Whacking The Sheriff’s Budget

by Mark Scaramella, June 30, 2010

On June 15 the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors whacked the Sheriff’s Department $2 million.

Two million.

The vote was 4-1, McCowen dissenting.

The Ukiah supervisor pointed out that the $2 million cut “seriously jeopardizes public safety,” adding that the jail was already down to minimum staffing so that most of the cuts would come at the expense of the patrol division.

The County's chief executive officer, Carmel Angelo, McCowen pointed out, has exempted several other County departments from cuts because further funding reductions would be “counterproductive or would seriously interfere mandated services.”

McCowen, however, urged his colleagues to “rethink this budget recommendation. A $2 million cut from current year Sheriff’s operations is untenable.”

Board Chair Carre Brown said she agreed with McCowen but “I’m just not sure what other services” could be cut. “We've been on budget matters for some months,” said Brown. “Do you have a list of what you're talking about?”

McCowen said he didn’t have a list of other cuts that could be made, but mentioned “further consolidation of departments, elimination of one or more department heads, staffing ratios, further cuts to travel and other expense allowances. It’s not going to be easy.”

That was the best McCowen could do; so his proposal to “rethink” the Sheriff’s cuts didn’t get very far.

Supervisor Colfax got mad at McCowen.

“I take serious exception to the implication or the suggestion that somehow or other you are standing for public safety whereas four supervisors here are not,” Colfax huffed. “I think what you have presented is smoke and mirrors. I think what you're suggesting here – consolidation – we've looked consolidation upside down, left and right, and there's nothing there. You're talking about ratios of management being changed, we've looked at reorganization, managerial ratios and there's no money there. We looked at travel expenses. Sure, we could knock off a thousand dollars from each of our budgets, that'll get about $4,000. That'll pay for about three months of the, uh, of the deputy in Anderson Valley's dog. So I'm raising the question here, that if you're going to talk this way and somehow pose yourself, position yourself as the supervisor who's for public safety and by implication that the four, the rest of us who are looking at the money pile that is small to non-existent, put up or shut up! And I put it simply that way because the reality is there is no money, and none of us, at least at this end of the table, have been able to come up with the, that somehow you believe must be there because your priority is so high and so intense– don't position yourself in this way and put us in the position of somehow looking like the bad guys that are not interested in seeing the Sheriff do a decent job. We respect his work, we respect the efforts of his people, but WE DON'T HAVE THE MONEY! So as they say in the movies, Show me the money, John.”

McCowen replied, “I hear the bell but it doesn't ring true. We have no money? We have over $50 million in general funds. It's our responsibility to allocate them and to prioritize them. I'm saying I'm willing to prioritize the Sheriff's office budget first. Where the cuts would come from? We have talked about a lot of these items in the past. But without the willingness of three of us to say yes, we're willing to go there, it's rather pointless to run it all out. But there is one department head position, we've discussed a number of times eliminating that position, and consolidating the function, would save $120k in salary and benefits. [McCowen was referring to Water Agency Head Roland Sanford.] This is one person being paid to supervise two people. So there are other items on the list. It just depends on where your priorities are, supervisor.”

Public expression speakers unanimously supported McCowen's position.

Philo’s Beverly Dutra: “I spoke to you last year about reducing things and so forth. I apologize. I must have been too subtle. Law enforcement is the highest mandated priority. It is minimally provided for as it is. Now there’s this predatory attack on their budget. We need law enforcement to not become a lawless environment. The second deputy in Anderson Valley reduces drug deals. You are endangering youth if we can't push those deals and whatever else farther from our school. These cuts will produce a very dangerous condition. You said you need some specific recommendations. I suggest that all perks be wiped out. [Applause from the audience.] Take a two year period and say there will be nothing else. No car. No travel. No conferences. No expense accounts. No consultants. That's become insulting now to have these consultants and see what they offer to you. Any of us can walk in off the street and offer you the same caliber of material you're getting. I don't think you caused this problem. I really don't. But I do hold you responsible for fixing it. And I respect you enough to think that you can do it if you sort of regroup and reorder. Rewrite the contracts, look at the leases, look at the General Services Department. There are great rumors in this county about the waste and the fat that goes on in this administration. Please get in, dig in, do audits on those departments, and get rid of them. Roll back salaries. I know people with high salaries don't like to hear that. But roll them back and cap them. This is part of your terrible problem with your retirement system. We've all had a fat time for the last 15 years. Lots of public money was available and so the public didn't get to look at you and tell you what to do. Now we need to tell you what to do. We want law enforcement. We want it as the highest priority. Your grand jury recently suggested that salaries be looked at. Do it. On June 10th, your grand jury suggested that you not cut deputies. Please don't cut deputies.”

