Supervisor Hamburg Is Upset

by Mark Scaramella, June 29, 2011

The last two meetings of the Board of Supervisors, June 14 and June 21, were spent fine tuning the Ukiah Valley Area Plan, a fundamentally fraudulent irrelevant document that is not only a total waste of taxpayer money, but is of very little interest to the general public it allegedly serves. The discussion was almost entirely between the preparers of the Plan and local officials. The few written comments from the public were mostly ignored.

Of much greater interest to the general public is the Sheriff’s budget and the extent to which law enforcement may be cut due to the County’s continuing funding shortfalls.

On June 14 Supervisor Dan Hamburg made quite a fuss over a letter that Deputy Craig Walker wrote to this newspaper. Hamburg didn’t like the Deputy’s letter.

Hamburg: “I have a comment on Item 4. In the Anderson Valley Advertiser this week," Hamburg began, brandishing the offending publication as he spoke, the paper that came out Wednesday [June 8], there was a letter that was signed by Craig Walker of Philo, and I’m going to read a little, a part of this letter. I find it very vexing, I think would be a good word. When I first read the letter, I actually thought it was a hoax. I didn’t really believe that a deputy sheriff for our county would write such a letter and put it in the newspaper. I’m going to read the letter or part of the letter just so it’s in the record and so that most of you on the Board who may not be aware of it become aware of it because I think it’s a serious matter and that’s why I’m taking the Board’s time: ‘There is no question that Mendocino County, like many government entities, faces significant fiscal challenges. But to claim the County "has no money” isn’t entirely accurate. In point of fact, Mendocino County will spend somewhere north of $54 million next fiscal year. Many competing constituencies lay claim to these funds but ultimately how this money is spent is a reflection of the public policy preferences of the Board of Supervisors. Law enforcement and public safety is the principal responsibility of government. The presence of local deputies is, as many residents know from personal experience, part of the fabric of this community. As we know from the pages of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, given our remote location, resident deputies are the only reliable law enforcement resource available to local residents and visitors. Should the Sheriff’s office presence in Anderson Valley be reduced or eliminated, residents will, in a very real sense, be left on their own. So where does our Supervisor, Dan Hamburg, stand on the critical question of retaining two resident deputies in Anderson Valley? Personal appearances, budgetary doubletalk and flowery rhetoric aside, Mr. Hamburg has done absolutely nothing, in word AND deed, to ensure a continuing, effective local law enforcement presence in Anderson Valley. As I’ve commented, heretofore privately, Supervisor Hamburg simply does not believe in law enforcement or public safety. It’s just not in his DNA. Were he a private citizen that would be fine. But as our representative, Mr. Hamburg’s hostility towards law enforcement is both striking and harmful. If Anderson Valley loses its resident deputies, it will have occurred on Dan Hamburg’s watch. Sincerely, Craig Walker, Philo.’

