Off The Record
by AVA News Service, July 7, 2011
CORRECTION: Debbie Kruse writes from Albion to point out that her husband, Richard Kruse, was set for jury trial on Monday, July 25th. “It will be delayed because his new attorney needs time to go through all the evidence and become familiar with the case. It was delayed earlier because the prosecution was suppressing positive information about Mr. Kruse. Gee, so is the Anderson Valley Advertiser.”
IF THERE'S “positives” out there about Mr. Kruse's work with his girl's only water ski club, we're all ears. The DA, at Mr. Kruse's preliminary hearing, made it clear that he thinks the club was a pretext for getting Mr. Kruse in close sexual proximity to female children.
A COUNTY STAFFER who handles grand jury reports confirms that management staff ignores the grand jury. “No one takes them seriously,” the staffer said.
THERE'S NO DOWNSIDE to ignoring Grand Jury criticisms, thanks to the superior court and generations of previous district attorneys who failed to put teeth into the Jury's findings. But DA-elect Eyster seems to be a departure from previous practice. He made it very clear to Supervisor Smith that she either pay the money she owed the County for her felony-quality thefts of travel money or she would be arrested. DA Meredith Lintott ignored the work of four grand juries on Smith's transparent larcenies. Typically though, a criticized official or department will merely respond this way: “The Board of Supervisors disagrees with this finding.”
BY THE WAY, and as incredible as it may seem to the rest of us, Mendolib, Coast Branch, is gearing up to support Smith for a third term as supervisor, the “thinking” being that Smith is a loyal Democrat, her likely opponent, Dan Gjerde, is also a loyal Democrat, and loyal Democrats, Mendo-style, don't run against other loyal Democrats. Apply this “thinking” to Congressman Wine Guy on up to President O'Bummer and you begin to understand that the Democrats are not the way forward. Of course there is no political way forward at this time, and when there is some political momentum for the good only the Democrats of the Kucinich type will be involved.
SPEAKING of political fraud, Governor Brown has vetoed a farmworker bill that would make it easier for farmworkers to unionize. Consistent with his long history of political treachery, Brown, who once made a great show of being with the UFW, said the union reform was not an improvement.
SOME OF US will remember when the French-owned Roederer Winery workers went on strike here in Anderson Valley a decade ago. The workers, nickel nosed by the billion-dollar family-owned Roederer right at harvest time when Roederer suddenly announced they'd pay the people who make their huge annual profits possible somewhat less than Roederer had always paid people for picking their grapes. Which had to be picked right now. Roederer had sprung the pay decrease on the workers as they'd arrived at the crack of dawn. But the workers struck. Roederer shipped in workers from over on I-5 somewhere and they struck, too. The Boonville workers contacted the UFW, a dramatic union vote was held in the fields with Roederer's gimlet-eyed French lawyers, flown in from Paris for the occasion, looking on. The workers, unintimidated by a process entirely stacked against them, voted to affiliate with the UFW. A year later, their leaders systematically picked off by management with single union guys being expelled from Roederer's single guy housing in retaliation for daring to go union, Roederer again had it all their own way. Roederer had hired Littler-Mendleson, a Frisco-based group of union-busting legal gangsters who “advised” Roederer on the finer points of union-busting. And the Wine People all over Mendocino County were soon holding Littler-Mendleson seminars on how to keep unions out of the fields and, to this day, the Wine People have kept the unions out of the vineyards.
A READER ASKS, “Do you mind explaining your statement that the trouble at KPFA and other Pacifica stations began when everyone started getting paid?” Not at all, my child, not that it's anything more than an expression of my feeble perceptions. But it seems to me that at the root of these things is persons of generally marginal abilities trying to get paid for being politically cool. The in-station hassles go back to the sixties, and they're constant, and they're always disguised as matters of high political principle, but they're really about one faction of unemployables trying to solidify itself and its paydays over another faction of unemployables and its paydays. The dreary personalities of the inevitable people involved turn off everyone. In my experience with KPFA during this or that controversy where my opinion was solicited, I encountered some of the absolute worst human beings I've ever had the misfortune to encounter anywhere, and I've been in some lowdown situations. I think the prevalent awfulness of the people who latch on to “alternative” politics is a big part of the reason there's no left in this country.
