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Off the Record (Sep 9, 2015)

OPENING LINES from: “Homeless in Mendocino County: A few legal questions,” by Sarah Reith, for The Ukiah Daily Journal. September 5, 2015: "Marlene Kurowski and Oly Mixolydian are optimistic. Kurowski is the executive director at Plowshares, where meals are served twice a day, no questions asked, to anyone who shows up at 11:30 a.m. for lunch or 6 p.m. for dinner, Monday through Friday (doors open at 5:30 p.m. for seniors and families with children). Mixolydian is a case manager at the Access Center for those with serious and persistent mental illness. Both work closely with people who are homeless or have been, and Mixolydian himself has lived on the streets in San Francisco, Ukiah and Eugene.” …

“MIXOLYDIAN n. An authentic church mode represented on the white keys of a keyboard instrument by an ascending scale from G to G.”

“OLY MIXOLYDIAN” is a pseudonym. As for his bona fides Ms. Reith writes: “Mixolydian himself has lived on the streets in San Francisco, Ukiah and Eugene.” And went to work for the Ortner Management Group, a private mental health vendor based in Yuba City. Mendocino County pays Ortner between $7 and $8 million a year to care for Mendocino County's mentally ill.

NOBODY in the English-speaking world is named “Mixolydian.”

MARLENE KUROWSKI, we can assume, is the real name of a real person with verifiable qualifications for her position at Plowshares.

THERE IS AMPLE PRECEDENT for hiring former clients in Mental Health operations. In entry level jobs, mostly. It’s been done for years. But as “case managers” who deal with “serious and persistent mental illness”? You hire people with fake names for a difficult job?

THE ACCESS CENTER that Mr. “Mixolydian” works for is an Ortner Management Group operation, and recently praised in the County’s Mental Health Board 2014-2015 annual report probably written by Tom Pinizzotto. The report lavishes praise on Pinizzotto, the former Ortner exec, now County Mental Health Director, and Ortner’s other guy in Mendo, Dr. Mark Montgomery, a psychiatrist. Montgomery goes so far as to give classes on how to be a good Mental Health board member, i.e., take Ortner’s word for everything.

WHAT WE HAVE HERE is more evidence — if any more was needed — that Ortner shouldn’t be running a private multi-million dollar mental health operation for public Mendocino County where Mental Health Services have for years been problematic at best. If Ortner is hiring fake name anybodys as "case managers" with no qualifications beyond having lived on the streets themselves (if that’s even true), what does that say about Ortner's hiring practices? About the qualifications of their other staff? About their background checks? About their "services"? About “case management”? (Which, as we have previously pointed out, Ortner charges about twice what is allowed for by MediCal.)

EXCELLENT COLUMN by Tommy Wayne Kramer in Sunday's Ukiah Daily Journal, and an emphatic outta-the-parker by KC Meadows on recent events at the Board of Supervisors.


KRAMER FIRST. He rightly denounces Assemblyman Jim Wood, formerly a Healdsburg dentist. Wood got into career officeholding, probably because it pays well and it's a lot easier than peering down through lethal breath at mossy dentures all day. Of course the more frightening qualification for public office these days — frightening for the rest of us, that is — is absolute insincerity. Wood's got that down, and is mos def is as vapid as they come. Dentists, by the way, suffer a high incidence of mental illness, but Wood doesn't even seem to have enough imagination to go interestingly nuts. Anyway, our Assemblyman, and you're excused if you've never heard of him or the State Assembly, is rightly denounced by Kramer for demanding yet another tax on Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man, as if his fellow hacks haven't already and repeatedly gang tackled tobacco, which is your basic in lieu of political action. What's next from Wood, a state resolution against child molestation?


WOOD'S Healdsburg soul bro, State Senator Mike McGuire, occupation prior to state office unknown other than a vague ref to “radio and television,” is obviously an unemployable. You look at these two characters and instantly understand why Donald Trump is so popular, at least with the older, dumber, white demographic. Trump seems real, Wood and McGuire aren't real. Both of them give vapidity a bad name. And, natch, they solely represent the Wine Industry, the owners of the industry, that is.

