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County Notes (Aug. 8, 2018)

WHAT SEEMED to be a routine albeit ‘emergency’ Big Fires meeting of the Supervisors at their meeting of Tuesday July 31st turned rhetorically fiery when Sheriff Allman took the podium. After praising the stellar performances of his deputies "in a situation they have unfortunately become familiar with," the Sheriff said he wanted to give a "shout out to County employees who know that they are emergency services workers and came in to answer the phones and help out." The Sheriff then denounced "the approximately 90 percent of County employees who either don't answer their phones or return phone calls. They may not understand they are emergency services workers. That we have people who are avoiding their responsibilities as public servants irritates me." The Sheriff added that "the supervisors should be fully aware, and the CEO provide a list of employees who stepped up."

SUPERVISOR BROWN said she was disappointed and thought "it was important to have a list of the County employees who did come in. We all do trainings for emergencies and should be available."

CEO ANGELO began by praising the work of Heidi Dunham of Human Resources for her efficient organizing of the County's Office of Emergency Services, then seconded Sheriff Allman's frustration with the County workers who had not shown up to do their secondary duty as emergency services workers. The CEO, as always speaking in the calmly dulcet tones of the experienced hatchet person that she is, proceeded to cloud up and storm all over the no-shows. "My plan is to send letters to all the employees we contacted who did answer the phone — it is July and August and some employees are on vacation — but those employees who refused to come in will be getting a letter in their personnel file because this is a very serious issue… We have 1205 employees; every single one of them should be aware when there is a fire in our county or near our county and should be ready to come in."

MORE STARTLINGLY, CEO ANGELO declared, "We had two department heads who refused to allow their staffs to come in and respond. Any department head who says no, I really take exception with." The names of the two refuse-nik department heads were unnamed as we went to press, but if they are unelected, at will employees, their heads should say goodbye to their lower anatomies as Angelo ominously concluded, "They will be dealt with." (Supervisors Croskey and Hamburg did not attend Tuesday's meeting "by pre-arrangement.”)

SLACKERS. The Sheriff's statement that some 90 percent of County workers failed to show up to man the County's Emergency Services Office needs clarification, which the Sheriff later provided. Of the employees called, about ten percent appeared to do their mandated duty. There are 1205 County employees, and that figure includes deputies and other persons whose work assumes disasters. It remains true, however, that the large majority of County workers were no-shows, many turning off their phones, some promising to appear but not, some legitimately on vacation like Supervisor Hamburg who said he was in "the midwest visiting relatives," and Supervisor Croskey, also out of state when the fires broke out, who said she would return immediately. We haven't heard from supervisors McCowen, Gjerde and Brown, but it is a safe bet they reported for emergency service.

CEO CARMEL ANGELO, on the advice of her attorney, presumably County Counsel Kit Elliot, said she could not identify the two non-cooperating County offices, but we are reliably informed that they were the County Clerk's Office and the Retirement Office.

SHERIFF ALLMAN said late Tuesday afternoon that he's throwing a post-fire barbecue for the County people who showed up to work the emergency. He cited the County's Department of Transportation for special mention. "They've just been great," the Sheriff said. "They've done everything they've been asked to do and then some." Asked how the Lake County Jail evacuation went, the Sheriff commented that it was uneventful and uniquely touching. "When the inmates came out of the Jail to board the buses, they seemed awed at the huge plumes of smoke rising over the Mendocino County hills. Like everyone else, they knew it was bad." The trip south to the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County went off without a hitch.

* * *

BURIED DEEP in Tuesday’s (August 7th) Consent Calendar, and slathered in numerical disguises, are big raises for two of Mendo’s top officials: The Director of Planning and Building, and the Director of Health and Human Services.

ACCORDING to the attached resolution, itself slathered in more bureaucratic gibberish, both positions are being jacked up in grade from a “bi-weekly” mid-range rate (which obscures the actual amount because you have to do some math to get the annual pay) of the equivalent of $116k per year to $137k per year for Planning Director Nash Gonzalez, and from $124k per year to $153k per year for either (or both) Tammy Moss-Chandler and/or Anne The Inevitable Molgaard. Of course, no reasons are given for these gifts of public funds other than “it is the wish and desire of the Board of Supervisors to amend this resolution to meet the needs of County service.” And, “the various affected departments or agencies have agreed to incorporate the positions within their existing fiscal year budgets.”

