Off The Record
by AVA News Service, March 23, 2011
DA DAVID EYSTER is in the unenviable position of deciding what to do with two highly charged cases, both of them involving what looks like murder but both of them entirely circumstantial. The first is the death of Fort Bragg's Katlyn Long, a young woman romantically entwined with a young man almost a decade older. Miss Long wanted to end her relationship with Garrett Matson, he talked her into seeing him again at her Fort Bragg home. The couple spent the night together at her house. A non-drug user, Miss Long went to sleep and never woke up. Matson was with Miss Long when she breathed her last, never sounding the alarm, not appearing much perturbed the next morning. Miss Long's family rightly suspects that Matson murdered Miss Long, but Matson lawyered right up and, to this day, hasn't been asked how this awful passing of a popular young woman could have occurred in his presence. Former DA Meredith Lintott said there wasn't enough evidence against Matson to prosecute him. The cops and Miss Long's family believe otherwise. Eyster promised Miss Long's family he'd at least re-visit the case to see if there's enough to try Matson for murder.
THE SECOND CASE the new DA will have to decide is also highly suspicious but also rests entirely on circumstantial evidence. Susan Keegan, an active woman of 55 with many friends in the Ukiah area, is suddenly told by her husband, Dr. Peter Keegan, that he wants a divorce. A month later, she's dead. Her husband says his wife of thirty years had taken to heavy drinking which, if true, went undetected by her friends who saw her every day. Nor did this sudden alleged alcoholism interfere in the least with Mrs. Keegan's many community involvements, ranging from her book club, to a singing group, to a little theater production. The night she died Mrs. Keegan had one drink with a couple in Santa Rosa then drove home to Ukiah where she arrived about ten. Then, her husband told police, he speculated that she allegedly drank and drugged herself into a stupor, fell in her bathroom, hit her head and died. The toxicology report is, from what we can gather, not fully consistent with Mrs. Keegan's death from the severe blow to her head that killed her. Dr. Keegan has hired the formidable Ukiah defense attorney Keith Faulder in anticipation, we would think, of his prosecution.
A FORT BRAGG FISHERMAN FRIEND told me a long time ago that Noyo Harbor has a long history of rogue waves roaring in from the Pacific and on up the channel, and that the recent tsunami would have been “a lot worse than it was if it had happened at high tide” but was really just one more scary sea event in a long history of them. Another old fisherman friend, Miguel Lanigan, now a Lake County landlubber, writes: “What you say about rogue-waves is true and they can come up suddenly in shoaling waters out of a flat-calm ocean. That reminds me. Most of us small-boat fishermen — members of the 'mosquito-fleet' — had fallback skills to get us through the days too rough to get out. One of mine was boat carpentry. One fisherman — more of a “wisherman” as he came to fishing later on in life from his job as a San Mateo fireman — hired me do some work on his Monterey The Solo Mio. I replaced the rotten back deck, and also cut in a small fish hold. He left our harbor and went to fishing out of San Francisco. Butch loved his nose-candy, and one night, after a three-day speed bender, he somehow managed to broadside a passing sixty-five foot party boat and sprung several strakes port and starboard. I declined his offer to come up and put the little girl back together again. He gave up on the Monterey, beached her, and became the contract skipper of a 45 foot, steel-hulled Monk boat fishing for a percentage. One afternoon he called his old lady at home in Bodega Bay and said he was only 45 minutes out of port and would be home shortly. It was a cloudless day with mild seas so he was running with the hatch cover off. A rogue wave came up behind him. His deckhand saw it coming, dove in the gaff hatch and held on. The unexpected wave came up so suddenly there was not even time to shut the wheelhouse door. The boat pitch polled, turned turtle and that was the end of Butch. The deckhand survived to tell the story. Another bad place to be when “Rogue Waves” arrive is Tomales Bay. Several have died in these shallow waters. Landlubbers don't treat mother-ocean with the respect she deserves, and many, many have paid the stark price for their arrogance and stupidity. Flashback: Late one night my old skipper, Dan Mitchell and I, were making our way back to Pillar Point in pea-soup fog. We were navigating by loran and bottom depth readings. As we came up on the south end of the harbor reef we encountered a small skiff. Three frantic fishermen were waving and asking if we could guide them into the harbor. We told them sure, get astern of us. By the time we went through 'The jaws' at the harbor entrance we had five other 'wishermen' astern of us. We looked like a ghostly nocturnal boat parade. 'What are these idiots doing out here?' asked Dan. 'Stupidity and lack of respect for the ocean,' was my answer.
Mendocino Coast Environmental Center's Visionary Speakers Series Presents: Cindy Sheehan, Gold Star Mom's for Peace and Non-Partisan Politics, and Dan Hamburg, 5th District Supervisor, speak on: The Cost of War on Our Local Economy Saturday March 26th 7:00pm-9:00pm $10 $20 Suggested Donation. Mendocino Coast Environmental Center, 45022 Ukiah Street, Mendocino, CA. 707-937-2382
MAN BEATER OF THE WEEK. Introducing Miss Nicole Tipton of Caspar, age 21, 5'5” and 115 pounds. At first glance I thought, “Hmmm. Early 19th century. More Sense and Sensibility than roaming the Mendocino Headlands with Heathcliff, but one look at this kid and we see that she's 19th century gentility through and through, and what kind of modern day oaf would call the cops on her? But call he did and Miss Tipton is looking at charges of “corporal injury to a spouse,” her bail set at $25,000.
THE MENDOCINO COUNTY Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote on a proclamation Tuesday (March 22) “Recognizing the 73rd Annual Redwood Region Logging Conference ‘Green Then, Green Now, Green Forever.’ March 17-19, 2011, In Humboldt County. In living fact, this event consists of serial sales pitches for new-fangled logging equipment that no one can afford to use on forests already gone and an opportunity for the three self-identifying loggers left on the Northcoast to denounce environmentalists.
THIS WEEK’S Board of Supervisors agenda includes a partial explanation of “risk management.” Supervisor John Pinches had noticed that whatever it was it costs the County about $600,000 a year. It's two things: 1. Liability insurance for all County departments, and 2. Salaries for the people who track the insurance information and make the payouts when ordered to. (I encountered the County's risk manager some years ago when she roared up to the justice court to inform me that the Boonville court “was not the appropriate venue” to hear the claim I'd filed. This large, fierce-looking woman stomped into the dilapidated chambers of the Vet's Hall, pinned me to my chair with serious death glares, delivered her risk analysis, stomped out of the room to her four-door Buick, and roared off back to Ukiah. Her appearance probably cost the taxpayers a cool $400 bucks, but who's counting when it's them making the rules?)
ACCORDING TO the agenda summary: “The County Library paid a total of $148,427 in Fiscal Year 10/11 for General Liability. The Library suffered a large claim in March 2004 wherein the County paid out a total of $175,515.95 and the insurance company picked up the remaining $106,346.99 and blah blah blah.
WE'RE PRETTY SURE the $280k-plus claim-settlement against the library was for a library staffer who successfully sued the County after she was falsely accused of stealing. She wasn't stealing. The problem was basically poor accounting practices, that and the libs didn't like her.
FITCH BOND RATINGS has downgraded Mendocino County from A to BBB+ on its pension obligation bonds, leaving the County's general obligation rating at an already low A-. For the folks who think these are still pretty good grades, Fitch says, “The Rating Outlook is Negative.” Fitch also cites high levels of “internal borrowing,” and “overly optimistic revenue projections,” as well as “limited revenue growth prospects given its limited economy,” which at this point is pretty much the intoxicants most of us describe as Booze and Pot. Fitch says Mendocino County's “wealth and economic indicators are weak, though its tax base has not been as hard hit as other parts of the state as it did not experience much of a housing market boom.” But, “The county's pension plan funded ratio is declining and pension contributions are expected to rise significantly.”
FROM FITCH’S Credit Summary: “The County's financial position has deteriorated over the last several years, leaving the general fund balance in a negative position and providing almost no flexibility. Fitch believes that attaining break-even operations in fiscal 2011, much less eliminating the accumulated deficit, will be a challenge, as the county has posted operating deficits net of transfers in each of the last three fiscal years. The operating environment is likely to further weaken given likely state funding reductions and the lag effect of the weak real estate market....”
THE DOWNGRADE report dings the County for multiple years of operating deficits, overall poor financial condition and declining revenues. Fitch attributes the structural imbalance to a decline in tax revenue, state budget cuts, overly optimistic revenue projections and the huge drain of transfers on the general fund to pay for the pension obligation.
FITCH also dinged the County for the Ponzi scheme style management of the Teeter Plan, a program where the County pays the property tax obligations to the schools and special districts, getting paid back when the delinquent taxes are paid. Properly administered the County would make a profit from the fees, penalties and interest charged on the back taxes. Except in Mendocino County the Teeter Plan revenue was dumped into the General Fund and used to start new programs and fund inflated salaries and benefits. Now the County has to pay the money back — with interest.
ANOTHER glaring weak link of the County credit rating is the rapidly escalating County contribution for the pension fund liability. The payments are expected to jump $4 million this year and $4 million more next year, about half charged to the General Fund and about half of that charged to the Sheriff. In other words, in addition to the current fiscal year deficit of about $800,000 (which presumably will be carried over into next year), the Sheriff will be expected to cut $1 million more in the fiscal year beginning July 1 and another $1 million the year after that.
RICHARD JOHNSON, for years considered the Green Party in Mendocino County, died last week in Ukiah. He was 66. Here at the AVA, Johnson was regarded, when he was regarded at all, as simply one more mildly comic and self-regarding barnacle on what passes for an opposition in this county, an opposition weakened by not only egotists of the Johnson type but avoided by conventional people otherwise in general agreement with our self-sanctioned “activists” on local political issues. Ever wonder that when the banner of the right and the good flies in Mendocino County everyone else runs in the other direction? Ever wonder why in a county of so-called progressives Mike Thompson and Wes Chesbro represent the place at the higher levels of government? Or that our public institutions, on their best days, are so retrograde? The system needs the Richard Johnson political types for its own faux legitimacy. In all the years that he randomly published several collections of unreadable prose in newspaper formats, Johnson managed only a single significant story, the one about a wrongful death at Retech. To say he was “an irascible but tireless voice for justice and the environment” should rightly be amended to read that Richard Johnson was an irascible but tireless deadbeat who, among other creditors on the receiving end of his life-long deadbeat-ism, was our late friend Jim Chase at Willits Printing. Johnson burned Chase for thousands of dollars in unpaid print bills, and Chase was an old man just getting by, an old guy who had to climb up on his ancient press with hammers and screw drivers to keep it going. Under the guise of newspapering, Johnson got by at the expense of other people. In person, he was tiresome, not tireless, but the usual usuals will gather at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 17 at the Saturday Afternoon Club in Ukiah for one more circle of delusion right down to Johnson's last graveyard grasp for your spare change: “Donations for funeral and other expenses can be made to Mendocino Country and mailed to P.O. Box 533, Talmage, 95481.”
COUNTY AG EXTENSION and grape guy and, of course, Ukiah school trustee, Glenn McGourty, can always be depended on to say something dumb. Asked by the Ukiah Daily Journal if the recent rains will reduce the need for frost protection the wine hogs pump directly from local streams and rivers, McGourty said, “There will also be ample water for frost protection, meaning fewer fish strandings and less demand on local water sources.” A “fish stranding” is NewSpeak for fish out of water. Note that McGourty says there will be fewer of them this spring than none at all, a neat reminder of just how much public water the wine industry helps itself to.
FRIENDS of the Willits Library (FOWL) will hold its March Madness library book sale on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 24-26 from 10am to 4pm in the Willits Library meeting room.
A WILLITS reader writes: “Skunktown/Willits has a new log cabin restaurant, 'Lumberjacks,' at the south entry portal that replaces Perko's which burned up several years ago. Lumberjacks features a large statue of a lumberjack holding an ax like a spear. Since lumberjacks are extinct in Stunktown, shouldn't the restaurant be renamed 'Potjerks' with the statue holding a giant doobie? Where are the creative vandals and pranksters when we need them?”
BAD NEWS for the Sheriff’s budget balancing marijuana permit fees. A long-time Mendo grower interviewed anonymously at www.tokeofthetown.com by Jake Rikess, a pot blogger in San Francisco, says the depressed pot market has a lot of Mendo people either getting out of the biz entirely or sitting on their crop until prices improve. The inland Mendocino County grower said that the typical sales arrangement in the past involved giving your pot to a trusted middle-man/friend who sold it to a long-time customer. But nowadays when the middleman gets to the customer’s doorstep the middle-man discovers that the customer is only willing to pay two-thirds to three-quarters of the previously agreed price. “Take it or leave,” was the way the Mendo grower described the new offers. The Mendo grower said that it takes him more than a $1000 to produce a pound of primo outdoor Mendo bud, but at $800-$1500 a pound it's not worth it. When Rikess asked the grower if he was going to grow this year, the grower replied, “No, my friend, this is Mendo, 2011. Everyone's looking for a way out of the economic slump we're in. There's too much medicine and no one's buying. The ones who are, they are virtually ripping us off, taking advantage of a downed market. I'm too old to make Hash or some bullshit tincture or produce a line of some magic Debbie Drake's edibles. To survive up here for the next couple of years, your choice is to either sit on your crop and wait for the market to let up, or plant tomatoes instead of O.G. Purple Kush. Or worse yet, give up on the dream and everything you've worked for in the last 20 years. Just walk away like you can move to Missouri and do this there. Good luck.”
LAST WEEK we updated you on the legal status of Bess Sanderson, the woman who, with her husband James ‘Phi Beta’ or P.B. Sanderson, got caught selling large quantities of local marijuana on the East Coast while living high on the hog in a rented mansion in Mendocino and drawing welfare benefits for themselves and their two kids. Bess Sanderson was also arrested for leaving her two toddlers in her car while she knocked back a few 10pm drinks at Dick’s Place in Mendocino.
THIS WEEK we find that Mr. Sanderson and a buddy named Craig Stanley were each charged with possessing one abalone over the limit. In other words, one allegedly passed one of his to the other defendant. After Fort Bragg Deputy DA Tim Stoen heard their story at Ten Mile Court last week, Stoen said he considered dropping the charges, but Stoen wants to talk to the game warden first. If the cases are not dismissed, P.B. and Stanley are due back in court on April 12.
KMEC is ending its weeklong pledge drive with a party and live music from Rootstock at the Ukiah Brew Pub. Party it up with the reggae rhythms of Rootstock and aerial silk performers at the Ukiah Brewing Company, this Saturday to benefit KMEC 105.1 LPFM Community Radio in the Ukiah Valley. 9pm-12am. $10 suggested donation. (707) 468-1660 for more information.
SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE John Behnke has tossed the challenge to Mendocino County's 9.31 marijuana cultivation ordinance. It had allowed “dispensaries” to cultivate 99 plants per parcel with a permit from the Sheriff. Everyone else is limited to cultivating 25 medical plants or less per parcel. The plaintiffs: Jim and Trelanie Hill, Andrea and Marta Nagy and Sally Pringle, claimed that 9.31 interfered with their constitutionally protected right to grow as much “medicine” as they wanted wherever they wanted.
J. DAVID NICK, attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that the state has “pre-empted” the field of marijuana legislation and that Proposition 215 did not put any limits on how much marijuana patients could grow and possess. Behnke quickly dispensed with the pre-emption issue, noting that Prop. 215 also stated it shall not “be construed to supersede legislation prohibiting persons from engaging in conduct that endangers others.” Like, for instance, filling up your residential backyard with $100,000 or $200,000 worth of “medical” marijuana. In essence, Behnke ruled the plaintiffs may still grow as much marijuana as they are legally entitled to, but they must comply with local land use laws that say where and how they can grow it.
THE REASON the Sheriff has a deficit of $800,000 this fiscal year is that no one can figure out a way to cut that much without decimating the Sheriff’s patrol division. Add a couple million more in needed cuts to the equation and it looks like the Sheriff's Office budget and County CEO Carmel Angelo’s hatchet are destined to remain on a collision course.
THE MENDOCINO County Employees Retirement Association (MCERA) finally took action last week to fire its actuary, Buck Consultants. Buck was successfully sued two years ago for cooking the books in Stanislaus County with bad assumptions and rosy predictions. At the time, MCERA insisted that everything in Mendo was on the up and up and there was no need to investigate Buck. Supervisor Smith boldly asserted that the issue had been looked into and everything was fine in Mendo. Those assurances fell apart with the release of Buck’s actuarial report for the year ended June 30, 2010.
BUCK admitted to faulty assumptions that understated the annual County contribution to the retirement fund by a whopping $3.347 million and an additional $549,000 mistake in the amortization for the unfunded liability. The County actually saved over a million dollars based on workforce and salary reductions, but those savings were mostly offset by the recognition of past investment losses in the stock market drop off in 2008. Except for the errors by the actuary, the County position would have improved slightly after the stock market’s semi-recovery. Expect this to be subject of closed-door meetings as the Retirement Association Board and the Board of Supervisors try to decide what legal claims they may have against Buck or each other.
MEANWHILE, former County Auditor Dennis Huey and former County Treasurer Tim Knudsen, the masterminds of the Teeter Plan debacle and the diversion of the non-existent “excess earnings” from the retirement fund, remain firmly entrenched at the helm of the retirement fund, intent on obfuscating any real search for truth as their questionable financial management continues to unravel.
THE BOARD of Supervisors has given direction to place a 1/8th sales tax measure on the ballot for next November's election. The tax is expected to raise $1.3 million annually. The library gets a small slice of the property tax by virtue of being a special district. The County used to provide a modest amount of County general funds to the library, but cut that off a couple of years ago. And the state is expected to cut or eliminate remaining state funding. Without additional revenue, Melanie Lightbody, the County librarian, is threatening huge cuts in library services. The library is already operating at reduced hours with a skeleton staff and relies on volunteers to do basic functions like check out and re-shelve the books.
LAST NOVEMBER the voters trounced Measure C, a half-cent sales tax increase, by a 70%-30% margin, and you can chalk that one up to the flagrant greed of supervisors Colfax and Smith, both of them caught by successive grand juries chiseling on their travel reimbursements. The pair of self-alleged “progressives” also refused to take pay reductions while voting for lesser-paid County workers to take at least ten percent less. During the failed campaign many people said they would vote for it if they could be sure how the money was going to be spent. The Supervisors said they would spend the money for public safety, libraries, roads and programs to benefit seniors and the disabled, but by the lopsided vote it was clear that most voters placed little or no trust in the Board of Supervisors — the two mentioned specifically.
FOLLOWING the Measure C debacle library advocates mobilized to push forward the 1/8-cent sales tax increase. Special state legislation allows for the 1/8-cent increase for libraries only. All other sales tax hikes must be in 1/4 cent increments. A faction of the library folks wanted to go for ¼-cent just for the library but were dissuaded by others who worried that going for the higher amount would make them look greedy.
SUPERVISOR CARRE BROWN asked “Who pays the cost of the election if the tax does not pass?” The elections officer estimated the countywide election could cost as much as $59,000, depending on what else is on the ballot. If the tax passes, the County would get reimbursed for its costs out of the proceeds of the new tax. If the tax does not pass the money would either come out of the general fund budget or the equally strapped library budget. Brown's question seemed to take the County officials and the library advocates by surprise, with no one wanting to answer the question.
SUPERVISOR PINCHES, growing impatient with the hemming and hawing, shocked the room by declaring “If it doesn't pass, I'll work for the County for free for a year to pay for it.” After a moment of stunned silence, the library advocates broke into applause. Supervisor Brown quickly said, only half-jokingly, “I want that in writing!” Despite Supervisor Pinches' grand gesture, it remains to be seen whether the voters are in a mood to support any tax increase. The library tax increase would be a special tax and would require a 2/3rds vote to pass.
THE COUNTY FIRE Chiefs Association has been working on a tax measure of their own. A map of the county fire districts would show a Balkanized landscape with the towns and villages mostly within a fire protection district with large areas of the hinterlands designated as “state responsibility areas” meaning that Cal-Fire provides fire protection services during the declared fire season. The rest of the year it is up to the rural districts to respond, or not, to areas outside their districts that require fire or emergency medical services. The districts typically respond, but the rub is that they are not getting paid for their services when they go outside their district boundaries.
THE FIRE CHIEFS are looking for a mechanism to charge those who are currently not paying without putting further cost on those who already are. Under discussion is dividing the state responsibility areas into zones of benefit and applying a parcel tax to the parcels within each zone. The problem is that the voters in each zone would have to vote to tax themselves for a service they are already getting for free.
THE ILL-FATED Measure C would have raised about $5.3 million dollars annually. A 1/4-cent sales tax increase would therefore raise about $2.6 million. The Sheriff's Office deficit is $800,000 (or more) this year with the need for an additional $1 million in cuts each of the next two years.
IF KEEPING the libraries open is worth an 1/8 of a cent, shouldn't keeping deputies on the street be worth at least 1/4 of a cent? So far, the library advocates have shown an admirable mastery of the local political process while the advocates for public safety are seemingly stuck in the starting blocks. In a normal county there would be a clamor to adequately fund public safety. But Mendocino County (where perhaps half of the adult population directly or indirectly profits from the local black market economy) is far from normal.