WOOD AND McGUIRE nuzzle-bummed their way into state office out of that fetid morass of toadies, non-profit time servers, and miscellaneous slime balls known as the Northcoast's Democratic Party, the active part of the party, that is. Lots of otherwise respectable people are registered Democrat out of pure inertia. (God's teeth! I think I might be registered Democrat. Please don't tell anyone.) None of these people represent the way forward. They're all No Hope squared.

KC MEADOWS' SUNDAY editorial in the Ukiah Daily Journal, reprinted here, chastised Supervisor Woodhouse for his faux sincerity, his constant claim that he's new at the job and wants to learn. He's almost a year in the job and there's not that much to learn. It was highly disingenuous of Woodhouse, for instance, to raise the correct questions about the Ortner contract for mental health services then not join Supervisors McCowen and Gjerde in voting against renewal of the County's contract with Ortner. As Meadows points out, smarm may work in real estate sales but it's insulting at the local level of government.


TAKE IT AWAY, KC MEADOWS: "Going Nowhere Fast. It came to light this week that on August 11 First District Supervisor Carre Brown shot off a memo admonishing Third District supervisor Tom Woodhouse for talking to county employees. The memo itself is typical officious gobbledygook and at first glance it's easy to dismiss it as both overstepping and overbearing. It is this kind of nonsense that gives government a bad name and reminds us all that there is a reason nothing ever seems to get done and that supervisors are really powerless to do anything. We understand that it's probably annoying to the CEO and the department heads that some goofy supervisor is running around talking to employees — gasp! But we also know a little about Tom Woodhouse. We have seen him in action and we can see him drifting around the administration building popping into employees' offices and sitting down at their desks and saying something like, "Hi, I'm Tom. I want to be your friend. Tell me something I don't know." Woodhouse has a tendency to treat you like he is gracing you with his presence, and that he just wants to sit quietly with you and convince you to like him. Woodhouse — a still practicing real estate agent — undoubtedly has honed this folksy approach over the years selling property. But all this bonhomie with employees isn't translating into action. Woodhouse still gets through most board meetings without saying a word, he still wanders around acting like he's just a new guy on the block, groping to learn, learn, learn. After nine months in office that routine is getting old. The upshot is that whether you think Woodhouse should be able to wander the halls of government at will or whether you think Carre Brown is right in trying to rein him in, there is dysfunction among board members and that's not usually a good thing for the citizens of the county."

RECOMMENDED READING: “San Francisco: Gold Rush to Google — Dancing on the Brink of the World” by Jonah Raskin with original art by Dana Smith. One reader described this long essay in booklet form as a "kaleidoscopic experience," which it certainly is with each part of the kaleidoscope combined for a wonderful capsule history of the cool, grey city of love. I have no idea what history they teach in high schools these days — some flabby, dumbed down, PC version, I'm sure — but Professor Raskin's lively essay, especially in this fetching samzidat format of art and prose, would be a very good introduction for students to their home state.


VIA THE MIRACLE of the internet, Bruce McEwen's wonderfully vivid account of the Lake County con man, Ed Starski, was avidly read by several of Starski's victims in Georgia, Columbia County, Georgia, specifically the Augusta area. For a guy still on the sunny side of thirty, the bold Mr. S certainly gets around.

TWO GEORGIANS called last week with accounts of how Starski had ripped them off, with sidebar stories of alleged crimes committed by our peripatetic bunco artist in the state of Michigan. Harry Arthur wrote on our website, "Oh Ed Starski, finally gotcha. Well my judgment against you still stands here in Augusta, Ga and I am going to get mine. I am coming for you big guy!!”

STARSKI got off light here in Mendocino County. It's not clear if our DA's office was aware of his Georgia priors, and it wouldn't surprise us if Starski turns out not to be his given name. He might be going by Hutch now.

