MENDOCINO COUNTY AND SEIU (Service Employees International Union) issued a joint press release earlier this year announcing formation of a Labor Management Committee (LMC). The membership included SEIU business agent Carl Carr, political organizer Paul Kaplan and the entire SEIU bargaining team. County membership included CEO Carmel Angelo, Board of Supes Chair John McCowen, Health and Human Services Director Stacey Cryer, GSA Director Kristin McMenomey and Transportation Director Howard Dashiell. Since the initial press release there has been no further public mention of the LMC by either party. The stated purpose of the LMC was to improve communication and build a working relationship among the parties, but how is that working out?
THE SEIU LEADERSHIP, which is the same as the LMC membership, has held regular post-LMC meetings in Ukiah to report back to the membership. These meetings are not well attended. Which makes them just like almost all other SEIU general membership meetings. Important decisions like candidate endorsements and election of officers, are routinely made by 15 or 20 people out of a membership of 600+. The post-LMC meetings held to report back to the members, according to sources within SEIU, have focused on the $8,000 communications plan ordered up by CEO Carmel Angelo and Director Cryer.
THE COUNTY does a lousy job of communicating. No one disputes that. But the SEIU brain trust is upset that the County did not consult with them before contracting out for a function they say could have been provided in-house. A recurring theme with the SEIU membership, carefully nurtured by the SEIU leadership, is lack of trust. County employees were issued a blanket invitation to meet with the contractors but were concerned about confidentiality. If County employees are unwilling to discuss their concerns with a third party, it is unclear how they were going to sit down with the County and write a communications policy. Adding up the salaries of the LMC participants, and adding in the post-LMC meetings, SEIU has probably consumed more than $8,000 in salaries just in talking about an $8,000 contract. The contractors in this case, Jendi Coursey and Sarah Bednar, are a couple of enterprising young women with media and social media smarts, talents missing among County and SEIU shot callers.
SEIU MISSED AN OPPORTUNITY Monday of last week to talk about the Request For Proposals (RFP) for adult mental health services, something that will directly affect dozens of SEIU members who work in mental health. The mental health RFP has been in the works for well over a year. More than two years ago, back when she was HHSA Director, Carmel Angelo told the Board of Supes that adult mental health services needed to be restructured. Adult mental health has consistently done a lousy (but expensive) job of providing direct services. With the result that no one has been happy and the rest of the County operation has had to cover annual mental health deficits of a million dollars or more. HHSA has reported to the Mental Health Board (MHB) several times over the last couple of years that the department wants to contract out mental health services. The MHB went on record over a year ago in favor of contracting out, or “privatization,” as the unions like to call it. SEIU is in knee-jerk opposition to privatization because they are primarily interested in saving union jobs, not whether or not the services being paid for are getting delivered to the people who need them.
THE AGENDA SUMMARY for last week's report on the mental health RFP said it was being presented “by request,” meaning administration wanted to be clear that they thought the RFP was none of the Supes business. Presumably SEIU, (which has been clamoring for public discussion of the RFP), managed to prevail upon one of the Supes to put the item on the agenda so their questions could be addressed. But no one from SEIU bothered to attend the meeting. Supervisor Hamburg asked a couple of questions about the timing and process of the RFP and the expected outcome. Tom Pinizotto, branch manager for Mental Health, which is now jargonistically called Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, explained that they expected to deliver improved mental health services to the people who need them. The real outcome, for the County, is to get out from under an expensive albatross. The only real question is whether the RFP will result in a contract with one or more local non-profits that offer mental health services, or whether it will go to corporate outsiders.
THE CARING PROFESSIONALS (CPs) who currently contract locally to provide children's mental health services were also absent from the meeting. They probably think they have it wired and the less publicity the better. The CPs have been holding invitation-only meetings to collaborate on how to respond to the County RFP. The CPs have been assisted by the inevitable Susan Era, recently retired from HHSA, and the equally inevitable Sharon Kiichli, recently retired from Tapestry Family Services, which is one of the main contractors for children's mental health services. Era and Kiichli are presumably being paid a consulting fee for their assistance and any insider knowledge they can glean in responding to the RFP. We have also heard that Mendocino Futures, a somewhat shadowy group on the fringes of a number of local issues, is somehow involved. Mendocino Futures is supposed to somehow add a patina of respectability, although they are largely unknown outside the circle of self-interested CPs and a handful of political insiders.
