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Off the Record (Feb. 22, 2017)

A COUPLE of weeks ago, Sheriff Allman got real mad at the Supervisors. The Sheriff wanted a rescue Snow Cat, a tractor, basically, to extract people from life threatening circumstances in Mendocino County's many miles of remote, snow-bound winter mountains.

THE SUPES said no, advising the Sheriff to come back with his request at mid-summer budget time. By then, snow emergencies are past and unlikely to resume until late October.

THE SHERIFF was very unhappy at the refusal and has since arranged to purchase the crucial equipment out of the law enforcement slush fund amassed through dope interdictions and let's make a deal legal bargains conducted by the DA.

IT HAS GONE unmentioned, and even the Sheriff hasn't brought it up again, but during his Snow Cat request in open session of the Supe's meeting, Supervisor Gjerde, ordinarily the very soul of discretion, mentioned, during his reply to the Sheriff's Snow Cat request, that the Sheriff, in a closed session discussion with the Supes, had asked for conversion of a surplus Savings Bank building on West Perkins to a Sheriff's sub-station. The request was not supposed to have been made public but there it was.

I ASKED GJERDE why he'd outed the Sheriff's request. He evaded the outing part of the question but explained that his, and presumably his colleagues', "primary concern wasn't the purchase price of the Saving Bank building. The bigger issue was the inability of County taxpayers to afford to pay the ongoing costs for extra staff, along with maintenance, of yet another county building," going on to quite reasonably put in wider County fiscal perspective the overall financial situation of the good ship, Mendo:

GJERDE: “It's important to remember that the County has already pledged a local match of up to $2 million to a possible State grant that would construct a new wing for the jail. If built, that means the County is pledging to pay for an extra 10 employees. In today's dollars, the extra jail payroll will cost the County more than $1.2 million a year, all from local tax dollars. That said, the County is simply not in a position to carry the costs of hiring additional employees, Students of Mendocino history are well aware of what has prompted the fiscal crisis Mendocino County has faced since 2008. A series of 'popular' but financially unsustainable votes, many in the 1990s and early 2000s have given us a County pension system that is underfunded by roughly $200 million and a County road system that is underfunded by roughly $600 million. The County is making progress to dig itself out from this mess. To succeed, however, all parts of County government need to work for the long-term."

SUPERVISOR GJERDE'S comment on the state of Mendo County finances explains why the County is broke: "Students of Mendocino history are well aware of what has prompted the fiscal crisis Mendocino County has faced since 2008. A series of 'popular' but financially unsustainable votes, many in the 1990s and early 2000s have given us a County pension system that is underfunded by roughly $200 million and a County road system that is underfunded by roughly $600 million."

SUPERVISOR GJERDE did not name names, but the chief culprits are easily identifiable based on the timing of some of the more egregious decisions that make up the history he refers to. Former Supervisor John Pinches has told the story many times, that when he left the Board of Supervisors after his first term in the 1990s, the County had a balanced budget and no long-term debt. Conservative Supervisors Mike Delbar (1st District-Potter Valley) and Patty Campbell (4th District-Fort Bragg) were elected in 1996, just in time to issue the first Pension Obligation Bonds. Willits mortician Tom Lucier was elected 3rd District Supervisor in 1998 and helped drive the decision to fund the Willits Justice Center, the ugliest building in the North County which has been sitting vacant for years. Lucier also gets credit for the Willits Integrated Service Center an unmanaged Social Services satellite operation, and another expensive boondoggle. Both were paid for by a questionable rope-a-dope financial scheme that evaded a requirement for a public vote on taxpayer funded bonds.

THIS TRIO OF SELF-ALLEGED CONSERVATIVES then jumped on board the Slavin Study bandwagon that dramatically increased employee salary and benefits without anyone bothering to ask how to pay for it or the accompanying future pension increases. Lucier stuck around just long enough to join his "conservative" colleagues in voting for the second round of Pension Obligation Bonds. All were on board for mismanagement of the Teeter Plan (which was supposed to make a little money for the county via past due property tax fees and penalties), which saw an initial "investment" of $5 million balloon to more than $11 million in debt.

