Three Card Monte

by Mark Scaramella, April 14, 2010

Mendocino County CEO Carmel Angelo told the Board of Supervisors last week that her office had considered several ways to make up the County’s $7.6 million deficit through June of 2011 – staff reductions, salary reductions, work-week reductions, or combination thereof, adding that the County “is not likely to see a full economic recovery in the next couple of years.”

Seven of the 25 announced layoffs are really lay-offs. Thirteen vacant positions will be “defunded,” five shifted to other "funding streams."

The "lay-off list" is supposed to be the first of four phases of “lay-offs” which may total about 100 before the blood stops flowing as this question is begged: If so many positions can be left vacant or shifted to other funding streams to avoid actual lay-offs, why wasn't it done sooner?

Among the fake layoffs is the Chief Public Defender Investigator, which is a position elimination, not the job of a real person. County Surveyor? Maybe. A Sheriff's Lieutenant? A guy's retiring and his position won't be filled. A computer mapping technician in General Services, an assistant librarian, one museum staff assistant, and one water agency specialist, are apparently real people no longer employed. Or at least not in those jobs. (They may have union bumping rights.)

Total savings from these maneuvers is estimated at $740k.

The remaining 18 positions in the “lay-off” list include:

Health and Human Services: one part-time vacant social worker position will be kept vacant. One part-time EMS coordinator will be shifted to a community health grant funded position, one part-time substance abuse counselor will be shifted to a grant funded position, the Deputy Director of Alcohol and Other drugs “will accept another position which will not be a deputy director position” (and which won't be funded out of the County's general fund), and an office assistant for the Workforce Investment Board will be shifted to grant funding.

In Planning and Building a senior planner vacancy will be left vacant.

In transportation an engineering tech will be moved to a position paid out of “the road fund.”

The Clerk of the Board will be shifted into the new consolidated CEO office with some apparent staff reductions, unspecified, unknown as to time. Adding the Clerk of the Board to the CEO's office at an increased salary and with a new title is not a cost savings, it's a cost increase.

In the CEO's office the Assistant CEO position which had already been declared vacant will remain vacant, i.e., CEO Carmel Angelo’s former position, a vacancy that had already been declared empty.

A staff assistant position in the Farm Advisor's office will remain vacant.

Two probation officer positions will remain vacant.

In the Sheriff's Office, two Covelo deputies will be funded by federal grants. Hopefully. A Captain is retiring and the position will not be refilled. A correctional officer is quitting and the position will not be refilled. And a lieutenant is retiring and the position will not be refilled.

A vacant Deputy District Attorney IV position will be left vacant.

County Employee representative Jacqueline Carvallo told the Board that she had an alternate proposal for how to deal with layoffs, which she called a “voluntary separation incentive,” as opposed to an early retirement proposal. "It’s well thought out,” said Carvallo. “It allows people who are willing to separate to do so.”

“This [current round of lay-offs] is perceived as sort of a shell game,” said Carvallo, “because the proposed layoffs in some of the upper management categories are simply being moved into other categories that could actually be perceived as promotions. And that's difficult for people to understand, when you're just defunding a position while their savings are– We need people to actually walk out the door. And this proposal will actually do that. The 'supervisors' [listed by Angelo] are in our bargaining unit and I think ten out of the 25 might be in SEIU [Service Employees International Union] and I thought the Board directive was to seek [the layoffs] from other bargaining units that may not have contributed to the level of [Mandatory Time Off] that the SEIU has been doing for the previous 18 months. We agreed to meet to discuss continuing MTO as a courtesy, but we canceled the appointment because [the County] refused to pay the custodian to participate in that particular meeting because it was not on his work-time. They asked him to come to a meeting to make more concessions and cutbacks and yet they're not willing to compensate him for that.”

Carvallo explained further that “those who are intending on retiring and separating from the County are proposing that they be included in the future layoffs. When we're considering layoffs, let's consider those who were already going to separate and how we will be paying the bill for them if they're laid off while they sit on unemployment.”

Ms. Carvallo went unresponded to.

