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Off the Record (Sep 17, 2014)

UKIAH IS PAYING the usual outside consultant $28,524 to “evaluate traffic impacts to affected streets” for the new County Courthouse that no one except the County's nine (count 'em) judges wants. The new Courthouse, as we've often reported, is proceeding outside the usual public hearings, planning commission and city council approvals that large-scale projects ordinarily require. This thing is especially egregious because it consists mostly of courtrooms and the usual monarchical chambers judges assume these days.

THE 35,850-square-foot courthouse, guaranteed to be a major eyesore much like the now abandoned Willits County Courthouse, will sit on a 4-acre site bounded by East Perkins Street, Leslie Street, the railroad tracks and a residential neighborhood.

THREE MORE privately owned buildings are in the works for the site. They will partly house ancillary court services leased by the County at the usual exorbitant rents the County pays for privately-owned space. Of course traffic will be a mess at an already busy junction not far from Highway 101, although consultants have a way of coming up with rosy reports for the people who've hired them.

WE WROTE to Ukiah mayor Phil Baldwin for information about the new Courthouse and, Que pasa: Hola, Phil: Can you explain how it is that the new County Courthouse no one wants is proceeding outside Ukiah processes? No planning commission, no city council? Is Ukiah paying for a traffic study?

PHIL, always a gent despite the tons of abuse he gets, took a while to reply, but he did: “Sorry for delay in response. The courthouse developer, State of CA, is exempt from our planning process and permit requirements. Traffic study will consider feasibility of connecting Clay St. to Leslie and Hospital Drive to that Clay extension. City does own land on Leslie and NCRA has additional land for RR Depot area private development. Circulation is and will be problem with build out at this site and others throughout City. And no, this traffic study will find no magic to resolve traffic back-ups, yet it needs to be done in advance of the extensions. As you know, I've agreed that for less than half cost of new courthouse, the old one could have been renovated and made safe for all working and attending there. I also believe a 15 minute jitney from old courthouse to new should work just fine to get DA's, public defenders, and others interested to trials on time. — Phil”

I'LL HOLD YOUR COAT, you go get 'em. But don't use my name, and don't write it so it comes back on me. We get that kind of thing all the time. I'm sure all papers do. Lots of crank calls, too. There's an old bat on the South Coast who often begins her communications with, “Bruce, you motherfucker!” And she wonders why local media won't have any thing to do with her. Oblivious of the effect she has on people, she claims she's everywhere banned, persecuted for political reasons. Self-analysis doesn't seem to be her strong suit.

A GUY e-mailing us under a pseudonym wants us to publish a blast at another difficult woman. “She is a public nuisance and was banished from this area years ago… She has been a thorn in the side of many locals and has wronged too many honest people.” And so on. This guy was annoyed that we'd printed a letter from the dread granny. I told him we don't select letters on the basis of the presumed mental health or social desirability of the writer. If we did, we'd probably be down to a couple of letters a week. “Why don't you ban her?” he demanded, at which point communications on the subject had to be severed.

WE GO WAYYYY out of our way not to deny anybody access to our fervid pages, mostly because we know that free speech hangs by a very thin thread, and lots of people out there have zero respect for it and less commitment to it, and some of them go so far as to advertise themselves as free speech radio.

JUDGE MAYFIELD has denied the attempt by North County enviros to stop Caltrans from moving contaminated dirt from one end of the 6-mile Bypass project to the other. Caltrans predictably claimed the judge's earlier month-long temporary restraining order would cost the agency “multi-millions” in project delays. Bypass opponents were naive to expect the judge to do anything but what she did. Caltrans also says the $210 million job is 40 percent complete.

WHY IS MENDOCINO COUNTY so disengaged from local public affairs? Why the lack of interest?

HUMBOLDT COUNTY, whose demographics are much like Mendo’s, boast at least six passionate local blogs devoted almost exclusively to local affairs — LostCoastOutpost, RedheadedBlackBelt, Humboldt Herald, the North Coast Journal’s “Blogthing,” Fred’s Humboldt Blog, and the KMUD radio news blog.

ON-LINE LOCAL commentary? Mendo has almost none, while the comments posted on the Humboldt blogs are extensive, lively, and sometimes even witty. Local politics and events get a thorough airing. Here in Mendo? Silence.

