The Midnight Rambler

The Board of Supes, on October 7th, is set to approve a contract for newly promoted "Interim" County Counsel Doug Losak. Losak had been "Acting" County Counsel since his appointment to that position on February 25 following the hasty departure of his predecessor, Tom Parker, who was obviously told to resign or be fired. The contract with Losak is rumored to include a pay raise from Losak's current pay of $107,390 per year to $143,291 per year. (And can anyone explain the diff between "interim" and "acting" aside from the huge jump in pay?) No explanation has been offered to justify such an outrageously large pay jump. (These characters are 9-5, civil service lawyers, and they don't do much when they are at "work". They farm out all the tough cases, for which the county pays separately. And they even farm out negotiations with county employees!) And Losak hasn't exactly distinguished himself in office, at least not in a positive light.

The appointment of Losak puts the Supes squarely on a collision course with Sheriff Tom Allman. Following the Supes announcement out of Closed Session on Monday that they were appointing Losak, the Sheriff showed up at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday for public expression to blast Losak, expressing dismay that the Supes would consider a raise for Losak. Allman told the Supes he didn't care if they kept Losak on the job but giving him a pay raise was "inappropriate" (to say the least) given Losak's late night bust for driving down the highway with an unregistered concealed handgun and a bag of dope stashed under the front seat of his car.

Losak
Losak

Losak was busted on July 3, 2012, shortly after the Supes had appointed him "Acting" County Counsel for the first time, following the elevation of Jeanine Nadel to the Superior Court bench. Losak, after trying to ride out the storm of his widely reported midnight ramble (with the apparent support of Supervisor's Hamburg and Pinches) resigned as Acting County Counsel but kept his job with the county. At the time, Hamburg, a long time dope grower, was quoted as saying it was no big deal for public officials in Mendocino County to be involved with marijuana. Pinches said it was "no different than if you stopped a lady on the street and found lipstick in her purse." Anywhere else Losak would have been in the unemployment line, but this is Mendocino County where public officials simultaneously lament being a national poster child for marijuana but go out of their way to reinforce the Marijuana/Mendo link.

Hamburg's support for Losak is probably also payback for the blatant efforts of County Counsel and the Mental Health Department (run by Hamburg's pal Pinizzotto) to manipulate the legal system to spring Hamburg's adult son from jail, have the county foot the legal bill to get a conservator appointed, and get Hamburg's son into a treatment facility with the county again paying the bills. We understand that lots of county jail inmates who have committed crimes are also more or less mentally ill. But we also understand there is a process to get into a treatment facility, which may take as long as six months. Hamburg's son, with the assistance of Pinizzotto and the County Counsel's office, leap-frogged a dozen or more jail inmates who were waiting for a bed to open up in a treatment facility. And it is very unusual for County Counsel to seek a conservatorship for a private individual with wealthy parents like Hamburg. Judge Moorman was not pleased that young Hamburg had been spirited out of the county without her approval or knowledge and initially seemed determined to demand answers. But Moorman since seems to have fallen back into full on "we are all nice people here in Mendoland" mode and nothing more has been said of the highly unusual marshalling of highly placed public officials and public money to get special treatment for Hamburg's son, and that treatment paid for by the taxpayers of Mendocino County.

Allman told the Supes he has forbidden Losak to be involved with any legal matters involving the Sheriff's Office. "I am here to tell you there is a conflict of interest," continued Allman, pointedly referring to Losak's status as "the only County Counsel on searchable probation." Allman continued that it was an insult to his deputies, who have been forced to take a 10% pay cut for the last several years, for the Board to consider any pay increase for Losak. The details of the rumored pay raise will be known when the Oct. 7 agenda comes out for the Board of Supes, but it is widely rumored to include a boost to $143,291 per year, the same as Tom Parker got before he was forced to resign.

