Elephant? What Elephant?

by Mark Scaramella, September 9, 2009

DA Lintott told the Supervisors last week that crime was up. She didn’t mention that “disorderly conduct” arrests are also up, way up, but many of these arrests go unprosecuted because they are of the public nuisance type, not menacing in a criminal way, and there's no point in running street drunks through the criminal justice system.

Lintott showed the Board a chart demonstrating that arrests were up but criminal filings by her office were flat. As were the DA's stats. But the stats stopped in 2007, and the DA apparently wanted the Board to share the assumption that if crime was up in '07 it was likely up in '08.

Because of the increase in local crime, Lintott said that the board should “reconsider” their decision to hold her to the general fund hiring freeze. She and The Thin Blue Line needed cash reinforcements.

“It’s not possible to keep taking the hits,” the DA said. “We've streamlined. Criminal justice is expensive. … It’s hard to keep people because Sonoma County line deputies make what I make. Plus there are many private attorneys on marijuana cases and murder cases. … We find our prosecutors up against two or three defense attorneys. And there’s been a huge rise in murder cases.”

The reference to private attorneys means that Lintott's 9-5 prosecutors are often up against well-funded defense attorneys who can quickly exhaust the funds available to prosecutors who also, of necessity, work on several cases at once.

Lintott said she also needed money for forensic experts.

“On marijuana cases, they bring doctors and all kinds of experts. Forensics are involved. I need money to pursue that. Marijuana cases have risen 53% in the last two years. Before I became DA it was about 100 a year; now it’s in the range of 400 per year.”

And there it was: the “crime” spike. Pot arrests and prosecutions are way up.

Lintott didn’t speculate on what may have caused pot cases to ramp up over the last two years. But the increase just happened to coincide with Supervisor McCowen's Measure B, which significantly lowered the number of plants an individual could legally grow. Then the Supes declared pot gardens with more than 25 plants to constitute criminal nuisances.

A whole lotta non-criminal people found themselves in court.

And it's Supervisor McCowen, not long ago a pot-friendly logistics man and property host for Earth First!, a pot fueled environmental affiliation, who is the driving force behind the expensive crackdown on small-scale growers.

Lintott also said the Supes should pay for a new case management system. Lack of an up-to-date case management system makes it hard for the DA to fork over what defense attorneys ask for.

“When we get motions from defense lawyers in court,” said Lintott, “it's not pretty. We don't have the resources to produce things. Limitations on law enforcement overtime and mandatory time off in our office makes it hard to file cases on time. If they’re not, criminals are let out. It’s very stressful.”

In last Sunday’s “Assignment: Ukiah” column for the Ukiah Daily Journal, Tommy Wayne Kramer included DA Lintott’s job as among the worst jobs in the County and why it might be even more stressful.

“That would be another killer,” wrote Kramer about the DA's job. “Imagine your view from a Monday morning as you gaze out at the endless week ahead of you, a week filled with hostility, anger, disloyalty and sabotage. And those are your colleagues!”

In other words, like most other department heads in Mendocino County's viper pit these days.

Board Chair John Pinches responded to Lintott’s plea by asking his colleagues and the District Attorney to consider not arresting small pot growers unless they are committing some other criminal act along with their devil weed production. Just take their plants and charge them for the eradication, Pinches suggested, again establishing himself as the sole voice of reason on the Board of Supervisors.

Pinches noted that such a significant increase in pot cultivation cases also affects the budgets of Public Defender’s office, the Probation Department, the Sheriff’s Department and jail, and the courts.

“We're losing the battle,” said Pinches. “We can't afford it. We can't afford a 53% increase in two years. … It makes no sense to prosecute cultivation-only cases and charge the taxpayer for the whole thing. … Other things [that are being cut to fund marijuana cultivation prosecutions] are part of public safety — roads, schools, mental health, etc. This 53% increase is breaking the whole system. I don't care if you're pro or con marijuana, it's breaking our whole system down. We can't afford to keep doing this the same way. … When we put [pot growers] in the criminal justice system everyone is penalized.”

County Counsel Jeanine Nadel blandly remarked that the County already had the authority to charge pot growers for eradication.

Besides Nadel's passing comment, not one other Supervisor or the District Attorney reacted to Pinches’ budget balancing proposal, his simple statement of the obvious.

* * *

In other budget news, County Counsel Jeanine Nadel announced out of closed session that “the Side Letter of Agreement with the Management Unit was approved by the Board of Supervisors at their last meeting (August 18, 2009), upon motion by Supervisor McCowen, seconded by Supervisor Colfax, and carried unanimously.”

Translation: Although the County’s bloated and overpaid management bargaining unit came to agreement, nobody mentioned them, thanked them or described what, if any, concessions they made as all the other County bargaining units are not only forced to make major concessions in hours, wages and benefits, we are informed how much they're getting whacked.

It’s probably safe to conclude that management didn’t give an inch. If they had, you can be sure they’d be patting themselves on the back for it and telling us all how scratchy their hair shirts are.

County Management deflects all questions about management bloat into statements that some management jobs are being held vacant, hence net management savings. That’s nothing to brag about, of course, since the County has had a no-hire policy in place for more than a year at all levels of local government. It’s also true that all other bargaining units have seen an even higher percentage of their positions go unfilled.

The rest of the budget hearing consisted mostly of grand appeals to teamwork and acknowledgments that the cuts meant reduced levels of service.

The only things remotely resembling good news were:

1. Apparently Social Services has been forced to lay off so many people that they’re now actually underruning their reduced budget by almost $3 million, more or less bringing the County's overall budget into instant balance,

2. Because of the dramatically large reductions in the Health and Human Services budget, and some wage concessions from the Deputy Sheriff’s association, the Board voted unanimously to postpone their order to lay off five resident deputies at least until December. The two new Covelo resident deputies have reportedly located housing in Covelo and are poised to move in. Sheriff Allman said he’s continuing to look for new funding sources or rack up additional internal savings to keep the positions filled past December.

3. The County is going to borrow money to backfill the $2.1 million the state is “borrowing” from the County. According to County Budget Officer Jennifer Wyatt, by borrowing the $2.1 million, the State’s appropriation of $2.1 million in local property taxes will be a wash when — the County hopes — the state pays the money back with interest — in 2013. Maybe. Meanwhile, the County will be on the hook to the bank for the big loan.

When Chair Pinches noted that the state was just using the Counties to borrow money that they can’t borrow themselves, a faint light seemed to go off in CEO Tom Mitchell's see-through skull. “I never thought of that,” Mitchell said in the tones of a man marveling for the first time at the Sistine Chapel. “I guess you could say that.”

The Supes are taking another week off this week and will be back in session on September 15th.

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