TRANSLATION: Gonzalez and Molgaard (and Moss-Chandler?) are allowed to give themselves their own raises simply by putting the raises in their own budgets. Presto! $21k per year more for Gonzalez and almost $30k per year more for Molgaard/Moss-Chandler.

SUPERVISOR John McCowen justified the salary gifts in narcoleptic prose we read three times to decode:

"The increased salaries for HHSA and P&BS Directors are large but justified under the circumstances. Tammy Moss Chandler is resuming her duties as HHSA Director and Interim P&BS Director Nash Gonzalez is taking over from her as Recovery Director. Meanwhile the County is in the process of hiring a permanent P&BS Director.

The increased salary for HHSA Director is necessary to retain Moss Chandler who had a competitive offer from another jurisdiction for a position that would be far less demanding. During her time at HHSA she has worked tirelessly to make it a more effective and responsive organization and has a comprehensive understanding of the complex funding streams that HHSA relies on. As Recovery Director she consistently went above and beyond to resolve issues with our State and Federal partners, particularly the over excavation issue, frequently working into the night. The increase in salary is minor compared to the value she brings to the County.

“Nash Gonzalez has done a great job as P&BS Director but it was on an interim basis as we recruited for a permanent director. His willingness to serve as Recovery Director to continue the work from last year's fire disaster and now this year's, speaks to his commitment to his home community. His planning expertise is an invaluable asset to the recovery effort and we are fortunate to still have him on our team.

“But the increased salary for P&BS Director is necessary to secure the services of the best qualified applicant for the permanent position. An announcement should be made shortly, but the incoming P&BS Director has the experience and skill set that is needed to avoid a break in continuity as we continue to rebuild P&BS.

“The Board of Supervisors is very aware that the same could be said for many of our employees. In fact, employees working in about 20 classifications, ranging from custodians to social workers and public health nurses, have recently received unilateral pay increases at the direction of the Board.

“We are well aware that many more employees are deserving of increases but in most cases this will be the subject of the next round of negotiations through the collective bargaining process.

“It's easy to justify the need but it's a constant challenge to pay for the many services the County is required or expected to provide with the limited financial resources available.

That said, I honestly believe the increased salaries for these two positions will result in a much greater benefit that will make it easier to provide critical services and meet our many obligations."

WE APPRECIATE Supervisor McCowen for at least addressing this question, the other four Supervisors haven’t bothered to reply to our requests for their justifications of the raises. 

Without getting into the merits or demerits of individual employees, this is the kind of budget-busting thinking that puts the entire County budget at risk. The budget is already teetering under the weight of huge deficits in the pot permit program, the Sheriff’s overtime, the loss of assessed value of property from last fall’s fires (and a good chance of more), Juvenile Hall overruns, a declining economy (largely from the drop in pot revenue and the lack of housing which the Board hasn’t done a thing to address), declining reserves, and no regular review of budget status. So far the County’s only objective response to these budget pressures has been an as-yet unspecified 5-10% vacancy rate in General Fund line worker positions. Yet here come all these big management raises on the consent calendar, as if they're as routine as 15-year service pins.

AS SUPERVISOR McCOWEN likes to remind people, the Board’s first responsibility is to the solvency of the County as a whole, not the welfare of its employees (who should be paid a fair, but not artificially high wage.) Letting certain management employees whipsaw counties by engaging in bidding wars creates salary levels out of all proportion to workload or responsibility.

PAYING PEOPLE based on their knowledge of “funding streams” borders on extortion, and implies that that is more important than delivering efficient services.

If these huge raises are so easy to justify with this kind of glowing praise why hide them deep in the consent calendar?

TAKEN AS A GROUP, how much has it cost the County for all these management level raises in the last year? The Supervisors alone hit us up for about $120k plus bennies. And if, say, 15-20 department heads are getting large raises on the scale of these proposed raises for Gonzalez and Moss-Chandler, we’re talking about several million dollars in salaries, benefits and pension obligations for management which they apparently can just roll into their own departmental budgets without any kind of review. And as the Grand Jury recently pointed out these big management raises put an especially big burden on general fund services and line workers by loading up net departmental costs with excessive overhead and putting more work on employees in departments which are understaffed.