RADIO COVERAGE: In Humboldt County you have KMUD, a genuinely local community radio station that makes local public affairs a priority. KMUD even covers the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors on a regular basis and, we understand, have more Mendo subscribers and listeners than Mendo’s KZYX.

THERE IS ZERO discussion of local matters on Mendo audio. KMUD’s blog brings the reader editorial and news content both written and audio, whereas KZYX’s “blog” has announcements for upcoming bluegrass or celtic music programs.

THE AVA gets a few letters to the editor about local public affairs each week, but letters addressing local matters in the area’s chain papers are few and far between. With such massive disengagement from public affairs, it’s no surprise that some truly appalling characters have been elected to local public office, and then re-elected and even re-re-elected. And the dubious public deals that go down in Mendo — the privatization of mental health services, for instance — prompt almost no public comment.

UKIAH'S TWIN TOWERS of presumption, Mari Rodin, former city councilperson, and Mary Ann Landis, present city councilperson, may have bitten off more presumption than even they can handle. They're telling people that they intend to persuade the present owners of the Press Democrat to buy the Ukiah Daily Journal, fire the Journal's editor, KC Meadows and popular columnist Tommy Wayne Kramer, and install them and their pal Heidi Dickerson as tri-editors. The three would bring a community “progressive” positivity, a merry celebration of themselves and their friends.

MEADOWS' and Kramer's sins? Meadows has been critical of Landis and Rodin as they functioned in office. That, you see, simply isn't on. Kramer is just generally so negative that he reduces the entire west side of Ukiah to tears every Sunday. In fact, he's very funny and has a real gift for revealing the wonderful silliness of Rodin and Co.

THE PROBS with Landis's and Rodin's breathtakingly naive scheme begin with the assumption that the owners of the PD would have the slightest interest in the Journal as a business, and the owners of the PD are all about business. The Journal, like all newspapers at this sad juncture of American history, is losing money. It's not viable as a business. Print newspapers are dying.

SECOND, and this is true of MendoLib as a broad generalization: They don't work in any known sense of work, and newspapers are a lot of work. Mendolib get themselves a vague government or non-profit job where they spend a lot of time sitting around chatting. Or they already have money. Mendo is teeming with trust funder libs (cf Supervisor Hamburg, the archetype).

THE HAMBURG AXIS has tried newspapering before and lasted a few months before they seemed to bore even each other. (They called it “The Bullhorn” and it listed upwards of 70 people with grand titles as part of their production and editorial “staff”.) The thing was only produced once a month, but even that seemed to be too much work for the noble 70. Each month they’d pick a “theme” and then drone on for page after boring page, wearing the ordinary reader out with repetitious copy. So a daily paper is clearly out of the reach of neo-Bullhorners like Rodin, Landis and Dickerson. Ironically, the only interesting writer the Bullhorn had was the dread Kramer.

I'D LOVE to be a fly on the wall when Rodin and Landis put their proposal to Bosco and the other owners of the Rose City daily; those cash register-eyed boys will levitate right out of the room at the preposterousness of it.

MARI RODIN DEPARTED UKIAH a few months ago for an “analyst” job with Monterey County LAFCO (Local Agency Formation COmission), but lasted only a couple of months. Before departing Ukiah, Ms. Rodin served on the Ukiah City Council for about ten years during which time her most notable achievements included spending $30,000 of public money to take out three prime downtown parking spaces and build an outdoor dining platform to benefit Patrona, her favorite restaurant. Schat's Bakery and Saucy had to wade through a lengthy approval process and pay for their own dining platforms. Rodin, along with councilmembers Mary Anne Landis, Little Benj Thomas and “Red” Phil Baldwin also voted to hand over $21,000 to a consultant to “brand” Ukiah with the slogan “Far out! Nearby!” but we have yet to see the promised influx of geezer hippies this wacky slogan might appeal to.

RODIN AND HER CITY COUNCIL COHORTS, in addition to squandering small amounts of public money on questionable projects, also voted for a long-term giveaway with their garbage hauler which will cost the ratepayers millions of dollars in inflated charges. The Grand Jury looked into the deal, one that clearly warranted criminal charges, but in keeping with local government tradition, the City of Ukiah simply said the GJ didn't know what they were talking about and that was the end of it.

