Off the Record (Feb. 14, 2018)

ANDREW CURTIS CROWNINGSHIELD was marched into Judge Cindee Mayfield's court, under close guard, with one corrections officer holding a fistful of the defendant's new-looking orange coveralls in a tight grip, and another officer clearing a path to the dock, at 9:00 sharp this morning. When the judge came out she called Crowningshield's matter first and as soon as it was over, the defendant was bruskly removed from the courtroom. Crowningshield was quickly arraigned — partially — on charges of murder in the first degree of Autumn Johnson (Smith), with an unspecified number of special allegations. A defense lawyer, Jane Gastel, was present and Ms. Gastel said she was in the process of being retained by the defendant and would like to have the date of February 21st at set at 9:00 for further arraignment. District Attorney David Eyster said that would be fine, with the caveat that the defendant be held until that time on a no-bail hold. Judge Mayfield granted both parties their requests, and Mr. Crowningshield was escorted out under tight security. (Bruce McEwen)

FORT BRAGG hired a headhunting firm to find a city manager from Arizona. School districts and, goodness knows, various agencies of local government, often hire this way as they claim they've embarked on "a national search for excellence,” apparently not confident in their own excellence to add to Mendo’s crowded stock of excellencies. Often the process is rigged for the excellency who just happens to be down the hall or is a pal of the excellencies looking for him.

PERSONS sought by headhunting firms pay the firms hefty fees to find them a job, and the agency doing the hunting gets paid again by the agency doing the search. To my way of thinking, it's one more way for elected bodies to elude one of their fundamental responsibilities — the hiring of their managers. There were at least two persons already working in Fort Bragg City Hall who were perfectly capable of doing the city manager job. Instead, the City hires out the task for thousands of municipal dollars they didn't need to spend for a person who doesn't know Fort Bragg from Flagstaff who will necessarily have a very long learning curve to traverse before she fully knows what's she's doing.

ELECTION NEWS. Brian Kunka, a Willits blacksmith, has dropped out of the race for Third District supervisor, announcing that he will support John Pinches.

PROMINENT among candidate Haschak's supporters are former supervisor Hal Wagenet and well-known North County environmentalists, David and Ellen Drell, meaning North County libs are also likely to support the (so far) vacuous Haschak.

WHEN THE VETERAN Third District supervisor Pinches left his Supe's seat to run for the State Senate, leaving the seat to Wagenet, County department heads were so relieved by Pinches' departure they formally welcomed Wagenet into office, knowing he’d sign off on whatever they wanted, no questions asked. The Supervisors, prior to adopting The Big Mommy model of County government we see today, evaluated department heads themselves. CEO Angelo runs the show now, and a department head who crosses her better hunker down. Pinches took the evaluation process seriously, hence the relief of the County's top bureaucrats when he left and the inert Wagenet succeeded him.

SUPERVISOR JOHN McCOWEN lays out the 3rd District succession: “John Pinches was succeeded [as Third District Supervisor] by Tom Lucier who served a single term. When Lucier ran for re-election he was opposed by Wagenet and Pinches. Lucier finished third in the primary and Wagenet was elected in the run off in November. When Wagenet ran for re-election he was defeated by Pinches.”

THE COUNTY'S ACTIVE DEMOCRATS, Coastlib branch, are mostly lining up behind Chris Skyhawk of Albion. Skyhawk's a generic liberal much like retiring supervisor, Dan Hamburg, hence his appeal to local libs, especially the libs heavy on the lab end of the lib-lab continuum.

BUT AT LEAST one prominent Coast Democrat, Lee Edmundson, is all in for Ted Williams, also of Albion, where Williams serves as fire chief. Williams has yet to be heard from, although none of the candidates have moved beyond the platitude stage of the race, and some never will because there's no indication that any of them have previously paid much or any attention to how the County works. Or doesn't work. We await specific strategies from all of them about the County's laughably botched pot licensing process, the state's negative demands on Class K building standards, the ever-larger number of walking wounded on the streets, genuinely low cost housing and so on. We'd also like to hear from all of them on the CEO model of County government. (Hint. We think it's a rolling disaster. )

FIFTH DISTRICT SUPERVISOR CANDIDATE JUHL COMMENTS: "I just read the article that the Supervisor candidates were speaking platitudes, as a candidate I could not agree more. I have attended two BOS meetings, a mental health meeting and I never saw a fellow candidate! As a former CEO I had only to give the facts based on the budget, which as a candidate I still do. I am going to Vancouver to attend an Environmental conference and to make sure there will be no Oil drilling off our beautiful coast. I act, not react to the problems of Mendocino. Arthur E. Juhl, candidate for 5th District Supervisor."