WHY DOES THE COUNTY need two people in charge of HHSA now with Moss-Chandler going back to HHSA? If Ms. Moss-Chandler is so deft at her daily tasks, why can’t the County dispense with her redundant and equally overpaid assistant, Anne Molgaard?

WHAT HAVE any of these high-paid managers done to save the County money? 

There is still no regular monthly departmental reporting on basic things like budgets, staffing or project status, so Supervisor McCowen’s justification of these raises requires the public/taxpayers to take his word for the wonderfulness of all these officials, making the whole affair seem more like a self-congratulatory revival meeting of The Church of Mendo Insiders, than an objective evaluation of employees.

* * *

THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS has posted a draft response to the Grand Jury report on Juvenile Hall. Back in May, the GJ denounced the County’s plan to outsource the Hall to Sonoma County. When the Supes later overruled CEO Carmel Angelo and decided to artificially cover the Hall’s budget gap with imaginary salary savings from an arbitrary 10% position vacancy rate and unrealistic minimization of Sheriff’s overtime, that gave the Supes the easy answer to the GJ by saying they were keeping the Hall open. Many of the GJ’s other findings were dismissed by the Board’s GJ-response committee (probably headed up by Supervisor John McCowen, but they never give us the names of the persons actually responding), with “appears to be more a statement of opinion than a finding of fact.” A statement which, as we've seen, is demonstrably untrue and another cheap shot at the GJ’s conscientious work.

SO YET ANOTHER GRAND JURY report will be shelved without any real action taken.

However, the Board of Supervisors scrupulously avoided responding to the most significant part of the GJ’s Juvenile Hall report because the GJ forgot to call it “a finding.”

BUT CLEARLY the Juvenile Hall would never have been up for outsourcing had it been managed properly, had it not been burdened with huge overhead costs, such as paying for her administrative leave while the Chief Probation officer's work-time sexual adventures were endlessly looked into (if not looked at) by expensive outside attorneys, and had the Board and the CEO listened to the County's school superintendents on how to better handle juvenile offenders.

THE GRAND JURY assessed it this way: “In late 2017, unbudgeted raises were granted to elected officials and some department heads. Increases in salaries also increases the cost of benefits and retirement payment obligations. Elected officials and department heads are entitled to the county paying matching funds up to 4% of their salary into a deferred retirement account. The maximum amount must be budgeted. This benefit is in addition to regular county retirement contributions.

“THE GRAND JURY has not found any budgetary analysis of this impact. County administration stated that the beneficiaries of these raises were asked if their budgets could sustain the increased costs, and they answered in the affirmative. It was known at the time of the raises that the county was facing significant costs due to the October fires and the cannabis revenue shortfalls. There was no public discussion on whether or not these salary increases were sustainable.”

(AND THAT WAS BEFORE this July and August’s fire disasters)

“AT THE MARCH 27, 2018, Board of Supervisors meeting, the administration presented the second quarter budget report and stated that the current cost of operating the county juvenile hall was ‘unsustainable.’ In the development of the 2018-19 fiscal year budget, the administration has proposed capping the allowable net county cost to $1.1 million for the operation of the Mendocino County juvenile justice program. This is inadequate to keep juvenile hall open. If there is no juvenile hall in the county, then the youthful offenders would most likely be housed in another county’s juvenile hall.”

THERE IS STILL NO “budgetary analysis” of the impact of all those big pay increases gifted to top County officials, including the Supervisors themselves. Those undeserved raises alone would have covered much of the Juvenile Hall budget gap. But the Supes’ proposed Grand Jury response sidesteps and ignores this giant elephant in the room.

SPEAKING OF SHERIFF’S OVERTIME (which we know is escalating as the 2018 Inferno burns on and multiplies in new locations as fire season continues), readers may recall that CEO Angelo and her deputy Janelle Rau promised the Board in early June that they would closely track overtime in the Sheriff’s Department because they knew it was ridiculous to budget just $300k for it.

