Off The Record

by AVA News Service, August 24, 2011

THE SHOCKING MURDER of Albion's Matt Coleman has the Sheriff's Department putting in a lot of overtime to run down his killer or killers. Coleman's bullet-ridden body was found August 11th beside his vehicle on Highway One not far from Rockport on the far northwest sector of Mendocino County.

Matt Coleman

Coleman, 45, was in the area as part of his work managing several properties, including one owned by Save the Redwoods at Cape Vizcaino, a large parcel near where Coleman's remains were discovered. Coleman, highly regarded by everyone who knew him, had no known enemies and had never been involved in criminal activity. Captain Kurt Smallcomb of the Sheriff's Department characterized speculation that Coleman had unwittingly walked up on a marijuana garden as that — speculation. Other persons close to the investigation tend to rule out the marijuana speculation because the Save the Redwoods property is in the fog belt and not conducive to marijuana planting. It has also been said that Coleman had been brutally beaten before he was shot, but Smallcomb said all his wounds derived from gunshots.

JACKIE CARVALLO is SEIU's most recent business agent but recently departed for a new post with the union in Sacramento. Carvallo left for her new joy in the middle of local negotiations between the County and the bulk of County workers. She appeared at the Board of Supervisor's meeting last week in Fort Bragg. In an apparent response to a comment in this column that her departure left a void in SEIU leadership, she assured the Board that she would be on deck for the duration of negotiations, negotiations that don't seem headed to a good place.

THE LATEST BARGAINING UPDATE from the union says that “after reaching an agreement we conducted a vote and in a turn of events the county is now backpedaling.” The update goes on to say that the County presented a number of “thoughtless proposals” that would reduce employees to part time status and take away healthcare and retirement benefits from some. The union timeline, included with the update, concedes that CEO Carmel Angelo sent an email to the employees saying the union and the County were at “impasse” and that some of the items being voted on had not been agreed to.

THE UNION VOTED ON A 10% CUT in hours. Every other bargaining unit, except County attorneys, who stalled for a year and wound up taking a 12.5% cut, took a 10% cut in pay. The 10% cut in hours was supposed to save about $1.5 million, the same as a 10% cut in pay. But the union insisted on, and voted on, 8 hours for holiday pay, not the 7.2 needed for a 10% savings. The difference to each employee is relatively minor, but to the County it represents $250,000 the County doesn't have. The SEIU timeline shows that this was an issue from the beginning. By voting on an agreement that had not been agreed to, the union leadership hoped to pressure the Board into conceding the point.

THE BOARD, WHICH USUALLY BENDS before even the slightest pressure like a grove of young willows in a hurricane, appears to be holding firm. And the agreement that was not agreed to seems increasingly improbable. Meanwhile, the $1.5 million that the County was banking on this fiscal year is slipping away to the tune of about $125,000 monthly. SEIU, which includes most of the lower paid County workers, seems determined to avoid a 10% pay cut. And the County seems reluctant to force the issue. Meanwhile, other County bargaining units are watching intently as the slo-mo train wreck unfolds. If SEIU cuts a deal for reduced hours or less than a 10% pay cut, the other units will quickly demand the same.

COUNTY BUDGET HEARINGS are scheduled for September 13th-15th. Without an agreement with SEIU, the County cannot include the savings from the supposed agreement mired in actual disagreement. If, by some miracle, an agreement is reached by September 15, the County will still be down several hundred thousand dollars from the hoped for savings. That difference could be made up by greater than a 10% cut, layoffs, or both.

IF YOU'RE partial to California landscape painting, and I am, especially those of Northcoast-based paintings, you will want to see the fine work of Lori Robinson on display at the Gualala Arts Center the first two weekends of September. The kid can paint!

THE AVA is wholeheartedly behind Measure A, the one-eighth of a cent hike on the County's sales tax that will support, and even partially revive, the County's embattled library system. Our fair land is fast descending into what seems to be shaping up as tattooed barbarism — we'll be lucky if we wind up with a benign general running the whole show — but abandoning public libraries means saying farewell to civilization itself. Yes on Measure A.