THE UKIAH CITY COUNCIL also passed a resolution saying they were in favor of “Zero Waste.” So why are they unable to take the simple step of requiring its wastehauler to collect food waste? Which could be done by simply tossing the stuff into the yard-waste bin? Which is what everyone in the Fort Bragg area and everyone in the Ukiah area except the residents of Ukiah currently do. The answer is that on top of the multi-million dollar giveaway, the contract with the Ukiah garbage hauler puts the hauler in charge of garbage policy, not the elected City Council. Which is why there is no food waste composting in Ukiah.

THE UKIAH GARBAGE HAULER, C&S Waste Solutions, which has family ties to Jim Ratto's North Bay Corporation, says there is not enough food waste in Ukiah to collect. And it would be too expensive. And we don't know the best way to do it. Except Empire Waste which has the contract for the City of Fort Bragg and the unincorporated area around Fort Bragg and Ukiah, collects food waste in the yard waste bin and trucks it to Cold Creek Compost in Potter Valley with no apparent problems. And Martin Mileck, who owns CCC has told the Ukiah City Council going back to 2011 that he would take all their food waste at no extra charge.

AS A SOP TO THE PUBLIC, the Ukiah garbage hauler is conducting a food waste “pilot program” which is designed to fail. Residential customers were asked if they wanted to sign up for the program which involves an extra can that has to be hauled to the curb each week. The pilot program, which only a few dozen people signed up for, is free. But the free pickup will end once the company has collected data on the cost to operate the program. Once the City Council adopts a fee the program will be dead. Most households will not generate enough food waste to justify a separate 20 gallon can that must be stored and drug out to the curb and brought back in each week. And no way will they pay extra for the privilege. Once the pilot program is proven to be an expensive failure the City and C&S will wring their hands and say they tried, but the public is just not interested. Which means there will be no food waste collection in Ukiah.

THE OBVIOUS SOLUTION (obvious to everyone but the dim bulbs on the Ukiah City Council), is to put the food waste into the yard waste bin which everyone already has. No extra can. No extra charge. No extra truck making a separate trip to pick it up. The “progressive” City Council unanimously passes a resolution that says they are in favor of zero waste but insists on trucking its food waste to an outtahere landfill in Lake County. And the trucks hauling the food waste to the landfill drive right by Cold Creek Compost, conveniently located in Potter Valley, just off Highway 20. Why have trucks make a 100-mile round trip and pay to bury food waste when it could be trucked about a 1/2 mile (from the Potter Valley turn off) and be converted into a valuable soil amendment? You would have to ask the City Council libs for the answer to that one.

THE UKIAH COURTHOUSE JUGGERNAUT seems to be gathering steam as it proceeds completely outside the reach of the local planning process of the City of Ukiah. Not that anyone on the City Council (except Phil Baldwin) would be likely to object anyway, but the State has exempted itself from the local planning process. Will the building be an ugly blight on the already questionable aesthetics of “downtown” Ukiah? Is it overpriced and overbuilt? Is it completely unnecessary? Is it designed as a monument to the egos of the nine black robed men and women who sit in judgment of the peons (that’s you and me, bro) who are stuck with paying the bills? The answer to all these questions and more is Yes. The Judges can thumb their collective noses at the local planning process, and that's exactly what they are doing.

WE UNDERSTAND STATE CEQA compliance is still necessary and that the Administrative Office of the Courts approved an EIR some years ago, before anyone really thought the project would go forward. And so it will, but without any meaningful public input or opportunity to address the negative impacts to the community. Like the impact to an already overloaded Perkins Street. The City recently approved spending $30,000 to get a report on the traffic impacts but why bother since the judges can just ignore it?

DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA now owns the Ukiah Daily Journal, the Advocate-Beacon of Fort Bragg and Mendocino, and the Willits News. A fellow called Bob Mason, apparently a public relations guy for DFM, sent out this minor classic of bafflegab to the doomed employees of the three Mendo papers “on behalf of John Paton,” DFM's lead guy:

