Supervisor Hamburg’s sudden concern at Tuesday’s meeting for the condition of County roads didn’t fool the Sheriff. Agenda item 6(e) sponsored by Gjerde and McCowen requested that they be authorized to draft an argument in favor of Measure AH on the November ballot (Measure AG is the Sheriff's mental health initiative, Measure AH is a companion measure which contains the enacting clause necessary to implement the taxation aspect of Measure AG).
Gjerde and McCowen distributed a draft argument which endorsed both AG and AH and expressed the hope that all five BOS members would sign. Hamburg balked, saying he was on board to put Measure AH on the ballot but made it clear he did not support AG. He criticized it for being a one page proposal that lacked any detail and brought up the fiscal analysis done by the Executive Office staff.
Camille Schrader delivered a realistic and detailed summation of how the different elements favored by Allman (Psychiatric Hold, Crisis Residential, Crisis Outpatient. and Drug and Alcohol Treatment) could be funded. Allman followed with a passionate defense of the purpose of the Measure, but did not really try to address Hamburg's concerns. Hamburg then doubled down with his criticism, calling the Sheriff's initiative "a pig in a poke." The BOS voted 4-1 (with Hamburg opposed) to approve the argument and endorse both Measures AG and AH.
Watching Tuesday’s meeting, we see Allman's speech, Hamburg doubling down in his criticism and finally the Sheriff and Hamburg firing comments back and forth. Oddly, most of Hamburg's cult-like following, like most of the County’s voters, probably favor the Sheriff's initiative, so it is not clear what Hamburg gained by ripping into it.
Hamburg could have briefly stated his concerns, that he was not ready to endorse it and let it go at that. But the bottom line may be that we have two people who really don't like each other. Sheriff Allman is a career law enforcement officer and Dan Hamburg is a marijuana grower who is prone to think the worst of the blue meanies. (We’re printing the entire exchange between Sheriff Allman and Hamburg below.)
Hamburg opened the discussion of the Mental Health Facilities Initiative by saying he supports the enabling initiative to collect the tax, but not necessarily the initiative itself because he was worried that it might end up costing too much money from the General Fund.
McCowen said he had a recent "revelation" that the Initiative would be "the best move forward," and that he now supported it, adding that the Board would "do everything we can to make it work. I hope we can all put our names to this."
Hamburg: "Four of you could sign it if that's what you want to do. It's shocking that just a few meetings ago we went through Executive office report which concludes that it 'hopes' that funding streams will come through to make it fiscially possible. I interpret that as a weak endorsement, hope as opposed to 'believes' or 'has confidence that.' I'm not used to making $40 million decisions based on someone's hope. We all hope it works out. I'm just not ready to endorse it. I don't think we've begun to answer the questions. There's a $5 million shortfall. [The County staff analysis was] a worse case scenario? Our job to look at worst case, not rose colored glasses. It might adversely affect the county budget. [The County analysis] took a lot of money to prepare, and it raised a lot of questions in my mind which are laid out in report. One page initiative that talks about $40 million of taxpayer money. We have not resolved a lot of the issues that are presented by this initiative. There are lots of things I wrote down. I just don't understand where this thing is going well enough to say I'm a proponent of it."
Redwood Quality Management's Camille Shrader pointed out that there are several components to the services that would be provided and most of them can be handled with existing funds. She was primarily worried about the residential drug treatment segment where there are things in Obamacare and Medical that might affect the funding, but that that segment could be postponed until the picture becomes clearer. She also said that staffing the facility with all-county employees with all their benefits on a 24/7 basis would be too expensive.
