- So You're Preston, Not Tyler?
- Talkin’ Jackboots
- Our Non-Public Public Utility
- Leave The Animal Shelter Alone
- Public Would Love These Pensions
- Sieg Heil, Y'all?
- Pension Crisis Is Real
- Shelter: Not Broken
- Record Global Warming In 2015
- Think Before You Privatize
- The Shelter's Ban On Certain Volunteers
- First Things First
SO YOU'RE PRESTON, NOT TYLER?
I'm an inmate at the Mendocino County Jail and I find your paper to be entertaining and informative along with having some interesting insights on certain topics. Once or twice you published a clipping of my case. I'm in jail for now. And I did not read the first one but apparently there was one. Perhaps you could include it in a response. Your ace reporter and made a joke about this being "Mello Mendo" when this jail is anything but. "Mental Mendo" is more like it for anyone with any wits about them who has spent time in this age old jail. This county has become more like Mendo Madness. I honestly regret ever coming here and I'm glad I have not been here since February of 2014 except for some court days.
To get to the point, I was wondering if I could get a copy of your paper while I'm here?
I did have a friend's license in my pocket but I certainly am not a honey oil man. I was a house-worker finishing up insulation and roofing of a remote cabin in Covelo that contained a basement full of the landowner's belongings. The landowner was an acquaintance and after the bust on his property he passed away leaving me with no key witness as to why I was there pulling onto the property during the bust. It's my word versus Officer Hoyle's. I shouldn't have been there, but times are hard for a subcontractor in February. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I'm sitting here now and it's horrible and a paper now and then would be nice to read. Maybe if the police force and their detectives had the scope and power of the mighty AVA I would not be here. But this county likes to make its money and I never had any to give so I will have to pay with time.
What a place does jail is, some real odd-balls and serious but low-level criminals. Could you answer where the money is going? It should be supplying socks and shoes and blankets and medical assistance. Or why don't they do a mental assessment or standard blood test before they house inmates together? It's not that I want this jail to be comfortable or that I plan on ever returning, but socks and shoes seem to be the least one should have along with knowing that the guy sitting next to you doesn't have a possible contagious disease or virus if you are stuck with an unclean or sick person in such close quarters. It would stink to have to share a cold metal toilet seat with two other people just to come in clean and leave with something horrible. I'm not trying to ramble, just curious about this place and the situation I'm in.
Ed note (From last December): The booking photo posted December 8th of “TYLER SMITH, Sylacauga, Alabama/Ukiah” was corrected on December 9th to say, “PRESTON SMITH.” Apparently, even the booking staff still considered Preston Smith to be Tyler Smith yesterday. But the confusion was explained a couple of days later by AVA court reporter Bruce McEwen: "Amazing occurrence today in court, demonstrating the scope and power of the mighty AVA. Early last summer we reported a bust in Covelo of a honey oil lab involving incredible amounts of the substance described by converts to the cannabis faith as a cure-all miracle drug. The bust was made by Sergeant Peter Hoyle of the Task Force. Omar Figueroa took the case of one Tyler Smith, formerly of Sylacouga, Alabama.
The case was on for a pre-trial conference today, and when Mr. Smith and his lawyer came in they seemed unhappy to see Sgt. Hoyle. This was not usual – Hoyle needn’t have come until the trial date, unless … Unless something was up. Turns out that the real Tyler Smith of Sylacouga, Alabama, had been contacted by someone who read about his bust online (the AVA was the only paper that wrote about his bust, as far as we know) and said, “Hey, Tyler, what’s this about you getting busted out in California?” Tyler went to the article, read it, then called Sgt. Hoyle and explained he’d never been to California. Hoyle ran his fingerprints – the ones of the guy he'd busted in Covelo -- and found out the honey oil man in Covelo wasn’t Tyler Smith at all – even though he had Tyler’s Alabama driver's license. The guy in court turned out to be Preston Alexander Smith, a fugitive from Alabama. His tattoos on his hands say “Outa-bama,” but he’ll certainly be "Inna-Bama on his extradition papers as soon as he gets his time served in Mello Mendo. Just goes to show how widespread the AVA readership is — and, hey, howzabout that?!”
