Off the Record
by AVA News Service, February 18, 2010
FIFTH DISTRICT supervisor candidate Jim Mastin's narcoleptic interview on UkiahValley.tv last week had us wondering why he's bothering to run. “I think David's [incumbent supervisor Colfax] body of work as a whole has been good,” said Mastin, without, of course, citing a single good. “But I think itshows over the last couple of years that his heart really isn't in it anymore,” explained Mastin, an apparent reference to Colfax’s recent statement that the pay –$68k plus generous perks – was “crappy” and the job “not terribly rewarding.” Mastin said he wasn’t sure if Colfax was planning to run again, but the reason we’re supposed to vote for Jim Mastin is “My ability to listen. My ability to find solutions, resolve problems and make decisions. … I’m good at listening.” Mastin says that lately he’s “stepping up, and stepping out.” He says he’s worked in “government and non-profits for 30 years now” and is presently employed as manager of the Mendocino College book store. Mastin has also served as Ukiah City councilman and chairman of the Mendocino Transit Authority Board which, not so incidentally, just approved spending most of the Authority’s reserves as the local share of an enormously wasteful $22 million office complex and fueling station.
WHAT DO YOU NEED to be a good Supervisor, asked UkiahValley.tv. “You need a good set of tires,” replied Mastin, “There’s lots of driving. Lots of meetings. The Fifth District is very diverse, spread apart.” The “challenges” facing the Fifth District supervisor. “The challenges are, uh, you know, trying to make sure that you use your time effectively, that you, you, um get to the meetings, ahhh, listen to what they have to say and then get up and do it all again the next day. Unfortunately, I uh, or fortunately, I, I, uh, I have a day job as well, and so I have to be here in Ukiah to work, um, pretty much every day, I am going to be taking some time toward the end of the campaign to be able to, uh, to be able to be on the coast, and, uh, in Anderson Valley more. It's a big district and there's only a couple of roads.” But they're long roads, Jim, all the way from Ukiah to Gualala.
MASTIN boldly declared that he’s for “public-private partnerships” like the Economic Development and Finance Corporation, and the West Company, local non-profits which are mostly invisible and traditionally unimpressive but, of course, staffed by friends of his, that large county-wide apparat of the publicly-employed who move from one nebulous non-profit to another. Mastin wants to “develop new jobs, new businesses, help businesses expand and create new jobs in that area.”
NOT A WORD about the county’s fiscal crisis, the management of which is intensifying the crisis, and not a word about the understandably low morale of line employees. An active Democrat, Mastin is in the mold of former supervisor Richard Shoemaker and current supervisor John McCowen, probably even more boring, like them a blandly but insufferably smug liberal of the uniquely tepid Mendo type.
McCOWEN? He and the mayor of Ukiah, Mari Rodin, are rumored to be a couple. Rodin is separated from superior court judge Clay Brennan, McCowen from Reality.
MAYBE THE CANDIDATE who states the obvious – that we're broke and getting broker in a state and federal context of broke and broker. It's over. Driving around buying stuff is not coming back. Small really is better, and I don't mean the fat guys in wife beater singlets you see around Ukiah. I mean less is more. But because Americans have more tattoos and recliners than brains, a very hard rain will have to fall before the sun shines again. But Mendo, in the context of ongoing economic collapse, has a few positives, beginning with a small but ingenious population of people who have already taken a step or two off the industrial food trail. Slow fooders and organic gardeners are found everywhere in the county. Our second positive is space. We have room for the backyard cow, the chicken coop, the year-round garden. Instead, what we get from the candidates, and all incumbents, is the same old false assumptions.
THE BOARD of Supervisors met last Tuesday and spent most of the day nit-picking a Planning Department presentation about off-parcel leachfields. Hell, we all know off-parcel leachfields need emergency attention from the leadership given the huge numbers of houses under construction in the county. (Not.) A purely technical matter planners ought to be trusted to resolve at their office, the Supervisors squandered literal hours discussing, a discussion that led to no substantial change from what was proposed.
COUNTY MISCELLANY: The Pot Nuisance Abatement/Dispensary and Collectives Ordinance discussion was postponed again, this time until sometime in March. In other no-progress news County Counsel Jeanine Nadel reported last week that the County is “not even close to terms of a tax sharing agreement” with the City of Ukiah. So far only “initial guidelines” and a proposed sales tax map change.
SUPERVISOR JOHN McCOWEN at least tried to make a symbolic move in the direction of thrift by suggesting that the Board reduce their commute and cellphone stipends by 10%. These perks should, of course, simply be eliminated, but McCowen, never one to so much as glimpse the forest for the trees, deludes himself that his grasping colleagues, Smith and Colfax, might make do with a little less when he knows that both of them would recycle their mothers for another dime. Only Supervisor Carre Brown agreed that ten percent less was reasonable. Pinches, Smith and Colfax, however, wanted nothing to do with ten percent less of a fringe they shouldn't have in the first place. Pinches said he was already doing all he could to save on travel money, but Smith and Colfax, want it all now. County Auditor Meredith Ford pointed out that the commute and cellphone stipends are considered part of a Supervisor’s base pay for purposes of calculating their retirement benefit, another little pot sweetener that Smith and Colfax, as they grab all they can, wouldn't want to give up. Pinches, a generally conscientious guy by the dubious standards of contemporary officeholders, probably is keeping his reimbursable travel to a minimum.
