ASSEMBLYMAN TOM AMMIANO has dropped his bill that would regulate and tax California's medical marijuana industry. He said the bill "represents my best effort to regulate this industry that has existed in a patchwork of regulations and laws for the past 15 years," but additional study could create an even better bill. "There is no doubt that my colleagues understand the need for this legislation, and I have a lot of faith in this committee that we can hammer out a well-balanced regulatory policy during the fall to answer calls from local governments, law enforcement including our Attorney General, patients, and the public to enact a highly regulated system for medical marijuana and provide a clear set of rules for everybody."
AND THEN there's the Ukiah doctor's office with a brand new scale, the old one being insufficient to weigh the new super-sized American. First day, a mega-citizen tips it at 510. It maxes out at 500 pounds.
AND THERE'S the Ukiah kid, about 11, whose dad asked him how the boy's grandfather could afford a brand new racecar. The kid, shooting an exasperated look at his father, said, "Dad! How do you think people in Mendocino County get the money to buy nice stuff?"
THE PERSONNEL FILE: David Furia of Kelseyville replaces Blair Aiken as the man in charge of Ukiah Speedway, the racetrack at the Ukiah Fairgrounds. And Melanie Lightbody, boss of the Mendocino County Library system is moving on to run the Butte County Library.
THOSE CHARACTERS running the revived Heritage House, name of Schlesinger, are infamous in Baltimore as slumlords, and have been controversial and involved in litigation almost everywhere they've touched down, which probably makes them a natch for Mendocino County.
NICE TO HEAR from old guard Mendo newspaper people, Harry Blythe and Carol Root, both of whom worked with the old Mendocino Commentary. Harry lives in Portland these days, Carol in the Chico area. Harry works with the Southwest Portland Post, Carol a corporate chain paper she characterizes as heavy on comment channeled from Fox News, media of choice for the slow, the dim and the people who can't absorb any information unless it's accompanied by martial music and exploding visuals. Funny thing: I heard from them each independent of the other, and shall the circle be unbroken?
ANGELA PINCHES gets a lot of local media attention because she's the daughter of Mendocino County 3rd District Supervisor John Pinches whose libertarian positions on devil weed have placed him and his family in the crosshairs of anti-pot zealots. You'd think from some press accounts that the supervisor was some kind of wild-eyed bush hippie, and not the mostly conservative rancher he is.
HIS DAUGHTER'S several brushes with the law on pot-related charges would otherwise go unchronicled if she weren't who she is. But Angela's adventures, nearly identical to those of thousands of Northcoast people involved in the marijuana business, always gets her front page treatment.
LAST FRIDAY, ANGELA pleaded no contest to marijuana and child endangerment charges arising from two September episodes, one of which involved her two-year-old daughter found unattended early one morning down the road from Angela's Redwood Valley home. The child had been asleep when Angela dashed off to take another child to school, and how many millions of harried parents have done the same? Police that day subsequently discovered a felony number of marijuana starts on Angela's property and she was charged with a whole bunch of stuff ranging from child abandonment to felony cultivation. Ably represented by Don Lipmanson, a thrice busted pot farmer himself before he became a lawyer, Angela got the best possible deal in a set of legal circumstances that could have been much more dire for her.
WHEN EVERYTHING was toted up and the usual game of Let's Make A Deal had concluded, Angela will pay a fine, do some community service (which will complicate the logistics of being a single mother raising small children by herself), be subject to random searches of her person and her property, do a long stretch of probation and, according to the Ukiah Daily Journal, she'll be required to take parenting classes, probably from people who have never raised children. Lipmanson told the Ukiah Daily Journal's Tiffany Revelle, "Angie has come to the conclusion that she can lead her life without marijuana, and is going to do so under the child endangerment probation... She has stopped using marijuana, she's taking classes and she's generally tightening up her life," Lipmanson said.