THE BOONVILLE SCHOOLS aren't much different pedogogically than public schools anywhere in the land. The racial composition is different in that about 80% of the Boonville student body are Mexican immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants. Boonville's sociology is also different from more ethnically chromatic communities, especially in the large number of wealthy people who live here full and part-time, a minority of whom are quite generous in their financial support of the schools. Few communities, for instance, enjoy an educational foundation created to send its high school graduates to college. We do. Looked at superficially, one would conclude that by the fallen standards of American education — these days somewhere far south of Malaysia in the international rankings — the Boonville schools are pretty good. Relatively considered, they are. The Boonville schools are just as good as the Willits and Point Arena schools and probably better than the Covelo schools. I think the public schools, most of them everywhere in the land, do a good job right up through the sixth grade. They teach most of the little savages to read and to do the basic calculations. Edu-collapse coincides with adolescence. Which is also when our brutal and stupid popular culture kicks in with young people, overwhelming them with its sex and drug recommendations. The public schools, rather than resist Oaf-ism, either capitulate to it or, where the real dummies are running schools, encourage it. What to do? Single sex classes after the 6th grade; you see girls here in Boonville on their way to school dressed like they're on the way to auditions as pole dancers. School uniforms are long overdue, and should it even have to be said that high school teachers should array themselves at least semi-formally? It's not unusual in Boonville to see high school teachers shuffling around in bermuda shorts and sandals, but then middle-aged men everywhere often dress like small boys anymore and I might be the only guy left who even notices, let along is irritated by it. Naturally, there should be absolute bans on electronic gizmos and popular music during school hours. Dope? Outtathere forever. Never happen, of course, because we're well into our third generation of edu-professionals created by bad schools and only a few years away from total social implosion.

LAST WEEK, the Supervisors toured the County-owned offices in Fort Bragg. Planning and Building and Environmental Health are all moved in at Fir Street, just off the main drag and within easy walking distance of all of Fort Bragg's downtown shops and restaurants. The Board also toured the Avila Center, soon to be home to Social Services. Social Services is being moved out of the Affinito building and its ruinous lease agreement. The Avila Center needs about a $100,000 in handicapped persons upgrades that the County cannot afford. But Social Services will be able to draw down state and federal funds to pay for them. The County will also be able to collect rent from the feds and state instead of paying over $300,000 a year to Affinito.

THE COUNTY EXPECTS TO SAVE $1 million by moving out of half empty leased space into half empty County-owned buildings. The move makes sense to everyone but Supervisor Kendall Smith who inexplicably fought consolidation in Fort Bragg. Even after the Board voted final approval and the moves were well underway Smith tried to organize a petition drive by the affected County employees to stop the moves. The effort fell flat since many of the employees are happy with the move and almost all of them understand the need to save money.

COUNTY SOURCES SAY THAT SMITH demanded that the directors of Social Services and General Services make a special trip to Fort Bragg the day before the Board meeting so Smith could give her a personal tour of the Fir and Avila buildings. Smith had lots of questions, all intended to show how inadequate the County buildings are. The only Supervisor with a district office, the regal Smith (regal so long as she isn't paying) is also known to be unhappy with her Avila Center accommodations.

THE BOARD WAS SCHEDULED to have lunch at Silver's at the Wharf, who put on extra help in expectation of an extra twenty people, including Fort Bragg city staff, Councilmembers, district political reps and members of the public who want to schmooze the Board. But Board Chair Smith, who has proven incapable of keeping a meeting on track, decided at the last minute to cancel the lunch reservation and order in sandwiches. Silver's got the call twenty minutes after they were expecting the crowd to show up. So much for keeping your commitments and supporting local business.

JOHN DICKERSON, WHO BLEW THE WHISTLE on the County retirement board for the use of fictional retirement fund “excess earnings” to pay for County retiree health care, never has ceased his alarmed shrieks. For a couple of years now Dickerson has been claiming that the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) was going to impose new reporting and funding requirements that would drive the annual County cost for retirement to $50 million and the County into bankruptcy. The draft standards have been released and Dickerson's hyperbolic claims (“the new standards will hit the County like a ton of bricks and most officials don't even know what's coming”) have been shown to be wildly overblown.