WHEN THE SLAVIN STUDY pay raises were approved, Pinches, who was still out of office at the time, was quoted telling the Supes "There's an acorn for every pig." Pinches often noted that it was three conservative Republicans (Delbar, Campbell, and Lucier) who buried the County in debt.

(THE SLAVIN STUDY wasn’t exactly a scholarly work. It found what the Supervisors who commissioned it wanted its authors to find — other counties pay more. Mendo should, too.)

PINCHES got back on the Board of Supes just a couple of years before the economic collapse of 2008. Supervisors Brown and McCowen were elected during the crash. Starting from the brink of bankruptcy they slashed operating costs, balanced the budget, paid off the Teeter Plan, and restored the County's credit rating, which had plunged to junk bond status. And they were able to do this despite the petty thievery of disgraced Supervisors Kendall Smith and David Colfax, who never missed an opportunity to divert public money to themselves.

HAMBURG, while the County’s fiscal disaster was under construction, had drifted from the Board of Supervisors, Congress, China, the Adi Da cult… He has since been re-elected to the board. The late Seiji Sugawara and Norman de Vall had gone off the board dominated by the free-spending "conservatives." Shoemaker was on the Board for most of the chicanery, and wasn't what you might call opposed, but it was the trio of "conservatives" who led the way.

MIKE WILLIAMS POINTS OUT: Re: Historical Archives — The County Museum holds much much more than one might think. The Aginsky papers are a vast treasure trove of research from the ’30’s – 50’s, conducted by the Social Science Field Laboratory. While a bit controversial in their methods, the Aginsky’s ended up writing that strange little book “Deep Valley.” You do the Hudson Museum a dis-service by suggesting that it is all about the “happy papoose”. Besides the files of Grace and John Hudson, there is much more, including material by Ukiah High grad 1899, and first Masters in Anthro at UC Berkeley, Samuel A Barret. Barrett had a remarkable career that ultimately resulted in Native American films before he passed away in the early ’60s. Check him out.”

YEAH, you're right, Mike. I just wish there was some coordination, a central index listing what exactly the County's collective archive consists of and where to find it.

MENDOCINO TOWN PLAN. Those three words can clear a room faster than Seal Team Six. It's bad enough that the "Plan" has been debated for decades by tag teams of Mendo residents committed to "preserving the character" of the town, although it was irretrievably lost certainly by 1965 when it was "discovered" by well-heeled artistes. The Coastal Commission won't sign off on the thing, which basically says no franchise operations. A CC person, Tamara Gedik, is apparently the obstacle to the long-awaited approval. She was recently denounced as a "rogue" employee by Supervisor Gjerde for her endless obfuscations of the approval process, as if anybody at this point gives a hoot if the Town Plan is ever finally approved. Mendo is what it is — an over-crowded gimcrack bazaar strictly for undiscerning tourists.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING, the new NetFlicks series called, "Nobel," an ironic title about a Norwegian special forces unit assigned to Afghanistan and related intrigue involving the Norwegian government. The irony is that Norway is the home of the famous (and famously corrupted) peace prize annually doled out in the name of the inventor of dynamite.

REALISTICALLY WRITTEN and finely acted, the on-screen Norwegian commandos are depicted as operating under strict rules. They aren't supposed to shoot unless they see a weapon. This stricture prompts some funny comments from the Norge special forces: "We should be like the Americans. They blast away first and ask questions later." There's a non-saccharine love story grafted on to the war and politics narrative with the combat scenes so well done they could be documentary footage. All this and you get a little window into the land of fjords and kippers.

“I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO” is a strong documentary film starring the late James Baldwin (himself) in numerous film clips and his prose as it describes America's perpetually combustible black-white relations.

