The December meeting of the Mendocino County Mental Health Board provided some good news, some old news, and evidence of delaying tactics within the county's bureaucracy. Perhaps the best news was the announcement that an “11 o'clock court” session will finally begin in Fort Bragg's Ten Mile Courthouse. The “11 o’clock court” idea is meant to find alternatives to jail for low level offenders who have been diagnosed as mentally ill. The program was planned two and a half years ago and was implemented in the Ukiah courthouse more than a year past. Better late than never. The so-called 11 o'clock court is slated to take place in afternoon sessions in Fort Bragg, according to Ortner Management Group's Todd Harris.
The next best bit of news was passed along by Susan Bridge-Mount who coordinates senior peer counseling on the Mendocino Coast. With just a couple handful of volunteers these counselors have racked up hundreds of hours in visits not only to the Senior Center, but far flung residences from Westport to the nether reaches of Albion Ridge. Sadly, there is a pocket of isolated seniors who may want or need counseling from Navarro Ridge south to Cameron Ridge, Elk, Greenwood Ridge, Mountain View Road and other outposts between Albion and Manchester. The Supervisors representative to the MH Board, Dan Hamburg, spoke up to say that he would get to work finding a solution to fill in those geographic gaps in senior peer counseling service. While on the topic of seniors, Mental Health Board Vice Chair Roger Schwartz praised the efforts of Fort Bragg Police Department Sergeant Brandon Lee in his outreach work with the mentally ill and homeless.
The topic of senior peer counseling and Ms. Bridge-Mount's presentation was only the second agenda item after approval of the last meeting's minutes and reports from the secretary and treasurer, but Ms. Bridge-Mount was not heard from until two hours into the meeting. The minutes along with secretary and treasurer reports took approximately twelve minutes. Mendocino County Mental Health Director Tom Pinizzotto was scheduled for a half hour, but his presentation and accompanying questions filled well over an hour and a half. Add in the time used by Ortner Management Group and Redwood Quality Management Company, the privatized providers of adult and children's mental health services, and the December meeting, like so many before, allowed precious few minutes for the Mental Health Board to do any work of its own. The MH Board has numerous committees, subcommittees, and ad hoc committees, but there is seldom time for those to be heard from at the monthly meetings. About a week after the December meeting MH Board Chair John Wetzler sent out the following email:
I've been thinking of re-formatting our January regular meeting to kick start our sputtering ad hoc process... With our present meeting structure too much time is spent listening to monthly reports from the the county programs and the ASOs [administrative services organizations]. We have no time to conduct our business. We are State mandated to improve the quality and delivery of mental health service for our county. And most importantly to secure and improve funding sources to achieve our mandate. The more we know the more effective we will become as advocates for our population. I would like to propose that after a short presentation from Director Pinizzotto we adjourn the meeting and break into our small committee groups and commence the planing and organization of our ad hoc committees. This could take up to an hour or more if necessary. It will be noisy. I would like to invite members of the County program and the ASOs to act as information sources and move around the room as needed. This period will also be open to the public and not included in the Minutes. After this period is over we will re-adjourn the meeting and re-start the Minutes. Each committee will then report progress or barriers found to the Board as a whole. This is just an idea, a draft, so I'm very open to any suggestions. Please give this some thought and get back to me.
The January meeting is fast approaching, so we shall see what we shall see. One of the hardest working committee chairs made contact with a County official almost immediately after the December MH Board meeting, asking for a chance to get together and go over mental health budget matters in an effort to find out exactly what is being spent. The county bureaucrat replied with a proposed meeting date at the end of February.
Too much of this county is run not on an advance and move forward basis, but by stall and delay tactics whenever the public or its representatives get too close to the numbers that matter.