UKIAH CITY employees are justly concerned that all City employees and departments, with the exception of public safety and general government employees, have been forced to take pay cuts and are now looking at layoffs while the aforementioned public safety budget and the general government budgets have increased. (See confirming chart below.) And no justification from those in charge. By way of contrast, Sheriff Allman is routinely called before the Supes justify his every expenditure while Ukiah's public safety contingent, and nobody's saying they aren't kept hopping, get what seems like a blank draw on the public purse. City workers are unhappy that while they're forced to take a 10% pay cut the 2011-12 public safety budget gave the cops a 2% raise. Additionally, the City's contribution to public safety's benefits package is more than the entire recreation department's budget! This is the second year the four other departments have been forced to cut their budgets while the public safety budget has increased by nearly a half million in the past two years as the public works budget has been slashed by that amount. It is assumed by many Ukiah City workers that at least 18 of them will soon be laid off.
THE MENDOCINO COAST OCCUPY group is again meeting at the Fort Bragg Senior Center, their expulsion the result of the proverbial "misunderstanding." Since a large proportion of Coast Occupiers are fully AARP-qualified, the tempest in their caffeine-free teacups, though briefly rancorous, was peculiar but, as it turned out, fleeting.
A FRIEND WROTE to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat: "How does management justify their 'forums'? It appears you have a core group of losers who within four or five comments on any string bring it down to very obscene name-calling. Nothing is truly discussed or debated. It always comes down to insults...." Friend goes on to cite a particularly vile denunciation of Obama by some anonymous white race warrior.
THE UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL was forced by the anonymous slobs plaguing its comment forums to simply cancel it. The Press Democrat will have to do the same, and SF Gate, the Chronicle's comment line, might as well cancel theirs, although they do edit out the racist remarks and the obscenities. But what remains is really, really stupid and enough to make a sensible reader despair for the human race, not to mention whatever residual hope he may have for anything resembling political democracy.
THE AVA'S COMMENT LINE? We censor the hell out of it. If you want to do racism, for instance, go ahead, but we're going to have to have your name, phone number and street address. This is the only way to keep the cowards and the nuts from destroying public discussion.
NOTHING AGAINST County Counsel Jeanine Nadel, and good luck to her in her new job as a Mendo superior court judge. But. But I think it would help keep Lady Justice (remember her?) blind if new judges simply went to work and spared us all the group mawk ceremonies complete with thank you's to, for god's sake, “the county family,” many of whose screamingly dysfunctional mothers and fathers were present for Nadel's anointment last week. Pretending or, worse, believing, that the courts and the rest of the public apparat are one big happy pile makes it a lot harder for a local judge to crack down on her fellow big wigs when they need cracking down on.
ANYWAY, JUDGE JOBS are highly paid sinecures. Once you're in your odds of being dislodged, especially in Mendocino County, are nil, although in theory a judge is subject to electoral recall. The person designated for a superior court slot, which in Mendo means a person acceptable to the Democratic Party and the NPR worldview, holds the job forever, and even when the designee “retires,” as any number of jive old hippie judges have done out of Mendocino County, they make even more money traveling around the state as substitute judges. Richard Kossow, Christ Jesus save us all, is still dragging his drug-soaked, black-robed, Hep C carcass into unsuspecting courtrooms around the state. I've lost count of how many “retired” judges work out of Mendocino County, but there's at least a platoon of them.
MS. NADEL is a smart, capable person. She also strikes me as a person of understanding, a sympathetic person, a person unlikely to pile on people already down, i.e., most of the people who appear in court because the rich and the well-connected don't get arrested in the first place no matter how big their crime is, and even if they are arrested, only the Jerry Sanduskys are put away.
(Also please see the unindicted Mike Sweeney; Doc Keegan; Garrett Matson; the crooks who burned Fort Bragg, Jamie Dimon, and on and on.)
SO, MS. NADEL has a great job 'til the end of her days, complete with an array of fringes millions of Americans can't even imagine, the good life is so unlikely. Higher up the judicial ladder judges have already ruled that torture is legal and the government can summarily kill you if you get out of line. Judges do what they have to do, which is enforce a social-economic arrangement that is not just to about half the people in the country.