CANDIDATE JUHL, 75, thus breaks a long local tradition of Supervisors being elected with zero prior knowledge of the office they will be holding, and even less idea of their responsibilities. Very few candidates over the years have attended so much as an hour of a Supe's meeting prior to their elevation to that office. The present crop may be watching them on YouTube, but in years prior there wasn't a televised session of the Supes. Winning candidates simply showed up, most of them winging it through the meetings.

OF COURSE Mr. Juhl hasn't been elected yet, and he comes from the 5th District's equivalent of the Great Unknown, the South Coast of Mendocino County. He may be unaware that the 5th has, for fifty years, been dominated by lib-pwogs clustered on the Mendocino Coast from Elk to the Caspar City limits, reinforced by a ton of hill muffins sequestered among the ridges in Anderson Valley and Comptche. It's that incestuous voting bloc The Candidate has to win over. For pure conscientiousness, though, Juhl is off to a great start, as is Candidate Rodier, 74, who has been canvassing the 5th District for a couple of weeks now. The hippies of yesteryear used to caution, "Don't trust anyone over 30." I haven't met anyone under the age of 70 I'd trust to hand me a glass of water, not that I trust my fellow Seniors particularly either.

IT’S NOT EASY to run for office in the vast 5th District. The Democrats may sponsor a couple of rigged candidate's nights, and KZYX may rouse itself to interview candidates, but mostly for candidates it's a matter of physically haunting the public areas in front of post offices and flagging down passersby. The libs, from their HQs in Mendocino and the Anderson Valley, will beat their tom-toms for Skyhawk and Williams — the libs are split between the two — while ignoring Juhl and Rodier. If I were either of the two elders I'd hit hard at the lack of focus of the present board. The County's roads are falling apart, pot policy is hopelessly garbled, homelessness is on the rise, and so on as the leadership awards itself big fat raises.

FOR THE BOOK READERS still out there, I can, in good faith, suggest "Hemingway, Dos Passos and a Friendship Made and Lost in War" by James McGrath Morris. Their split began over the Stalinist murder of their mutual friend, the Loyalist Jose Robles, in the early stages of the Spanish Civil War where the two writers were present as correspondents sympathetic to the Loyalists. (The best book on the subject remains Orwell's. "Homage To Catalonia.") Robles was executed as a spy, which he turned out not to be. The politics were complicated, but Dos Passos was correct that Robles wasn't a traitor and argued with Hemingway that the communist faction was so intent on the ends of revolution they'd lost sight of the corrupting means to accomplishing it. Lots of interesting history in this book,  including a detailed description of how Hemingway was severely wounded in Italy during the First World War where both he and Dos Passos served as ambulance drivers, Dos Passos to elude the American draft, Hemingway because he wanted to get as close to the action as possible.

BEFORE I READ "The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran" all I knew about the Shah of Iran was that he was supposed to be a more benign version of his neighbor, Saddam Hussein, but villainous all the same. This book put a big dent in my ignorance and is a big help in understanding Iranian-American relations as they threaten to add exponentially to the violence raging in the Middle East today. (The Shah wasn't all that bad a ruler, and he was certainly far more humane than the mullahs who followed him.)

MARK SCARAMELLA ADDS: I was in Iran on assignment for several months while in the Air Force in 1976-1977 while the Shah was in charge. I even made an air-defense radar presentation to him near the culmination of my time there. (I was responsible for the “Cost, Schedule, Staffing and Logistics” section of the study/report we prepared. The Shah slept through most of it.) Iran was more westernized and “modernized” than other middle-east/Arab countries, but it didn’t always fit well. (Oh, the stories I can tell.) The Shah did have his secret police, the Savak, a legacy of the group of very nasty thugs who helped Kermit Roosevelt and his CIA pals oust the genuinely liberal nationalist Mohammad Mossaddegh and install the Shah in the early 50s. One of the best books on the period before, during and after the Iranian Revolution is Ryszard Kapuscinski’s outstanding “Shah of Shahs,” which covers the period before, during and after the “revolution” (first drafted while Kapuscinski lived in Tehran working for a Polish newspaper) which nicely summarizes the gripes that Iranians had with the Shah and why they initially supported Khomeini and his ultra-religious crowd, only to have their hopes dashed when they discovered that the Khomeini regime was much worse than the Shah ever was as it brought a Saudi-style dictatorship based on Sharia law to replace the Shah’s semi-democratic (but very corrupt) monarchy. Andrew and Leslie Cockburn’s excellent book “Out of Control” gets into some of that material too, although mostly it focused on the Iran-Contra scandal.

