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by Mark Scaramella, December 12, 2009
Reader Michael Laybourn of Hopland recently asked: “Given the state of the county budget, what would you suggest to fix it other than layoffs of safety personnel?”
First, the County should eliminate all management bargaining units. It's an oxymoron for management to glom together as a pseudo-union and claim some kind of bargaining rights. All managers should be at-will employees and on their own with regard to their well compensated positions. At present Mendocino County has a management bargaining unit and a department heads bargaining unit. The supervisors then use the pay and benefits they generously give to management and department heads as the basis for their own demands for higher salaries and benefits. It's a self-serving, self-perpetuating circle that needs to be broken.
Next, there should be across the board 10% pay cuts for all senior staff making what the supervisors make or more. The supervisors currently are paid $68,000 a year plus very generous benefits including reimbursements for ordinary commuting from their homes. There are probably 100 people in Mendocino County making at least $68,000 a year. Assuming they average around $80,000 a year then the math works out to 10% of 100 x $80,000, which is around $800,000. That alone would pay for ten law enforcement officers and nobody’d be seriously affected.
A hard hiring freeze must be imposed on all management positions which are funded out of the general fund. This first requires that the Supes demand a list of these positions. The freeze must include anyone with the word “analyst” in their title. It also must include anyone with the word “assistant” in their title.
The county pays through the nose for two over the hill politicians to be their “representatives” in Sacramento and Washington DC. All they get for the money is an occasional report which they should be able to get from their elected representatives and their tax-paid staff as is.
The supervisors need to conduct a formal review of all outside general fund contracts and consultants on a regular and frequent basis. All contracts should be presented to the Board of Supervisors in public session and on the public record and each should be not only individually approved by vote of the Supervisors, but there should be a significant preference to local contractors and suppliers. At present there is a 5% local credit preference given but there is not enough outreach done on outside contracts to make sure that local suppliers and contractors are aware of what the county is buying and what it takes to provide the goods and services.
The county has never required formal departmental reporting on a regular basis from their various departments. Such reporting is standard fare for ordinary businesses and should include preformatted reports addressing personnel/staffing, budget status, outside contracts, overtime, extra help, lost time, and the (brief) status of all special projects in the department. There are also needs to be specific identification of current and anticipated problems which each department is aware of with recommendations for how to deal with them. Problems which involve other departments should require the other department(s) to be on hand to resolve them at the time of each departmental presentation. Each department must also identify "cost drivers" — the primary factors driving their staffing levels and budgets. Each monthly report from a department must provide a summary and status of these cost drivers and what's being done to control them.
As time passes, such reporting provides a basis for follow-up by comparing current months to previous months; objectives and assignments are accumulated with status reports each time they make presentations. The supervisors then gain an understanding of what their departments are doing, what the trends are, what affects their budgets, what can be done to handle them, and surprises will be minimized. This also provides a much better basis for annual budgeting and staffing decisions. Each department's summaries should also include identification of which positions are funded by grants and special funds as separate from general fund positions.
Unfortunately, none of this kind of formal supervision — which you would expect from someone whose title is "supervisor" — is mentioned during political campaigns. Instead, what we get is standard, business as usual blather about water, zoning, "budget challenges," why things can't get done, “my position” on this or that, and the rest of the unattended, unaddressed "issues" over which the supervisors have very little control anyway.
Don't expect anything different this year either. Candidates Hamburg, Roberts, Wells, Madrigal, Pinches, Orth, etc. can not and will not address the county's urgent management deficit. Without such oversight, the county will continue to founder on the ever-steepening shoals of bloated, growing debt and looming revenue cuts.
As proof of the continued lameness of Mendocino politics, take the somewhat nebulous start off the campaign season last Friday, when former Fifth District Supervisor Norm DeVall had Fifth District Supes candidate Dan Hamburg as his guest. DeVall at least noted that, with the possible exception of Supervisor John Pinches’ increasingly frustrated attempts to get some water storage along the Highway 101 corridor, the current board hasn’t done anything for Mendocino County in recent memory. Fifth District Supervisor candidate Dan Hamburg replied that he didn’t want to “slam” any of the current board members, including the totally ineffectual one he’s sort of running against (David Colfax, who still hasn’t decided if he’s running for re-election).
Of course, nobody had asked Hamburg to “slam” anyone. The underlying message Hamburg was giving was: “It’s bad political form in Mendocino County to make even the mildest criticism or complaint about anything or anyone. If you do it, you’re sure to lose.”
And that’s the prevailing mindset.
But, as my uncle, former Fifth District Supervisor Joe Scaramella, once pointed out to me, “Hell, Mark. If you don’t criticize, how can anything improve?”