Doug Chouteau ripped your reporting of a recent Mental Health Board meeting at the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (MCHC). Demanding an apology for being likened to a Nazi. Fortunately, there’s a video at Mendocino TV showing who made that comparison. It was board member Dina Ortiz. At minute marker 52:03. For reasons unknown, you apologized. Throwing good reporting under the bus. Leaving this reader scratching his head. Particularly in light of the bizarre aspects of MCHC’s government. In my view, you and Mr. Chouteau should be looking in that direction. For example:
• MCHC Bylaws, Article 3 – Associations: “We reserve the right to associate, cooperate and to affiliate with people of faith.” And Qualifications for Directors: “Directors of the Board of Directors will adhere to these by-laws in personal life and behavior. Failure to do so and/or immoral, unethical sinful, illegal or shameful behavior or activities shall be just cause for dismissal by the remainder of the Board.” Doesn’t that sound like a religious organization? Funded by Mendocino taxpayers?
• MCHC Bylaws, Article II, Section II – Composition of Board of Directors: “An advisory board of unspecified number shall be appointed by the Board of Directors. Advisory Board Members are non-voting members of the Board who act at the discretion of the Board of Directors on an advisory capacity.” AB 2755 outlawed non-voting board members on non-profit boards. That law went into effect on January 1, 2015 – ten months before these bylaws were passed. And Board Vacancies: “Treasurer and Secretary’s term length shall be at the discretion of the Board of Directors.” i.e., no term limits for whoever handles the money.
• MCHC Contributors. This is where it gets really interesting. I asked MCHC for their most recent tax return. What they gave me was a twenty-five page tax return for 2013. Which is four pages longer than what got filed with the State. The additional pages list two contributors. One is identified as the Kathleen Kohn Fetzer Family Foundation in Virginia. For $10,000. But there’s no such entity there. A foundation of that name was registered in Colorado back in 1999. But it’s been delinquent since 2010. And there’s no record of that foundation operating in California. The other contributor is Ortner Management Group. For $95,239. Ortner is a for-profit company that’s only been around since 2011. And obviously very profitable with a contribution that size.
• MCHC Grants. MCHC’s Federal tax return accounts for $413,162 in total grant funding for 2013. But their State filing declares $673,917. For a difference of $260,755. At $250,000, Ortner is the biggest single grant maker here. And according to all the declarations I could find, MCHC has never conducted an independent audit. Maybe it’s time for that to happen.
• MCHC Meeting Minutes. I asked MCHC for any and all board meeting minutes where bylaws and conflict of interest policies were approved. What I got were four excerpts where most of the meeting minutes had been whited out. There are no indications of who attended those meetings, who took the minutes or any other business that was conducted. Making MCHC look more like a secret society than a public charity.
• MCHC Conflict of Interest Policy. The only thing MCHC provided in response to my request is one page of an employee handbook. Putting the kibosh on conflicts of interest for MCHC employees – but not for directors and officers.
• MCHC Control. MCHC is controlled by two husband-and-wife households. Bill and Sue Gibson – who are reported as such on the 2013 tax return. And Gary and Lynelle Johnson, who aren’t. The tax return declares ten voting board members. But it only identifies eight of them.
• MCHC Meetings. Only by squinting at Agendas, can you get any idea of when MCHC’s meetings are. They appear to be the third Thursday of every month, at 9:00 am. That’s not doable for working folks. And according to the Bylaws, regular board meetings can be held without notice. So good luck finding one.
I understand Mr. Chouteau’s concerns about MCHC’s expanding – and highly questionable – operation in Fort Bragg. But any apologies should be coming from MCHC’s management, not you.
Scott M. Peterson
PS: You can see more nonprofit nonsense at my weekly video comic strip, Mendopia.