I SAW BALDWIN speak at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco back in another life, maybe circa '62. He was the best speaker I'd seen and, of course, the fire he'd predicted "next time" has often since flamed up in our dependably bifurcated black-white country.

THE FILM makes for painful viewing. It consists largely of Baldwin's words against a backdrop of blithely racist clips from American movies, and random docu-footage and stills of real life atrocities. For a lifelong lib lab like yours truly, nothing new here, but accompanied by Baldwin's passion and words, the film is one more powerful reminder that as race relations get better with millions of people, they grow worse with millions more. Overall, "I Am Not Your Negro" should be required viewing in the schools as a lesson on how we got to where we are.

FORT BRAGG'S previous City Council seemed steadfastly oblivious to the increasing complaints about Hospitality House's burgeoning transient services in the middle of town. In the face of rising complaints Mayor Turner, backed by two auto-votes (mercifully retired), and city manager Ruffing, made Fort Bragg more and more hospitable to an ever larger population of drop-fall drunks, drug addicts, petty criminals, and what you might call full-time practitioners of aberrant public behavior. The City of Fort Bragg went so far as to hustle up grant money so Hospitality House could expand into the venerable but long-vacant Old Coast Hotel. (That deal smelled all the way to Boonville and should have been investigated, but Mendo being Mendo…)

THE NEW CITY COUNCIL is at last questioning the wisdom of an ever-larger homeless operation in the center of Fort Bragg's business district.

AT LAST WEEK’S meeting of the FB City Council, a resident commented that homelessness was on the rise everywhere, implying that Fort Bragg should simply resign itself to the inevitable. Homelessness is on the rise, and this national fact makes it even more obvious that a small town with limited resources like Fort Bragg can't possibly withstand the rising tide. But Fort Bragg doesn’t have to help the tide come in.

BECAUSE FB offers a temperate climate and a range of attractive freebies, enough of them to attract more and more dependent persons to town, some of them perhaps steered to Fort Bragg by a couple of websites directing deadbeats to "the best places in America to be homeless," Fort Bragg has clearly become a target destination for the permanently unmoored. And city government has rolled out the welcome mat.

FOUNDED IN 1986 by local people out of local donations of goods and labor, HH now operates on a $1.1 million budget, with the County of Mendocino chipping in thousands of dollars by making Hospitality House a kind of public/private social services center for the upper Mendocino Coast.

THE ORIGINAL HH was at 237 N. McPherson where the destitute could find 24 cots and daily hots (meals). There's now a second house on N. Harrison. It's called "transitional housing" specifically aimed at the mild end of the mental health spectrum. HH claims to have moved more than 80% of the people in their transition program into permanent housing.  (These windy claims are asserted with no proof.) And HH, in cooperation with local churches, also coordinates "Emergency Weather Shelter" on some nights in the bad weather months.

HOSPITALITY HOUSE CENTRAL gets paid to offer all these services, and more and more difficult people are showing up to take advantage of them while downtown merchants and ordinary citizens are bearing the brunt, hence the growing anger at HH and its city-paid expediters. But the diff is that the old city council majority for dubious services for transients was all for whatever scheme HH and its city gofers came up with. The new council is at last asking the right questions.

"QUEEG-LIKE." That descriptive is getting a workout in the wake of Trump's bizarre press conference last Thursday, which was a breakthrough departure from the usual lob ball “questions” from a pre-selected half-dozen millionaire “journalists,” which the president lobs back without the question marks, and the whole charade is celebrated as “freedom of the press” in action.

QUEEG. It's inaccurate to compare Orange Man’s press conferences as ‘Queeg-like.’ Queeg is a literary construct who grew steadily crazier until he was dangerously paranoid, seeing enemies where none existed. Trump sees enemies where they really do exist, especially in the media which, of course, has always been lip-locked to the top echelons of the Democratic Party.