Hamburg resumed his vexation: “I think that the Board and the public can understand why I was a bit concerned and thought it was a hoax. I actually didn’t believe that this was Deputy Walker and to this moment I don’t know if it is. When I read the letter, a day or so later I expected I would quickly hear from the deputy and have it cleared up. When I heard nothing I looked in the phone book and found that while Deputy Squires was listed in the regular phone book, Deputy Walker was not. So I contacted the Sheriff and I asked the Sheriff for contact information and he told me that he couldn’t supply that to me because that was confidential. So I sent the Sheriff all of my contact information and asked him to contact Deputy Walker and ask him to call me and tell me, Was this real? Was this a joke? Not a joke by him, but by somebody else who thought this might be a way to get at me. And again I say to this moment I don’t know because nobody’s contacted me. Deputy Walker hasn’t contacted me, and I haven’t heard anything from the Sheriff, I think, since last Friday. If this is not a hoax, I want to say that I really understand the kind of pressure that County employees, including those in the Sheriff’s Department are under. When somebody receives a lay-off notice it’s going right to the heart of their very livelihood and I don’t make those decisions lightly and they’re just as hard for the staff of the Social Services department or the Mental Health department or the Family Planning department or the Planning department or any other department or for a deputy. It’s not done lightly, and I know it’s not done lightly by me and it’s not done lightly by any other member of this Board. I don’t know what would cause a deputy to attack a supervisor so directly in this way, particularly without first contacting that supervisor and talking about this issue. So that is very upsetting to me. I don’t know if it has to do with this process we’ve had to go through since last February where, when the Board has to take an action that’s deemed to be delet… deleterious to the Sheriff’s Department, the Sheriff threatens to sue. That’s happened twice in the very short time I’ve been on the board. And maybe that creates a feeling in the department that, well, the board isn’t really in charge and Tom [Sheriff Allman] is here and Tom has said in this boardroom, 'You’re not my boss and I’m not your boss.' And, you know, maybe in terms of the Constitution there’s some truth in that. I realize the Sheriff and DA are Constitutional officers. But still it’s the Board of Supervisors that has to set the policies of this County. We set the budget. We sit at the negotiation tables. We have to make very difficult decisions in a very bad fiscal environment. And I want that to be recognized by everybody who works for the County. And when I make a decision like I did with respect to this VLF [vehicle license fees, which, the board hopes, will be extended by the state legislature and cover the Sheriff’s budget shortfall] issue, in order to defend the fiscal integrity of this County, I do not do that lightly. I do that with every bit of my being and my care for this County. So I’d just like to again call on Deputy Walker to please contact me. I am in the phone book. I’m very easy to reach. And I would like him to clear this matter up and let me know: Is Craig Walker, Philo, Deputy Craig Walker or is this just somebody who’s playing a, uh, a very, uh, destructive kind of a joke? Thank you very much.”

Sheriff Allman strode to the podium. “I can clarify that, Supervisor Hamburg. I spoke with Deputy Walker and Deputy Walker did author that letter.”

Hamburg: “Well, that is indeed very, very upsetting to me and I think it should be upsetting to this entire Board of Supervisors.”

Mention of emotional turmoil predictably roused Supervisor Kendall Smith.

“Well, Supervisor, it is upsetting to me as well. I appreciate your comments, because I think you went to the core issue of fiscal and fiduciary responsibility that this Board has. So my comment on this is this Board needs to be objective and look at the pragmatic. With the very real budgetary responsibility that the Board has, I believe that he [Hamburg] and I took the only reasonable, prudent and responsible action by taking the position that we did last week because if the state is not giving us money, we can’t spend the money. To do so is to put us further into debt with a county that has no reserves, that has deficit projections until the end of fiscal year 10/11. So I think any business person who would study this would concur with that.”

Hamburg: “If I may madam chair. I’m sorry to interrupt but I certainly believe that Supervisors Brown, McCowen and Pinches have just as much integrity and have just as much concern about the overall health and welfare and well-being of Mendocino County as I do. I’m not casting any aspersions on their decision-making, their choice of how to handle these very difficult matters. My point is that when a deputy sheriff attacks a county Supervisor saying things that are so incendiary — ‘Mr. Hamburg has done absolutely nothing in word AND deed to insure effective local law enforcement … Supervisor Hamburg simply does not believe in law enforcement or public safety…’ I take tremendous umbrage at those statements.”

Hamburg emphatically slammed his copy of the AVA down on the dais.

Smith replied, “The comment that I was making certainly didn’t imply that our colleagues don’t as well take this very seriously and take as much responsible action, you know, in the ways that they do. I think we are trying to separate out what our roles are, and when you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money. I think it’s very important for the public to understand this, hence that’s why you and I took the action. We would love to have said, Sure, we’ve got the money; we can backfill this. But we have no money to backfill this if it doesn’t come from the state. It is as simple as that. And with respect to the deployment of deputies which was raised in the comments you just made — you as an individual supervisor or collectively we have absolutely no ability to deploy deputies to Anderson Valley or Covelo or to public support anywhere. That is up to the Sheriff with respect to where he deploys people. So we have no ability to do that and I can understand that you would be very upset with the content of, of, of that, of that… publication.”

The publication whose name cannot cross the lips of the good and the great! That defiler of Mendolib's finest flower — Supervisor Smith, Democrat, chiseler of travel funds, heiress to the huge political legacies of those giants of the redwoods! Thompson! Bosco! Chesbro! Colfax!