SUPERVISOR KENDALL SMITH, mercifully in her last days in office, 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 morphed into a retirement specialist, has been selected as the new Retirement Administrator for the Retirement Board. White 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 other candidates for the position sent their regrets.
SUPERVISOR SMITH, like much of Mendolib, is still stuck in Blue Meanie mode. She absolutely did not want a cop doing ride-alongs in her retirement Yellow Submarine, an Orange County cop at that. Smith tried to derail the appointment on the theory that the Board could not, or at least, should not choose from among a pool containing one applicant. When her behind-the-scenes machinations to stop the appointment of the capable and personable Mr. White, she made the motion to appoint him! He'll be paid $120,000 per year, the same as Andersen. The fully loaded salary comes with the usual Mendo-style executive bennies, and 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 a memo of understanding 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 the perpetual cooking of 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. Sako has called on Mendocino County to prepare one, claiming the County stands alone among California counties in 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 palsy-walsy-ism is 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. Huey 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. (Here at the AVA, we're delighted that Sheriff's deputy Craig Walker, trained in accounting, now sits on the Retirement Board.)
SUPERVISOR SMITH also introduced a new policy to the Retirement Board that would 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 with her.
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, 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.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON about 5pm, a large posse of deputies hurtled up 101 at the report of an armed robbery at 30401 North Highway 101 where “two Hispanic males in their twenties had robbed Gary Parsons, 66, of six ounces of marijuana.” When Parsons “struggled with the suspects, one shot was fired from a handgun,” but not at Parsons, uninjured in the struggle with the two gavachos. The first 911 caller told Sheriff's Dispatch that the suspects fled in a gold Chevrolet Camaro. Parsons told the first deputy on scene that the suspect vehicle was a silver Ford Mustang, not the gold Camaro that had been reported earlier. The suspects were described as “Hispanic males in their 20s, heavily tattooed. One was approximately 5'10 tall with very short hair. He wore black pants and a white tee shirt. The second suspect was approximately 5'7 tall with very short hair, wearing black shorts and a white tee shirt. One 9mm cartridge casing was located at the scene.” Basically, then, we had two armed Mexican idiots swerving off 101 in an easily identified vehicle to pull off a daylight home invasion but, unable to subdue a senior citizen, only got six ounces of dope. Anyone with information helpful to this investigation can contact Deputy Joey DeMarco at (707) 459-7833.
ANOTHER EVENT with comic implications but a definite downside, involved an estranged young couple. Take it away, Law Enforcement! “On 06-17-2012 at approximately 0025 hours, deputies were dispatched to 31199 Highway 20 in Fort Bragg for a reported armed robbery in progress. After arriving at the location, deputies learned that the victim, an adult male, was suddenly awakened by the suspect, Jessica Robblee, who broke out an exterior window at his residence. Upon opening the exterior door, Ms. Robblee made an attempt to spray the victim with pepper spray but was unsuccessful. The victim called 9-1-1, while Ms. Robblee remained outside the location. After deputies arrived, Ms. Robblee was placed under citizen’s arrest for vandalism. A search of her vehicle was conducted in an attempt to recover the pepper spray, and during the search deputies located two bindles [total gross field weight of 3.0 grams] of what later field tested presumptive positive for methamphetamine. Ms. Robblee and the victim had engaged in a dating relationship that ended approximately 8 months ago, but during which the couple had conceived one child together. It appeared the motive for the vandalism was the result of a child custody disagreement between Ms. Robblee and the victim, who was in possession of the child at the time of the incident.”
PILING ON, PRESS DEMOCRAT STYLE. A story by Glenda Anderson in the PD of Tuesday, the 19th of June, wouldn't have been a story if Glenda hadn't made this inflammatory intro her lead: “The man convicted of murder as a teenager in Willits was among eight suspects cited during a sting operation aimed at unlicensed contractors in Mendocino County, authorities said. Jameson Jackson was convicted of murder in 2001 when he was 15 years old. He provided the gun and stood by while Chris Coleman shot Willits storeowner Joan LeFeat multiple times, firing the final bullet as she lay on the floor begging for her life, according to testimony at his trial…”
THE KID was 15. Jackson was present when the other kid did the unimaginable, the indefensible, and the system rightly packed Jackson off to the Youth Authority from where he miraculously emerged in 2008 a non-criminal, but with this awful murder on his record. But not being a career crook like 98% of the young guys who go through YA, he gets work where he can find it as a handyman, and here comes Glenda making it seem like a maniac is putting your new roof on. But the criminal in this one is the writer and the newspaper.