Sheriff Allman: “Most of my comments will be directed towards Supervisor Hamburg because I appreciate his concern, his valid concerns. I think that the answers to some questions are necessary, however we all agree that our crystal balls are in the shop, they are not here and we can't predict. 17 years ago when we closed the Puff [Psychiatric Holding Facility, PHF], nobody in this room was responsible for closing the Puff. The decision was based on some of the things you brought up like staffing. When we closed the Puff as a county decisions were made about money, decisions were made because there had been several transfers to the jail where suicides occurred. It was a shortsighted mistake. I can't blame the people who made the decision because I was not aware of all the facts. I was a North Sector Lieutenant in the North County and I did my own thing. I wasn't involved. And no one asked me what I thought. Now we have the benefit of history. We have the benefit of looking back 17 years and saying that after 17 years was the decision made then correct or was it a hastily made decision? I find myself in the corner that it was a hastily made decision that was penny-wise and pound-foolish. Some people may say this County has historically made colossal mistakes. I don't agree with that. I think we made the decision based on the knowledge we had and the situation at the time. We now have the benefit of history in our corner. The question I ask myself everyday when I make decisions is, Is this going to improve public safety or will it diminish public safety? Will this improve the quality of life or will it diminish the quality of life in Mendocino County? Those questions we as elected officials have to ask ourselves. You spend a quarter billion dollars a year as a Board of Supervisors and I'm only responsible for $23 million. But I ask that question regularly: Is this going to make Mendocino County better if I did this thing or that thing for the jail, or Would I buy this patrol car or not? So while Supervisor Hamburg has asked a very vital question regarding public employee staffing, I want to remind the board that during the discussion of Proposition 172 the County has been reminded very clearly that the Board of Supervisors for Mendocino County is the legislative body of Mendocino County and I'm part of the executive branch. You are part of the legislative branch. You decide if it's going to be staffed by public employees or if it's going to be contracted out. We also have the history of that. Ortner is now a four letter word in his room. Ortner is a corporation that we learned a lesson from. Other counties don't have the benefit of that. We have learned lessons. If we don't remember history we are bound to repeat it. Now we are in a situation where we have families who are distraught because they have no idea where their loved one is being housed, whether it's in Yuba County or Sonoma County. We have 4383 citizens who have signed a petition to say, Will you give us an opportunity to tax ourselves so we can have basic mental health services provided in Mendocino County? So we are not asking for extravagant services, we are asking for basic mental health services. And my employees are the ones who see the mother's tears who say, We've been calling and we are not getting the services we need, or, We don't know where he is. Can you imagine that as a parent? Can you imagine having your child missing and you don't know where they are and nobody can help you in government? I can't. But that's where we are right now. I'm not trying to diminish the quality of the work we are getting from the current county employees and the quality of work we are getting from Redwood Quality Management. I'm not trying to diminish them. But what we have isn't working. We have a situation where the citizens have brought an initiative on the ballot to say we think we can do better and we want to tax ourselves. Who are we to say we don't approve of that because it might cost us more money? I don't think we're in that position. I don't think we are in that position because we are driving the boat. You get to decide how this works. I will clearly say to all five of you that I could specifically talk about your supervisorial district and I could name names of problem people who are consistently in our jail. We could use the word recidivism as easily as we could use the word criminal element. Let's talk about mental health recidivism. I could name the three frequent flyers in all five of your districts that are costing us $1 million a year. And that would be 15 people. I think it's fair to say that. We have to be smarter with this problem. We can't forget why we are doing the jobs we do. If you forget why you are doing the job you are doing then maybe we can have a one-on-one conversation because I know what all five of you ran on. I know your platforms. And nobody said, I want to get elected to the board of supervisors to make mental health worse. You're not for that. We're all in this together. So let's give it to the voters. Four supervisors, five supervisors, no supervisors. Let's give it to the citizens and allow them to make the decision. But don't predict the wrong things that are going to happen when you are charged with making those decisions now, as you are basically, subliminally telling us: that you are going to make the wrong decisions. If I didn't have trust in all five of you I would not be Sheriff of this County. I work for 4% of my salary right now. [Allman means he could retire and receive a pension that is 96% of his salary.] But I'm doing it because I love my job. If you can't see this as improving the quality of life in mental health then I need you to tell your constituents that. I do. But if you don't support this, then you need to support something that's a good alternative to improving the quality of life and improving public safety in Mendocino County. We need to step forward with a better idea or support this initiative. Thank you.”