SUPERVISOR COLFAX, hearing that the IRS has reduced mileage reimbursement rates from 55 cents a mile to 50 cents a mile, reacted with one of his patented, panicked, Gabby Hayes-like soliloquies: “The government rate, whether it reduces it a nickel a mile, uh, at the same time, I just had work done on my, my, uh, my county car, my, uh, that I bought, that I use, and my rates have gone up over at, uh, at the uh, for, uh, uh, repairs, and we've got 225,000 miles on a Toyota, uh, your, uh, your expenses start kicking in, so it's not, it doesn't compensate, uh, with regard to cutbacks on the, uh, uh, communications, uh, actually, uh, I'm well over that precisely because I'm paying, or the county is paying $85 a month just for my internet connectivity, and, uh, that's uh, uh, plus, uh, telephone, plus, uh, plus cellphone, and so on and so forth. It's just not, uh, if I were to put cost in, uh, uh, as they come up, uh, that, uh, the, uh, the allowance for that simply does not cover, uh, the cost of connectivity, uh, by a long shot, so I just don't think, uh, er, let me just take a stab at one more point while I'm being cranky here, one is that the, uh, the uh, the, uh, the idea of cutting back on, uh, on our uh … on our benefits, uh, as it were, the education and training… Oh, we're not doing that? Because I would think here that we then have some issues with regard to, uh, some other bargaining units and we shouldn't be moving into that area.”
COLFAX costs the County well over $110k per year with these uh, uh, benefits that he implies, uh, uh, uh, here, uh, here, uh, uh, uh, uh, um, aren’t enough.
SUPERVISOR SMITH, while slightly less incoherent, was just as self-serving: “It’s challenging at best when you have to travel to do the job, and you are forced to either work a 15 hour day instead of 12 hour days. We should have an allowance which could save the county money. As it is now you are forced to make additional trips and not be effective in your job or you are forced to pay out of pocket. A modest lodging allowance would assist in being more efficient and would just be in keeping with, um, the other two components. There's an either/or in both of those. Just a suggestion. I can continue to bill for it. That's what I do. But this would create more flexibility and would be more efficient. You could apply that to your actual cost of staying in Ukiah and not do it on a nightly basis.”
AT THE END of another typically unproductive day, the supervisors came back from closed session at about 6:30 after discussing their CEO's job performance. CEO Tom Mitchell had sat silently through hours of leachfield and travel reimbursement chatter, but now he was absent from his big, cushy chair as the supervisors re-assumed their big, cushy chairs. Two hours later, Mitchell called Assistant CEO Carmel Angelo to say, “I quit.”
MITCHELL'S resignation is effective March 9, but he’s already gone, using accumulated vacation time in lieu of further appearances at County offices on Low Gap Road. Mitchell won't get a severance package because he jumped before he was pushed, another hiring blunder by the previous board of supervisors but not excluding Smith and Colfax.
CARMEL ANGELO had been acting as interim CEO weeks before Mitchell fell on his sword, meaning he was long gone before his body followed. General Services Director Kristin McMenomey has been appointed interim Assistant CEO. Whether McMenomey’s second in command, Janelle Rau, will take the General Services top spot is not clear at this time.
LOOK FOR MORE high pay grade chair shuffling soon. Several of Health and Human Services managers will be retiring soon as well several of the Sheriff's top guys. “We have no leadership,” said one county employee last week.
SUPERVISOR PINCHES said last week that he was in no rush to replace Mitchell because not replacing him saves the County some badly needed big salary bucks, implicit recognition that Mitchell did nearly nothing for his $200k per year.
MITCHELL’S RESIGNATION LETTER reads, “After much deliberation and thought (sic) I have decided to resign from my position as Chief Executive Officer effective March 9, 2010. This was not an easy decision to make but it is one that I believe to be in the best interests of both the County and my family. I wish all of you well and much success in your future endeavors particularly with a very difficult budget process that is ahead of you. I would also like to state that I have thoroughly enjoyed working with all County Department Heads. Their work and dedication to this County is to be commended.”
IN ITS LONG REPORT on Mitchell’s resignation last week the Ukiah Daily Journal observed, “A source close to county operations said, ‘nobody was happy with him,’ referring to the county supervisors. Mitchell, this source said, did not bring back reports or follow through on projects supervisors handed him. ‘He didn't get things done,’ this source said.” Which had been obvious for at least a year, but even the most capable CEO would have trouble working for this scattered crew.
BLUE CROSS and their parent company, Wellpoint Incorporated, got a lot of bad press last week when they announced that they were raising health insurance premiums for individuals by 39% when it appeared that Congress wasn't going to do anything in the way of health care reform. A Blue Cross rep lied that the rate had to go up because the insurance pool is shrinking and other costs have gone up.
BUT LEFT OUT of the discussion was a comment by former health insurance corporate public relations man turned whistleblower, Wendell Potter, who wrote late last year how Wellpoint “gobbled up Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans from coast to coast. Wellpoint’s CEO, Ron Williams, devised what Aetna called “Executive Management Information System (EMIS).” Versions of the system were installed at Aetna and Wellpoint because, according to Potter, “It helped Aetna ‘identify and dump unprofitable corporate accounts.’ How did it do the dumping? By jacking up premiums to unaffordable levels. By the time the dumping – or purging, as it is frequently called in the industry – was done, Aetna had shed eight million of its 21 million members. It shrank so much that by the time it emerged from the Ron Williams-led turnaround, it had fewer members than when the company started out on its multi-billion dollar buying binge.”
GET IT? These costs have nothing to do with how much health insurance costs, or how much drugs cost. They just arbitrarily jack up the prices so they can get rid of anybody who can’t pay. Not that any of the Democrats we heard from, or anybody from among the national Lib-Lab punditry that serve them, said Single Payer.
POTTER also pointed out that insurance premiums are not the only thing going up. These same insurance companies have also been jacking up the deductibles, jacking up the costs of visits, jacking up the costs of non-covered medicine, quibbling about what the sick person has to pay before the insurance kicks in, etc. Again, none of this is mentioned by the insurance company-funded Democrats.