 “Folks, This morning we are announcing that our company, Digital First Media, is working with the investment bank UBS to review the strategic alternatives for our business. DFM is a company with a successful strategy that drives results. And that means we now have options — options that we should now review to determine what is best for our future. After a rocky five years, the newspaper industry is firmly back on its feet again. Many of the largest companies in the media business have spun off their publishing assets and they have been well received by the public markets with healthy balance sheets and plans to drive their digital future and the capacity to grow. Other than the usual die-hard skeptics, it is now a given that newspapers, as multi-platform news organizations, will thrive in the future as the best and biggest providers of local news and advertising in their markets. But scale is the key to that future. Scale to build the products our customers want. The products we will need in the future for news or sales will look nothing like they do now. Any newspaper company’s future will rely upon its ability to build those products fast and as cost-effectively as possible. So, we are now reviewing all of those options — those strategic alternatives — that best position our company for the future. I am not sure of the outcome of that review or how long it will take. But I do know this: As employees, the best thing we can do while this review is underway is to keep doing what we have been doing best these past years – producing unsurpassed local journalism; serving our customers’ needs and continuing to boldly experiment with our digital future. The official press release is attached. I will do my best to keep you informed as this review progresses. Until next time, John.”

“STRATEGIC ALTERNATIVES” means, “Folks,” you are about to be unemployed. The structures housing your papers are already for sale, and so are you.

IT’S TIME FOR OUR ANNUAL COMPLAINT about the County’s complete lack of ordinary management procedures as applied to their own departments. Not one person, except for County roads guy Howard Dashiell, in Official Mendocino County has the remotest interest in keeping track of what’s actually happening in their 30-some departments, some of them quite large. It’s so bad that most senior line workers (my late brother included) spoke constantly about how little interest the CEO and the Board of Supervisors have in the workings of the departments they theoretically supervise.

THE EMPLOYEES never see any top managers, let alone a supervisor; nobody asks any questions. Once in a while — at the complete discretion of the department, never at the request of management — some sub-manager-functionary will deliver a highly scripted Powerpoint presentation, sans any useful operational numbers or reports. There are no routine monthly reports from department heads about what’s going on — budget, staffing, lost time (time away from work), departmental cost drivers, projects, problems, deferred maintenance, forecasts, organizational interfaces — nothing. NOTHING! EVER! The Three Proverbial Monkeys know more about what’s going on in Mendo’s semi-vast empire than the Board of Supervisors.

LATELY, there’s been increased discussion of County Mental Health functioning in the aftermath of the Grand Jury’s irrefutable report about Mental Health Director Tom Pinizzotto’s conflicted connections with the contractor doing whatever Mental Health “work” is being done in Mendocino County. A couple of County officials have told us that Ortner must be doing a good job because they’d hear about it if they weren’t. And if Ortner wasn't doing a good job the County could then terminate the contract with them and give the “work” to someone else.

PURE BULLSHIT, for several reasons. 1. Tom Pinizzotto’s obviously not going to let the Mental Health Board or the Supes know what’s really going on with his former employer and pals at Ortner. 2. Even if Pinizzotto wasn’t the gatekeeper for Mental Health, Ortner and the small remaining bookkeeping staff in what's left of the Mental Health Department can hide a lot of the important particulars behind the cloak of “privacy protection” or “confidentiality” which covers both children and adult medical services. 3. As mentioned above, nobody in authority has even asked the most basic questions: How many inmates at the jail are (or were) also Ortner clients? How many calls for emergency mental health services have come in over a given period (e.g., month)? And how many were responded to and what was the disposition? How many clients does Ortner have? How many minutes has Ortner billed the County for? What are the qualifications of the Ortner employees, and which ones are charging which rates for how much work? How many requests for mental health services have been denied or delayed? And for how long? And what is being done? Etc.

ESSENTIALLY, Tom Pinizzotto has arranged it so his former employer has a license to print money by doing whatever he wants to do. Ortner sends the County the bill for x-thousand minutes of alleged services to Pinizzotto who simply writes “OK TO PAY” on it, and Ortner Management Group gets paid. And no one outside the inner cadre of upper-echelon County employees and the Ortner Group has the slightest idea what Ortner is actually doing or whether they're meeting the minimal terms of their contract. Nor are the Supervisors interested in knowing. A couple of them actually got huffy at the Grand Jury for pointing out Pinizzotto's obvious conflict of interest!

THE BIG PICTURE: I don't know anything about the Middle East except what I read, but I think it's safe to say Obama's expansion of desert warfare into Syria will put the quag all the way into the ongoing quagmire. Making sudden allies out of one group of fanatics on the assumption that they'll fight worse fanatics is not a sound strategy. Our vaunted flyboys can blow up Syrian sand dunes from 30,000 feet for a few months, but at some point the beheaders will have to be beheaded by “boots on the ground,” as the current cliché has it. And those boots, according to Obama, will be mostly our new friends in Syria “advised” by Americans, i.e., special forces and, eventually, thousands of American troops because our new friends will either have run away or joined the other side and special forces won't be enough to beat back IS. You can see it all coming, this latest consequence of empire. And Hillary and/or whatever lunatic the Republicans are certain to come up with, will double down on Obama's blunder.

