Saving Deputy Walker

by Mark Scaramella, August 12, 2009

Mendocino County is broke, and broker by the day. All branches of County government, including the Sheriff's Department, have been forced to cut expenditures. Along with the proposed cuts there’s been lots of talk at the higher levels of County government that five deputies, among them Anderson Valley's popular new second resident deputy, Craig Walker, might have to go.

The Sheriff has told the Board of Supervisors that if he has to layoff five deputies, three of them will be the newest hires, two of them in Covelo, one of them Anderson’s Valley’s Deputy Walker.

The deputies could be saved if the Sheriff’s budget, as is, were backfilled either by the Board of Supervisors or by some outside funding such as federal community policing grants or Obamoney.

Nobody expects these funds to appear.

Another option, discussed last Wednesday at an impromptu meeting of the Anderson Valley Community Action Coalition, is locally fund-raise to pay deputy Walker ourselves, routing the collected money through the Community Services District as is presently done by Point Arena and in Covelo.

To fund the deputy the Anderson Valley Community Services District might propose a community police tax on top of the other district assessments, but because such tax proposals must pass through several bureaucratic hoops this approach, is probably to cumbersome to be of help over the short term. Further, there’s no guarantee a local cop tax would pass the vote test.

The third option raised at last week’s Community Action Coalition forum is to lobby the Board of Supervisors to reduce County management costs by salary cuts and managerial layoffs; such reductions would cover the cost of the absolutely essential resident deputies.

Our analysis of Mendocino County’s upper management reveals that a rather small percentage reduction in the salaries of Mendo’s highest paid bureaucrats could easily free up the public money to pay for resident deputies in Anderson Valley and Covelo.

Sheriff Allman has told locals that a resident deputy costs about $110k per year, all things considered.

According to the County’s latest personnel data, Mendocino County has 34 executive positions with annual price tags of more than $100,000.

Taken together these 34 public execs draw almost $4 million a year — not counting an array of perks that would have been envied by Nero himself.

The County’s management bargaining unit — yes management is a bargaining unit — also gets cheap health care, full dental and vision coverage, their own individual health savings accounts, bereavement leave, and sick leave (including domestic partners of uncertain duration). The department heads — yes, even department heads are a bargaining unit! — get all of that plus professional memberships, a vehicle allowance, and free computers.

Ten percent whacked off the annual take of these top 34 positions would save a quick $350-$400k, enough to instantly spare the positions of three resident deputies.

There are eight other top level positions in the County pulling in more than $90k per year, and then you have an array of Deputy Directors each earning $87k/year.

Additionally, we find 28 assistant directors and nine more deputy directors who make between $60 and $80k annually. It's unknown how many of these positions are filled, but probably most of them are, as the chiefs of Mendocino County's bureaucracy long ago passed all reasonable ratio to its laboring Indians.

Oh, and don’t forget that the CEO’s office and the County Counsel’s office each cost over $1 million per year in salaries.

But if you expect management to consider themselves as part of the budget cutting process, you’d have to deal with, primarily, County CEO Tom Mitchell — who just happened to be on last Friday’s KZYX “access” show with former Supervisor Norm DeVall last week.

DeVall asked Mitchell: “If there was a public uprising and you had to get the latest $500k you're taking from the Sheriff from somewhere else, where would it come from?”

Mitchell, carefully avoiding any mention of management, replied, “You'd have to take it from some social service organizations or close some functions in Planning and Building. We have streamlined… we have cut back services, we are working on reinventing government.”

“Reinventing government” doesn't, of course include reinventing management's bloated ranks.

“But as we talked during our final budget hearings,” Mitchell droned on, “I asked our department heads to demonstrate to the board and talk about the areas we've already cut back and the areas we think we're going to cut back already in 2010/2011 [next fiscal year] because we don't see the situation turning around.”

A bold woman called in to ask about the high cost of management in the County as DeVall, ever on bended knee before the higher income earners, rephrased her question: “Tom, can you get along with less than a million dollars in your office?”