ODD DEBATE MONDAY at the Supervisor's meeting. Sheriff Tom Allman wants a television company to do ride-alongs during pot raids, a reality show mini-series kinda deal. The TV people would pay $10,000 into the Sheriff's budget for letting them catch the action as it happens. But various Supes, Smith natch, had quibbles, none of them valid since these kinds of adventures are now common on television. So what the hey?
GOOD FOR ALICE WALKER, the famous novelist and author of The Color Purple and numerous other books. Ms. Walker, a part-time resident of the Anderson Valley, Mendocino County's most happening community, has refused to permit a Hebrew language translation of her most famous novel, The Color Purple, in protest of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. In a letter dated June 9 to Yediot Books, Ms. Walker cited her involvement in a tribunal last fall in South Africa, saying that Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories. “I grew up under American apartheid,” she said, “and this was far worse.” Ms. Walker also would not allow Steven Spielberg's film version of The Color Purple to be shown in South Africa until the apartheid regime was dismantled.
AT A TIME when President Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is personally selecting targets for long distance aerial murder, and Mr. Tambourine Man is pleased to be invited to the White House to receive a Presidential citation, Ms. Walker, alone among prominent writers and intellectuals in the United States, is taking a principled stand at no small cost to herself.
PREDICTABLY, the Mendocino Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to deny the appeal of opponents of the Harris Quarry a few miles south of Willits. (The Board previously voted unanimously to certify the Environmental Impact Report and approve the necessary batch plant zoning change.) The Harris Quarry operators want to increase their asphalt production volume and add a batch plant which could become a large source of aggregate and asphalt for the upcoming Willits Bypass project, among others. It is expected that the Quarry expansion opponents/neighbors will take their case to court next, presumably based on what they say is a badly flawed Environmental Impact Report. Mendo’s record in court when it comes to gravel projects is spotty so the opponents may have a case. But they’ll have to prove that the Board approved the project illegally, and so far we haven’t heard any arguments that amount to a smoking gun error on the County’s part.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK 1, from Andrew Blum, author of “Tubes.” “I have confirmed with my own eyes that the internet is many things, in many places. But one thing it most certainly is, nearly everywhere, is, in fact, a series of tubes. There are tubes beneath the ocean that connect London and New York. There are tubes that connect Google and Facebook. There are buildings filled with tubes, and hundreds of thousands of miles of roads and railroad tracks, besides which lie tubes. Everything you do on-line travels through a tube.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK 2, from Mr. Blum: “I'd feel better about outsourcing my life to machines if I could at least know where they were, who controls them, and who put them there. The great global scourges of modern life are always made worse by not knowing.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK 3, from Mr. Blum: “Google made me feel like a schoolkid. This was the company that arguably knows most about us, but it was being most secretive itself. (Blum said this when he visited Google’s big server farm way out in central Oregon.)
FOOTNOTE to the discussion about Sheriff Allman’s recent request and approval to allow Studio Lambert to film a reality series with the Sheriff’s marijuana eradicators. Former Third Party Inspector for Mendo’s now dormant pot permit program Julie Carrera told the Board that her former pot growing permittee-clients were against the idea because: “they are in great fear of any kind of media coverage of marijuana. They feel that the 9.31 program [Mendo’s medical pot permit program for collectives and cooperatives] was kyboshed because of the media coverage and they do not want to see any kind of media coverage in their industry right now. It somehow puts them in the line of fire of the DEA more if you [allow it].”
ON THE OTHER HAND, the “kyboshing” of the 9.31 program may have had more to do the activities of some of the larger pot collectives and dispensaries in the years leading up to the Obama administration’s apparent policy reversal.