THE HILLARY LIBS are still blaming, of all entities, the Russians for their loss to Orange Man. And they've thought for a long time that ginning up trouble with the Russians is a good idea. It shows how "tough" they are, right?

THE DEMOCRATS also seem to have no problems with our so-called intelligence agencies, all 17 of them, leaking stuff to the corporate media in an effort to sab Orange Man, who sabs himself every day anyway.

WHEN'S the last time the "intelligence community" came up with anything in the way of accurate intelligence? These are the people who managed not to see Arabs learning how to fly airliners in Florida without taking the classes that taught them how to land the things. Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? Good job on that one, intelligence community as Bush-Cheney proceeded to destabilize the entire world and unleash fanatics we’ll be fending off until the end of time, which these days seems like it might only be a couple of weeks away.

ORANGE MAN is right that the media are out to get him, and he's right about the country being divided long before he came on the political scene.

THIS GUY is absolutely unique as a major political figure. And fascinating. He isn’t nuts exactly, but he is uniquely unprepared for the job. Nixon was nuts, but nuts as he was Nixon never dared provoke big media like Trump has.

MAYBE Orange Man is crazy. Looking at the people around him, you wonder if you've just happened on some kind of weird alternate reality. Not one of them inspires the slightest confidence. But whatever else Trump does, he’s done this country a major service — he’s destroyed the Bushes and the Clintons as dominant political families. For dessert he’s gone to war with the media.

CHUCK SCHUMER. I just read a bulletin from the local Democrats about how excited they are about reforming their party. They list Schumer as on the side of reform! Warren? Maybe. Sanders? One finger forever wetted to the political winds, and name a bigger sellout.

IT'S A BAD TIME. A lunatic in the White House, mainstream liberals claiming to be trying to reform a party that can't be reformed, the country coming apart every which way, but as the wheels fly off Trump is the perfect fall guy. At least for liberals. But it's going to be rough for everyone, not just the people who have it coming.

A READER ASKS: Any opinions on the new BOS Retirement Board appointments?

THE ONLY “new” members of the Retirement Board we are aware of are Patrick Sullivan, a fairly young man who is listed on the County employment rolls as a “revenue recovery specialist” who works for Treasurer-Tax Collector Schari Schapmire who is also on the retirement board, and a Sonoma County mortgage broker named Parker.

WE HAVE NO OPINION of the youthful Mr. Sullivan personally, but we do not like the arrangement that he 1. works in the Treasurer’s office, and 2. that he is on the same board as his boss which would tend to compromise his independence, especially considering his relative youth.

THE RETIREMENT BOARD overall is the usual mixed bag of officially approved Mendolanders. The only person on the Board who is genuinely independent is Ted Stephens, a serious fellow with real big-time finance credentials, but who is prone to the Dickersonian view of the pension system which believes that pensions of any kind are a wasteful government perk without focusing on the senior officials who are the true local abusers of the system.

MOST low-end pensioners really do deserve their modest pensions which they’ve paid into for chrissakes, whereas the pensions-are-a-wasteful-drain-on-government people like Dickerson demand that pensions be funded at rates that would bankrupt the County and lead to the end of pensions themselves. You can certainly argue that putting all the pension money in Wall Street is a bad idea, which we do, but nobody in or near the pension system at present would dare consider safer local investments. Typical Mendo, really. We’ll do what we’ve always done.

THE OTHER NEW RETIREMENT BOARD MEMBER is a Sonoma County mortgage broker named Leland ‘Lee’ Parker. Last week, the Supes voted to appoint Parker, a Sonoma County resident who apparently has lived in Hopland, to replace Ukiah gadfly John Sakowicz.

SAKO may not have helped his reappointment chances when he was quoted as saying his credentials included being “a special limited partner in a firm that works with a Sharia-compliant Bitcoin."