THE NEW GASB STANDARDS deal only with reporting requirements, not funding. And they only change the format, not what is actually reported. Instead of hiding the market value of the retirement fund and the unfunded liability in a footnote or an appendix, the market value will be reported upfront. The change will make it a little more difficult for retirement officials to pretend everything is fine, but all the same information has always been available to anyone with the patience to read a government financial report.

CERTAINLY ACTUARIAL GIMMICKS should not be used by public pension systems, which rely on “smoothing” to spread gains and losses over five years, amortization of the unfunded liability over thirty years and so forth. During the on-going federal (and global) financial collapse, actuarial gimmicks like these overstate the value of the retirement fund and understate the value of the unfunded liability. But the new GASB regulations leave unchanged the ability of the Retirement Board to use such gimmicks to determine the annual County contribution to the retirement fund.

DICKERSON STONEWALLED THE GRAND JURY when he was head of the County's wholly indefensible Promotional Alliance. The Grand Jury demanded an accounting of how the Promotional Alliance was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money. Dickerson told the GJ to forget it and was backed up by old palsy walsy Richard Henderson, now a conservative Ukiah judge who, way back, ran as the replacement candidate during the bogus effort to recall then Supervisor Dan Hamburg. Local “conservatives,” of course, like local elected “liberals” of the Kendall Smith type, throw their own money around like manhole covers, but they'll rain down public money on themselves and their friends every chance they get.

CONGRESSMAN MIKE THOMPSON, full time federal gofer for the Northcoast's wine industry, has been reconfigured outtahere, moved to the east's newly created 5th Congressional District. Henceforth, the North Coast will consist of one district that runs in a fairly narrow strip from Marin County to the Oregon border, meaning from the Boonville perspective an opportunity for a genuinely progressive Congressperson, and may we be the first publication to endorse the candidacy of our old friend, Norm Solomon.

JOHN DICKERSON'S ATTEMPTS to create a “reform coalition” (and a personal pay check) have apparently fallen flat. A couple of months ago Dickerson announced a series of public meetings around the County to kick start the coalition and round out membership in the proposed steering committee. He announced that they already had nine Libertarian/conservatives signed up and that they needed six Liberal/progressives to round out the 15 member steering committee.

DICKERSON, A SELF-PROCLAIMED LIFELONG DEMOCRAT, always insists “this is not about politics.” That being the case, why the emphasis on the political pedigree of the committee members and why were the initial nine members drawn from the Libertarian/conservative ranks? Dickerson's last paycheck was for managing the “No on C” committee, bankrolled by Ukiah real estate investor Dick Selzer and Libertarian industrialist Ross Liberty. Measure C was doomed from the start by the petty avarice of Supervisor's Smith and Colfax, who voted themselves a fat raise and grabbed as much travel cash as they could lay their hands on.

DICKERSON'S REFORM COALITION was supposed to be up and running by now, with bylaws, a statement of purpose, and an organizational structure. Dickerson likely anticipated that he would be the natural choice for a paid position as Executive Director of the coalition. It is unknown what response, if any, Dickerson got for his public meetings or if any “Liberal/progressives” could be found who were willing to join the steering committee. Dickerson starts out talking a good game, but over time most people come to realize that this is a guy with major credibility probs and several large axes to grind. With the household paycheck potentially at risk, Dickerson may have to face the prospect of looking for a real job.

SOURCES WITHIN SEIU confirm that John Heise has been hired as the union's new business agent. The former county code enforcement guy was fired last year for sending and receiving politically incorrect email jokes and allegedly pornographic pictures of women. He at first appealed, then thought better of it and accepted termination. He was immediately hired by SEIU, which seems to have a knack for picking up people with a grudge against the County. The rumored return of Joe Louis Wildman seemed plausible enough, but SEIU seems intent on sticking with people with no previous knowledge or experience of the collective bargaining process. In fairness to Heise, he seems to have been collateral damage in the office pornography scandal. We understand that the other slobs in Planning and Building simply forwarded the stuff to him and he was slow to object.