CALIFORNIA WATCH (a KQED/Center For Investigative Reporting joint project) posted a story on Wednesday based on financial records they obtained for a large Bay Area marijuana dispensary called the Berkeley Patients Group for 2008 and 2009. According to CW reporters Michael Montgomery and David Downs, BPG reported gross sales of over $16 million in 2008 and 2009, and registered a net income of “more than $100,000.” But that was after about $1 million in salaries to their executives, a practice common to non-profit organizations which have access to large enough revenue streams. Defenders of BPG’s finances say that such dispensaries have to charge “market prices” (e.g., black market prices) because their business involves unique costs, extra security and other problems and requires a lot of high-priced staff to run (i.e., them). “The biggest portion of the group’s operating expenses went to labor costs,” reports Montgomery, “which totaled $3.3 million in 2009, including more than $911,000 paid to co-directors Deborah Goldsberry, Etienne Fontan and Tim Schick.” And, “…much of Berkeley Patients Group's income from lucrative pot sales went to growers, staff salaries that included nearly $1 million for top executives, advertising, security, accountants and attorneys and a host of other operating expenses. Smaller expenditures included $39,916 on ‘decorations and ambiance’ and $2,481 for softball.” Two of the best years for Berkeley Patients Group were 2008 and 2009, when it recorded $17.4 million and $16.4 million, respectively, in total income “from the distribution of marijuana buds, edible products infused with pot, as well as seeds, clones and other items … According to company documents, the cost for goods sold was about $10 million in 2008 and $9 million in 2009, leaving a gross profit margin close to 40%.” And, we can probably assume, the prices paid to vendors and suppliers were artificially high as well. “In May, the group abruptly closed its storefront operation on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley after federal prosecutors threatened to seize the property from the landlord, David Mayeri. In a letter to Mayeri, US Attorney Melinda Haag cited violations of federal law and the dispensary’s proximity to two schools. Haag did not explicitly accuse Berkeley Patients Group of acting as a front for drug traffickers, and no criminal charges have been filed in the case.” (Full story here).
A LITTLE NOTICED Grand Jury report released last month says the Ukiah City Council and City staff badly botched their garbage hauling contract, resulting in unreasonably high garbage rates being charged to Ukiah residents. “The story of the city's garbage contract with C&S Waste Systems is a saga of: Apparently careless city procurement practices; A relationship between the new contractor and the old contractor; Restricted public access to government decision-making; Weak City Council oversight; Less than adequate City Staff work; Apparently out-classed City Negotiators; Allegedly hidden business transactions. All of these actions or inactions have translated into higher costs for the residents of the City and the City ratepayers.” The report notes that the GJ got lots of complaints about the garbage hauler contracting fiasco, many of which turned out to be valid. The Grand Jury listed an unusually high 46 (mostly negative) findings. The GJ’s six recommendations are that the Ukiah City council take another look at their garbage contract — primarily “determine if…” and “conduct an investigation into…” The report concludes with a recommendation that the City Council “determine whether the City's contract with C&SWS can be voided, or any other any legal action taken, after the City's investigations noted above are completed and fully evaluated.”
THE REPORT mirrors and buttresses remarks made months ago (before Ukiah signed the garbage hauling contract with C&S Waste Solutions) by Ukiah Daily Journal Editor K.C. Meadows (and others). Meadows’ sensible and pointed criticisms not only went unheeded by the City Council, but were actively argued against by several individual members of the City Council. (Councilmember Mari Rodin actually claimed that Ukiah had a “newspaper editor problem,” not an inept-self-adulating Councilwoman problem.) But at this point it’s hard to imagine the same City Council members who defended the bad garbage contract reversing themselves and revisiting the contract now based on the Grand Jury recommendations — after the city’s garbage hauling contract has been signed — since the results of any investigations would only make the City Council look worse than they already do. Ratepayers may have grounds for a lawsuit, but they would probably have to organize into some kind of class action and the City or its insurance carrier would get stuck with the bill which wouldn’t help the ratepayers anyway. Cold Creek Compost in Potter Valley (which appears to have been aced out of a lot of Ukiah’s greenwaste stream by the questionable contract) may have grounds for a suit as well. Meanwhile, Ukiah residents are obviously being ripped off by Ukiah’s garbage hauling contract rates. (The full report is available on-line at the County’s Grand Jury webpage.)