PARKER told the Supes that he is a representative of (mortgage broker for?) the Seventh Day Adventist Church. According to Mike A’Dair in the Willits Weekly,  Parker is properly skeptical of the stock market, calling it “a race track run by bookies.” However, when asked what he’d do about the Retirement Association’s ongoing deficit, the mortgage broker promptly suggested: mortgages.

THEOLOGICALLY, Sharia law-to-Adventism seems like your basic lateral move, and we don’t expect Parker to be any improvement over Sako, who still appears bareheaded in public, so far as we know. Warren Buffet himself couldn’t fix Mendo’s pension system, where more and more money goes out, less and less comes in.

ALONE AND OLD while waiting for America to be great again: An 82-year-old Ukiah woman was found living in her residence without food, water or power last week, the Ukiah Police Department reported. According to the UPD, officers responded to a mobile home park in the 400 block of East Gobbi Street around 3 p.m. Feb. 9 when assistance was requested with a welfare check on a resident there. According to Adult Protective Services, neighbors had reported not seeing the woman lately and being concerned for her wellbeing. When an officer entered the mobile home, he reportedly found an 82-year-old woman who was “unable to walk unassisted.” There was also no food in the house, and the water and electricity had been shut off. The woman was deemed “gravely disabled,” and since no known relatives could be contacted, a Mental Health caseworker responded to help care for the woman.

HOMELESS IN WILLITS? A reader comments: “Fewer 'regulars' visible on the street lately for whatever reason, maybe right now, just a very wet winter, but even over the last couple of years there seems to be fewer visible. (This is not counting the trimmigrants, who of course are here only for a while). There are hoboes camping outside, along the RR tracks and behind the skate park. But they get rousted out before the creek cleanups every year, and maybe more often. We do still see quite a few calls about 'illegal campers' in the police log. There are definitely people who aren’t street people who are homeless in the Willits area, too, as per Willits Community Services. We should have some data from the point in time (“homeless”) count. One thing for sure: if Willits is still 'cranktown' it’s a whole hell of a lot more hidden than ever before. So much rarer to see obvious tweakers roaming the streets. Changes in law affecting availability of ingredients seems to have helped vanish/vanquish some of the small scale dealers/users. Higher rents in the area, maybe, too?"

INFORMED LOCAL political opinion — meaning one of maybe twenty people in the county who pay attention to local matters on a regular basis — doesn't think former Third District supervisor, John Pinches will be appointed by the Governor to finish out Tom Woodhouse's term:

"I THINK that the Supervisors endorsing him was the death knell, frankly. The whole point of having the governor endorse, instead of having fellow board members appoint (as is done on, say, a school board) is so that the other members of BOS do not get to decide based on their agendas, as opposed to the voters of the district. So having non-3rd district politicians, and a non-Third District newspaper (the Ukiah Daily Journal editorialized for Pinches) endorse is not helpful to the person they have endorsed, as I understand it. And the argument regarding how it’s 'fair' because Pinches won’t run again I understand that the Governor's appointment office has told reporters that Brown does not appoint placeholders."

THERE ARE BIG TIME literary names who cause my eyeballs to ricochet clear off the page and out of the room — Thomas Mann; Kafka; Virginia Woolf, Beckett. But no name makes me run faster than John Ashbery, the alleged poet, whom I've long suspected is some kind of high end faculty fiction, not an actual person.

HERE'S Ashbery’s latest poem in The New Yorker. Yeah, yeah, it's poetry, and I concede my low brow, but I defy anyone to write a simple, understandable prose translation, like you can with any Frost poem, say:


Listen to it the way everybody
here was naughty today,
of how broad it is.

Foreign man with an affluent cigar,
he used to live on top of this bed
on the local rails he was so proud of
among the recyclables, this morning,
spouting words that I thought were other.
Yes, and they became addictive. Oh,

make me a boy again! Do something!
But the little candle just stood there,
reflected in its lozenge-shaped mirror.
Maybe that was "something,"
a lithe sentence.