I DO TUNE IN Doug Henwood's discussion of the economic-related matters, but that's it for KPFA and me. The best writing on economics, by the way, is by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone magazine. Taibbi is unmatched in explaining high finance flim-flamming. His recent piece for RS on the appalling Michele Bachmann is hilarious and frightening. I just assumed she was a loon, which she is, but this particular devil really is in the details. Michele makes Sarah look like a rock of moderation.
THE LATEST EXAMPLE of a significant management problem identified by the Grand Jury appeared last week under this cutesy title: “Covering Your Asphalt: A Report on the Mendocino County Department of Transportation.” The “MCDOT,” according to the Grand Jury, is administratively top-heavy in a time of tight budgets; has numerous administrative and supervisory problems and has even engaged in “inappropriate or illegal management actions.” And what would these “inappropriate or illegal management actions” be? The Grand Jury doesn’t say. And no referral was made to the District Attorney. So guess what will happen to this report?
REDWOOD VALLEY'S Jim Houle, a smart guy unlikely to be baffled by the bafflegabbers, and local financial gadfly John Sakowitz have been appointed to the County Grand Jury. At last week's initial meeting with Presiding Judge Cindy Mayfield, Sako, repeating a theme he has voiced many times in the past, asked the Judge whether the County would pay for a “forensic auditor” to take a look at the County's retirement system for possible criminal wrongdoing. Judge Mayfield told Sakowitz that the County was short of funds but that the grand jury could ask for such an audit and — if Judge Mayfield approved — some funds might be allocated to it.
A COUPLE of pending lawsuits (648469 O’Neal vs. Stanislaus County and 646617, Nasrawi vs. Buck Consultants) filed back in 2009 against Stanislaus County’s retirement board and Buck Consultants may be of use to Mendo County's rocking chair brigade. Mendo's retirees could make the same case that Stanislaus makes— that Buck Consultants “aided and abetted” a sleepy, uncomprehending Mendo retirement board in underestimating retirement contributions, thus depriving pensioners of a fully funded system. Buck's accountants made it appear that Buck was saving money for the system and the County but, but, but.... Why, it's Mr. Ponzi! These things take a long time to play out, and there's no guarantee that Mendo would benefit in the end. But Buck Consultants (with the likely complicity of the Retirement Board and the perennially out of it Board of Supervisors) did pretty much the same thing to Mendo's pension fund they did to Stanislaus's.
FOR THOSE of you interested in how the County’s Supervisor District Redistricting Committee is doing, simply log on to the County’s main website and click away on Redistricting. For those of you who prefer not to click but want your info short and to the point: Two of the redistricting options under consideration are similar to the present contours of Mendo County's five supervisorial districts. But the most interesting proposal is one which puts the Mendocino-Fort Bragg area into one smallish district.
MENDOCINO AND FORT BRAGG have much more in common these days than they did when logging, milling and fishing were the primary Fort Bragg employers, but the “village” of Mendocino was already all the way into no-fat lattes and ocean view bubble baths. With logging and fishing long gone from Fort Bragg, all the candy asses, the redistricting assumption seems to be, are now dominant in both the seaside towns, so let's make them a single voting district. We'll put the rest of the Coast, which is merely a junior varsity candy assed voting bloc anymore, in a very large second coastal district. The Redistricting committee is trying to put as much of Willits as possible into the Third District and move Hopland out of the Fifth while still maintaining a semblance of population balance in all five districts. There is no truth to the rumor that Willits will be re-districted east into Glenn County. Anyway, Glenn County voters would be unlikely to approve.
IT'S LOOKING like the Sheriff's budget gap will be filled by “increased registration fees” of about $12 per vehicle. “Increased registration fees” used to be known as “vehicle license fees.” Sheriff Allman says that whatever you call them, they are expected to generate about the same amount of money as vehicle license fees and should close the Sheriff's remaining budget gap, meaning that the layoff notices for six patrol deputies will probably be rescinded. For now.