ED REPLY: The Chouteaus were clearly characterized as Nazis. Ms. Ortiz, a long-time employee of the County's mental health apparatus, i.e., a person well paid to do good, hauled out the Nazis to characterize the Chouteaus’ opinions critical of the Hospitality House operation, in which Ms. Ortiz and the County has a vested interest. Malcolm followed up by characterizing the Chouteaus’ remarks as "Trumpism wrapped in the National Socialist Worker's Party," and said that the Trumpism/fascism "has seemingly reared heads (sic) in Fort Bragg," going on to misapply pastor Neimoller's famous rhetoric in the context of the real Hitler, thus twice damning the Chouteaus as fascists. Which they aren't. (Mendocino County's free-range dope heads and drunks are hardly militant anti-fascists. Neimoller was operating in a context where real anti-fascists risked their lives against real fascists. Neimoller is mis-invoked in the no-risk context of contemporary America.) A day after the offense had appeared in print, I edited out all the hysteria re fascists in the on-line version of Malcolm's piece but, in the flurry of production day, did not see them until they appeared in the print paper. If I had seen the inflated insults prior to publication, as I should have, I would have called Malcolm and, I'm sure, we could have worked out a more reality-based edit together. But it was too late; I'd failed to do my job. I apologized to the Chouteaus and apologize to them again here. Mrs. Chouteau, incidentally, denounced me as a "pussy" for not "firing" Malcolm. I told her I couldn't fire someone for a mistake I made. I suggest to you, Scott, that you brush up on your reading skills. One irony here unnoted by either side is that the cops throughout the County routinely run warrant checks on whomever they stop, and those whomevers include many transients. If that maniac who broke into the Fort Bragg woman's house three weeks ago and nearly stabbed her to death had come to the attention of law enforcement prior to his murderous rampage they would have arrested him as a fugitive wanted in Montana. (I wonder how many free meals he enjoyed at Hospitality House.) I'll add that in my opinion the problem with all the Hospitality House-style programs everywhere in our doomed land is that they simply enable addicted persons to pursue their public self-destruction. The old state hospital programs at least provided respite plus real opportunities for people to pull themselves together. We need to revive the state hospital system, not that there's much chance for effective charity in the present political context.
OUR NON-PUBLIC PUBLIC UTILITY
More blah, blah, blah from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. about how non-solar consumers are being treated unfairly by selfish solar consumers, and darn it, that's not fair. PG&E spends billions of dollars on insane executive compensation, shareholder dividends ($800 million a year), non-stop lobbying and advertising before they even consider their virtually fixed annual profits, which are derived by nothing more than a confusing formula they hand the California Public Utilities Commission which furrows their proverbial brow and then rubber-stamps rate increases.
Not satisfied with that level of gouging, they recently persuaded the CPUC to take funds away from clean-energy Community Choice Aggregation organizations like Marin Clean Energy. And now they want to bleed out the solar industry because they paid too much for their long-term contracts. PG&E is a dirty company practicing dirty politics (never forget San Bruno) delivering dirty energy for a planet that needs less of everything they offer. The message from Paris was clear: It's time to lead, follow or get out of the way. PG&E should simply do the latter and let the rest of us make progress against climate change.
LEAVE THE ANIMAL SHELTER ALONE
To the Editor:
Several years ago, I worked at “Animal Control.” I was very naïve. I thought finding homes for dogs was a good thing. I was told by the director that we were not there to place dogs and not to do it. That left two things we were there for: sending dogs to UC for research, or murdering them. After that experience, I have had nothing good to say about that place. Until — they finally hired a director who genuinely cared for the animals. I had known Sage Mountainfire for many years through dog activity. I was very happy that they had finally hired a decent, responsible person after all the others. While I was still a little hesitant because of previous contacts, when I saw a post Sage placed looking for someone to drive a dog to a rescue organization, I contacted her. Since then, I have driven several dogs to new homes. Now, for some mysterious reason, they have decided to replace her with, possibly, an agency from outside the county! What possible sense could that make? Oh, wait, this is Mendocino County. They do things without thinking — the BOS just decided to allow Lovers Lane to be turned into a race track. With Sage, it has truly been an animal shelter, I would hate to see it return to being a doggy gestapo. Don’t make it, once again, a place where dogs and cats go to die.
PUBLIC WOULD LOVE THESE PENSIONS
To the Editor:
There is an appalling sense of injustice when I read the latest UDJ opinion regarding Mendocino County retiree pensions, and it is not in the terms of the article’s opinion, but in the fact the pensions are being questioned. Each and every one of these employees, with the possible exception of some of the high officials in the county whose retirement may have been negotiated as part of their employment package, has paid a great deal of money toward their retirement. Some of this at times came in the form of the County paying an increased percentage toward the retirement in lieu of pay raises or as part of the pay raise. Their retirements are well earned as part of their agreement with the county paying a percentage and the employees paying the rest.