JUDGE MOORMAN sentenced Starski in July to 120 days in jail, and placed him on three years formal probation, meaning the guy will soon again be on the loose. We're re-posting McEwen's account here. We found it hilarious, and it certainly had many richly comic aspects, but Starski is only amusing if you haven't been victimized by him.

A CLOSE OBSERVER of County government writes: "No one is denying the County needs to do a much better job protecting kids from serious abuse and neglect. At last week’s stakeholder meeting Bryan Lowery plainly admitted they had screwed up some cases. The only problem is he waited until the end of the meeting to say so. The meeting kicked off with a facilitator in charge. Most of the stakeholders thought they had been invited to a meeting to talk about the Grand Jury report and what needed to be done to address the problems. But from what I hear, it was only after Judge Mayfield spoke up that the facilitator allowed them to do so. After filling up several flip charts with a list of problems, someone pointed out that almost everything came down to a lack of staffing. The good news, according to the department, is that staffing levels are up and if current offers are accepted they will be close to fully staffed. The next hurdle will be to retain the new hires long enough for them to get the field experience that only comes from time on the job."

“STAKEHOLDER,” as deployed in Mendoland, is a euphemism for self-interested parties. We are willing to bet that everyone in the room, except Judge Mayfield, was either a County employee or a "helping professional" working for one of the agencies that contract with the County. We would be surprised if anyone was there to represent the families or the children who function as funding units for the system — a system that seems geared toward providing jobs for as many helping professionals as possible. The First Five report identified poverty as a major contributing factor to child abuse and neglect. (Wow! There's a break-through insight!) But poverty being the root cause of child dependency, why not add up all the salaries and overhead for the legions of helping professionals and their agencies, divide by the number of needy families, and cut everyone a check? Of course, it would probably help if Mendocino County was not ground zero for underground black market drug production and distribution. And the black market goes way beyond marijuana, as the surplus marijuana grown here is often traded for meth and heroin that gets sold locally.

CAMILLE SCHRAEDER, head of Redwood Children's Services, got off a passive-aggressive classic to the AVA last week. The Schraeders, husband and wife, are the Fagins, you might say, of Mendo's mom and pop foster home operation, and among the primary beneficiaries of the child welfare system. Couched in impenetrable bafflegab, the letter opens by thanking “Mr. Anderson” for his opinion and concludes by assuring “our wonderful AVA readership” that the aforesaid Mr. Anderson simply doesn't know what he is talking about. The passive aggressives always thank someone for their opinion without ever naming the particular points of disagreement, because doing so would violate the tenets of nice people-ism, the primary tenet being — always smile when you go in for the kill. The letter describes a system where eight or more highly paid helping professionals sit around discussing the future of whatever unfortunate child has been sucked into the system. Schraeder reels off a long list of treatment options and assures us that children are only drugged with court approval. Which is almost always automatic, and is almost always an evil practice designed to make small boys "manageable." Schrader gives lip service to “youth voice and choice” but we put the odds at near zero of little Johnny and Joanie having any real say in their grim futures as long as the helping professionals (inexperienced in many cases) — are fastened as securely as leeches at their necks.


HOW NOT TO TRANSPORT DOPE. On Friday, August 28, 2015 at approximately 12:49 PM, a Mendocino County Sheriff's deputy observed a white Toyota Corolla with expired registration tabs traveling southbound on Highway 101 near Willits, California. The Deputy conducted a traffic stop at MPM 56.13 and contacted the driver, Franklin Timothy Lunney, 30, Phoenix. During the stop the deputy detected the odor of marijuana coming from inside the car. A search of the car revealed two large duffle bags in the trunk. The duffle bags contained approximately thirty-one pounds of bud marijuana packaged in one-pound increments. Lunney was arrested for transportation of marijuana and was subsequently booked into the Mendocino County Jail to be held in lieu of $50,000 bail.