A FORMER MARINE writes: “A guy was driving around the backwoods of Tennessee when he saw a sign in front of a broken down shanty-style house: ‘TALKING DOG FOR SALE.’ The visitor rang the bell and the owner appeared and told him the dog was in the backyard. The guy went into the backyard and saw a nice looking Labrador retriever sitting there. “You talk?” the visitor asked. “Yep,” the lab replied. After the guy recovered from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he said, “So, what's your story?” The Lab looked up and said, “Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA and they had me sworn into the toughest branch of the armed services, the United States Marines. You know one of their nicknames is ‘The Devil Dogs.’ In no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders; because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running. But the jetting around really tired me out and I knew I wasn't getting any younger. So, I decided to settle down. I retired from the Corps — eight dog years is 56 Corps years — and I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of civilian medals. I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired.” The visitor was amazed. He went back in and asked the owner how much he wanted for the dog. “$10,” the guy replied. “What! Only $10?! This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?” “Because he's a goddamn liar. He never did any of that stuff. He was in the Navy!”
“CALIFORNIA will close its projected $15.7 billion budget deficit by restructuring the state's welfare program, streamlining health insurance for low-income children, and reducing child care coverage and college aid, as part of a deal Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders announced Thursday,” reads the opening line of an AP story on the reactionary terms of a Democratic Party engineered California budget deal announced Thursday. (Governor Brown had pushed his fellow Democrats to make bigger cuts than they originally wanted and they rolled over for him.) The specific amounts of the individual cuts are not yet established, but they’ll be substantial if they’re supposed to make up the lion’s share of the $15.7 billion shortfall. And even if Governor Brown’s sales tax and minor increases on taxes on the wealthy are approved by voters in November, these steep cuts will stay in place. The new money — if it’s approved; a dicey question at best these days — will only go toward avoiding further cuts in schools and law enforcement, not to restore these social safety net program cuts. Republicans, of course, denounced the Democrats’ deal as inadequate. The so-called health insurance “streamlining” isn’t clear either, but if it’s anything like the managed care boondoggle Mendo recently joined, it’ll mean big cuts in actual care for children too, especially those for children of families who make over the artificial MediCal poverty cut-off.
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 posted 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 posted 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 posted 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 it 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 marketplace 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.
AS WITH JUST ABOUT everything else concern marijuana law, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder added more to the confusion earlier this month telling the Washington Times that federal officials are not going after those who are staying within the confines of their states' medical marijuana laws, but said some have “come up with ways in which they are taking advantage of these state laws.” “We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law,” Mr. Holder told a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, adding that his department tries to focus on marijuana operations that “stretch state laws” or, in the case of raids in Colorado, where distribution centers were placed near schools.
A READER WRITES: With regard to your “Off the Record” column dated May 30, 2012 I read the following: “I belong to AARP to get Medi-Gap coverage, not because I don't know that AARP is basically an insurance sales force…” I consider it my duty to clarify the following: you do not have to be a member of the American Association of Retired Persons (a lobbying organization for good or ill) in order to access the Medi-Gap coverage offered by United Healthcare under the AARP name (definitely not a philanthropic organization and one which pays AARP a royalty in order to use the name). This is 16 yankee dollars worth of confusion per year per person and it is not difficult to do that math. This doesn't mean that United Healthcare does not have to tread this razor-thin line of weirdness with great skill and trepidation with regard to customer service and the like — but it also means they can charge a little bit more given the imprimatur. But if you do not agree with the aims, goals, and efforts of AARP, the lobbying organization, I would suggest to you that there is no need to be a member of AARP if you want to buy the United Healthcare MediGap product. United Healthcare will be happy to take your money without that sixteen dollar business.”