The numbers cited in the article reflect only a few at the very top of the list, who were paid a commensurate amount while working. It should be known that all of these employees were working for Mendocino County at a wage less than they could have earned just about anywhere else in the state.
A comparison with a couple of people from our neighbor to the South, Sonoma County, can illustrate this. The Auditor/Controller from Sonoma County receives $254,624; the top retiree from Mendocino County from that position receives $180,000 and second in that position receives $99,000. The retired Sheriff from Sonoma County receives $239,000 where Tony Craver, for his years of service receives $130,000. Sonoma County Council receives $146,000 in retirement but in Mendocino County, the retired County Council receives $119,000. There are 57 retirees who make over $60,000/year and only 10 of those make over $100,000. This article is an injustice because it infers that all of the county retirees are sucking off the taxpayers for very large retirements. My wife worked for the County for 11 years, having part of her wages withheld for retirement from every check, and she receives just of under $11,000/year as retirement earnings. Again remember that, in most instances, half of the money these retirees are receiving came out of their income and was put into a retirement account that got hammered in the last “depression”.
All of these people spent their career serving the County at lower paying jobs than in either the private sector or other counties, and they have to listen to this type of criticism because of poor management of their retirement fund, of which they had no ability to manage themselves. Many of them took a job with the county because it promised a descent retirement with health benefits, often not available in private employment.
Several years ago all of these employees lost their health benefits that the county said they would pay for upon retiring, again due to the management of the fund and the downturn in the stock market. There is a great uproar about public retirement, but there isn’t a single person who is appalled by this that wouldn’t accept an equivalent retirement.
Robert C. Kiggins
SIEG HEIL, Y'ALL?
Letter to the Editor:
Bruce Anderson’s Off the Record column is one of my “must reads.” Have always enjoyed his “just the facts, ma’am” posture combined with the occasional tadpole-dropped-in-the-screwdriver-glass kind of party joke. Then any real American appreciates muckrakers. Then in my life I haven’t met many law and order lefties and that makes Bruce Anderson’s writing even more interesting. Yet, to paraphrase the renowned pianist and world famous humanitarian Oscar Levant, to get at the truth of 21st Century Anderson Valley (think Marin Co.’s Mill Valley set down in the bucolic Napa Valley of yesteryear) and the rest of the crewcut Redwood Empire (and the whole country), you’ve got to peel away layer after layer of tinsel before arriving at the inner kernel of tinsel.
Whenever I disagree with Bruce Anderson on some issue it’s nearly always a matter of emphasis and never any big thing. We both see the incompetence and corruption in society at all levels, although Bruce Anderson seems to blame human ineptitude and general all-round laziness while I mostly blame the mob. “The mob” as in an organized crime syndicate, kangaroo courts and lynch mobs (they’re the kind that blessed freedom-loving us with prisons for profit, healthcare for profit, war for profit, patriotism for profit, ad nauseum. I see cities ruled by fortified corporate sky-scrapping castle keeps filled with armored employees ready and willing to do most anything for a cut of the action. A century ago the American economist Thorsten Veblen wrote that “the highest achievement in business is the nearest approach to getting something for nothing,” and if you carefully study your TV programing you’ll see that’s about all the sponsors are offering.
I believe Donald Trump is fully capable of becoming the USA’s Holy Confederation of Sovereign Christian States’ beloved Fuhrer. He’s a multi-billionaire, ain’t he? How much stronger you want your Strong Man? And, if you don’t believe me when it comes to Trump’s qualifications to be America’s wartime Commander in Chief, I suggest you study Charlie Chaplin’s movie The Great Dictator (1940). If Germany’s National Savior could make Germany great again by ridding the ancestral homeland of Communists, Socialists, Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, cripples, morons, floozies, freeloaders, trouble-makers and fellow travelers with any or all of the above, what’s a few million poor Mexicans and native born devil-worshiping abortionists, radical feminists, freeloaders, check-bouncers, hitchhikers, squatters and welfare chiselers? How big is their army? Haw. A shrewd “businessman” like Trump can figure out ways to make these and other negative assets pay for their own liquidation. About 125 years ago one of America’s Robber Barons bragged that he could buy half the working class to kill off the other half, and there’s been nothing in the decades since to prove him wrong. Hitler wasn’t the first or the last clown to offer his loyal followers a clean conscience and a 1000 Year Reich.