An older man whose name was lost in a mumble took the podium to tell the Board that they should “hold the line on salary increases. As a private sector retired union member, if I was an SEIU member, I would be strongly urging an across the board walk-out – a full strike against the County of Mendocino at this point because of the audacity of trying to do an end run on the public and on the employees of Mendocino regarding the Clerk of the Board's ‘reassignment.’ As far as the layoffs, same thing. I'd be urging a full membership strike against the County of Mendocino because of the slap in the face of, of… I don't know why she's the sacred cow, but Ms. Furman seems to be garnering a lot of attention lately regarding salary increases.”

Sheriff Allman said he'd accept the non-filling of his four vacancies but he didn’t like the Board telling him he couldn’t hire a replacement lieutenant: “We're already at 30% fewer administrators right now than at the beginning of this fiscal year,” said Allman. “This is part of the planned attrition that we're experiencing. Eight positions came vacant this fiscal year or went vacant and we are not asking to fill those. The reduction of one more lieutenant would take it [down] to the three I have now – one in each sector and one in charge of the detective bureau. Each has taken other responsibilities such as internal affairs investigations and court responsibilities and so forth.”

Allman added that his office had also absorbed a couple of new tasks: Animal Control and Emergency Services with no additional funds.

Allman told the Board that constitutionally they couldn’t tell him which positions to eliminate, citing a Fresno court ruling that he said backed him up.

But County Counsel Jeanine Nadel disagreed, saying that the Board could indeed eliminate positions in the Sheriff's office and that the Fresno case was different and didn't apply.

CEO Angelo returned to put Allman’s situation into some perspective: “Not including the jail,” said Angelo, “the Sheriff’s Office now has 3 captains, 5 lieutenants, 14 sergeants and 42 filled deputy positions, and about 36 clerical and non-sworn.”

And we can do our own supervisor to staff ratio calculations, Angelo implied.

Supervisor John Pinches commented that “the next 25 will be tougher” – especially if they really are layoffs. “In the past we could use attrition. Now we have no choice. This Board has been criticized for not cutting upper management. 14 of the positions on this list are over $90k cost-to-the-county positions. It's the higher end. We're not trying to go after the line staff.”

By using the “cost to the county” standard, which adds about 40% of the actual salary, and by referring to “the positions on this list,” (most of which were either vacant or re-assigned) Pinches was straining to make his case. Because if you take out the 40% benefits factor, Pinches would be talking about people with over $54k/year jobs, not exactly "upper management."

In fact, no management people were actually losing their jobs in this round of “lay-offs.”

The Shell Game was approved, 4-1, with Supervisor Smith dissenting because of something about Coastal coverage or services being jeopardized or disproportionately reduced. She's inarticulate to the point of incoherence but the idea seemed to be she thought her district was suffering the brunt of these maneuvers.

The Board engaged in a long discussion of cutting retiree health care expenses. For now the County is going to allow retirees over the age of 65 to buy into some lower-cost MediGap insurance. No decision has been made on the under-65 retirees who don’t qualify for Medicare. It looks like these employees will be asked to cover much more of the health insurance cost – if they can afford it. Which many of them cannot.

CEO Angelo described her office’s proposal to consolidate the CEO’s office with the Clerk of the Board's office. At present Board Clerk Kristi Furman is a department head who earns about $70k/year. Although not discussed last Tuesday, the expectation is that Ms. Furman will become a “Deputy CEO” under the consolidation with a pay raise of up to $20k. Angelo insisted that the proposed consolidation was purely technocratic, not personal – “this is based on practical principles of good management, not on individual needs or wants,” said Angelo.

By Angelo’s calculation the County will save $175k with the CEO/Board Clerk consolidation through staff reductions.

Supervisor Pinches said he “hoped” that the public will be served as usual after the consolidation. But there are still lots of details to work through, particularly since the CEO becomes the effective gatekeeper between both the department heads and the public vis-a-vis the elected Board of Supervisors. Organizationally, the CEO will become the official Clerk of the Board.

But it fell to SEIU rep Carvallo to talk about the Kristi Furman problem.