THIS WEEK'S NYT story on Congressman Thompson was reprinted in the NYT-owned Press Democrat. The PD's editors, however, decided that the Times' description of this area as “grape obsessed” was too hot for Northcoast readers, so the PD changed “grape obsessed” to “Northcoast wine country.”
THE TIMES, by the way, obtained Congressman Thompson's thuggish letter to State Water Resources from… Will Parrish of your community newspaper. Not that Will or anybody at your community newspaper hungers for validation by the New York Times, but this is how these things tend to work.
JOE DON MOONEY responds to Jeff Costello: “I'm sorry to rain on Jeff Costello's smug gotcha moment, but I do, indeed, know that Motown's recording studio was called 'Hitsville USA,' not 'Hicksville.' That's how I spelled it in my letter of June 22, but the AVA's infamous spellcheck software tweaked it to 'Hicksville.' It's not the AVA's fault. I've seen snafus like this and worse even in high-end books. It's one of the prices we pay for living in gizmo wonderland.
“JEFF'S denigrating Hopland as Hicksville is right on target, though. It reminds me of my feisty Illinois grandma Hicks who taught me the fine points of animal husbandry. Her ancestors, the Hickey Clan of County Clare, Ireland, were part of the tribal grouping which produced Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland who defeated the Vikings in 1014. Coincidentally, the esteemed editor of this fine publication is a Hickman on his mother's side.
“ANOTHER REASON to love Hicksville Hopland is that it's the only place in America where you can breed razorbacks without a license. According to the dictionary, a hick is 'an unsophisticated provincial.' That's me, and proud of it. Thank you, Jeff, for reminding us of our humble roots.” — Joe Don Mooney, “setting the record straight.”
MAN BEATER OF THE WEEK. Ms Monica Grossman of Dusty Road, Redwood Valley, a well-nourished 21-year-old, says on her Facebook page that her recreational interests include bowling and, somewhat ominously, “shooting.” Monica stands accused of battery on a cohabitant, namely her live-in love interest, a handful of whose hair Monica allegedly pulled out in an unaffectionate grapple with the young man as the pair celebrated Monica's 21st birthday.
According to the police report, “When they returned to their home, an argument ensued where the suspect physically grabbed the victim by his head and pulled out some hair. Other family members at the residence stopped the altercation and called law enforcement.” And Monica got herself carted off to jail on her first day as an adult.
NEGOTIATIONS WITH SEIU for a reduced workweek of 36 hours and a four-day workweek appear to have hit a sticking point. It appeared that SEIU had pulled off a coup in reaching agreement for the reduced workweek instead of a straight 10% cut in pay. The dispute hinges on whether holiday pay for the dozen or so county paid holidays should be based on 8 hours or 7.2 hours. The latter would be consistent with the premise that the reduction in hours is the equivalent of a 10% reduction in pay.
THE DIFFERENCE to each SEIU member amounts to a few hundred dollars annually, but the difference to the county, times the 800 or so SEIU members, equals about a quarter of a million dollars, a sizable chunk of the projected $1.5 million in annual savings the county hopes to realize from the deal.
THE SEIU LEADERSHIP held a series of meetings with their membership to explain and vote on the agreement they thought they had. But County CEO Carmel Angelo swiftly sent out an all staff memo and issued a press release saying that the county had not signed off on the package that SEIU was voting on. The SEIU leadership pressed on with the vote and is now saying that 96% of their members who voted are in favor of the agreement. Except the county says they have not reached an agreement.
