A Brief History Of Mendo’s CEO
by Mark Scaramella and Bruce Anderson, February 17, 2016
The Mendocino County Board Of Supervisors, at their December 10, 2013 meeting, will issue the usual insincere proclamation honoring the late Al Beltrami for his “years of dedicated service to the county and his community.” You'd think the guy was a volunteer all those years, 1965 to 1989, not the well-paid bureaucrat that he was. Then he was back again as interim CEO at big pay. Not to be too harsh about it, but Mendocino County has never been a Swiss watch of civic functioning. Beltrami's only lasting accomplishment was staying in the job as long as he did.
IN 2005, the County went to a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) arrangement on the theory that a CEO would be able to hold the appointed Department Heads accountable in a way that the Board of Supes could not. Exhibit A for the utter lack of accountability under the old CAO system was Ray Hall, who served 30 undistinguished years letting his in-box pile up as Director of Planning and Building Services. Except under Hall there was no planning. None. Which explains a lot about the way Mendocino County is today. (The entire Anderson Valley portion of the new County general plan completely disappeared into Hall's in-box. He shuffled off into an undoubtedly disoriented retirement to a chorus of Way to go, Ray! from the supervisors, Mendo's very own, Good Job, Brownie.)
John Ball was hired as the first CEO under the new system and quickly demonstrated that he took the power to hire and fire department heads seriously. For doing his job, the Supervisors fired him. Ball had a habit of firing people without first making sure he had the support of a majority of the Supes. But his fatal mistake was crossing the famously self-interested (and crooked) Fourth and Fifth District Supervisors, Kendall Smith and David Colfax who later distinguished themselves as being the only Supes to adamantly refuse to take even a one percent pay cut when they were eagerly imposing a ten percent pay cut on the rest of the County workforce. (For pure, grasping hypocrisy, Mendocino County's “liberals” are in a class by themselves; Colfax and Smith, any other place, would have been looking at jail time for stealing public money via their relentless chiseling on their travel reimbursements. Colfax got clean away with his thefts, and it took a serious threat from newly elected DA Eyster to convince Smith she'd better cough up at least a partial re-pay.)
Supervisor Smith, always looking to augment her taxpayer funded travel budget, ordered CEO Ball to add another $100,000 to the Supes budget, half of it earmarked exclusively for additional travel. When Ball refused she immediately turned to Supervisor Colfax, urging him to use his power as Chair of the Board to straighten Ball out. Within the hour Colfax was on the phone to Ball, invoking his authority as Board chair to order Ball to “do what Kendall says.” Ball replied that he would be happy to as soon as he was directed by three votes of the Board in open session to do so. But Smith and Colfax wanted Ball to take the fall for doing their dirty work. When he refused, the writing was on the wall. But Ball had the foresight to write into his contract that as long as he survived one year in Mendocino County, he would be entitled to one year's severance pay. Because he had served just over a year before being canned, the County was forced to fork over another $130,000, courtesy of Smith and Colfax, clearly two of the most self-aggrandizing and dishonorable individuals ever to serve in public office in this county.
After SACKING John Ball, the only honest and truly capable ceo we've had here, the Supes, led by Smith and Colfax, immediately changed the CEO ordinance to require that the CEO first had to check in with the Board before hiring or firing department heads. Which meant the CEO no longer had the power of a CEO. And which explains why Ray Hall, widely rumored to have been next on John Ball's hit list, was able to finish out his long tenure of unrelieved incompetence. After a few months wasting consultant level money on an temporary “interim” CEO, the Board then exhumed Al Beltrami to serve as the long-term interim CEO (CEO in name only), thereby assuring that the County would instantly return to its familiar, rudderless mediocrity.
Tuesday’s Beltrami Proclamation makes the inflated assertion that “Al [sic] served as a stabilizing presence, demonstrating leadership, accountability, and teamwork in restoring a sense of unity throughout an evolving organization as it endeavored to chart a new course.” Leadership? Accountability? Please. In 2006 and 2007, when Beltrami served as a caretaker CEO, the County was still in the pre-financial crash mindset of business as usual. The pension fund, hopelessly upside down, was being steadily milked for its imaginary “excess earnings”; the overdrawn Teeter Plan was tottering; the preposterous Slavin Study, pushed by supervisors Colfax and Smith, found that top-tier local management like — surprise! — Colfax and Smith, needed their pay doubled, although the raises were undermining the fiscal solvency of the County; and incompetent department heads were insulated from any and all accountability as the County stumbled towards the looming fiscal cliff.
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The County then rehired Al Beltrami in 2006 as an interim CEO after predecessor John Ball was fired. "We brought Al back to calm things down and to bring some gentleness and levelheadedness back to the county," Wattenburger said, a major bumbler and apparent nut case in his own right. (He carried a concealed weapon to Supe's meetings because "the hippies" were stalking him. "He did a typical Al Beltrami outstanding job."
Next came Tom “I’m looking into it” Mitchell who was hired as CEO from Calaveras County. Mitchell quickly promoted Carmel Angelo from her position as HHSA director to be his assistant and Stacey Cryer became Director of HHSA in 2009. Mendo government has always turned to Mommy figures in times of crisis, the wrong mommies as things have turned out.
When the crash hit about the same time Mitchell was forced to resign for multiple failures to do anything at all, that left the Supervisors with a serious need to downsize. And there was Carmel Angelo who put up her hand up when someone asked, “Who do we have that has the necessary moxie to fire a bunch of people so we can balance our seriously deficit-ridden budget?”
Mommy? Mommy, is that you?
Enter Angelo. Having established her “I’ll do what’s necessary to keep the finances looking good” bonafides, Ms. Angelo got a big “thank you” raise and a brand new multi-year contract — as she knocked off roughly 500 employees.
But meanwhile the Mental Health Department had been privatized into the current mess and lots of other operations in the HHSA department that Angelo had left behind (cf, children’s services, the animal shelter nowadays), went unmanaged and in a failing state.
But the Board of Supervisors, having relinquished their executive authority years ago, were stuck with one CEO after the next who won’t even provide the Board with ordinary management reports for each department. Hence, flare up after flare up — and more to come, bet on it.