Mendocino County Today: February 26, 2012

by AVA News Service, February 25, 2012

THE CONCLUDING paragraph in a blast at Obama's drug policies in the current Rolling Stone: “For law-enforcement officials who handle marijuana on the front lines, such attitudes [i.e., the Obama administration’s new hard-line on pot, even pot that’s legal under state law] highlight how out of touch the administration has become. ‘Whether you call it medical or recreational, the marijuana genie is out of the bottle, and there's no one who's going to put it back in,’ insists Sheriff Allman of Mendocino, whose department had been targeted by federal prosecutors for its attempts to regulate medical pot. ‘For federal officials who plug their ears and say, “No, it's not true, it's not true,” I have some words for them: You need to get over it’.”

ALSO FROM the same Rolling Stone piece by Tim Dickenson: “It's true that California has no shortage of illegal pot dealers. Nonmedical marijuana is the state's largest cash crop, raking in an estimated $14 billion a year. And demand is growing, in part because former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger thwarted a ballot measure aimed at full legalization in 2010 by removing criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of pot. But instead of focusing limited federal resources on off-the-grid growers in places like Humboldt County, who are often armed and violent, Haag targeted Matthew Cohen, a medical-marijuana farmer in Mendocino who was growing 99 plants under the direct supervision of the county sheriff. As part of a pioneering collaboration with local law enforcement, Cohen marked each of his plants with county-supplied tags, had his secured facility inspected and distributed the marijuana he grew directly to patients in his nonprofit collective.

Sergeant Randy Johnson at Matt Cohen's Mendo-approved pot farm

“COHEN appeared to be precisely the kind of caregiver that the Ogden memo [from the early days of the Obama administration when they deferred to state law] advised should be given safe harbor for operating in ‘clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law.’ But last October, DEA agents stormed Cohen's farm in the middle of the night and cut down his crop. Sheriff Tom Allman, who learned of the raid on his turf only an hour before it was executed, was outraged. ‘Matt Cohen was not in violation of any state or local ordinances when federal agents arrived at his location,’ Allman says. In January, Haag took the fight to the next level, threatening county officials like Allman with federal sanctions. Three weeks later, county supervisors voted to abandon the program to license and monitor Mendocino's legal growers. ‘This is a huge step backward,’ says Allman.”

 

THE POSTAL SERVICE plans to close its Petaluma sorting center, meaning Mendo’s and the rest of the Northcoast’s mail will now be sent to Oakland for processing before it wends its way back north to us. 228 jobs will be lost, our mail will take longer to reach us. Some of you will recall that Republicans, in their ongoing effort to eliminate government altogether, enacted legislation requiring that the Post Office set aside estimated retirement pay in advance, the only agency of government required to do that. In one move, that requirement bankrupted the people who got the mail delivered rain, sleet and snow. And did we mention that a functional Postal Service is a specific requirement of the US Constitution?

ANGELA PINCHES has entered a plea of not guilty to charges of possessing marijuana for sale and maintaining a place for cultivation. Ms. Pinches is the daughter of Third District Supervisor John Pinches. She was cited in two raids on her Redwood Valley home on Vineyard Oaks Drive but not arrested. She was recently informed by mail by the Mendocino County District Attorney's office ordering her to appear Friday. Which she did for the purpose of entering a not guilty plea.

Bryan Ballard

BACK IN 2004 when Fort Bragg’s Mendocino Coast District Hospital faced a large budget deficit due to the bad management practices of its Board and CEO Bryan Ballard, Ballard and Company just went on spending on more medical staff and expanded facilities for more services in the hope that admissions would magically increase and the government would just keep on forking over. By 2006 Ballard and his top finance guy, Jacob Lewis, were gone, leaving behind a financial mess that took years for new management and a new board of directors to repair. In 2005 when Ballard finally realized that something had to be done to deal with the financial mess he'd made, he came up with a list of “money losers” — five important hospital departments — that should be eliminated, including the Coast’s essential Hospital-based ambulance service. After a few months, a handful of honest Hospital critics discovered that Ballard and Lewis were cooking the books to make certain departments look like “money losers,” in an attempt to distract the Board from looking at the real money-losers: Ballard and Allen. By narrow Board margins, and with an alarmed public looking on as Mendocino County's only community-owned medical center lingered on life support, essential departments had escaped the manufactured budget ax and a few months later both Ballard and Lewis had “resigned” before they were fired. In 2007 a new management team was in place which included several of Ballard’s earlier critics. The hospital was downsized, the billing system fixed, the hiring binge ended, unnecessary new construction stopped, and Coast District Hospital regained a precarious hold on financial stability.

Ray Hino

IT’S NOW 2012 and again Coast Hospital faces financial problems not of its making. Fewer and fewer Fort Bragg residents have jobs that come with health insurance, medical costs are up, Obamacare, even if it has some minor improvement potential, is still a ways off, and admissions are down. However, unlike the Ballard days, Coast enjoys honest and capable management. At a special meeting on Feb. 16 the Board authorized CEO Hino to borrow $500k in anticipation of a delayed Medicare reimbursement. Hino also announced that all hospital managers will take a 5% pay cut immediately, saving $180k; that two senior management positions will be eliminated (one will return to a work-supervisor role, the other will retire), benefits for part-time staff will be eliminated and/or consolidated into full-time jobs, and “productivity targets” will be established and tracked. Hino also plans to “review” the hospital’s contracts with doctors with an eye toward reduced-cost terms. Hino also said he’s looking at “clinical changes” involving the Hospital’s home health service, an important service that is chronically difficult for any hospital to finance. We haven’t heard what the hospital employees union thinks of some of these steps, but it’s a good sign that management is taking the lead in the cuts. The doctor-contracts were a source of the hospital’s financial problems back during the Ballard era too, but even though Ballard’s own consultants suggested that they be reviewed, nothing came of it.

COAST HOSPITAL in large debt was mired

Until even Fort Bragg got so tired

of Lewis and CEO Ballard

quacking like a petulant mallard.

They said “we quit,” but they were fired.

 

One Response to Mendocino County Today: February 26, 2012

  1. Jim Hill Reply

    February 27, 2012 at 9:16 am

    The problem the Feds had with Mendo wasn’t about regulating cannabis. It was about the revenue the County collected. The County faced seizure and forfeiture of the fees it collected from regulation. The County could have continued the 9.31 regulation but refused to do so unless there was a huge windfall attached. The collection of money was the root of the problem. The Feds weren’t about to let the County make money off cannabis, so the revenue portion of 9.31 was repealed but the non-revenue County code left intact.
    The State Health and Safety code allows a patient to grow an amount consistent with their current medical needs and the Kelly Supreme Court decision imposes no numerical limit. The State doesn’t collect fees so the Feds have nothing to seize.

    If the County wanted to continue the 9.31 program it could have just dropped the fee collection and zip tie sale sections. The County only wanted regulation if it could financially benefit.

    As always just my opinion,
    Jim Hill
    Potter Valley

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