Hamburg and pinches (based on their public comments when Losak was busted in 2012) are most likely solidly behind Losak, but a cursory analysis of the 5-0 vote to appoint Losak on an interim basis points to a compromise. Losak has been "acting" since February? Six months hasn't been enough time for the Supes to evaluate Losak's performance on the job? They need to appoint him "interim" for up to another year to properly evaluate him? Oddly, based on a review of BOS agendas, Losak has not had a formal performance evaluation since he was appointed back in February. Which is in sharp contrast to CEO Carmel Angelo.

Angelo was appointed CEO five years ago after the sudden resignation of the hapless Tom Mitchell (a resignation that was, like Tom Parker's, almost surely forced). Mitchell was unable to handle the economic collapse that hit the county in 2008. Under Mitchell the county was hemorrhaging red ink.  Mitchell was famous for saying: "I'll look into it" but never presented any findings or recommendations for the Supes to act on. Angelo had already proven herself as Director of HHSA where she reduced the workforce, including by layoffs, to produce a balanced budget. With the support of the Supes, Angelo pursued a strategy of reducing the countywide workforce, including layoffs, and a 10% across the board pay cut to balance the budget. Since then the Supes and Angelo have held the line on pay raises, paid down debt, built the county reserves to record levels and restored the county's credit rating.

Angelo's predecessor, the hapless Mitchell, was paid $180,000 a year. Angelo was hired at $150,000, a cut of $30,000 from her predecessor. More than five years later, Angelo, who's done a pretty good job under difficult fiscal circumstances, is still making the same $150,000 with no increase in pay and very little thanks. The Supes seem unable to even agree on her performance. "Public Employee Performance Evaluation - Chief Executive Officer" has been on the Supes agenda four times since April, including Sept. 22, the same day Losak was appointed Interim County Counsel. And every time, the only report out of closed session for the CEO has been "direction given to staff." But the direction is not clear. Is Angelo doing a good job? Should she get a raise? A new contract? The Supes seem unable to decide. In contrast, the first time Losak was on the agenda, the evaluation gets skipped and he gets appointed interim for a year with a huge boost in pay.

Sheriff Allman appears willing to spend some of his considerable personal and political capital in challenging the Supes decision to reward the bumbling Losak. And rightly so. Allman and his deputies, like every other county employee, have taken that 10% pay cut for years. And aside from the occasional county planner and deputy district attorney, the county's cops have avoided getting arrested or convicted for dope and gun charges. It seems very odd to put Losak at the head of the rewards line given his questionable judgment. Even discounting his arrest, on the basis that guns and dope are the Mendo equivalent of Mom and apple pie, we still have Losak's romantic affair with a high ranking county employee who was herself under investigation by Losak's office. And Losak consistently comes up with the wrong answer when the Supes turn to him for advice during a meeting. Which is probably why the Supes approved a contract with an outta-here law firm for $250,000 a year to conduct labor negotiations with county employees. If any one of the six attorneys in the County Counsel office, including Losak, were competent, the county wouldn't need to spend a quarter of a mil on outside attorneys.

Allman and DA Dave Eyster are paid around $125,000 annually, with the other elected department heads getting somewhat less and the appointed departments ranging down to about $80,000 for Air Quality and the Library Director. None of them can be happy that Losak is about to eclipse them all. Or can they? If Allman is mainly upset that Losak will be paid more than he is, one solution is to boost the Sheriff and DA to the $145,000 range. Eyster is known to have complained loudly that County Counsel, (whether it was Jeanine Nadel or Tom Parker) should not be paid more than the DA. Is this the first shot in the county loosening up the purse strings, at least for its top worker bees?

In January of 2012 when the Supes voted to cut their own pay, Hamburg, echoing his grasping predecessor David Colfax, who'd complained about the "crappy pay for a crappy job," the dependably sanctimonious Hamburg complained how "challenging" it was to live on only $68,000 a year before launching into a lengthy comparison of a Supes pay to that of various middle managers and deputy sheriffs. If Losak's is the first to cash in with a fat pay raise, will the other department heads and Hamburg be next in line, begging bowls extended? Or will three of the Supes come to their collective senses on Oct. 7 and realize that they are on the brink of unraveling the hard nosed but necessary budget decisions they have made over the years?

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