SO, GENERAL ANDERSON, what would you do? I'd be inclined to do absolutely nothing, or next to nothing, other than perhaps draw a perimeter around Baghdad and make the people who live there defend it, and try Bush and Cheney for treason because their lies got US into this. But seeing as how the whole show really comes down to oil, let the Muslims fight until someone wins and, if one shares imperial assumptions, which I don't, the winners can do imperial business with whoever is willing to buy the stuff. Hell, we got along fine with Middle East thugs for years, and wouldn't it be kinda gratifying — on one level — to see the Saudis get it?

AND ANOTHER THING: The two-game suspension of the Niner's (and Cal's) play-by-play guy Ted Robinson: Robinson said he thought it was “pathetic” that Ray Rice's girlfriend, now his wife, was defending Rice. (If you somehow missed the Rice saga, he's the NFL running back who knocked his wife unconscious with an uppercut in a hotel elevator.) I would have used the word “sad” rather than pathetic as applied to Mrs. Rice, but a guy gets suspended from his radio job for simply saying out loud what everyone else in the country is thinking?

SPENCER HALL’S DESCRIPTION of NFL boss Roger Goodell’s background on “A senator’s son from a safety school who quite literally never worked anywhere else but in the sports job he got directly out of college. His resume is a hollow blandishment of institutional servitude. He fought in the arbitration wars; he coordinated the events. Calendars were heroically arranged.”

WHILE WE'RE TALKING SPORTS, you probably know the old Catholic school wrestling joke: “Boys, you've got to look out for the half-nelson, the full-nelson and the Father Nelson.”

SOME SERIOUS RANK AND FILE GRUMBLING among Sheriff's deputies at Sheriff Allman's recent appearance at a Testa Winery party in Calpella. Also attending was Allman's second-in-command, Captain Randy Johnson. So, what's the beef? The beef is that about a year ago patrol cops had to quell a drunken yuppie riot at that very winery, Testa, where the drunk yuppies got away with what ordinarily would be considered felonies, including attacks on the responding officers. The officers who had to deal with that one last year are deeply unhappy that their bosses were yukking it up with the Testa people this year. The particulars of Testa's testosterone-tossed party that night were described in this press release the cops issued last September:

ON SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2013 at about 12:27am (just after midnight) Mendocino County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to an agency assistance call from the California Highway Patrol regarding the report of subjects riding golf carts on the roadway between Testa Vineyards (6400 North State Street) and the downtown Calpella area. The first responding deputy arrived where he was told by a citizen, the golf carts were coming from the Testa Vineyards parking lot. The deputy responded to that location where he contacted numerous individuals who appeared to have been drinking, one of whom indicated he had been giving people rides from the Testa Vineyard parking lot to an off-site parking lot in downtown Calpella. The deputy was then confronted by Clyde ‘Rusty’ Martinson, 48, of Redwood Valley, co-owner of Testa Vineyards, who was belligerent, intoxicated, and demanded the deputy leave the location. As the deputy was dealing with the crowd, another golf cart being driven by an unidentified person approached the scene and crashed into an object in the parking lot. As the deputy approached that cart to determine if anyone was injured, Martinson threw a beer can at the deputy and then shoved the deputy, again demanding he leave the location. The deputy then called for additional units to respond due to the hostile crowd surrounding him. Martinson was eventually wrestled to the ground by some members of the crowd and restrained. Additional deputies, members of the Ukiah Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and Coyote Valley Tribal Police all responded to assist with the hostile crowd. It was then learned that some unknown person had stolen an ignition key from one of the deputy's patrol vehicle. The key was later returned to the deputy. At one point James Thompson, 49, also of Redwood Valley, approached officers in an agitated and belligerent manner. Thompson was obviously intoxicated and was subsequently arrested for public intoxication and placed into the rear of a patrol unit. Martinson was then contacted, where he was still being restrained, and taken into custody for battery on a peace officer and public intoxication. Martinson physically resisted during the arrest and was also charged with resisting arrest. While Martinson was being arrested an unknown person succeeded in releasing Thomson from the patrol vehicle and he escaped while handcuffed. Deputies searched for Thompson but were unable to find him. Martinson was transported and booked into the County Jail.