Evelyn Ashton of Philo seconded Mrs. Dutra:

“The local knowledge of local deputies is one of the best deterrents available. Think in long-range terms. It costs more to fix problems than to prevent them. We don't want rural citizens thinking they have to arm themselves. Reconsider this.”

Victoria Center of Boonville was a third:

“Beverly said what I am thinking. Men broke into my property. Ran around with guns. Scared the daylights out of me. The one thing I need is protection. I'm a widow. I think I have that right with the tax money I spend.”

Ukiah's formidably influential attorney, Jared Carter, a Republican undoubtedly jubilant at the prospect of disappearing local government, spoke next:

“Where is this county going? You need to do something now to help you get where you're going. If we were rich and had a big tax base to sustain this current government, I'd agree with Supervisor Colfax. But I don't think we have that and that's not where we're going. I don't see the county's tax base going up. I see it going down. Every major project is frustrated one way or another. So there’s no increase in the tax base. Industries are falling off. So why wait until you're forced to do something catastrophic. Take advantage of bankruptcy. Then deal with salaries, numbers of people and benefits. We businessmen have not increased our level of salaries and benefits for employees in the last few years. You’ve got to change this. Do it now, but don't do it by threatening the stability of the law enforcement we have. Rethink this.”

Antoinette von Groen of Philo, a volunteer with the Anderson Valley Ambulance Service, offered:

“It’s important to have a deputy along with ambulance to declare 5150s and clear scenes so we can get in in a timely manner. It could make a difference between life and death for a patient.”

Kirk Wilder of Boonville introduced himself:

“I’m a retired Los Angeles police officer, and a proud veteran of this nation. I retired to the peace and tranquillity of Boonville in 1990. Ever since then it's been going downhill. We talk about the system's not going to work if you take the money away from the Sheriff. Lemme tell you something, it's already broke. We just lost a wonderful man in our community, Tom Smith, because he got killed by a drunk driver. We have no law enforcement out there. We have very little. I have personally requested law enforcement response and got the answer from dispatch: There is no one available. This isn't what we pay our taxes for, ladies and gentlemen. Tom Allman's a great guy. He works hard with what he's got. If we take $2 million more from him we have nothing and we're on the verge of it now. Our neighborhood's going downhill. We got home grows, large marijuana grows in my neighborhood. Nobody wants to do anything about it. The honest hard working people of our community are paying the bill and the lawbreakers are out there running rampant. If you take away our resident deputy, we have nothing. You offer the deputy sheriffs a 25% salary pay cut in your negotiations? Well, I suggest that the Board of Supervisors take a 25% pay cut. [Room erupts in applause.] The deputies association in Mendocino County is one of the lowest paid in the state. It's unbelievable that they would take a 25% pay cut and keep their jobs. You can't live on that. So I urge you to fund the sheriff, protect your communities, support the law abiding people of this wonderful county, and bring it back to where it used to be. Right now we're circling the drain. [More applause.]”

A young Ukiah woman named Tammy Scott calmly responded to supervisor Colfax's sarcastic remark that cutting his travel and conference reimbursements would merely fund a few months' sustenance for Anderson Valley's police dog.

“Thank you Supervisor Colfax for the ability in less than one minute to come up with about $4,000 of your transportation and hotel funds. I think that's admirable. You all heard that and I would actually like to accept your giving that $4,000 because the point here is that if you can do that in one minute and come up with $4,000, then I think more folks and more department heads can do that. And I don't think that's very funny. I think what you were doing was brainstorming and I appreciate that. Safety is the most important thing for our children. If we have to get back to basics, I would not compromise the next generation. Safety is the most important thing. Think long and hard before you cut the Sheriff's department. Take it to heart. Think about the children in this community.”

Several other Mendolanders denounced the board’s priorities and called on them to reconsider.

Sheriff Allman said he hoped that there would be additional concessions from the deputies and the law enforcement management bargaining unit so that he wouldn’t have to cut as much as might. “

Concessions are still on the table,” said Allman. “Employees will accept a reasonable offer. There’s been a huge increase in interest of accelerating employee concessions.”

Allman said he was already using asset forfeiture funds for vehicles and other non-operational activities. “I will not lay off a deputy sheriff,” continued Allman, “that's between the Board and the citizens. We would lose resident deputies. Anderson Valley has such a huge marijuana problem in the fall,” which, Allman implied, would be worse without the two resident deputies.

McCowen moved “to restore $2 million to the Sheriff’s Office and direct the CEO to prepare a list of places that can be cut.” Board Chair Carre Brown seconded.

