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‘Well Before Never’

The Supervisors have been slow to establish their “master” meeting schedule for this year, so slow the Sheriff appeared to advise them to get off the dime. 

Sheriff Allman: “I am an elected official not a department head so you cannot fire me today. But let me say clearly that we are in the third week of January and the department heads and the elected officials do not have a Board calendar of when you are meeting. The citizens, the department heads, the elected officials -- we need a decision to be made today. We need regular meetings. Let's get on with the government’s business because it's not just your time in this room, it’s elected officials and department heads and citizens who have concerns and who schedule around you.”

The Sheriff continued with a wistful remark he probably knew was fanciful: “Being consistent with your schedule is important for the efficiency of government.”

“Efficiency of government”? In Mendo?

Supervisor John Haschak, apparently inspired by "efficiency," suggested, “One item I was thinking of to make the meetings move along a little more quickly is to adhere to a three-minute policy for supervisors along with members of the public.”

Board Chair Brown replied, “We do have a policy in our rules of procedure and it isn't -- I mean, you can go to the rules and read it…”

Supervisor John McCowen: “Rule 19.”

(Rule 19: “…No member shall speak more than twice to the same question (unless entitled to close the debate) nor longer than five (5) minutes at one time, without leave of the Board, and the question upon granting the leave shall be decided by a majority vote of all the members of the Board without debate.”)

Brown: “Yes, it's Rule 19. And that's why Supervisor McCowen knows because he sometimes violates it.”

Note: They all violate it. McCowen is hardly the only transgressor. (Makes us old timers yearn for the re-institutionalization of high school rhetoric where, once upon a time, young people learned to say what they had to say clearly and concisely." Rhetorically, as in every other area of American life, there has been huge deterioration.)

In the end, at Supervisor Haschack’s insistence, they decided to add one additional meeting every two months making their already light schedule, imposed immediately after giving themselves a huge raise, slightly less light. Later in the meeting the Supervisors decided that they’d probably use one of the added meetings for a pot permit marathon, perhaps to accommodate the newly re-formed pot-ad hoc committees (See below).

The Pot Permit Program People rambled through a windy, self-serving presentation of the long-stalled pot permit process during which newly hired Pot Permit Program Manager Sean Connell claimed credit for approving about 20% of the permit applications so far — most of which were approved well before his tenure in the weeks after the farcical program’s rollout. Since then applications have slowed to a trickle, probably because most growers immediately concluded the licensing process was impossible for them, impossibly expensive, impossibly labyrinthian and with no guarantee of completion.

Predictably, the pot program administrators blamed much of the backlog problem on the applicants themselves, complaining that the applicants hadn’t provided this or that technical document. The PPPP (staff) never got around to providing any specific un-stall recommendations that Supervisor Ted Williams asked for at the last meeting, nor did Supervisor Williams ask for any by way of follow-up.

Supervisor Williams did, however, ask about the PPPP’s mystery budget. For months it’s been common knowledge that the mostly unmanaged Pot Permit Program budget has been seriously in the red because to them every problem can be addressed, if not solved, by hiring more staff to drive around from pot garden to pot garden in more new pickup trucks to keep track of what they like to call “our applicants.”

Supervisor Williams: "So far I think we have been dealing with the regulatory aspects and the fallout of Proposition 64 [pot legalization in California] in Mendocino County. It has caused a lot of farmers to struggle. I see that pattern continuing. I'm curious, when will this endeavor [the pot permit program] reach a breakeven point for the county? Where, for every dollar we put out, we've received an equal amount in taxes? I know I can't hold you to that, but what sort of timeframe are we projecting? A few weeks? A few years? Never?”

Pot Permit Program Manager Sean Connell: “I will be honest here, I'm a little new in this position to give you that exact answer. But I do think that we will break even well before never. [Well before The 12th of Never?] That's my goal, to break even well before never — and in a timely fashion. As far as when that [well before never] will be, supervisor, I don't have a direct answer to that.”

Mr. Connell was inadvertently answering nearly every schedule question the Board has asked of Mendo’s entire management class.

Supervisor: “When do you expect to have that done?”

Mendo Official. Pick one at random. “Oh, well before never! Certainly before then. My goodness, never is a long, long time. Heck, we might all be dead before Never. But if you wait right here I'll get back to you on that."

During the Board’s discussion of the formation of another yet another ad hoc pot committee to discuss another round of modifications to the obviously failed pot permit program, Board chair Carre Brown asked Supervisor Dan Gjerde if he wanted to be on the pot ad hoc committee. 

"I would volunteer,” responded Gjerde, “but I'm afraid I would disappear afterwards."

The roomful of marijuana people erupted in laughter. Gjerde was referring to the two previous supervisors — Tom Woodhouse, and Dan Hamburg — who conspicuously and abruptly departed the Board of Supervisors in mid-pot-ad hoc, both of the former supervisors suffering varieties of mental collapse. The other member of those prior ad-hocs, Supervisor John McCowen noted that he was still on the Board; whatever psycho-effects the pot ad-hoc committee experience may have had on McCowen has not yet manifested itself in his public performances, unless you count his personal commitment to procedural tedium as a mental health indicator. 

After considerable aimless discussion Supervisor Williams suggested breaking the ad-hoc in half, one to address yet more tweaks to the cultivation ordinance and another to address cannabis economic development. (Hint to Supes, the easiest way to do that would be to get out of the way of existing small growers trying to go legit…)

The marijuana people in the room have long griped about the County’s "minimum tax" on marijuana permit holders which applies to pot permit holders who do not grow any pot in a given year. The pot people say the minimum tax punishes people who are trying to get with the program. And, as Supervisor Ted Williams noted, if the County is getting a lot of money from the minimum tax (meaning no pot grown), then the pot program is a failure.

CEO Carmel Angelo told the board that she had spoken to County Treasurer Shari Schapmire who estimated the minimum pot tax revenue at a whopping $3 million so far — i.e., failure. On its face, if the number is really that big (we doubt it, it sounds like Ms. Schapmire may be including more than the minimum tax receipts), it means that a lot of the permit applicants with some kind of preliminary approval have yet to actually grow much local pot — and most of the blame for that can be put at the feet of the County’s bizarrely complicated, sludge-like pot permit program.

CEO Angelo then said that now that the minimum tax is in place and generating so much revenue “it would be hard to eliminate that tax.”

Supervisor John McCowen agreed, adding, "To start wiping out taxes when we don't even know where we stand with the program in terms of revenue — and frankly that's one thing I assumed at midyear [now] we would be getting some numbers — but it's probably something we should track on a monthly basis: what are the expenditures to support the cannabis program by department and what are the revenues that we have been receiving? And that seems to be very much an open question."

McCowen then changed the subject, not pursuing the “open question.”

That open question — along with everything else that should be reported “on a monthly basis” — will remain open for who knows how long. In fact, monthly reporting of any kind will probably begin about the same time the pot program will break even: Well Before Never.

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