The trouble with a word like “fascism” is that it’s so elastic. Like some might think what I just wrote applies only to the German Nazis who were so much worse than, say, our old Fascist partner Generalissimo Franco of Spain, to name just one. It is a lie, of course. All of Europe’s Fascists were mass murderers and butchers. They were not the only butchers, but butchery was their defining characteristic. Then when the absolutely toothless, corrupt and tyrannical empires of China and Russia got Born Again with Communism and repeating rifles, they too became very well accomplished as butchers. They were at least the equals of the Japanese Militarists, the English Imperialists, the American Liberators of the Philippines, etc., etc., etc.
I think the phrase that best describes the USA today is a failed state. Failed as in a blood-splattered totalitarian tyranny wherein “war is peace, slavery is freedom and ignorance is strength.” Totalitarianism as in trapped in what is taken by our masters and believed instinctively by us to be the Best of all Possible Worlds; the devil’s playground mistaken for God’s little acre. Uber-nationalism, exceptionalism, imperialism, militarism, religious fundamentalism, racism, sexism—with power in the hands of the few, you are allowed to pick your poison.
That is the world that was given to you; that’s the world you were made for and that’s what they’re counting on. If only we could find it within ourselves to disappoint them.
PS. For the first time in a couple of weeks, it snowed here this morning. Lotsa rain. El Nino the vato isn't supposed to affect us much in terms of precipitation, though it has been warmer than average and wetter. I'll take it.
PENSION CRISIS IS REAL
To the Editor:
John Dickerson has been warning Mendocino County about the unfunded pension liability crisis in the county for the past 10 years, but the Board of Supervisors has ignored it. Finally, at the joint meeting of the county retirement board and the Board of Supervisors on January 19, 2016 there seemed to be a realization that this was a true fiscal crisis. I believe the magnitude of the crisis and its long term impact on the county is still denied by both organizations. Yet there was general agreement that the county is deeply in debt, and the main cause is the management of the current pension system.
After all of the posturing and consultant analysis I came away with three clear conclusions. First, each year the county is spending an increasing percentage of county revenues on sustaining the current county retirement system. Second, each year there will be less county money to cover basic county needs—- roads, law enforcement, mental health, etc. Third, in the future it seems inevitable that the county will have difficulty securing financing from private sources for capital projects, and will pay a much higher interest rate.
Six of the nine members of the retirement board are County employees or retirees. I have no doubt that they are good people. But only the County must pay extra to the County’s Pension Fund if there isn’t enough to pay pensions that have been promised—employees and retirees have no such obligation. So who stands up for the residents of the County who need emergency services or mental health services? Who stands up for making sure that our roads are in good shape?
The one ray of hope was the comments by Ted Stephens, who is one of the retirement board members. He is well informed on the county financial crisis, and he is clearly an independent voice. One action that the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors could take is to add more independent members to the retirement board. This might give us some hope that things may change.
SHELTER: NOT BROKEN
The county's Administrative Offices could not have made it any clearer that their concerns and support are directed toward people who have been sabotaging the integrity of the Ukiah Animal Shelter for a year, and not their own employees. Last week, the Executive Offices, after receiving numerous, written complaints about the uncomfortable atmosphere generated by the continued presence at the shelter of volunteers who have authored hurtful and very slanted social media posts about shelter employees, turned around 24 hours later and placed the shelter supervisor on paid administrative leave--effectively making the entire remaining staff feel vulnerable, unsupported and unsafe. Kicking out the only person at the shelter qualified to test the many incoming dogs, and leaving the shelter extremely short-staffed, appears to plenty of us in the community as a handshake with, and for, the people trying to outsource--or in their newest lingo, "public-private partnership," the shelter.
Is it the county's aim to cripple the shelter, watch it wither and die, then call in the replacement--Petaluma Animal Services? Why the county would even be thinking of raffling off another of it's responsibilities when the outsourcing of it's Mental Health agency has been fraught with so many problems and community unhappiness, is completely unfathomable.