Supervisor Pinches repeated the Board’s mantra: “We don't have the money. It’s a second grade concept.” … “The Sheriff’s Office is the biggest expenditure of our general fund. We've done well to keep it up so far. Other cities and counties are in worse shape than us. We just don't have the money. So we have to make the tough cuts. It’s pretty simple. We just don't have the money.”

McCowen’s motion went down 4-1. A motion to approve the $2 million cut was then approved 4-1.

On her way out Mrs. Dutra loudly grumbled, “You haven't done any work at all!” as Board Chair Brown rolled her eyes. Someone else shouted, “Supervisor Colfax, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

The citizenry is mutinous.

CEO Angelo told the Board that her staff was preparing for the even more dismal annual August budget hearings, adding that she is taking a hard look at leased facilities, which currently cost $110k per year and “a way to move staff back to County-owned property.”

Angelo is also preparing Phase III of the layoff plans due to be proposed next month. Phase IV of the recommended layoffs is due before December.

Because of the County’s ever deeper deficit, with revenues continuing to decline as fixed personnel costs increase, the number of layoffs may be more than the 100 previously anticipated.

Colfax’s claim that the County has explored all possible cost savings ideas is simply not true. A few weeks ago, Ms. Angelo trotted out a list of all the supervisory people in the Sheriff’s Office – and it did sound high. But Ms. Angelo has never given the Board a list of excess supervisors of any other departments. Without such a list, any claim that the Board has explored all avenues for savings is patently false. And that's just the beginning.

* * *

The Board’s consistently misplaced priorities was again evident at its meeting of June 22nd where pure irrelevance occupied their odd attentions – the appointment of two people to the “North Coast Local Agency Coastal Coordinating Committee,” tangentially related to the much despised Marine Life Protection Act process.

Colfax, as usual, was the worst offender, babbling incoherently to no discernible point. (Supervisor Smith is equivalently inarticulate, but more boring.)

Colfax: “As a member of the ad hoc committee, I, uh, I am uncomfortable, I, uh, in the position, because I feel that this process, uh, very basic assumptions, of this particular body, is such that I, I uh, would not want to give further legitimacy to what I feel is a, uh, antidemocratic, uh, elitist, corporate dominated, and, uh, potentially, uh, very dangerous, uh, turning over, to help convene politically connected entities at the state level that somehow or other now are being given yet additional validation by having members of this body, as in the past, uh, ignoring local, grassroots concerns, and I know, Roland [Sanford, Water Agency Manager] you're aware of my, uh, more, uh, pointed comments on this in, uh, previous, uh, uh, settings, uh, so my feeling here is that I would be more than happy to continue my interest in this, uh, well beyond the next six months [when Colfax will be out of office], and I would prefer not to be in the position here of advocating on one day, and then, in one month, uh, in a quarter, or whatever, and then, uh, coming back and joining those who have serious concerns, about its, uh, legitimacy, its purpose, and ultimately its economic, and health and safety, and, uh, its economic future of the Mendocino Coast. So I would be more than happy to give that responsibility to the, with the concurrence of the board, to you, to a staff member, and to Supervisor Smith, appropriately, who will be paying attention to these matters, as a short-termer on this and one who is, uh, on this and other issues, uh, I think it would be more appropriate that the staff and Supervisor Smith handle this part of the, uh, issues, uh, I'm more concerned with the community input, at this time, which I think, uh, has been, uh, distorted, substantially, and I would advise the, uh, two members to be put in place by this body, uh, to pay very close attention to what is truly happening out there on the ground and in the field and in the grassroots.”

Just the week prior, the “grassroots” had made it clear they didn’t want big cuts in the Sheriff’s department, but here’s Colfax concerned about the “grassroots” associated somehow with a nebulous process and an even more nebulous regional committee.

Besides the rambling expression of Colfax and the dependably opaque Kendall Smith, County Counsel Jeanine Nadel, CEO Angelo, Water Agency Head Roland Sanford, and supervisors McCowen and Pinches chimed in at useless length.

CEO Angelo took several minutes to say that the staff doesn't have the additional time to take on Colfax’s proposal.

Supervisor Pinches declared, “I agree with Supervisor Colfax. There’s a possible loss of local control. It's a state legislature issue. Coastal supervisors should be on top of this. There are too many levels of involvement making recommendations with no accountability.”

Colfax turned on his afterburner: “Um, just a procedural concern here, are we sitting as the Board of Supervisors?”

Board Chair Brown: “Yes, we are.”