SEIU HAS COMPLAINED that the RFP process, which has been in the works for over two years, is being rushed. But everyone else has known about the RFP process for a year or two. So SEIU engineers an agenda item to open up the RFP process for discussion, and then fails to show up to discuss it. And apparently uses the LMC to beat up the County over an $8,000 decision that has already been made, instead of focusing on the RFP that will result in the loss of several dozen mental health jobs. As usual, SEIU seems more interested in scoring debating points against the County instead of representing their membership.
THE ONLY KNOWN OUTCOME of the previous LMC was an agenda item asking for what became known as the Slavin Study, which resulted in widespread reclassification of County employees which resulted in as much as 30% and 40% increases in wages, including for elected and appointed department heads. It seems likely that SEIU's motivation in reviving the LMC was to get ready for the next round of labor negotiations. What is unclear is how they expect the County to support increased wages when they spend all their time bashing the County over Lilliputian scale grievances.
THE RETIREMENT BOARD agenda last week included approval of that Board’s budget. In addition to staff salaries for five people for nearly $500,000 (almost $190,000 in salary and bennies for Richard White, the new retirement administrator), the draft budget also included $60,000 for legal services, an increase of $10,000 from the previous year. Until last fiscal year, County Counsel Jeanine Nadel functioned as legal counsel to the Retirement Board at no charge. For going on three decades, the Retirement Board was run by County Treasurer Tim Knudsen and his sidekick, County Auditor Controller Dennis Huey. They called the shots and their decisions were rubber-stamped by the Retirement Board and County Counsel, who for the last several years has been Jeanine Nadel, recently elevated to the position of Superior Court judge. And for the last eight years the ethically challenged Kendall Smith has been the Board of Supervisor's representative to the Retirement Board.
THE COUNTY DECIDES what retirement benefits to offer, and the Retirement Board decides how to pay for them, including how much to charge the County and the employees each year for their contribution and how to invest the funds. The return on the investment is supposed to pay for about 75% of the retirement obligation. Except currently there is little or no return on the investment. For decades, Knudsen and Huey diverted money from the retirement fund to pay for retiree health, something promised by a previous Board of Supervisors, but never funded. The diversion came in the form of the so-called excess earnings, which resulted in draining $50 million or more out of the retirement fund — $50 million that the County is responsible for paying back, along with the other $100 million or more in “unfunded liability,” which resulted from the ongoing substandard return on the investment. The County probably has a claim against the Retirement Board for the diversion of the $50 million or so in non-existent excess earnings, but given the cozy inter-relationships between the Retirement Board and the County, don't expect anything to come of it.
FORMER RETIREMENT ADMINISTRATOR Jim Andersen, who is still on the payroll as a consultant, has gradually weaned control of the Retirement Board away from Knudsen, who still sits as a member of the board where he tries to use his remaining influence to block any real examination of past practices. Under Andersen the workings of the Retirement Board have become much more transparent. The meetings are televised and information is posted to the website. The investment advisor and the actuary, who both milked the retirement fund for more than 20 years have been replaced. The equally long-time auditor, Gallina, the same one that has been at the County for two decades, is probably next to go. Policies and procedures are being developed and/or updated.
THE NEW LEGAL COUNSEL for the Retirement Board helped go after Buck, the former actuary, to recover about $750,000 in damages for faulty assumptions used by Buck. The County has also had to pay roughly that same amount into the retirement fund based on those same false assumptions. But does the County sue Buck for damages? No. Does the County go after Knudsen and the Retirement Board for the fraudulent $50 million diversion of excess earnings? No. Is the new legal counsel to the Retirement Board (a deputy County Counsel from Sonoma County) worth $50,000 or $60,000 a year? Probably not, unless you consider they were responsible for getting Buck to fork over the $750,000. Should the County have been paying someone to watch out for its interest at the Retirement Board instead of having them rubber-stamp the Retirement Board's decisions and keep silent on the impact to the County? You betcha.
MENDONOMA Community Craft Faire and Marketplace Bazaar ¨C Saturday, July 14. There is a new and excited COMMUNITY market place now open in Point Arena. Every second Saturday the Point Arena City Hall/Veteran’s Hall opens its doors to feature a lively and active craft fair and marketplace bazaar.