If you were to ask the average person in Mendocino County their thoughts on the running of the Ukiah shelter, most would answer in one of three ways: 1) they don't know and don't care; 2) the shelter is doing a fine job; 3)they adopted the greatest dog or cat in the world, give many thanks to the shelter, and had a fine experience.
With the county so entrenched in damage control issues over past decisions, I suggest that now is not the time to be creating another potential problem, when in fact, the shelter DOES work. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Simple.
RECORD GLOBAL WARMING IN 2015
Independent analyses by the NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded earth's 2015 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880. Globally-averaged temperatures exceeded the previous high set in 2014. Most of the warming happened in the past 35 years with 15 of the 16 warmest years occurring since 2001. Weather energy can affect regional temperatures which means not every region experiences record average temperatures. Also, El Nino and La Nina can affect global average temperatures. The NASA analyses uses measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship and ocean buoys. The resulting calculations is an estimate of the global average temperature difference from a baseline period of 1951 to 1980. NOAA uses a different baseline in their analyses. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said "Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and NASA's vital work on this important issue affects every person on earth. Today's announcement not only underscores how critical NASA's Earth observation program is, it is a key data point that should make policy makers stand up and take notice - now is the time to act on climate." Unfortunately, we have a world of deniers and nothing of real substance will happen. When you factor in that the concentration of CO2 since the start of the industrial revolution is up from 120 parts per million (ppm) to 400 ppm and is expected to reach an all time high of 450 ppm by 2050. As I commented in a previous letter at that point we shall go into a period where our resources will be insufficient to support and feed our population. There will be mass starvation. It will be hard to visualize a world that we have now.
In peace and love,
THINK BEFORE YOU PRIVATIZE
The Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency is now in a bidding process with the Petaluma Animal Shelter and plans to present recommendations to you, our Board of Supervisors, about whether to accept PAS’s proposal to manage our Ukiah Animal Shelter. I have been volunteering at the Ukiah Animal Shelter for about five years. At first, I walked dogs and became familiar with all areas of the shelter. During the last two years, I have been contacting people that have adopted our pets to ask how their pet is doing and about their experience in general. I have visited the Petaluma Animal Shelter (PAS) and was given a tour by Jeff Charter, PAS Director. Although he has done a nice job with that shelter, we have an amazing shelter in Ukiah.
People who come to the UAS from Sacramento, Bay Area, the coast and Sonoma County have been overwhelmingly positive about our shelter. From the hundreds of phone callsI have completed, only one has been very negative. Granted, a few people have been concerned about the cost of adoption, about health issues that have shown up after adoption, or how a shelter staff/volunteer might have responded to them on a particular day. Contrary to these few complaints, the general response has been overwhelmingly positive about the adoption process, friendliness and helpfulness of the staff and volunteers. People consistently report the adopted pet has become the best thing in their lives. A number of these people have told their friends to come to our shelter to adopt because they had such a good experience. Many people have sent photos and comments to Sage Mountainfire, our shelter supervisor, who posts these on the shelter website or in reception area binder. Truly, the positivity is rewarding. Recently someone came from Santa Rosa and another from Petaluma to adopt at our shelter because they couldn’t find a desirable pet in their area. There are about seven shelters in the area around Petaluma. PAS has recently had four pets on their adoptable pets website. With so few pets, it must be easy to have a high live release rate at PAS
Our shelter sponsors a volunteer orientation on the first Wednesday of each month. Amy Campbell, our shelter adoption coordinator, does a wonderful job of presenting shelter opportunities. If an attendee decides to volunteer, they fill our an information form and sign up for a time and duty. When the new volunteer actually arrives, she or he is given another training about his or her duties: walking dogs, etc. When I first volunteered to walk dogs, another long-time volunteer trained me for an hour. PAS provides one individual training. I prefer the group orientation which weeds out the person who may not be sure about volunteering. Our shelter advertises in the volunteer column of the UDJ, has a Volunteer flyer, and we encourage others to volunteer because we are proud of our shelter.