ON JUNE 8, Ms. Rau told the Board:

“I have been working with the Sheriff's office on their budget. They did go through some budget balancing strategies [translation: they made some ridiculous assumptions]. And, working with their budget officer Kyra [the Sheriff’s budget analyst] and the Sheriff himself, they did do some reductions to meet net County cost. [Arbitrary cuts.] With that is an understanding that the executive office is going to be working with them hand in hand and in turn with the board, meaning that we will be coming to you -- and there are descriptions in the information to you -- monthly, not quarterly. We will be coming to you with adjustments as they are necessary. We have made that arrangement with the Sheriff to say, You let us know when there is an issue so we will have discovered that between all of us here if there is one. Overtime was one of them. We knew it was out there. It is a strategy that we will watch. And that we will look at their vacancy factors as well to see in their total 1000 series [general fund] where they will be. It's a different approach this year. But we have been working on it effectively. Kyra and I started working on it this last year in July to make sure we could come here and feel good about what we are giving you and actually give you the confidence that we will be informing you as we go along as well.”

IT’S NOW AUGUST and — as we predicted the obvious at the time — there’s been no overtime reporting. (Staff provides no regular reporting on anything, really.) And the Board agenda for the August 7 Board meeting makes no mention of overtime whatsoever, although, again obviously, there’s lots of it going on with the fire emergency/disaster.

WHEN WILL MENDO’S out of control spending (they’ve blown through well over $1 million on the failed pot permit program alone, not to mention the huge salary giveaways to themselves and their colleagues) catch up with them? And will CEO Angelo, who frequently uses her alleged budget balancing skills as a tool to keep the Supervisors off her back, be held responsible when it all blows up?

(Mark Scaramella)

* * *

TO DATE, of the 964 pot permit applications submitted, only 226 have been “issued” (178) or “approved” (48). And there are still a nearly unbelievable 674 applications are still either “under review” (484) or “in queue” (190). No one has ever bothered to explain the difference between “issued” and “approved,” nor the difference between “in queue” and “under review.” Needless to say, whatever they mean, the County’s pot program is, for all intents and purposes, dead in the water, and an ongoing drain on the County’s budget. Will anyone in official Mendo ever ask about this? Or fess up? Or give up?

ALSO ON THE CONSENT CALENDAR is the controversial consolidation of the Parks, Museum and Library departments into a “cultural services agency,” over the objection of all the advisory boards involved.

Item 4v: “Adoption of Resolution Adopting the Classification and Establishing the Salary of Director of Cultural Services, Department Head Association (D47D) and Amending Position Allocation Table as Follows: Budget Unit 7110, Add One (1) FTE Director Cultural Services; Delete One (1) FTE Museum Director.”

Among the “duties and essential job functions” of the new Cultural Services Director position we noticed a number of things which seem pointless and unmeasurable, and typical of the kinds of vague “duties” which make all of Mendo’s top management jobs unaccountable to any objective measure of job performance: “Strive to integrate library, literacy, and arts and recreational programs into the Cultural Services Department’s operating structure” … “Provide creative leadership to staff in order to develop a problem-solving and proactive staff team that works toward a common vision, mission, and plan.” … “Work effectively with ethnically and economically diverse constituencies, and is sensitive to political and cultural issues and concerns.” … “Work with all staff in a cooperative manner, accepts basic workplace democracy, and encourage and utilize staff input in decision making.”

“WORKPLACE DEMOCRACY?”  Mendocino County is a private club, run by a small group of women close to CEO Angelo who answer only to Angelo, while those great tribunes of the people, our Supervisors, simply ratify whatever the CEO puts in front of their uncomprehending pusses.

One Comment

  1. Harvey Reading August 10, 2018

    Mendocino County: forward to the past.

    Those “disaster service workers” laws from the past should have been repealed decades ago, after McCarthy’s fascism abated somewhat. The ridiculous, meaningless loyalty oath should have met the same fate. Mendocino County is proving to be nothing more than just another bastion of reactionary right wingers, and it has just the paper to serve it: the AVA. Let the idle, and often dullard (based on what they write here) wealthy answer the phones. And let your sheriff stick to sheriffing rather than sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong.

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