Ordinarily, when dumb exchanges between public officials occur at public meetings, it's just dumb, and maybe somewhat revealing about the public officials involved. But at the August 17 meeting of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, an exchange, prompted primarily by Fourth District Supervisor Kendall Smith's extreme arrogance and thin skin, was not only dumb but effectively ruined any chance she may have had to influence a board decision which Smith herself thought was important enough to argue about.
Background: Two Supervisors, Smith and Fifth District Supervisor/Lame Duck David Colfax were on record in strong opposition to the trash privatization contract with Jerry Ward and Solid Waste of Willits. Two other Supervisors, John McCowen and John Pinches, who also did the negotiating with Ward and brought the finished product to the Board for approval, were strongly in favor of the proposal and highly invested in it.
In theory, then, there might have been some chance to convince Board Chair (and First District Supervisor) Carre Brown to vote against the deal.
To have any chance at all to convince Brown (probably not a big chance to begin with since Ms. Brown has generally voted with McCowen and Pinches in the past on trash privatization), Smith should have had a succinct presentation all ready in advance with bullet points and very focused explanations of what was wrong with the deal in her judgment. Instead, the discussion began on a bad note and only got worse.
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Smith: Well, Madam Chair, just for the record, I, I kept track of the time that Supervisor McCowen took to take us through this, this "intro," [sarcastically], uh, to this issue. He had 21 minutes, from 2:22 to 2:43. I just want to make sure that we each, on the board, get equal time to discuss the issue.
Brown: Um, I… How long did Supervisor Colfax take?
Smith: I didn't keep… I didn't keep time.
Brown: Ok. Well.
Smith: 21 would be the highest at this point.
Brown: Well, I don't think individuals should have that. It should be a shared thing. I know that Supervisor Pinches also took time as well. Please go forward, but I think 21 minutes per person is a very long time and we do have public comment. So please go forward.
Smith: Well, Madam Chair, I don't, I mean. 21 minutes each? I don't— I think that that's— that's reasonable. I mean we've got all the time that we need and we certainly aren't going to limit the public's input. I just have a series of questions that I would like to ask of staff and they're rather lengthy and detailed and I have a number of other pieces I'd like to read into the record so I just want to make sure that we each get our fair share of time. I just don't want to be cut off.
Brown: Well, I think you're wasting time. You can have 21 minutes, Ms. Smith.
Smith: Ok. Thank you, Madam Chair. I, I would prefer to hear from the public and then, um, I have questions of staff. [Nods, folds her arms. Purses her lips. Sits back. Stifles a yawn. Nods some more at Brown. Waits.]
Brown: No! Please go ahead right now. Because I'm sure the public wants to hear.
Brown: Please go forward and you have—
Smith: Madam Chair, I'm sure…
Brown: You have 21 minutes.
Smith: Madam Chair, I'm not ready to speak yet, I'd like—
Brown: Then you won't get 21 minutes after.
Smith: [Very indignant, haughty.]
Brown: Take your time now.
Brown: That way the public can hear exactly what you want to say.
Smith: Well, can you explain to me why I won't get 21 minutes when we have all the time we need? [Condescending smile.]
Brown: Because we're talking about an introduction. Supervisor McCowen, as Chair of the ad hoc, gave the introduction. You have your opportunity. Supervisor Colfax has had his opportunity. Supervisor Pinches has had his. Please go forward. Then we'll hear the public.
Smith: So this is part of my 21 minutes, correct?
Brown: This IS your 21 minutes. Go forward.
Smith: Madam Chair!
Smith: Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I think we need to go to the procedure! I certainly would be able to comment publicly after we hear from the boards. So—
Brown: And we will go to Rule 19 at that point for all five supervisors. So please go forward.
Smith: So you'd like me to have the 21 minutes now and we'll still have the Rule 19 after?
Brown: We will have the Rule 19 after.
Smith: OK. Then maybe the clerk could start keeping track of the time.
Brown: I'm keeping track of your time. We've been on this for four minutes now. So.
Smith: Mr. Sweeney, I have some questions of you, please.
* * *
Smith then expressed her "concerns," saying "something has gone terribly terribly wrong. The process was wrong." And on and on ad infinitum, scattered, disjointed, picky. Then she had an extremely prissy exchange about the existing contract details with County Solid Waste maven Mike Sweeney who is about as tedious and picky as Smith is. Maybe moreso. But even Sweeney got snippy with Smith, asking at one point after a long, disjointed ramble from Smith, "Was that a question?"
Here's a typical Smith question: "So you're talking about a downward trend with respect to those rates and I believe that's the contract that expires in 2013, I said that… you said that, the County would be, in other words, otherwise in a position the tre— if the trend's going downward to be in a negotiating position if this did not go forward today to possibly save consumers in the South Coast in this case, money.”
Sweeney had no idea what Smith was talking about. After a long pause, Sweeney said, "I'm sorry. Could you repeat that?" Then he laughed, something Sweeney almost never does.
Then Smith laughed a bit too as if it was funny that Sweeney was laughing. Smith backed up and tried to break her question up into prissy little yes or no questions about the existing trash-hauling contracts.
But it was all a big waste of time because Smith had already succeeded in pissing Supervisor Brown off, the only faint hope she had of getting the trash hauling contracts changed, put off, or withdrawn.
But Smith had no idea how irritating she was being, choosing instead to proceed no matter how irritating she was, oblivious to how she was coming across.
At the end of the meeting, Pinches, McCowen and Brown voted to approve the Caspar-less privatization of the five small county-operated transfer stations and Smith didn't even bother to ask what would happen at Caspar which, at least for now, will still be a joint county-Fort Bragg operation right on her doorstep in the Fourth District.
And I haven’t even mentioned the more than $3,000 of travel money she stole and won’t give back. Nor have I mentioned that she won’t take a voluntary pay cut like almost all (Supervisor Colfax, of course, the exception) her fellow mucky-mucks have taken.
If you could design the perfect ineffectual overpaid local politician like a Ms. Potatohead doll, you'd get Kendall Smith.