Sage invited and facilitated the visit of a nationally know expert to our shelter to initiate “Dog Play Groups.” This program has been successful in socializing larger dogs from various backgrounds to become more adoptable. This is hard to do when there are plantations that let dogs go feral at the end of each season. This is another demographic difference from Petaluma. The Pit Crew trains pit bulls to be more adoptable.
Our animal shelter’s intakes and outcomes keep growing, perhaps, in part due to our large demographic area encompassing the far reaches of Mendocino county. One graph on the HHRS website, dated 2002-2009 indicates a significant decline in our euthanasia rates, from 58% to 17.6% and an increase in adoptions/transfers during that time. According to one current HHSA county chart, dated 1/1/15 to 12/18/15, our shelter took in 2111 animals of all kinds and adopted out or transferred the majority to other shelters or rescue groups. Both transfers and adoption rates have increased since 2009 while the euthanasia rate has continued to decrease even more. There appears to be a gap in the available online public data between 2009 and 2015. As our shelter intakes increase, our statistics need to be updated in the HHRS office and made public. Please note that the euthanasia rate has significantly decreased under Sage Mountainfire’s supervision. We have a two-day a week veterinarian who tends to the health of our pets and a Pet Caravan which travels our county. PAS contracts with a local vet to diagnose and determine really unhealthy dogs and vicious animals to be euthanized, This makes it difficult to determine their actual euthanization rate. Also,PAS can’t take in any livestock due to city ordinances. PAS contains mostly small animals. PAS’s demographics is just different than ours We take in all animals in need.
A grand jury report indicated the shelter was in need of repair, that staff had low morale and there was a rat and flea outbreak. Since I have been volunteering, I have never seen a rat or flea outbreak. Of course, the shelter is exposed to the outside like our barns and sheds where we do see a rat or mouse. Fleas live on wildlife and on the ground, and often enter the shelter on pets that are received by the shelter. As far as morale, it must be much better now than when the grand jury report was published. Currently, the shelter has a collaborative and hard working staff. They work well together and help each other out.
I understand that our sheriff’s department would continue to provide animal control, so this is a non issue.
Budget is a big issue everywhere. People are fighting, or shall I say, bidding for money and services. According to the adopted county budget for 2014-15, the shelter’s net appropriations was $924,087. The net county cost of the shelter was $331,397.The difference comes from revenues. I couldn’t find a current budget for 2015-16. Remember, we operate a vet clinic for low cost spay/neuter and a caravan. PAS has an operating budget of about $1 million and is reimbursed 40% by the City of Petaluma. PAS Director earns over $100,000, whereas, our shelter supervisor earns roughly half of that. There is talk of the $331,397 being a budget shortfall, but has there been careful considerations of the costs imposed by PAS or how our budget could be more solvent using “common sense” without outsourcing our of our county and engaging in a private-public partnership.
There are activities we can do to help offset costs: more fund raising, even grant writing if the country allows. I believe that with HHRS and shelter staff collaboration, other improvements can be made. There is always room for self evaluation, no matter what the profession.
I urge you to visit the Petaluma Animal Shelter and other shelters if you have not had the opportunity. Our county has an amazing shelter and visiting PAS might help insure a thoughtful process in the final decision of what to do with our Ukiah Animal Shelter.
THE SHELTER'S BAN ON CERTAIN VOLUNTEERS
The only thing wrong with the county's recent "banning" of several volunteers (with the exception of one, mistakenly identified as problematic) was that it didn't happen half a year ago.
2015 saw several people join the volunteers at the shelter who had, until that point, a pretty good track record of working amicably together and with the shelter staff. Not so the newbies--who proclaimed themselves the only capable people at the shelter, whining on social media about perceived injustices and insults, and posting about "killings" of kittens and dogs, inviting responses from the invisible world of social media critics and refusing to take responsibility for their actions.
For whatever reason — fear of repercussions during the ridiculously drawn out shelter outsourcing procedure (this has gone on for over a year, while the county has had the response to their RFP since August 4, and staff was told months ago that they could be laid off any moment), a desire or false hope that the tone of social media and gossip might change for the better, nothing was done to rectify an uncomfortable and problematic situation.
