Affinito Denied; Ortner’s Mendo Man

by Malcolm Macdonald, January 1, 2014

A week before Christmas the Fort Bragg Planning Commission denied Robert Affinito a use permit to convert his property at the corner of Franklin and South Streets into a Dollar Store. That’s been reported in several papers including the AVA. When the vote was completed nearly all involved exited the building, the victorious contingent so noisily they had to be cautioned that the Commission meeting was still going on. Fort Bragg Community Development Director Marie Jones even said to the boisterous crowd words to the effect, ‘You might want to stay, there’s other important business you’ll be interested in.’

No one heeded her words, so in a nearly vacant hall, the same planning commission adopted a resolution recommending to the Fort Bragg City Council that any retail business over 5, 000 square feet, in any district, require a use permit.

Right now any large retail business structure in Fort Bragg can be sold to another business without any permitting. Community Development Director Jones put it thusly: The way the Land Use and Development Code is written now, if Harvest Market moves or goes out of business, and Discount Grocery wants to go in, we have little to say about that.

The point of this is that much happens at the end of meetings with rooms nearly empty of public onlookers.

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Another case in point was the December get together of the Mendocino County Mental Health Board. These monthly meetings tend to go on and on — up to six hours. However, the bulk of the time is spent on fairly slick presentations by the newly privatized sector: Redwood Quality Management Company (RQMC), which oversees Redwood Children’s Crisis Center, and Ortner Management Group (OMG), which is paid millions to provide mental health services to everyone in this county aged 21 and up. After the exhaustingly long-winded offerings telling us that all is moving forward (at several of these affairs I’ve kept running counts of how many times Ortner’s Mark Montgomery emits phrases with “move forward” in them — the other harbinger that BS will soon follow is “We’re excited about…”) almost everyone in the room leaves.

Ortner Management Group

Ortner Management Group

At the December meeting, even the Grand Jury left too soon. Yes, two Mendocino Grand Jury members attended the December convergence. When the last Grand Juror to leave was finally able to ask a question, her queries included: How many of the 30 county wide crisis workers (Almost all, if not every last one, are clustered in Ukiah, Fort Bragg, and Willits offices with practically none located in outlying areas of Mendocino County) possess registered nursing (RN) or psychiatric licenses?

Jenine Miller, subbing for the ill Mental Health Director, Tom Pinizzotto, did not give a precise number answer, but stated that crisis workers have years of experience. Ortner’s man, Mark Montgomery, cited the one or two psychiatrists Ortner employs. No one asked how often these psychiatrists are actually on site. The answer is: rarely.

The grand juror departed and the Mental Health Board was left to its own devices — to complain about how little time they were leaving to do their own work. Promises were made to curtail the RQMC and Ortner presentations in 2014. Time will tell if this resolution is followed through.

What is clear is that mental health clients continue to fall between the cracks within the new, supposedly improved privatized system. One Board member recited the weeks-long anguish of a parent unable to get adequate help for an 18-year old relative, the mental health ball apparently fumbled somewhere between the county and RQMC. The citizens involved are well acquainted with one of the Mental Health Board members or their problematic situation might still be falling on deaf ears. Near the end of the meeting Jenine Miller huddled with that Board member, presumably in an attempt to aid in the situation.

In those last minutes of the Mental Health Board meeting, the Grand Jury members could have heard widely held skepticism of the privatized presentations, particularly Ortner’s. Also prevalent throughout the boardroom was a sense of frustration at time wasted during the meetings, at a lack of press coverage by any outlet other than the AVA and a frustration that mental health programs already in place are not being successfully communicated to those who need to know about them. Board member Jane McCabe mentioned “the woeful lack of patient rights advocates.” Currently there appears to be a total of one for the county.

2014 will bring a new chair to the head of the table. (Place your bets now on Little River’s John Wetzler). Whether or not the Mental Health Board manages its time to actually get things done remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen if the Grand Jury is willing to stick with it long enough to see what’s truly going on with our mental health system or base their findings on the first two and a half hours of a single Board meeting.

The privatized companies have been on the job now for six months. So far they seem best at lobbing snow jobs at the Mental Health Board and the Board of Supervisors, but there is very little snow left on the ground in this county.

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