Off the Record

by AVA News Service, June 10, 2010

IT'S NO SURPRISE that the County's retirement system is in trouble. Years of fishy accounting practices, more years of the fundamentally false assumption that capitalism would make more money for everyone forever, lavish payouts to a large population of long-lived former employees, and all of it now occurring in a shrinking economy, an economy that is not coming back. Something had to give, and now it has. The Grand Jury says the only way out is “major cuts in personnel, salaries and services.” The only way out, and we're unlikely to ever find this exit, is a federal jobs program at a livable wage, paid for by the owning classes. But it'll be a cold day at the abandoned mall when that happens.

I'VE WONDERED for months now why the cops didn't visit Darrell McNeill when they first learned he was molesting Fort Bragg children. McNeill was heavily invested in the community in his business and a range of civic groups including, we now know, groups that put him in the immediate company of small boys. He had a lot to lose. If he knew he was being watched, he might have stopped. Maybe he even would have conceded his criminality. It seems from here that McNeill could have been stopped years before Aaron Vargas stopped him forever.

SEVERAL County employees have observed that if the supervisors expect people to quit or retire to save the County money, the County should offer employees who are thinking of retirement a deal on healthcare. A lot of county employees are hanging on specifically for that coverage for themselves and their families.

ANOTHER idea being speculated about by some County employees is the possibility that the County is about to make its “best and final offer” to all of the bargaining units. Some of the bargaining units, including law enforcement, are constitutionally prohibited from striking, so a Best and Final Offer might well be imposed on them. Taken together with looming layoffs, there is a good chance that deputies and other law enforcement personnel at the low end of their pay scale or seniority will quit or be laid off if they're forced to take major pay cuts.

SO FAR, County Chief Executive Officer Carmel Angelo has not forced the issue by imposing severe cuts on the Sheriff's Department. But the budget problem is steadily worsening and there are two more rounds of layoffs to come before the end of the year, and before any newly elected supervisors take office.

YET ANOTHER, more draconian, tactic being talked about in Ukiah (which has already been used in other counties around the state) involves simply laying off or firing employees, then offering them their jobs back at reduced pay.

BUT SO FAR CEO Angelo has not made any mention of drastic strategies. She is reportedly considering “borrowing” from the County’s $1.9 million reserve fund and borrowing another $1 million from the road fund. But exactly how those “loans” will be paid back remains unclear if not permanently invisible. Angelo did say that, “There's no way to do this without wage concessions. And most likely we'll have to take one more round of layoffs.” Whether that “one more round” is in addition to the two remaining rounds before now and the end of the year is not clear. But as long as tax revenues continue their downward slide and the State continues to come up very, very short, we’d guess Angelo is talking about a fifth round of layoffs early next calendar year when the new Fifth District supervisor is seated.

THE RECOMMENDED Phase II layoffs released by CEO Angelo last weekend are fewer than expected; they do not include any law enforcement or management positions. The proposed layoffs are modestly compensated line workers: Assessor Staff Assistant, Print Shop Supervisor, Computer Tech, Animal Facility Assistant, Solid Waste Maintenance Worker, Solid Waste Site Operator, Refuse Site Attendant, Librarian II. Other quasi layoffs include: Two water agency staffers (if grant money is not received soon). A Human Resources staff assistant (left vacant), a Painter II (left vacant), a Fleet Mechanic (left vacant), the Alternate Public Defender (who apparently will not to be replaced), Closure of Fort Bragg Animal Shelter (involving two extra help layoffs), An alcohol and other drugs staff assistant (shifted to Mental Health). Total actual layoffs: almost 10. Total semi-layoffs: about 7.

A SHOWDOWN over the Sheriff’s budget has apparently been postponed. The DA’s budget deficit has not been dealt with either. (See the letter to Ms. Angelo from DA Meredith Lintott in the Letters section.)

IN THIS WEEK’S BOARD agenda packet is a brochure from the State Association of County Retirement Systems which recently held their annual meeting in Newport Beach, an event uniquely advertised with Chairman Mao prominently displayed on the cover page of the announcement. Exactly what The Great Helmsman has to offer California pension staffers is not mentioned in the meeting announcement details.

LAST WEEK we reported that Chief Probation Officer Wes Forman had announced that he’s quitting to take a job in Shasta County. This week, there’s an official “proclamation” confirming the fact. Apparently, Official Mendocino County doesn’t think much of Mr. Forman’s job performance, at least judging from the most minimal “proclamation” we’ve ever seen for a departing department head in Mendo history. Usually, when some chair-warming hack or hackette shuffles off to his Barco-Lounger, superlatives rain down for days. But Forman got relatively short shrift: “WHEREAS, Chief Forman has had a distinguished career with the County of Mendocino for over four years, and can be very proud of his many accomplishments. He has been a valuable asset to the County of Mendocino always demonstrating his expertise and dedication to the Probation Department, its employees, community partners, and the citizens of Mendocino County.”

THIS JUST IN: “The person formally known as Casaundra Paulette Davidson will now be known as Celeste Dancer.”

THE CRIMINAL CASE begun with Clint Smith's lust for one of his 15-year-old students, proceeds. Smith, a Willits Charter School teacher, got off with a few months in the County Jail and probation. He doesn't even have to register as a sex offender although the usual Mendo molester can expect a minimum of two years in the state pen. Smith got off light because, well, because WillitsLib and delegations of Mormons showed up in Judge Clay Brennan's crap shoot of a courtroom to say that Clint was such a Nice Person it just wouldn't be right to lock him up with, well, you know, the rabble. The Willits Unified School District, in theory the edu-agency responsible for the charter school, got itself a summary judgment basically absolving it of all responsibility, but the civil case against the Charter School administrator Sally Rulison and Smith himself is going ahead. The conduct of a Willits teacher who was aware of Smith's relationship with the girl but didn't report it, Gina Hirsch, has been described in court documents as “morally reprehensible” but not, apparently, culpable.

HEADLINE FROM SUNDAY'S Chron: “BP no longer seen as green by some.”

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