“I also compliment [Angelo and Furman] for coming forward with this idea," said Carvallo. "But I'll get skinned alive if I don't address the white elephant in the room and that would be the compensation that is perceived to be an additional raise for Ms. Furman as she gets her new job. I just have to say that in light of laying people off– today, SEIU took 57% of the cuts of the actual people walking out the door, 4 out of 7 of the people who are actual layoffs – versus the shell game of moving people around or plugging them in where they can be funded under different revenue streams and stuff like that while our people are walking out the door. We are on the tail of the county saying, Please come back to the table and give more when we have already given 26 days out of our paychecks. The message from the workers is they find this hard to swallow. When I went back to the office at lunchtime I got a call from the Water Agency saying that the individual that was leaving has five pending grants on his desk and no one else is going to take up that slack. There are just some things that to the people that are working, that are currently giving MTO are just– We are still under a side letter [of agreement to continue with MTO for the time being until the next bargaining session]. We're all for change. We're all for supporting everything. It's just a hard pill to swallow. I just feel obliged to point that out because I get so many comments on it from the workers. There is a process. We just kind of re-did the position in the garage, and one in court collections and one in animal care and control. That took them out of management and put them in SEIU. There was a process they followed for that. They re-did the job descriptions, they compared it with like salaries, and they withdrew some of their benefits and they re-did it. The people were very, very gracious about it. But to just plug somebody in and say that they are going to do a comparable job when that's not how it's going to work is not how we do it for everyone else.”

“Thank you for your comment,” said Chair Carre Brown.

Supervisor Pinches concluded, “I'd like to make one comment on, on, the, uh, the small salary increase that probably will be achieved through this. Um, I just think it's worth it. Simply put. I just think it's worth it.”

* * *

Supervisor Pinches pulled approval of Supervisor John McCowen’s cockamamie pot cultivation rules from the consent calendar. Pinches said he thought that indoor growing areas for permitted pot dispensaries should be increased from 100 square feet to 500 square feet so that they would be comparable to the increased plant count limits for outdoor grow-dispensaries, 25 to 99.

County Counsel Jeanine Nadel didn’t think such an increase was necessary. If you want to grow more than 100 square feet indoors, said Nadel, “find another parcel. That’s not prohibited.”

Supervisor David Colfax took the opportunity to take one last shot at McCowen’s new rules which he'd previously described as “a dream document for a police state.” “This is a seriously flawed document in so many ways,” said Colfax. “In some ways it is irresponsible because it pretends to address a real problem with fantasy solutions” – just like McCowen’s Measure B two years ago.

Last Word McCowen responded, “The indoor growing restriction was a conscious decision. There are problems with indoor growing. [Anderson Valley Fire Chief] Colin Wilson said the majority of total loss structure fires were related to indoor marijuana grows with large electrical draws without knowing what they're doing, without proper wiring, improper use of diesel fuel, pollution, waste oil disposed of improperly… The intentional purpose was to limit indoor grows to limit safety and pollution impacts of indoor growing.”

As if McCowen’s Rules, which may apply at most to a few small dispensaries which can muster the reams of paperwork and approvals from nearly every department in the County, will magically reduce illegal and dangerous indoor pot growing.

The Board voted 3-2 (Colfax and Pinches dissenting) to make McCowen’s Rules official.

Having "dispensed" with pot, it was then time to declare “Alcohol Awareness Week.”

The official declaration was the usual claptrap about how big a problem alcohol is and how important it is to do something – anything, really – about it.

Whatever.

The proposed declaration gave Supervisor David Colfax, himself no stranger to Demon Rum, an opportunity for another entertaining denunciation of the status quo: “It's a travesty that we are put in a situation where we are making, even as we are, as I have said before, we are eviscerating preventative efforts and if we are going to have that discussion then let's have a real discussion instead of… proclamations and declarations and, uh, as just mentioned a minute ago, or even ordinances expressing good warm feelings about the way the world should be. The question is, Is this board going to make hard choices or are we going to move even further into the abyss where the only thing we have before us is enforcement and efforts to control and manipulate circumstances that are generated by the failure to take responsible, uh, moves, to do those things that have to be done. I'm almost inclined to say, No. Let's not pass this ordinance, because maybe we'll actually get some attention to the fact that this Board is NOT recognizing… It is NOT recognizing the ‘serious problems of alcohol abuse’ and is NOT ‘taking efforts to prevent it’ because of budgetary restrictions. But at the same time we do have a budget that can be addressed and should be addressed differently. Let's have a serious discussion on this as a Board, as a whole. When? Where? I'll leave that to others to make that decision. The CEO and perhaps the Chair would be involved in such a process.”

Nevertheless, Colfax voted with his fellow Supes to unanimously declare last week to be Alcohol Awareness Week.

As we used to say in the Air Force: We have upped our Alcohol Awareness – Up yours!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *