Off The Record

by AVA News Service, April 27, 2011

NEIGHBORHOOD WARS. The geography was slightly off last week in Bruce McEwen's otherwise flawless account of Roderick Brown's long-running siege of Blu Graham. Mr. Graham and Mr. Brown are neighbors on Usal Road, which is not Whitethorn but Whale Gulch. Whale Gulch should be Humboldt County but it's in Mendocino County, hence Mr. Brown's appearance in Mendocino County Superior Court. Mr. Graham is chief of the Whale Gulch Volunteer Fire Department.

SUPERVISOR KENDALL SMITH, having just written a check to reimburse a small portion of the travel funds she fraudulently obtained from the County, now wants $1,500 to pay for a five-day junket to Portland, Oregon to attend the annual meeting of the National Association of Counties. The item was buried in the consent calendar for Tuesday's meeting of the Supervisors. We don't yet know if one or another of the Supes challenged this entirely unjustified expenditure. We live in hope. Smith's mini-vacation at public expense requires Supes' approval because it involves out of state travel. The consent calendar is reserved for “routine and non-controversial” items. At this point in Mendocino County's declining fortunes, and as the other four Supervisors conscientiously try to work out equable pay and work schedules for County employees in the dire context of disappearing revenues, Smith blithely continues to grab all she can for herself.

THE EXECUTIVE OFFICE is listed as the sponsor of Supervisor Smith's travel bonanza — Smith and CEO Angelo tax-jaunted together to a nebulous event in Reno last year — but County sources say Smith routinely cajoles, manipulates and bullies everyone from the CEO and Department Heads down through staff to get her way. To say that Smith is an unpopular figure at the County's Low Gap Road headquarters hardly begins to describe her unpopularity.

THE BOARD was also scheduled for a Tuesday showdown with the Mendocino County Public Attorney's Association (MCPAA). The Public Attorney's, represented by the Teamster's and the Service Employees International Union, the latter also representing many of the lowest paid County employees, are the last bargaining units to reach agreement with the County. MCPAA and SEIU seem to have been operating on the theory that they could stonewall the County for as long as possible and still settle for a 10% cut.

THE ATTORNEY'S and the County reached impasse, the point at which further negotiation is pointless, last December. After further delay and a lot of unnecessary huffing and puffing by the attorneys (as a profession, they just can't help themselves), both sides tried mediation, which also failed. The County has issued its “last, best, and final offer,” a 20% permanent cut in salary, which the union has rejected. The item was on the agenda this week for the Board to impose a pay cut of anything up to and including that “last, best, and final” offer.

CARLY DOLAN, a public defender and the newly elected president of County lawyers, recently challenged the Board, saying the attorneys would take the same permanent pay cut as the Supervisors, an obvious reference to the recent failure of a majority of the Board to consider imposing a permanent 10% cut on their own lofty salaries. Four Supervisors, all but the eternally grasping Smith, are taking a voluntary 10% pay cut, but only Brown and McCowen were willing to make it permanent. The attorneys now say they have always been willing to take a 10% pay cut, but sources within the union concede acceptance of a 10% cut is new in the face of the grim fact that the Supes have the authority to impose up to a 20% cut.

THIS JUST IN: The Board reached a last minute tentative agreement with Public Attorney's Association, subject to approval by the full union membership, for a permanent 12.5% cut in pay. The tentative agreement avoided a showdown that could have resulted in a unilateral imposition of up to a 20% cut. SEIU had issued a call to “Storm the Board” in support of the attorneys. The announcement of an agreement short-circuited what would have been an emotional and acrimonious confrontation. If the full attorneys union membership does not approve the agreement it will come back to the Board again to consider an imposition of up to a 20% cut.

THE FISCAL TRAINWRECK otherwise known as the County budget, coupled with lingering animosity for the County's attorneys intransigence, and the even greater animosity for attorneys generally in the outside world, makes it seem likely that the attorneys will get whacked closer to 20% than 10%. While other groups, especially SEIU-represented workers, were taking mandatory time off to help with the budget, the attorneys, whose reps really ought to cool it on statements like how much schooling they've had to have, did nothing. To get the same budget savings over a two-year period, the County would need to impose a 20% cut to make up for not getting a 10% cut while negotiations dragged irresolutely on for the past year.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY DAVID EYSTER was also on the agenda this week. Eyster wants to hire an Assistant District Attorney at an annual salary of $115,000, about $20,000 more than a top step prosecutor now gets in Mendocino County. Eyster has been working overtime to clean up the mess left by his predecessor, but Eyster couldn't have made the request for a top gun at a worse time. Bringing in someone from outside the department, and proposing to pay that person twenty grand more than the next highest paid attorney, and to do it on the same day the rest of the public's lawyers are looking at what could be a 20% cut? Good luck, Dave.

THAT SAID, we're for Eyster in his quest for a top prosecutor. We need one, and we've needed one for a very long time. Paul Sequiera out of Contra Costa County is the guy Eyster wants to hire. We hope the Supervisors do it.

MENDOCINO COUNTY has seen well-placed crooks get away with major crimes, up to and including murder, for many years. For handy instance, the people who burned the heart out of Fort Bragg back in 1987. There was more than enough to indict the people who did it but the DA dithered and the statute of limitations ran, and there went Fort Bragg's library, the Ten Mile Justice Court and the Piedmont Hotel, all in one big breathtakingly brazen arson burn in one big brazen night of major crime. And that one may have included the murder of Kenny Ricks, one of the young guys hired by the shot callers to do the torching. Ricks just happened to “probable suicide” himself shortly before he was scheduled to appear before a federal grand jury convened in San Francisco. This county needs someone who not only isn't afraid of well-placed criminals but someone who has the ability to take them on. $115,000 is a small price to pay to at last bring true justice to Mendocino County.

SO, WHY CAN'T EYSTER himself do the big cases? Because, given the pure volume of crime these days, it's not humanly possible to run the DA's office and prosecute cases that need one's exclusive attention for long periods of time, that's why.

EYSTER is doing without a chief trial deputy, the position that the highly paid Jill Ravitch held under Lintott because Lintott did no trial work while Eyster does handle lots of cases himself. Eyster's actually saving money by operating with two top attorneys instead of three.

THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, led by Pinches and McCowen, have been pushing staff to downsize the number of leased facilities and move employees into County owned buildings. Carmel Angelo, in last week's CEO report, noted that the Facility Consolidation report would be coming to the Board this week. Except for Fort Bragg which was being held up “as staff continues to work with the two coastal supervisors.” McCowen wondered why the delay, since the consolidation has been under discussion for months. Pinches also questioned the delay, noting the County pays more than $25,000. a month to lease a single building in Fort Bragg.

AND GUESS WHO the building is leased to? Dominic Affinito, the man who benefitted most from the Fort Bragg fires, and the man whose cash-and carry relationship with the Fort Bragg City Council and City Manager Gary Milliman in the 1980s made the wealthy Affinito a lot wealthier. Let's make it even clearer: Convenient arson fires gave Affinito both sides of the mouth of the Noyo River on whose south bank he'd previously scooped up the existing restaurant and on whose north bank Affinito erected an oversized motel which he was miraculously permitted to build taller than state and local law allows. He also got the City of Fort Bragg to provide all the infrastructure for his Glass Beach subdivision, all the while “loaning” Fort Bragg City council people money they didn't have to pay back, trading these “loans” for votes for his various projects, all of them faithfully steered by the egregious Milliman. Milliman left Fort Bragg when an accumulation of scandals, including one that saw him getting the City of Fort Bragg to invest public money in one of Milliman's personal investments, finally became too much even for a town whose bigwigs have historically been beyond the law.

ALONE on the Board of Supervisors at the time, John Pinches opposed the Fort Bragg lease deal with Affinito, pointing out that the County, for a lot less money, could build its own social services barn in Fort Bragg. Take a look at that thing next time you're in Fort Bragg. About a mil in materials maybe another two mil in labor, and going on 25 years now the taxpayers of Mendocino County have been leasing it from Affinito for more than $25,000 a month! Supervisor Patti Campbell, supported for two terms by Coastlib, was a huge Affinito supporter, running errands for the guy as a Fort Bragg City councilman and then as 4th District Supervisor.

IF WE'D HAD an ace prosecutor in 1987, the two men who burned Fort Bragg would have been prosecuted. Eyster has already set his office on a salubrious course by getting Supervisor Smith to pay back the verifiable amount of money she stole from the taxpayers. $115,000 a year to effectively prosecute the big fish is money well spent. Eyster's also figured out a way to get first-time pot violators to pay for the eradication of their busted crops, boosting the County's general fund a bit.

AT LAST WEEK'S meeting of the Supervisors, CEO Angelo Smith and Hamburg unconvincingly explained that more time was needed to assess the $319,000 (!) annual lease deal with Affinito. With the decline in the County workforce, which is down about 400 people from a peak of 1,577, FB's social services buildings are about half empty. The obvious move is to shift employees from the half empty leased space to the half empty County owned space. The County will also save money on not having to heat, cool, clean and maintain double the amount of building space. The wisdom of this move seems obvious to everyone. Everyone, that is, except for Supervisor Smith and perhaps Hamburg.

PLANNING AND BUILDING and Environmental Health were all set to move from the Avila Center to a County owned building on Fir Street. The Social Services employees would then move from the Affinito building into the County-owned Avila Center, that dreary skein of Kamping Kabin-like structures housing various County functions on South Franklin across the street from Affinito's toxic tin shed housing what's left of social services. If the Affinito lease and its $25,000+ monthly payment were terminated, the County, which is you and me brothers and sisters, would save a lot of money.

SMITH HAS OPPOSED the move from the Affinito building from the beginning, but lacked traction until Hamburg sided with her. As Hamburg intoned ominously last week, “It won't be good if this goes forward and Kendall and I vote against it,” thereby invoking the specter of the Coastal/Inland Divide. Wake up, Dan. The deal with Affinito stinks. It always has, back to Smith's predecessor, Patti Campbell.

THE COUNTY is reimbursed about 85% by the State for the cost of the Affinito lease, some say 100%, but even at that, if the County moves social services into the Avila Center, which needs ADA and techno upgrades, the State will pay rent to the County and also pay to do the ADA upgrades, which the County is otherwise obliged to do. Although Smith has temporarily stalled consolidation in Fort Bragg, consolidation inland is moving forward. Case in point — the Veteran's Service Office in Ukiah has moved from leased space into a County-owned building on Observatory Avenue with little or no fanfare at an annual savings of about $25,000.

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