ACCORDING TO A STORY in the September 4, 2015 edition of the Gualala-based Independent Coast Observer (ICO) by reporter Amie Windsor, Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg “guessed an issue to recruiting and retaining deputies might be that ‘young deputies want to raise families in larger school districts’ than Mendocino County has to offer. ‘It’s hard to tell what’s a factor,’ Hamburg said.” … “Hamburg admitted he didn’t know how to help the Sheriff fill the resident deputy positions [on the South Coast, in Anderson Valley or Covelo]. ‘I don’t have a solution to it,’ Hamburg said. ‘I trust the Sheriff is doing everything he can’.”

THAT’S TYPICAL OF HAMBURG, just like it was typical of his Fifth District Supervisor predecessor, David Colfax: throw up your hands and say, “Nothing can be done.” Or, “You need three votes and I can’t get three votes so nothing can be done.”

To which people used to reply, “Yes, we know it takes three votes, but it takes one Supervisor to bring it up and bring it up effectively.” Which of course applies to Hamburg as well as Colfax. (And which also assumes that the Supervisor has any real idea what his fellow Supervisors would even say, which he doesn’t — especially if he won’t bring it up.) Lately, although they won’t say it out loud, the excuse is, “I can’t do anything because CEO Carmel Angelo won’t do it.” And of course Hamburg won’t even ask. In fact, you name it, Hamburg won’t bring it up: Vineyard fans? Nothing can be done. Minor use permits for tasting rooms? Nothing can be done. Better pay and recruitment for deputies? Got me! I have no clue! Mental Health contract conflicts, mental health overpayments to Ortner? Huge staffing problems in Social Services and Children’s services? Chronic drunks and druggies rotating through the jail? Potholes? No decent jobs outside government and marijuana? You name it, Hamburg hasn’t got a clue — and obviously doesn’t care or he'd get a clue.

IN THE PARTICULAR CASE of low pay for deputies and associated recruitment difficulties, Hamburg could start by simply putting an item on the Board agenda addressing the tight-fisted negotiating posture that CEO Angelo has taken with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Their last contract negotiation ended in May with the deputies reluctantly accepting a three year contract which doesn’t even restore their pay to 2010 levels, a major recruitment and retention problem. According to a County press release last May — proudly signed by CEO Angelo as if it were some kind of grand accomplishment — she wrote: “Craig Walker, DSA President, stated, ‘a component of the contract involves a retirement swap agreed upon by the County and DSA. The association feels it is important to help get ahead of any future retirement shortfalls the County and DSA may encounter.’ DSA employees agreed to pay their full share of retirement costs. This amounts to around 9% of each member’s gross base pay. In return, the County has agreed to increase all base pay to the members by 6%.” (I.e., not even restoring the 10% cut.) “It’s a step in the right direction,” Walker said. “Our hope is the County will continue to make significant efforts to restore lost wages to the men and women who daily risk their lives for County residents.” Angelo continued, “Walker stated competitive wages would bring stability to the Sheriff’s Office, referring to higher wages paid by other agencies, some within Mendocino County.”

WALKER and other deputies have said they accepted this crappy deal because “We believed it’s the best we could get” — meaning, effectively, it’s the most Ms. Angelo would give the deputies and Ms. Angelo makes all these decisions. Never — not once — did Hamburg or any other Supervisor bring up the low pay of the deputies and the associated difficulties low pay creates for recruitment and retention of deputies. Never in the days leading up to the pathetic May contract agreement with the DSA did any of the Supes say that they thought at least restoring deputy pay to 2010 levels was a priority for the County, as they effectively ratified Angelo’s chintzy bargaining position.

YET NOW, here’s Hamburg pretending — “admitting” in the words of reporter Windsor — that he “doesn’t know how to help the Sheriff fill the resident deputy positions.” And this guy makes $68,000 a year for this level of service to his constituents?