We, too, are upset that Smith is upset that Hamburg is upset. It's all just very, very upsetting, and if someone will pass me a dry hanky I'll try to continue.

Supervisor Pinches weighed in: “First of all, Supervisor Hamburg, I totally agree with your comments. And if I would have had my vote the other way I’m sure I would have been subject to the same letter.”

(About here I began to wonder if any of these people had read the saga of the Princess and the Pea.)

As a matter of fact, Supervisor Pinches did “have his vote the other way” before he changed his mind and voted to rescind the layoffs for 60 days after Walker wrote his letter, and Supervisor Pinches was not “subject to the same letter” because Supervisor Pinches is not Deputy Walker’s supervisor.

Pinches continued: “I think this whole freedom of the press is kind of a weird thing, freedom of speech, and it can be hurtful at times. But, you know, the reason that I voted to allow this 60-day delay was because there is some new revenue in Indian gaming money coming through, some $80,000, which will allow that. I certainly hope that the VLF money will come through. All the Sheriff asked for was a 60 day delay in the lay-offs. I think that under the situation that that was a reasonable request. And I just hope that the VLF money does come through. And if it don’t it’s going to be really hurtful to the Sheriff’s office and other budget units too, but I felt that was something we could extend the layoff at least for 60 days and that’s all we’re talking about here"

Smith repeated that she and everyone at the Low Gap headquarters hopes the VLF money comes through. (Every day that passes in Sacratamato it looks less and less likely.)

Of course, Supervisor John McCowen couldn’t resist commenting: “I think to that issue [the Sheriff’s layoffs], there were arguments on both sides. And I think that’s why it was a 3-2 vote. There were valid points being made. So I reject the notion that only, that there was only one fiscally responsible position to take. We often have disagreements on the budget and how we’re going to allocate money and that’s why there’s five people on the Board instead of one. I also think we’re sitting up here, we’re kinda sitting ducks in one respect. But we are accountable for the decisions that we make and I think that we have to be prepared for the fact that people who are not pleased with our decisions are gonna make whatever comments they make and they actually do have that right — if they’re doing it on their own time. And we’ve been criticized, individually and collectively, a huge number of times in the limited period of time that I’ve been here. Some of the criticism is more warranted and more informed than others but it’s all within the range of, uh, people being free to express their opinions. You know, we have to focus on the facts. Sometimes the facts they have are factual, but it’s not always the case. In the recent round of labor negotiations that we had, there have been a wide range of comments made about what the Board has done or not done. And some of it there’s a basis in fact for, and others I frankly have to wonder where are they getting this stuff? But they all have the freedom to express their opinion. Moving on to this item, and it is to recommend hiring… Oh no, this is to rescind the layoffs, so anyway unless there’s further discussion I’ll make a motion to approve the item.”

Every elected person is this wacky County ought to fall down on their knees in gratitude that they only have one media paying sustained attention to them. If they got anywhere near the  same attention paid state and national hackdom they'd be under their beds sucking their thumbs.

Supervisor Carre Brown, who had wisely chosen to remain silent after Hamburg’s remarks, added, “I’ll second it.”

McCowen: “This is formalizing the previous decision to rescind the layoffs.”

Smith: “That’s correct.”

CEO Angelo: “For 60 days.”

Smith: “Right.”

The Board then voted 3-2, Hamburg and Smith voting No, to rescind the layoffs and, not so incidentally, preserve Deputy Walker's job another two months.

* * *

Let’s take another look at Deputy Walker’s letter.

The Deputy is probably upset that he got a layoff notice from a job he’s very good at and most residents of the Anderson Valley and Mendocino County are safer because of his work. Walker also works the always busy Ukiah Valley, but Hamburg’s complaint that the Deputy failed to consult him in advance sounds a bit hollow. The layoff notice was delivered to Walker by an impersonal email with no explanation. That kind of callousness is hardly reassuring to a County employee, but that's what they typically get. Nobody called him in advance to tell him it was coming or ask his opinion of it.