OAF-ISM, spread of. A couple of people were shot, another guy badly beaten in a men's room, fat women were brawling in the parking lot, numerous fist fights broke out in Candlestick's stands at last Sunday's 49er-Raider game. The guy beaten in the men's room was wearing a t-shirt that said “Bleep the 49ers.” Another Oaf simply commenced trying to beat the Bleep the 49ers guy to death at the urinal. Candlestick has never been a place you'd want to take Gran and the kids to a football game. Guns at the ballpark are new, Oaf-ism is not. But Oaf-ism, defined here as boorish public behavior, is definitely more prevalent, while fights at ball games are nothing new. Lots of fights at the ballgame are definitely new. And Oaf-ism as a way of life has caught on big time. There are millions of them out there, big fraidy cats pumped up in the gym looking like Maori warriors with their head-to-toe tattoos. They want us all to know they aren't the puffballs deep down they've got to be. But they look menacing which, I guess, is the point. Public profanity, vulgar t-shirts and mass drunkenness are new, although way back to the Niners at the old Kezar Stadium of the 1940's criminal behavior by small groups of alleged fans was such a problem that the Niners had to screen the tunnel leading to their locker room to protect players from thrown objects. And I remember as a little kid the ballplayers themselves —baseball players — climbing into the stands to slug abusive fans. But up until the late 1960's a guy simply bellowing obscenities in the general direction of the playing field would have been unanimously beyond the limit of acceptable public behavior. Football crowds are, anymore, rougher than baseball crowds, but baseball crowds at Candlestick, not that there were what you could call crowds at Candlestick very often, always contained knots of Oafs who were there simply to fight and raise hell. AT&T is much better managed. There, Oaf-ism gets the Oaf a quick heave-ho, which is as it should be. Ironic, though, how tough and tough talking Americans in the aggregate can seem while politically we're a nation of total wimps, sitting still for massive financial swindles, a government funded by the swindlers, joblessness on a scale not seen since the Big Depression, and so on. Where are all the tough guys and battling bimbos where it counts?

THE RESTRICTIVE TERMS of probation routinely imposed on people convicted of non-felony crimes are difficult for even cops to access. Although restraining orders and other court orders are automated and can be looked up on-line, probation orders are not automated and must be manually searched for, making the process too time-consuming to be worth doing unless there’s an urgent need. Although some expect that the new criminal justice software system that’s supposed to be coming on line soon might solve the problem, there’s no reason that the probation orders couldn’t be automated like restraining orders are now rather than wait for the still months-off County computer upgrade.

AB-109 is the new state law that will send back an as yet unknown number of state prisoners to county jails. It’s been in the works for months now, and each county in the state is planning for their influx with big banners at the county line reading, “Welcome Home, Boys! Great To See You.” Well, not quite. It is hoped that some of them will not require actual incarceration and instead will enter some form of parole, probation, rehab, treatment, or electronic monitoring. The returnees will arrive in phases over the next four years. Mendo is supposed to get something like $1 million per year to deal with them. In general, the prisoners sent to jails (“county of origin,” it’s called) will be those who were convicted of “non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex” crimes. However, according to the Department of Corrections, “there are some exceptions to this rule” — i.e., some non-violent, non-serious, non-sex crimes will still require state prison time. These crimes are also known, somewhat archly, as “The Exclusions.”

THERE ARE 59 “Exclusions.” They demonstrate how contorted California laws have become as the state legislature voted, somewhat randomly, that certain “serious” crimes are more serious than other serious crimes.

THE FACT that such crimes as “use of false documents for citizenship purposes” and “sale of horsemeat” are on the same list as murder for hire and assaulting a young child were first considered “non-serious,” then added back to the prison-time-still-required list, shows that California has no plausible rationale for determining the relative seriousness of criminal behavior.

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