Most voters may have stayed at home but nevertheless Measure B, a one-half cent tax to improve abysmal mental health services in this county, won going away with 83 percent approving basically the same initiative that barely failed to garner the required two-thirds threshold a year ago.
The final count stood at 11,609 in favor with 2,382 opposed. Out of 47,656 registered voters, 14,029 cast ballots in the off-year election, representing only a 29.44 percent turnout. Usually low voter turnouts favor those opposed to tax measures, but not this time, and that’s a good thing.
So now the real work begins which I’ll get to in a moment.
Here’s the basics of Measure B, the “Mendocino County Mental Health Treatment Act.”
• A half-cent sales tax will remain in effect for five years and then be sunsetted.
• Upon sunset, a one-eighth cent will continue unless or until the tax is repealed by a majority vote in a general election.
• All revenue from this tax will be placed into a special fund to be used only for services, treatment and facilities for persons with mental health illness and addiction.
• The measure requires annual audits.
• The measure creates a “politically independent” citizens’ oversight committee to ensure that the funds are used for the specific purpose of the voter-approved measure and not be spent for any other purposes. This committee shall also provide recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on the implementation of this measure.
• The committee shall be comprised of eleven members, including a citizen selected by each member of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, a Member of the Behavioral Health Advisory Board, the County Mental Health Director or his/her representative, the County Auditor or his/her representative, the Mendocino County Chief Executive Officer or his/her representative, the Sheriff or his/her representative, and a representative of the Mendocino Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors is encouraged to include professional experts such as psychiatric and health practitioners, first responders and other mental health professionals among the five committee members selected by the Board. The meetings of this committee shall be open to the public and shall be held in compliance with the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open meeting law.
Now here’s the problem.
As I’ve written before, for two decades, county elected officials and bureaucrats responsible for providing mental health services have been missing in action and derelict in their duty.
The Supes and the Mental Health bureaucrats have mangled, bungled, and screwed up mental health services. Starting 17 years ago when the Supes closed the Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF or “Puff” Unit), a locked facility for the critical care of folks in severe mental health crisis, and continuing to this day when all adult mental health care is farmed out to a private sector corporation, mental health care is basically non-existent as a local service. Sheriff’s deputies and city cops are now the first responders to the mentally ill who are in crisis and present a threat to their safety or that of the public, even though state law mandates that mental health professionals are charged with that responsibility.
This oversight committee is going to have its hands full trying to implement the primary purpose of Measure B, which is to restore mental health services to this county.
The oversight committee is unusual in its composition in the sense that some of its members (the County Mental Health Director and Mendocino County Chief Executive Officer) directly represent the very agency that is the object of the committee’s oversight.
For nearly 20 years, the bureaucrats responsible for providing mental health services to people, have been the very ones who have masterminded farming out mental health care beyond the county’s borders. These so-called experts, were the ones who created the mess that taxpayers and voters are now being forced to clean up. It never should have happened in the first place. But it did, and now we must move forward and correct and fix all the past errors and problems. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.
So this oversight committee hopefully is going to be up to the task of carrying out the voters’ mandate they have been given.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org)