AT AROUND 10:45am later that Sunday morning Thompson responded to the Sheriff's Office in Ukiah and surrendered himself to deputies. He had several injuries to his wrists where it appeared the handcuffs had been cut off after his escape. He was then booked into the County Jail. Deputies subsequently received an anonymous tip, identifying Charlene Testa, 59, [Ed note: Charlene Testa is the sister in law of Martinson. Rusty is married to Maria Testa, sister of Charlene Testa.] of Ukiah, as the person responsible for releasing Thompson from the patrol vehicle, aiding his escape. Testa was contacted and interviewed where she admitted she was responsible for Thompson's release. A case was submitted to the District Attorney's office for review of a charge of lynching against Testa. [Ed note: Charlene Testa is listed as Mendocino County Transportation Department employee and a member of the County’s Employee Wellness Advisory Committee.] The case was submitted to the District Attorney's Office for review of charges and to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for review of possible sanctions against the holder of the liquor license of Testa Vineyards. The investigation is continuing. Anyone with information identifying anyone aiding the escape or release of Thompson is encouraged the contact the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office at (707) 234-2100. (Sheriff’s Department Press Release).” [Ed note: Testa Vineyards’ website shows their third annual “Barn, Blending, BBQ” event was scheduled to end Saturday night at 10pm.]

PRESS RELEASE from Paul Joens-Poulton, candidate for County Superintendent of Schools:

After much reflection and thoughtful deliberation I have decided to not engage in an active campaign for the office of Mendocino County Superintendent of Schools. My experience since last March, when I decided to run for County Superintendent of Schools, has been remarkable. It has provided me an opportunity to see our county and the communities within it from a new vantage point. I have had the opportunity to meet many incredible people who care deeply for their communities and the future of public education, which has truly been a gift. My breadth and depth of knowledge surrounding educational issues has grown through this experience preparing me to better serve our students. With this heightened perspective, I have to be realistic about the immediate challenges that face education and the responsibilities of the County Office of Education. As many of you know, county offices are going through tremendous change as a result of new legal requirements, new funding formulas and varying roles for our local school districts. With all of this in mind, I cannot in good conscience take time away from my work to pursue a political campaign. I also feel very strongly that the position of County Superintendent should not be politicized and it should not be partisan. I have spoken with Mr. Galletti and have informed him of my decision. My name will remain on the ballot and I will wholeheartedly take the office of County Superintendent should I be elected. However, my overall commitment is to the ongoing success of the Office, and with that in mind, I also look forward to working together with Mr. Galletti should he be elected. My dedication and commitment to MCOE, specifically the Educational Services Division, remains unchanged. I look forward to contributing to the efforts by MCOE to support school districts, and students in Mendocino County.

TRANSLATION: Galletti won soooo big in the primary that I know I'll lose even bigger to him in the general election. But if I want to keep the cush job I've had under Tichinin, I'd better smack up to ol' War Galletti now, otherwise he'll off me as his first order of business when he takes over."

AS WE ALL KNOW, the only smart, capable person in the race for Superintendent of Schools was Kathy Wylie of Mendocino, but as we also all know smart and capable are not synonymous with public instruction, especially at the Mendocino County Office of Education.

DUNG VAN NGUYEN, 41, of Sacramento, could get as much as 32 months in state prison, a $15,000 fine and a permanent revocation of his fishing license for poaching commercial numbers of abalone near Mendocino.

TRIMMING MACHINES like the TrimPro are leaving many itinerant marijuana workers out in the cold these days. The market glut, the need to get the product on the market before your competitors, and the difficulty of finding good help (those who will work for the new average wage of $10 per hr. or $100 per lbs., as opposed to the former industry standard of $20 per hr. or $200 per lbs.) all contributes to the development and sale of these machines. Trouble is, they clog up easily in hot weather, and massive amounts of rubbing alcohol are needed to free up the parts, necessitating the highly flammable process of boiling off the alcohol to recover the by-product, the hash oil (Phoenix Tears). The wine growers are using jail inmates in Sonoma County to cut the wages of traditional Hispanic workers (who are demanding better pay), and Mendocino County might consider bailing out the ailing pot Pharms with the same expediency. Crews conscripted from the overcrowded jail would definitely have experience in this line of work. (— Bruce McEwen)

LAST FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, the Ukiah Daily Journal ran a lengthy front-pager by Karen Rifkin called “Ortner reports on mental health care in Mendocino County.” The pufferoo praised Tom Ortner and his Ortner Management Group (OMG!) but provided no particulars about what the freshly privatized County Mental Health actually provides. Ortner doesn’t provide any data on what they’re doing. Worse, nobody in Official Mendo has asked for any and, as we're constantly repeating, this sale of a public service to a private contractor (Ortner) is worth, at a minimum, $7 million tax dollars a year.