IT'S A CLICHE by now, but any cop will tell you how much he dreads domestic disputes. Child custody cases are a kindred category of ugly. Some years ago, accusations by one spouse or another often involved sexual abuse of the disputed child. Every single one of these claims that I heard struck me as palpably untrue. Sure, it happens, but to the extent it was appearing in courts across the country? Were large numbers of men suddenly a menace to their daughters?

AMONG the most egregious child custody episodes I witnessed happened at Ten Mile Court in Fort Bragg. Dad was trying to get visitation rights to see his daughter, a pre-schooler. Mom was there with a female County social worker. Mom, backed up by the social worker, claimed Dad had molested his daughter, a claim unsupported by any evidence save Mom's accusation. If Dad was such an extreme pervert that he would violate his own daughter, logically the judge should have ordered him into immediate custody. But the judge merely ordered that the Dad could not see his own daughter even with a social worker present.

JUST ASKING, but how come the Girl Scouts don't bake their own cookies? I'm an annually reluctant buyer old enough to remember when the Scouts baked their own. The corporate sugar and dough jobs they offer these days are barely edible. And what lesson do the girls take away from having their Moms buy tons of these negative food value items at top dollar then re-selling the things to raise money for what? More inedibles?

FOR YOUR CANDY ASS FILES; The news wires this week were humming with Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, interrupting a young woman asking him a question to ask her to please substitute 'peoplekind' for 'mankind. ' The PM said 'peoplekind' is "more inclusive."

A PAIR OF SIGNERS — sign language interpreters — were hard at work at last week’s Board of Supervisor's meeting during the fire recovery discussion. When I tuned in, 15 people were already watching with me on YouTube, few of them deaf, presumably. I can't know how many hearing-impaired persons were in the sparse live audience, but both signer-ladies went strenuously about their difficult task of unraveling some very difficult syntax for their phantom auditors. Apparently the federal government pays for them, one of them black, the other white.

THERE'S MUCH NATIONAL COMMENT advising the Democrats to specify what exactly it is they stand for. I'd say they will continue to stand for nothing in particular because they're lost in identity politics, big breaks for big bucks, perpetual war, and the limo lifestyle. They're also hamstrung because, basically, they're funded by the same kinds of big money the Republicans and Trump are. (On the Northcoast any candidate even expressing suspicion about domination of the vote by the Wine Industry cannot be elected to public office. Democratic fundraisers on the Northcoast are held almost exclusively in the neo-Liberace palaces of local wine moguls.)

THE POLITICAL RIGHT gasped when Bernie said he'd tax the big fortunes at about 36 percent. Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower smacked the rich at over 90 percent, the proceeds of which hardly pauperized the oligarchs and was spent on programs that benefitted all ordinary Americans.

CONTRAST the Democratic blob we suffer today with Harry Truman's first legislative agenda, his Fair Deal modeled on Roosevelt's New Deal: Increase in federal minimum wage; full employment permanent ("To the extent that continuing full employment cannot otherwise be achieved, the federal government should provide such volume of federal investment and expenditure as may be needed to assure continuing full employment"); Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC); public housing programs; public works spending; expansion of Social Security to include medical insurance; national health insurance; (denounced by the AMA as "a monstrosity of Bolshevik bureaucracy"); crop insurance; school lunches; forest conservation; national science foundation; highway rehab.

THE DEMOCRATS could coast to victory across the country simply by adopting now Harry's Fair Deal of ’48.