JUST IN from the streets of Fort Bragg: "Jan Owings was one of three people who died from a batch of Pehnol [sic; probably Phenol, perhaps a reference to over-the-counter sore throat medication, or, worse, to paint stripper] sold by an individual known locally as Tattoo Shawn. Mr. Shawn is an accomplished police informant and full-time heroin addict. Another victim of this drug is a former official at Hospitality House. He died in a van parked in the driveway of the recently fired pastors of a local church. The death was not reported for 6 hours as they debated their recourse. These people have moved to Idaho (for other reasons) and had the courtesy to take Tattoo Shawn with them along with his bride of recent weeks, the former director of the church."

AT&T ISSUED THIS ANNOUNCEMENT on Friday: "AT&T is offering up to a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for an attempted copper theft near Ukiah. Vandals caused damage to a fiber line that affected service for some of our customers in northwest California on Thursday and into Friday morning. Tipsters can remain anonymous, so we encourage anyone with credible information to call AT&T Asset Protection at 1-800-807-4205. Tampering with phone networks is a violation of federal and state laws and we cooperate with law enforcement agencies to identify and punish offenders. This is a serious matter that affects public safety and the community at large."

PALTRY REWARD considering that AT&T had failed to re-bury the line after a rock slide, leaving the cable in plain view for the vandals whose work caused thousands of dollars in losses to the small businesses of Mendocino and Humboldt counties, and small retail businesses in parts of Sonoma and Lake counties whose credit card machines were out all day and into the night last week. The vandals — probably tweekers who didn't know there was no copper in the lines — attacked the line near the railroad tracks at the south end of Burke Hill in broad daylight a little before 10am.

SUPERVISORS McCOWEN AND GJERDE recently voted not to renew the mental health contract with Ortner Management Group, the private company based in Yuba City to whom Mendocino County pays $7-8 million a year for chimerical mental health services while the rest of us witness a steady increase in crazy people on our streets. The two no votes seem to recognize the obvious — Ortner cherry picks his "clients" which, with an uncanny frequency, he then places in rehab contexts he just happens to own. (cf Fort Bragg's burgeoning Hospitality House complex.)

GJERDE pointed out that Redwood Children's Services, based in Ukiah, and also a recipient of big public money, provides "services" for people up to the age of 25, and they do it at an admin cost much cheaper than Ortner is charging. So, the implication is, why not pay Redwood Children's to lift the entire mental health admin load for Mendocino County?

THE REASON County Mental Health was half-privatized in the first place was that Mendocino County couldn't handle the billing for all the state and federal reimbursements. Ortner was supposed to know how to get that money more reliably than County employees had — although ironically the Ortner contract has a provision that requires County staff to train Ortner on MediCal billing. But the question remains: What are we getting in return?

ERIC WILCOX, a former Mendocino County Mental Health Department staffer does not agree: "Leaving adult mental health to Redwood Children’s Services would be a mistake. RCS was fired by OMG when they ran mental health crisis rather soon after it all went privatized. Nobody is going to bill Medi-Cal more efficiently than the county. Medi-Cal is a quagmire of bureaucracy designed by politicians to disenfranchise the poor and keep them disenfranchised. Only the county knows how to work the billing most efficiently, its just that Medi-Cal is designed to not be billed successfully. Private insurance doesn’t have these issues."

THE BROADER QUESTION for years has been how effective are these programs, private or public? There's no way of telling because they all hide behind the confidentiality laws. The public has no way of knowing if a few people are actually getting retooled into full-function mode, or if these programs simply get as much public money as possible out of the unfortunates who wander into their cash registers. I'd bet if you surveyed our bush and underpass population you'd find that most of them have been in "the system" in one form or another all their lives.


THE FOLLOWING are fleshed out extracts from an appellate case involving a guy with Boonville roots named James Kester. Kester has spent about half his life in jails and prisons. I'll confess to an odd affection for the guy despite his legal history, and am writing about Kester here as yet another example of how badly represented Mendocino County is by its chief public defender. If we're going to fund the office it ought to at least be occupied by a competent person.