WHY did Ms. Rifkin’s puff piece appear now? Could it have to do with the complaints that have arisen in the wake of the Grand Jury’s report critical of the deal and the cover-up response to the GJ by the Board of Supervisors? And who came up with the idea of a puff piece on Ortner at the very moment that Ortner and his former senior employee, Tom Pinizzotto, were coming under scrutiny for the sweetheart deal Pinizzotto engineered for Ortner? We thought maybe “Karen Rifkin” was Ortner's pseudonym, such was Rifkin's prolonged hymn to Ortner.

WE THEN RECEIVED a copy of the following email:

 From: Tom Pinizzotto <>

Subject: Re: iCMS Ft. Bragg Access Center

Date: September 4, 2014 2:15:39 PM PDT

To: Mark Montgomery <>, Todd Harris <>

Cc: Carmel Angelo <>, Dora Briley <>, Dan Gjerde <>, Kristina Grogan <>, Dan Hamburg <>

Hi Todd and Mark,

Great news that the Fort Bragg Access Ctr is operational!

I would like you to collaborative [sic] with Kristina on a press release and a news story.

On another front, the site is approved for Medi cal reimbursement effective 9/3/14.

Nice job!


APART FROM Pinizzotto’s crude prose, let’s look closely at his chummy little message: The “iCMS Ft. Bragg Access Center” (Integrated Care Management Solutions) is a newly created buzzword-name for a newly created operation in Fort Bragg created by Ortner with which Ortner subcontracts for mental health services on the Mendocino Coast. (Ortner had very little in the way of mental health services on the Coast besides what little was already there when they got the contract — not that that gap presented a problem to Pinizzotto and his fellow proposal review staff — and lots of people have been complaining about it ever since.)

MARK MONTGOMERY and Todd Harris are Ortner’s top guys in Mendo, the guys who the County pays to regularly appear before the Board of Supervisors to tell the Board of Supervisors what a great job Ortner is doing.

WE ARE ALREADY FAMILIAR with CEO Carmel Angelo, Supervisor Dan Gjerde and Supervisor Dan Hamburg. But who are Dora Briley and Kristina Grogan?

THEY are “Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency Communication Coordinators.” (In case you were wondering, Yes, it takes two of them to “coordinate” the “communications” coming out of the HHSA.)

LET'S ALSO NOTE who’s NOT on Pinizzotto’s interesting list of recipients: Stacey Cryer, Pinizzotto’s boss, is conspicuously missing (which means that Mr. P assumes he can send out these notes without bothering to notify, much less get permission from, anyone above him). And the two County Supervisors Pinizzotto includes happen to be on the Mental Health Board (and therefore need to be kept on the reservation at all costs). No Supervisor Pinches, no Supervisor McCowen, no Supervisor Brown, no members of the Mental Health Board. They don’t get to know that Mr. Pinizzotto thinks it’s time for a “news story.” (Paging Karen Rifkin. Karen? Pick up, please.)

ALSO NOTE THE DATE on Pinizzotto's e-communique — September 4, 2014 (Thursday).

OBVIOUS CONCLUSION? On September 4th Ortner’s former employee, Mr. P., who also now happens to be Mendo’s Mental Health Director, sends a note to Ortner’s top Mendo people and Mr. P's county-employed top two propagandists to suggest that they “collaborative” amongst themselves to work on “a press release and a news story.”

ENTER MS. RIFKIN. She'd already established her fealty to the Ortner-Pinizzotto-Briley-Grogan axis with her previous Ortner puff piece in the Journal on August 16. Rifkin, then, duly produced the requested propaganda piece, er, “news story,” for the Journal of September 12.

AND NICELY closing the loop on this incestuous, self-serving little circle, let’s note the last sentence in Ms. Rifkin’s “news story”: “For more information, contact Kristina Grogan, HHSA Communication Coordinator at” — a phrase that Ms. Grogan uses to finish off her own press releases.

