state law, but the attorneys and probation are holding out for the right to approve the exact details of the new tier, a condition that was not agreed to for any of the other groups, including SEIU. Not to mention that change may be coming at the state level that will dwarf anything that might be implemented locally. So the attorneys and probation, victimized by their own lack of strategic thinking, are stuck at a 12.5% cut on into the foreseeable future.
FIREWOOD permit sales resume on Jackson Demonstration State Forest. The California Department of Forestry and CAL FIRE say they are "pleased to announce the resumption of firewood permit sales on Jackson Demonstration State Forest. Two ($20) or four cord ($40) permits may be purchased from June 19 through September 30, 2012 or the first significant rain, which ever occurs first. Four areas are expected to be open during the summer but not all will be open at the same time. Firewood cutters will need to check with the JDSF office to confirm open areas. Permits and information on how to safely engage in collecting firewood are available at the CAL FIRE Fort Bragg office located at, 802 North Main Street, Fort Bragg, CA (707) 964-5674."
SAN FRANCISCO has embarked on the massive boondoggle called the Central Subway. Costing an estimated $1.6 billion for 1.6 miles of track running from North Beach to CalTrain, preliminary work is already tearing up North Beach, and will keep it torn up for years. Federal funding has been approved, and it's a good thing (for some people) that our government simply prints more money to pay for boondoggles or most would be left undone. This one certainly would have gone undone if it had been put up for a vote.
LETTER OF THE WEEK: “Scarcely less troubling than the opacity of the process by which drone-death targets are chosen is the administration's arrant flouting of the sovereignty of the several countries recipient of these unbidden attacks. The day likely will come, as it did concerning nuclear weaponry, when mastery of this latest technical marvel will not be ours alone, and we will rue this unfortunate precedent.” (Richard Boyce, San Francisco)
THE MENDOCINO COUNTY BOARD of Supervisors will hear the appeal Tuesday morning from Keep The Code seeking to block the expansion of operations at Harris Quarry on the Willits Grade. Keep The Code was formed in opposition to the addition of an asphalt batch plant at the site and has filed a lawsuit challenging the board's certification of the Environmental Impact Report for the Harris Quarry Expansion Project which allows tripling of the rate of aggregate extraction at the quarry and industrial zoning of the site with an asphalt plant.
DRIVING AROUND UKIAH
And then there is our Main Street
that looks like
an abandoned movie set
ran out of money and ideas,
firing at a moment's notice
his entire filming crew,
and the pretty young actress
dressed for the part
standing with a pinched smile
in the dusty window
of Miss Emma's bridal shop.
— Charles Simic