He's only going to do it for the first time.
It's snowing hard.

Hand me the orange.

PRETENTIOUS, deliberately obscure-to-meaningless English department nonsense.

BUT IT'S INSPIRED ME to try my hand at deliberately obscure-to-meaningless English department bullshit.


by Bruce Anderson, after John Ashbery with no apologies

Listen to it like it makes no sense
because it doesn't,
and lacks even so much
as an affecting image.

I knew a guy who lived at the landfill.
Because he worked there,
and wanted to save commute time
from God's pocket,
where he slept curled up in the finest lint.
He smoked expensive cigars out of his wife's ear
and drank old cognac from a bee's bonnet.
He was union, you see.

Make me a boy again! But not for more than a minute
or the phone book and the washing machine
will bounce off
my dear old granny's bald head
like cilantro off a shiny cell phone tower.

It's raining.
The sun was out earlier.
Hand me the gun.
No, not that one.
The one that kills New Yorker poetry
and most of its fiction, too.

FRONTIERS of free enterprise. Spotted on the bulletin board outside the Ukiah Co-op, a business card reading, "Placenta Encapsulation Service."

HEADLINE FROM SUNDAY'S PRESS DEMOCRAT: “Would Jack London recognize today’s Valley of the Moon?

I THINK we can safely answer this one with a giant NO, but the old socialist would be grateful for Gaye LeBaron remembering him.

HEADLINE over a story in this morning's Ukiah Daily Journal by the consistently estimable Justine Fredericksen: "Ukiah could support an upscale hotel downtown, consultant says."

A CONSULTANT says whatever you want him to say so long as your check doesn't bounce. Ukiah’s guy seems to have had some fun laying $25,000 worth of "advice" on the Ukiah City Council that probably took him about fifteen minutes to write.

UKIAH loves consultants. I wonder if it ever occurs to its cringing city council to move on its own authority? Criminey! You want a so-called upscale hotel on the Westside, say so and wait for some sap to come along and build one.

THE CONSULTANT  said that while Ukiah "was still at best a secondary market" — translation: If Santa Rosa's full, keep driving until you get to Ashland. Then, as if there was some doubt, the $25,000 jokester added that Ukiah "was neither a San Francisco, Oakland nor a Cupertino.”

CUPERTINO? That hurts. I would happily have told the Ukiah City Council that Ukiah isn't San Francisco for a sandwich at Schat's. Throw in a dessert and I'd say Ukiah isn't Oakland or Cupertino either.

DEEPER in Ms. Fredericksen's wistful story — the wist isn’t hers, it’s Ukiah’s — with its implication of an appropriate hotel away from the muumuus and fat guys in wife beaters east of the County Courthouse, we learn that upscale is defined as $170-a-night rooms.

WHAT UPSCALE really means in the Ukiah context is a quiet place to sleep away from 101 and away even from the possibility of tweakers in the room next door. Any room in Ukiah for less than a hundred bucks and you might as well ask Sheriff Allman if you can spend the night in the County Jail.


  1. Michael Koepf February 22, 2017

    Lovely poem. Deep and meaningful, Reminds me of some of Dylan’s Nobel prize work

  2. John Sakowicz February 23, 2017

    Remember the joke about the guy who said he liked Ashbery, then couldn’t quote a line?

    Another thing.

    Never sit down and read a whole book of Ashbery. You’ll cause yourself irreversible brain injury. Kinda like reading the novels of of John Barth, Anthony Powell, or William Gaddis.

    Sprawling. Excessive. Exponential. Plotless. Structureless. Meaningless.

    A pointless waste of time.

    Be it Ashbery or Barth, call it by its proper name — The Literature of Exhaustion.

    • Bruce Anderson February 23, 2017

      Gotta argue about Powell. Dance to the Music of Time is wonderful. Give it a try, folks.

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