THE PIECE that Ms. Rifkin produced — it would be a mistake to assume she “wrote” it — is nearly unreadable, of course, having been cobbled into existence from talking points and psycho-jargon devised by Montgomery and Harris, plumped up with self-serving quotes from Mr. Ortner himself — (and this inadvertently revealing sentence: “The unique affiliation between Ortner's agency and Mendocino County, the first county to outsource mental health services to a private company, continues to evolve.”) It probably won’t be read by many people outside the insiders who are already on-board the Ortner-Pinizzotto train. But that doesn’t matter, because the real point of the piece is for Pinizzotto to prove to his pals at Ortner that he’s their guy in Official Mendo. He can call up his staff and Ms. Rifkin and lickety-split they'll have a free ad for Ortner disguised as news whenever the skeptical public seems dangerously close to smoking out the truth about all this double-dealing, double-dealing at the expense of the mentally ill.

STAY TUNED for more from Ms. Rifkin: Ortner and Pinizzotto seem now to realize that they may be in for at least some of the scrutiny they have avoided so far. And Ms. Rifkin’s services, transparent as they are, will be called upon again.

MEASURE S will be on the November ballot. It's the Mendo-specific, anti-fracking initiative that some 6,000 County people signed to qualify for the ballot. We're all for it and suggest readers have a look at the basic info at the Measure S website

FROM MATIER AND ROSS: "If you're wondering why health care costs are going sky high, one reason may be the multimillion-dollar skyboxes that two of the Bay Area's biggest “not-for-profit” insurers have bought at the 49ers' new stadium.

Blue Shield of California and Dignity Health each own Levi's Stadium luxury suites, which go for at least $2.5 million apiece.

Dignity, the San Francisco outfit formerly known as Catholic Healthcare West, is also the Niners' exclusive health-industry sponsor. It's spending big time to advertise in and around the new Santa Clara stadium as well as on game broadcasts. There's even a "Dignity Health Plaza" at one corner of the $1.2 billion stadium.

“It's scandalous that two not-for-profit health care companies that are exempt from state taxes waste millions of dollars on luxury skyboxes rather than putting those charitable dollars toward patient care or lower premiums,” said Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog, the group behind Proposition 45 on the November ballot — an initiative that would require California health care companies to get approval from the state insurance commissioner for rate increases.

Dignity officials said in a statement that they were "proud to be the official health care partner of the San Francisco 49ers." They noted that the company "is sponsoring the first-aid clinics located throughout the facility and will be hosting several special health and wellness events throughout the season."

The statement added that "in today's highly competitive health care market, the sponsorships also provide positive visibility and recognition for the Dignity Health brand and the services we provide."

In the meantime, Prop. 45 proponents — with TV cameras in tow — showed up Thursday outside Blue Shield's San Francisco headquarters with a tongue-in-cheek demand from 22,000 customers for tickets to Niners games.

The Prop. 45 folks also tried to buy advertising at Sunday's game on the Jumbotron at Levi's Stadium to tie Blue Shield's skybox to “excessive premiums” and tell fans that the health insurer “has a better view than you.”

The Niners rejected the ad.

“We don't sell individual ad space,” said team spokesman Bob Lange, telling us that it's strictly reserved for their media partners.

However, Sheri Sadler, an ad buyer for the Prop. 45 campaign, said she was told by an ad rep in an e-mail that “the 49ers are a little reluctant to promote one side or the other (of a political issue) so as not to alienate fans.”

ON-LINE RESPONSE: “I am so glad I am no longer a member of Blue Cross. Their 20% rate hikes per year with no limit was destroying my family financially, and every month they would send me a report about what services they were cutting or charging more for and covering less. When I turned 45 they wrote me a ‘cat eating the canary letter’ saying how happy they were that I was turning 45 and they could increase my premiums 10% more than their usual 20% annual increase! Oh and that they were raising the deductible by another couple of hundred dollars. And of course (in the days before Covered CA), they reminded me that because of my pre-existing condition that I would never get insurance anywhere else and if I left BC, me and my family would be as good as dead. Then last October they canceled my plan without giving me any options and the next three months were hell. But I am ‘glad’ for them that they have so much extra money that they can afford a $2.5 million luxury box at the new stadium. I wish we could have a war on these insurance companies…”

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