Hamburg: “But we do know that we have a very finite number of dollars and we know that if this initiative passes and, Sheriff Allman, I am all for the 4000+ people who signed this initiative being able to go to the voting booth and cast their ballot and the people of the county. You and the people who support this initiative have worked hard to get the signatures and you followed all the processes and there's going to be a vote and the people of the county will decide if they are going to be taxed this additional amount for the next five years. I'm not a big fan of the sales tax, it's regressive, it treats rich people and poor people the same. But it's the mechanism of choice. You feel that this 11-member panel that the board is going to help to choose along with the Board of Supervisors will make wise decisions about how to spend mental health dollars in Mendocino County for the next whatever it is, 30 years 40 years, for this facility and all. What really concerns me is the lack of of a coordinated and well distributed body of expertise and mental health systems planning organization and budgeting. I don't see that. I don't necessarily see what this 11-member panel will come up with because they are mostly political choices by the board. I don't see it on this board. I don't think the five of us, not a single one of us are mental health professionals. I think the people deserve to vote, I think that people will vote. But I am being asked on the basis of a one-page initiative to be a proponent of a $40 million expenditure that very well might cause the expenditure of general fund dollars but at least will cause a diminishment of the possibilities of a sales tax to fund other things that are very close to my heart. There were two things I wanted on the ballot this year. I wanted a road tax on the ballot and I wanted a tax to help the fire department on the ballot. If your initiative passes it's going to be that much harder to raise money for other things because people are — we are a poor county. We were able to get a library tax through but it was only 1/8¢. This is a significant tax and I just don't see it — and when I read that Beacon report [which the County's gold-plated analysis was based on] again over the weekend it says 'there is no specific information in this initiative but we are making this assumption.' I mean it is repeated over and over and over again. So I feel like I am being asked to, you know, the proverbial expression is to buy a pig in a poke. I don't see the level of detail for something as big as this in front of me."
Allman: “Simplicity is part of the plan. If you notice, the word 'development' is in there, not construction. There are many words in there that we wanted to allow this board to have the creativity –“
Hamburg: “This board! There's not a single mental health expert on this board, Tom!”
Allman: “Supervisor Hamburg, why does it take 17 years for the citizens to say that a decision that was made in 1999 was incorrect? Why isn't someone on this board saying, Let's correct it?”
Hamburg: “I personally do not know if it was the wrong decision.”
Allman: “A sales tax was decided because a parcel tax is a very common tax in this county. Please keep in mind that in the summer time our deputy sheriffs are dealing with the tourists and visitors of this county with mental health issues and I don't think they are paying a parcel tax but they are certainly buying restaurant food and and using our roads. Their taxes will be collected and will hopefully pay for their portion of what they are utilizing. Fifty years from now I guarantee you I will not be alive but I hope we are going to have a mental health facility in 50 years. If we need a road tax, if we need a fire tax, I will support them. And that's the reason we put a sunset on this. Proposition 13 does not allow us to build basic infrastructure right now. I know we can't do everything at once. But the truth is we were doing nothing at the time. Nothing! I didn't see anybody coming forward to collect signatures for a road tax on this board. I know there was discussion of a road tax, I know there was discussion of fire tax, but I didn't see any action. And that's why this group of citizens and I said that we are going to take the action necessary.”
Hamburg: “Yes, yes. You guys went first and you have the momentum. And congratulations! I'm not putting the effort down.”
Allman: “If you don't want to support this, fine.”
CEO Carmel Angelo pointed out that the County's analysis was a "full build out" analysis and that it could be less.
Allman added, "I've been called a lot of things in my career. I don't think anybody has specifically called me an idiot. They might have behind my back. But I don't remember that. At this point I'm arguing for general fund dollars [for the Sheriff's department]. If anyone on this board thinks I'm dumb enough to put a proposition on the ballot that's going to be competing against General Fund dollars that I'm trying to get then I'm not the one who's an idiot. Because I am not going to allow my sheriff's office to be unfunded for something I put on the ballot. I'm smart enough to predict the future on some of this stuff. We have to look at John Dickerson. We have to look at some other public employee pension people who are spending lots of money and their own time and coming up with decisions and — to say maybe what we were doing in the past were mistakes. But if we make the same mistakes in the future how can we incorporate this new knowledge and still succeed? That's where we are. I am not going to compete against something else when I have deputy sheriffs I need to put on the street."
In the end the Board voted 4-1 to write a ballot statement supporting the initiative, Hamburg dissenting.
No one pointed out that there are other staffing models, especially models that involve greater use of stand-by personnel in the off hours which could significantly reduce the "full build out" 24/7 overly expensive model that Hamburg seems so worried about.