Armed with an agenda, these folks have turned a community conversation into a hurtful, negative farce. In any another workplace, volunteers who carried on like this would have been "released" a long time ago.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
To the Editor:
Thanks to the Daily Journal for the excellent editorial on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, about the County’s budgetary retirement mess. Unfortunately, the issues discussed are likely to be with us for the next several months and, maybe, years. I believe we can’t just talk. Tough decisions have to be made and implemented. Some of the key points to consider are the following:
One. The County is insolvent. Its liabilities — mostly incurred in connection with its employee retirement obligations — exceed its assets by at least $50 million.
Two. A major portion of its liabilities consist of about $130 million of bonds issued in two tranches during the last 20 years to fund shortfalls in the County’s required contributions to the employees’ retirement fund. These bonds require annual payments to bondholders of several million dollars per year.
Three. Another significant County liability is the requirement to contribute several million dollars per year to the employee retirement fund, which supplements the smaller amount contributed per year by the employees. Despite both these sources of contribution, the retirement fund balance is going down each year because its outflow requirements exceed its income. This is partly explained by the fact the retirement fund’s advisers give the fund’s board of directors poor advice about what rate of return can be earned on the retirement fund.
Four. Without voter approval the County cannot increase its income (raise taxes) sufficiently to (i) pay required contributions to the employee retirement fund and (ii) pay its bonded indebtedness without seriously cutting back on the services it is required to provide for its residents/tax payers — i.e., roads and health and safety services.
Five. Perhaps most importantly, we citizens can’t now know just exactly what part of our infrastructure must be promptly repaired or built to prepare for a productive and healthy County economy in the years ahead — think Flint and Detroit Michigan. But, we do know that if a major part of our tax receipts go to satisfying retirees’ pension expectations and bondholders’ demands the County won’t have the money required to pay for even vital current services for its residents, let alone prepare for expected future requirements.
In other words, something has to give, and it would be highly irresponsible for the Board of Supervisors to continue putting off making the decisions necessary to get the County’s financial house in order.
Some important questions that the Supervisors, and, indeed, all County residents, have to decide are:
Item A. What values, or priorities, should underlie and control the trade-offs to be made? Do we take a slice, or a share, from each of the County’s areas of responsibility — pay and benefits for employees, bond payments, and provision of services to residents/tax payers? Or, is it more important to meet some obligations than others when it’s obvious that all can’t be met? Is it more important to fix roads, provide infrastructure for future development and provide needed health and safety services; or is it more important to continue to pay bond holders and some of the large pension payments the Daily Journal Editor listed?
Item B. When should the decisions be made? Soon, so a great deal of money is not wasted, or lost, pursuing alternatives we can now reasonably see will not be successful? Or, later, after we try to cut back a little on everything and see if we can’t muddle through or get some help from somewhere?
Item C. Do we need to change County leadership on these issues so decisions can be made by people who don’t have a direct interest involved or an “axe to grind” and who may be better qualified — by education and experience — to make the decisions than are our existing “Leaders” who have gotten us into this situation? Most of our current “Leaders” are significant beneficiaries of the existing employment benefit system and several of them have participated in several very unwise decisions that have resulted in the current state of affairs. If they won’t voluntarily quit, maybe they should be thrown out.
My own view, which is supported by several old court cases, is that the County’s primary obligation is to perform for its residents the services necessary for their prosperity, health and welfare, and that paying pensions and bondholders are only possible means to that end, not ends in themselves. This view is consistent with the preamble to the U.S. Constitution:
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…”
I believe that if paying bond holders or paying pension obligations leave the County with too little money to meet these obligations, then the County must prioritize and perform its primary obligations. And, despite what employee organizations and state politicians said for many years, after bankruptcy cases involving Vallejo, Stockton, and Detroit, there is no doubt but that the Federal Bankruptcy law affords municipalities such as Mendocino County a legal, honorable, and tried and true avenue for prioritizing their obligations and preparing for a viable future, even if this means paying bondholders and some pensioners less than they reasonably expect to receive.
But, some folks may differ; and my effort here is not to convince anyone of what our priorities should be. The point I want to make is that the County is broke, it is going further into the hole every year, and it should promptly make and then efficiently effectuate the decisions necessary to implement a viable course of action that will accomplish the purposes that serve its citizens’ and residents’ interests.
Jared G. Carter