THAT CHAIN LINK FENCE cordoning off the Health and Human Services Building in central Ukiah is not aimed at bum-proofing the structure, as we had suspected. It is Step One to bum-proofing the building. The homeless had been massing there to spend the night, somewhat protected from the elements by an overhang. That overhang is about to be re-done, hence the fencing to keep people out while the work on it is underway. But here's the rub: the new overhang will be at least partially porous, meaning rain can get through, meaning that the homeless hoping to sleep beneath it in stormy weather will have to find dry space someplace else. At least that's what we are told by a person who knows.

OF COURSE official Mendo is hardly likely to admit to bum-proofing its Welfare Office, once the site of at least six separate businesses including the Greyhound stop which came complete with a ticket office presided over by a memorably churlish woman who made buying a ticket an unforgettable encounter. Forty years later: “Our first concern is the health and safety of our staff and the public,” CEO Angelo told the Ukiah Daily Journal. “That’s the number one reason we are fencing it off.” The number two reason is bum-proofing.

SOME NOYO HARBOR RESIDENTS are wondering about the recent drowning death of Alexandra Hunter Russell, found dead floating in Noyo Harbor on January 24. According to an initial Sheriff’s press release, a missing person’s report for Ms. Russell was filed about 8am that Wednesday morning by her boyfriend, Garrett Fenrich. Ms. Russell's body was found by Fenrich and a friend that same afternoon around 3pm. Sheriff’s Coroner, Shannon Barney, announced that Ms. Russell “may have had a medical issue.” Her neighbors say the "medical issue" was a reference to speculation by Fenrich that it may have been a seizure that caused Ms. Russell to fall into the harbor. Fenrich told deputies and neighbors that Russell left their harbor side home — its deck is directly over the water — at 3am after the couple had argued. Fenrich said that was the last time he saw her until some seven hours later when he saw her lifeless body in the water. It's not known if Fenrich began looking for Russell when she allegedly went missing at 3am. According to Ms. Russell’s Facebook page, she was an accomplished competitive swimmer, making her an unlikely drowning victim. Persons close to Ms. Russell are highly skeptical of the accidental drowning version of Ms. Russell's death. They assume the police and the DA are pursuing a fuller investigation. Fenrich, incidentally, was arrested and booked into the Mendocino County Jail on domestic abuse charges on March 21, 2017, although charges were later dropped when Ms. Russell decided not to pursue her case against him. Sheriff’s Captain Gregory Van Patten told the media three weeks ago, “At this time her death is suspected to be accidental, but an official determination is pending an autopsy with blood alcohol and toxicology analysis."

No obituary has been filed beyond this death notice in the Advocate-Beacon: “Alexandra Hunter Russell of Fort Bragg, California died January 24, 2018 in Fort Bragg. Born October 7, 1971 in California to Sheila and Richard Hunter, she was 47 years old.” Ms. Russell left behind three teenage children in the Bay Area where she'd lived much of her life.

Fenrich, Russell

THE HYDROLOGISTS out there might flesh out my unfounded opinion that one big rain year last year after five dry years isn't enough to replenish aquifers. In Boonville, at my address anyway, we seem to be sitting on an inexhaustibly miraculous fount of the stuff of life, so pure it requires no filtering and tests out Edenic. We're lucky. An easy majority of outback Mendolanders live with water on their brains, constantly struggling with their inadequate wells, precarious gravity flow "systems," rain catchment apparatuses, filtration schemes, and so on. And many of the little municipal systems aren't ever the solid sources many communities take for granted. Expect water shortages. Expect larger Mendo water disputes as groundwater regs kick in. Further, expect wine interests to dominate the regulating.

AN OMINOUS NETFLIX DOCUMENTARY called "Water & Power: A California Heist" — highly recommended — clearly describes the wholesale theft of public water in the San Joaquin by, primarily, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, lauded in Sonoma County for re-directing a small percentage of their accumulated fortune to a music center at Sonoma State University. But given all the givens of increasing population and disappearing aquifers, never mind the sharks of water privatization, we're on the verge of an even more intense argument over the resource.

ALSO highly recommended as revelatory viewing is the riveting story of Andrew Cunanan, the homicidal maniac who murdered, among others, the famous clothes designer, Versace. Not for the squeamish and certainly a not so gay look at the gay life. It's playing out in serial form on the FX Channel as The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Another great series, this one on Netflix, is "Babylon Berlin," a German television series based on the tumultuous Weimar period culminating in Hitler. The cabaret scenes are absolutely stunning and the political story lines coincide with the historical record. Brilliantly acted, the depiction of the decadent social side of Weimar reminded me how much more creative and interesting the pre-fascist German decadence was than the proto-fascist decadence we've got going here in Liberty Land.