Mitchell replied, “Well, we can all get along with less in our office, and we do. I've taken a 10% reduction in my salary because I know that…”

“Bullshit!” shouted the caller, who had stayed on the line to hear Mitchell’s answer. “You just got a three…”

A panicked DeVall interrupted. “Hold it! Hold it, caller. OK. Hold it right there. We've got to be careful. FCC. We don't have any time lag on these telephone calls. … Next caller, please.”

Mitchell was saved by bullshit, and not for the first time.

Dorotheya Dorman called in a few minutes later.

“Norm, when that lady called to talk about the excrement of the male gender of cattle, it was correct to chide her about the FCC regulations, but I don't think you should have cut her off. I wanted to hear her rebuttal to Tom Mitchell.”

“Then I'll ask her to call back,” DeVall said. “Thank you very much. Next caller.”

A third female caller approached The Bullshit more diplomatically.

“I just wanted to make the suggestion that we could balance the budget a little bit better if maybe we didn't have a CEO. I don't really see the point of having a head over all the heads. There's no reason the Supervisors can't meet with heads of departments. It seems like that's part of their job description.”

Mitchell replied, “Somebody has to run the business of the county. Our supervisors in this county, if you look at the workload that they carry with the commitment they have for meetings not only throughout this county but in Sacramento and in other regions throughout the state, they carry an extremely heavy workload. I don't know where they'd find the time to meet with department heads and coordinate the activities of all the various aspects of government. In any organization somebody has to be in charge and coordinate it, make sure the long range planning is done, work with the community, work on economic development, that does take a central focus and that's what your CEO is hired to do.”

Mitchell had off-loaded a whole load of Pure Bullshit. DeVall provided the shovel.

There's no evidence that the supervisors, themselves paid $68,000 a year plus an array of perks even more lavish than the department heads get, work any harder and more hours than the County road crew, not to demean the road crew whose work is much more crucial than anything Mitchell and his “management team” might accomplish even if they happened to be capable of accomplishing anything.

1. The Board could simply stop going to the pointless meetings, most of which are tax-paid junkets of no value to the public that pays for them. Can anyone cite even one public benefit for all these meetings that somehow justify the supposed “extremely heavy workload” of the supervisors?

2. Long Range Planning? What long range planning? The General Plan Update took the County almost ten years and well over $1 million (some say $4 million) and produced a plan almost identical to the existing plan. (Some say the update is worse than nothing, us among the persons who think it's, well, just another expensive pile of bullshit by a decade's worth of consulting incompetents.)

3. Economic development? There is none. Whatever that costs can simply stop because what little there is is accomplished unilaterally by independent investors. Except for marijuana, Mendocino County’s economy is shrinking and there’s nothing the County's alleged leadership could do about it even if they were capable and committed, which they generally aren't.

* * *

The Anderson Valley Community Action Coalition concluded that they would (1) arrange a meeting with the County Sheriff and the Community Services District Board to see what can be done to at least partially fund the second resident deputy position, short-term and long-term.

Second, they will lobby the Board of Supervisors, particularly our Fifth District Supervisor David Colfax, to actively pursue his previous (if somewhat off-hand) suggestion of instituting a progressive management pay cut where the more you make, the more you’re cut. Colfax has mentioned this twice over the last few months, but hasn't followed through.

The Coalition asks that Fifth District voters email or call Supervisor Colfax either at his home (dcolfax@wildblue.net, 895-3241) or office (colfaxd@co.mendocino.ca.us or 463-4221) asking him what he’s going to do about saving the resident deputy positions, and calling for a management cut at least as much as line worker cuts. Send copies of the emails to us at the AVA (ava@pacific.net) and we'll log them and print them (if requested). If Colfax doesn't introduce specific measures to save these positions, tell him you’re going to vote for his opponent Dan Hamburg in the upcoming 2010 election.

Hamburg has so far been invisible on all the issues facing Mendocino County. Drop that bong, Dan, and get out there. You're a candidate, remember?

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