THE APPELLATE case begins: "A jury convicted defendant James Earl Kester of second degree murder for strangling Jason Blackshear of Fort Bragg. Kester claims that his trial counsel was ineffective for allowing the introduction of irrelevant and prejudicial statements during his taped interview with police and during his testimony at trial, for stipulating to the admission of the victim's declaration supporting a restraining order, and for failing to address key defenses in her closing argument… Although some tactical decisions of Kester's counsel appear to be objectively unreasonable, in light of his taped confession they caused him no conceivable prejudice...."

PUBLIC DEFENDER Thompson played Kester's confession for the jury and elicited from him on the stand all kinds of scary prison talk about his alleged involvement with prison gangs. The jury, I'm sure, sat there listening to Kester's cv in a state of semi-shock. (In person, Kester's a merry, irrepressible little guy, which makes his history all the more, well, disconcerting. He's a tough guy, to be sure, but in the circles he travels, he's got to be.)

KESTER rightly "argues that his trial counsel was ineffective because she elicited damaging information about him in her direct examination. Specifically, he says his prior convictions, his experiences on parole, his time in prison, and his tattoos should not have been explored before the jury. Many of these questions were necessitated by trial counsel’s decision to allow the full police interrogation to be played for the jury. If she had sought to redact the details of Kester's life behind bars, his experiences on parole and in prison, she would not have had to address these issues during Kester’s testimony.”

THE GUY'S on trial for strangling another violent tweeker in a fight, and Kester won the fight by eternal knockout. It's a manslaughter case. Obviously. But Thompson manages to parlay it into a murder conviction by putting Kester in the worst possible light. Which isn't hard to do, granted, but Thompson is supposed to be defending Kester on the specific facts of a violent encounter between two violent men, not poison the jury against Kester before she even gets to the matter he's on trial for.

KESTER argues that his trial counsel gave a “rambling unproductive closing argument.” (A Thompson specialty.) "Without any citation to authority, he argues it was reversible error for counsel to fail to argue for a verdict of manslaughter, properly explain the doctrine of imperfect self-defense, and explain the concept of reasonable doubt."

YES. Of course. Obviously.

"…IT IS TRUE that counsel, provided no 'roadmap' for the jury to evaluate the evidence and apply the law. She failed to discuss the elements of self-defense."

AND SELF-DEFENSE was Kester's entire defense, and his attorney didn't even bring it up!

DEPARTMENT of unintentional irony, this exchange, as reported in this week’s Willits Weekly by Mike A'Dair re the blasphemous and about-to-be asphalt plant on Outlet Creek:

"At another time during the hearing, Komer asked Scaglione: 'In your authorization to construct you wrote you were issuing a permit for the new plant. Why did you write, ‘permit for a new plant’?”

“Because it is a new plant,” Scaglione said.

“This is of interest to me, so I'd like to ask you, in what sense is it a new plant?”

“In the sense that it was new,” Scaglione said."

JAMES MARMON was fired from his job with Mendocino County for refusing to sign off on dubious child custody cases. The County then paid him a settlement out of a tacit assumption that Marmon had indeed been wrongfully terminated. Now, the County wants to shut him altogether.

MARMON WRITES: "Last week I received a letter from Mendocino County Counsel Doug Losak threatening me that if I continued to send emails to the Board of Supervisors that legal action would be taken against me. He claimed that my emails to the Board were in violation of a restraining order placed against me pertaining to Carmel Angelo, Stacy Cryer, and Bryan Lowery..."

LOSAK, as usual, is wrong about the law, the County looks stupid and thuggish trying to shut down a critic, and Angelo, Cryer and Lowery can simply hit the delete button if the poor dears are disturbed at Marmon's communiqués.

One Comment

  1. BB Grace September 9, 2015

    Huh? Why can’t Mendocino County handle billing for mental health?

    What county does not have contracted mental health services? All CA’s counties can’t handle billing? Come on.

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