ME TOO-ISM has gone too far. The two "men" complaining that California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia groped them are either making it up or represent a whole new model of retroactive male sniveler. One guy accused Garcia of "stroking his back, grabbing his buttocks and trying to grab his crotch" in the dugout after a legislative softball game. The other wimp-twit said that Garcia made "a crude sexual remark" and tried to grab his crotch at a fundraiser. Gosh, I hope you guys are going to be ok.

DIANE CURRY was asked to do the impossible. Appointed Interim Ag Commissioner by the Supervisors, Ms. Curry was supposed to make the County's laughably confused pot licensing program work. She couldn't. No one could or can because the Supes themselves have further confused pot policy. They've piled on with edits and additions seemingly every time they meet. Corinne Powell, put the prob clearly:

“I have listened to many hours of the board debating and talking to staff and I believe that at the meeting on the 9th as well as the meeting today you heard probably 10, 15, 20 comments from the board saying, “I thought we covered this,” and “I thought this was already resolved.” I implore the board to direct staff at this juncture to create documents that do include everything that has already been decided, because every time we review the ordinance we go back to the one that was adopted on April 4 and implemented on April 4, 2017. We are a long way from that. We have had lots of discussions. But there is confusion everywhere in everybody's mind about what should have already been decided. The only way we are going to get there is if the staff does the work to go back and if it means going back and listening to tapes or whatever and resolving what we have already resolved so that we start with a perspective that allows us to think more clearly about things that are still unresolved. Things that that are unresolved are still numerous. The ordinance amendment suggestions, they are valid. But they are few. And we have a working group that has been assigned the amendments to our county legislation. If we proceed with that without including the working group process — the more we do that, the more we have wasted time in the working group. The people in the working groups have significant information to bring to the process. So I implore you, ask staff to make a consolidated document, documents, for the two various ordinances that we have. The working group on amendments does not meet until February 1. So whatever you do today may be importuning what we are doing as a working group.”

ONE MAJOR PROB with the Supes is the absence of, and here we step into sensitive territory — an intelligently forceful personality or two to clearly outline issues and then clarify the paths to getting it done. And see that it gets done. The way the Supes "work" now is to show up for meetings and free-associate their way through an agenda handed to them by their CEO. This particular group of Supervisors lacks focus, and their CEO is in over her head. Angelo's solution to lots of stuff is to outsource whatever it is to expensive consultants. And fire people. She's good at firing people. The Supes seem afraid of riling her, and what we have is yet another local case of the tail wagging the dog.

READ SOMEWHERE a statement by former supervisor from the Ukiah area, John Mayfield, that after the enormously damaging floods of 1964, bridges, roads and even the north-south rail line between San Rafael and Eureka were restored in a year's time.  Just sayin’, but I’ll bet the Supervisors will still be talking about fire clean-up five years from now.

KYM KEMP'S STORY re alleged rogue cops out of the Hopland rez is certainly startling. Rez cops are cruising 101 robbing motorists? The allegations are offered in convincing detail, but hinge on the vic's identification of the one cop. Hard to believe that a tribal policeman would risk straying from his legal jurisdiction to rip off three pounds of dope, but anything's possible behind the green curtain. Hell, a rez cop could rip off a hundred pounds on the rez, so why roam 101? I asked the DA for an opinion. Through spokesman Mike Geniella, DA Eyster said the allegations are a federal matter.


THE MARIJUANA SITUATION: This is the natural end result of spreading the pot wealth from a closed clique of 'gunrunner mentality' people where their evil was tolerable because it was small (and their violence kept the profits to themselves) to a wide open green rush. There is a natural sense of satisfaction that the smaller group who used to abuse others in the pursuit of their own pot of gold are now feeling the same abuse themselves. And the more they scream and complain, the more they satisfy those who had to deal with the frustration of obnoxious, self-righteous growers of earlier decades.

You were ugly neighbors. It is just right, that having been uninterested in your non-pot neighbors while you did what you wanted and flipped off those who objected, that you now have to deal with many multiples of yourself in turn. That longed-for open society you harped on isn’t so bright and shiny up close and personal.

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