It’s noteworthy that at no time did Supervisor Hamburg dispute any of Walker’s remarks — or “facts,” as Supervisor McCowen prefers to call opinions in accord with his own. Obviously, part of Walker’s letter was simply his opinion — that Supervisor Hamburg is averse to seeing law enforcement as a priority, an opinion shared by a large number of unhappy Fifth District residents.

Walker’s most pointed remark — that “personal appearances, budgetary doubletalk and flowery rhetoric aside, Mr. Hamburg has done absolutely nothing, in word AND deed, to ensure a continuing, effective local law enforcement presence in Anderson Valley,” is objectively true.

Hamburg has said repeatedly that all County departments are suffering, implying that the Sheriff’s department — which draws the lion’s share of the general fund — has to suffer its fair share of the pain, not get priority treatment. But as he and Smith robotically repeat “There’s no money” he and his colleagues have never asked, for instance, why the County’s $300k promotional budget can’t be used to cover part of the Sheriff’s budget gap. Or why the County’s bloated management structure can’t take a proportionately larger whack since they’re paid more than everybody else. Or why the Supes can’t slice more out of their own chubby budget. Or even why the County’s $1.4 million “miscellaneous” budget doesn't seem to be on a fiscal diet.

Supervisor Hamburg is the most experienced politician on the Board, having served as the area’s Congressman for two years back in the 1990s and running two area-wide campaigns for Congress.

With all that political experience and with his awareness that many of his constituents think he should do more to support local law enforcement, you’d think Hamburg would have at least tried to minimize the political damage by voting at the end of the discussion in favor of the motion to rescind the layoffs for 60 days when it was obvious that Supervisor Pinches had changed his vote (for the time being) and the layoff notices were going to be rescinded anyway.

Instead, Hamburg voted again to leave the layoff notices in place.

That essentially demonstrates that Deputy Walker was right.

2 Responses to Supervisor Hamburg Is Upset

  1. Trelanie Hill Reply

    June 29, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Is this how we want Supervisors to vote?

    Voting to minimize political damage?

    Supervisor Hamburg should vote based on how Pinches votes?

    Since Hamburg voted without regard to political damage this fact makes Deputy Walker right?

    When tough budget decisions come to a vote before this Board, I suggest they ignore political damage and do what they feel is in the best interest of the County and not what will help them in the next election.

    Supervisor Hamburg could have avoided the criticism by strategically changing his vote. He didn’t. He stood up for his position and was willing to make the tough decision. Sounds like the definition of integrity to me.

    Jim Hill
    Potter Valley

  2. Mark Scaramella Reply

    July 1, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    What’s the Big Principle being upheld by Supervisor Hamburg? That he’s in favor of laying off popular and effective resident deputies even when the board is voting the other way and there’s money for a couple of months of postponement? What’s more important, his integrity or resident deputies in his district?
    Nobody said he should change his vote “based on” Pinches’ vote, but that there was no longer any need to continue with the layoffs with the new Indian gaming money that came in after the first layoff vote and the vote to continue them was no longer necessary by his initial logic. Hamburg never explained why he wanted to continue with the June 30 layoffs even when there was $80k of new money available for the Sheriff.
    If the layoffs had been left in place because Smith and Hamburg felt that saving money was more important that resident deputies, and then vehicle license fee money which everybody hopes for had come in, Walker could be gone and would either have to be re-hired (if he hadn’t left already in disgust) or someone else would have to be found (very difficult and costly). Either way, Hamburg chose to continue with the layoffs and leave The Valley with only one deputy who is very close to retirement.
    If Hamburg is so interested in his integrity, why is he surprised or upset that many of his constituents don’t like his position to support the layoffs and then continue with the them even though money was available to postpone them?
    And no, Hamburg couldn’t have avoided the criticism because the criticism was registered before the June 14 vote to continue the layoffs.
    So yes, it does make deputy Walker right because Hamburg voted to continue with the layoffs even though there was at least enough money to postpone them and see what the VLF situation was.
    The point is that if Hamburg wanted to at least partially demonstrate that Walker was wrong, he could have easily changed his vote.
    Voting to continue with a position that the facts on the ground no longer justify is not an example of integrity, but more like an example of Emerson’s “foolish consistency.”

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