THE SEIU LABOR NEGOTIATORS, accompanied by a roomful of SEIU members wearing their purple shirts, appeared before the Board at public expression last week, submitting a thick folder of materials and asking the Board to vote in favor of “our agreement,” which they said was detailed in the thick folder of materials. The folder was accompanied by a cover letter saying that the folder contained all of the tentative agreements reached by the union and county negotiators. But only a handful of the “tentative agreements” were signed by the union and county negotiators. Most of them had blank signature lines and represent the union's wish list for what they hope the agreement will be. Agreement can probably be reached in most cases, but there are a few sticking points, the chief one being the holiday pay issue. The county is already drawing flack from the other bargaining units, who were forced to take a 10% cut in wages. The other units are wondering why they have to work a full week for a 10% cut in pay while SEIU will be taking off every week for a three-day weekend. If SEIU refuses to agree to the 10% savings for holiday pay, it could give the county an excuse to go back to asking for a straight cut in pay of 10% or more.
THE EMPLOYER"S COUNCIL OF MENDOCINO COUNTY, ever alert to anything that might benefit the employees, as opposed to their patrician overlords, has chimed in, imploring the County to stick with the standard forty hour, five day work week and a cut in pay instead of the reduced work week. The Employer's Council makes the point that the public will be the loser if most county offices are closed an extra day a week. For once, the Employer's Council may have a point. County employees are already complaining about increased workloads. If they can't get the work done in a forty-hour week, how are they going to get it done in 36? Not only will county offices be closed an extra day a week, but the work that does get done will likely be done more slowly.
THE BOARD was scheduled to discuss labor negotiations in closed session last week immediately after the pitch by SEIU to approve “our agreement” that had not yet been agreed to. Several SEIU members waited around for over an hour (presumably taking personal leave or vacation time) until the Board came out of closed session. When the announcement was made out of closed session that “no action was taken,” we are told that the SEIU members present were crestfallen.
IF THE AGREEMENT that has not yet been agreed to falls apart, it will mean the county and the union will be back at impasse with the County in a position to impose up to a 15% straight cut in pay and no reduction in hours. But based on the experience with probation and the public attorneys, it seems more likely that SEIU would be looking at something like a 12.5% reduction in pay.
LOOKED AT OBJECTIVELY it seems like the reduced workweek is worth a lot more to the individual union members than the relatively small amount of holiday pay that is in dispute. SEIU seems to be counting on the Board, when faced with a roomful of purple clad SEIU members, having the collective spine of a jellyfish. But if the Board holds firm they will be back at impasse and in a position to unilaterally impose a straight pay cut. It remains to be seen how far the SEIU leadership will push the issue.
A PERSPECTIVE on the Greek situation: “We should all become Greeks. The American work ethic is overrated. I'm serious. We rush about to maintain our crappy suburban lifestyles in cars that cost too much. My Greek barber once ripped out his lawn and planted an orchard. It was the only work other than cutting hair that he ever did. When the suburban neighbors complained, he pretended he did not speak English and tore out more lawn. He told me, “Screw the grass. Americans are crazy. I am Greek and I like to EAT. We Americans, on the other hand, work like Dilbert, disposable workers in service of a bunch of rich bastards who buy our elections to put more rich bastards in office. What if we ALL became honorary Greeks. Would it not improve the national character generally if our citizens spent more time arguing politics in cafes? Nowadays we just yell back at the TV or radio and get fat eating crappy food. I think we should be like the old Greek guys at the Starbucks near me. They sit around and yell at each other for hours, eat decent pastries, teasing the hot baristas, then all go home laughing, telling jokes with the guys they were just yelling at. I was in Athens a few years back: same scene. It was not tourist season so I just hung out with Greeks and soon I was a slacker, too, buying rounds of coffee as they practiced their English and Spanish on me. If we become less obsessed about working so dang hard, live modestly, stop making a fetish of our houses, cars, and electronic doo-dads, we might just hang out more, drink good coffee, and yell happily at each other. Then we'll all live to be crusty old Greek guys. This is my dream. Don't forget we also need to tear up most of the parking lots so old dudes can abuse each other over a game of Boule. I'm a pretty good player, btw, so you'll be paying for the next round of coffees. The Chinese might give us trouble when we become a nation of jovial but active and Stoic bums, instead of mean-spirited fat fundamentalist workaholics. No worries. We'll nuke 'em with the weapons left over from our Imperial legacy or, better still, begin a campaign of subversion to turn THEM into Greeks too.”