Colfax: “And Mr. Sanford is sitting right now as what? A … … a water agency director? Or? Because we have the comment of the CEO of, about staff time, I don't know, again, I don't want to put too fine a point on this, but, the reality here is, is that if we are sitting as the water agency, then we give you direction, one on one, if I've got that correctly, if we are sitting as the Board of Supervisors, we're going around to the CEO, saying, uh, you don't really have time to, or it's not you, it's staff, generally, doesn't have time to be taking on new activities, so I need some, some clarification, as to what, if we vote, if we vote this up or vote it down, or as a point of order or do whatever it is right now and I'm not trying to be obstructionist, but I'd like to know, really, what is…? How do we get out of this problem here, that I see, as the CEO is saying, uh, that staff doesn't have time for this, uh, but, uh, at the moment, you're neither fish nor fowl, to make a pun.”

Are we the board of supervisors? Did I make a pun? Will someone please saddle my horse? How'd the Giants do today? Is it time for my 2 o'clocks?

Mr. Sanford riffed at length on the differences between the NCLACCC (pronounced by insiders as 'nack-a-lack') and the MLPA (pronounced by insiders as 'mull-pah') and all the staff work involved in preparing nack-a-lack's memorandum of agreement (pronounced Mo-uh). Finally Sanford recommended that Board approve changes to nack-a-lack's Memorandum of Agreement.

Colfax, however, remained on auto-blather:

“I have a somewhat different perspective as to what the real issue is here. I think basically we're coming into this in a reactive mode, but is it a necessary reactive mode, what I'm saying is here, that, uh, I'm not happy with creating int… entities that then become coopted into, or by other creative means, coopted into this uh, this uh, this thing that our state representatives, uh, probably don't want to touch any more than, uh, uh, we want to touch, with uh, with the many problems they have. So in that regard I'm trying to respond to Supervisor Pinches' point, I think here that this is, uh, if done right could be productive, but I think, as I said before, that I'm going to be a very critical observer of the, uh, this, uh, only because I think that, uh, we've been coopted and coopted to the point that its non-existence, uh, if we do not take action at this time, become a party to this as an active entity, uh, then I think here, uh, uh, we will just be, uh, uh, helping a bad process continue in its destructive, uh, uh, uh, uh, way, so I would, I would support the action being taken now, uh, that being here now, that uh, that I would, I would, uh, Mr. Sanford, uh, uh, has the responsibility to take on this task, and, uh, allocate responsibility as appropriate, uh, assuming he can do it, uh, and uh, I think then, uh, I would ask our, uh, member, our Board member, if Supervisor Smith is willing to take it on, if they really understand that our job is to protect the Coast and not to, uh, somehow or other, validate a process that, or steer the process that, uh, is the creation of another entity, that it, uh, more than showcases, and, uh, and, uh, covers up for what is actually happening with regard to our coast.”

Christ Jesus save us all.

Supervisor Smith of course took several more minutes to propose that she and Colfax be appointed to Nack-a-Lack, the surest way to destroy whatever utility it might have.

Colfax naturally agreed:

“Madam chair, I'm willing to do it on an interim basis here, just to see that we do have a warm body, another warm body, and not just a warm body, uh, out there involved in the process, uh, I think we have to be paying attention, uh, to it, and I would hate to see this time be, this time going up into the ether when we should be taking care of business, but I'd be happy to take care of business with Supervisor Smith on this as a member of the ad hoc committee, it's just that, uh, I'd be very, very skeptical of participating in this process and hopefully, this, uh, for a short period of time.”

So, after all that, the Supervisors approved the Nack-a-Lack Mo-uh's draft language as proposed with minor changes suggested by County Counsel for no reason other than to demonstrate she's more or less on task and earning her overly generous pay, as Smith and Colfax, already on Nack-a-Lack's doomed advisory board, were re-confirmed as Ass Knackers, I mean Nack-a-Lackers.

The public’s business? Apart from the usual diversion into marijuana, a more or less routine rubber-stamping of the long delayed privatization of solid waste hauling in all of Mendocino (more on that next week), Nack-a-Lack and Mull Pah were pretty much it.

* * *

Having successfully done nothing for more than an hour last Tuesday, the Board finally got around to routinely approving across the Board fee increases for next year. Among the new fees is the marijuana dispensary permit application fee of $1,050 per. Third-party inspector license applications will cost $1500 per.

What is a “third party inspection fee”?

According to the Board’s meeting packet, “All Third Party Inspection Companies and all individual inspectors in their employ shall be required to apply for and obtain authorization in the form of a permit from the Sheriff’s Office. The Permit process for both the Company and the Individual Inspectors will require an Application Review, Background Check, and Fingerprinting. This work is anticipated to take a minimum of 18 hours. In addition, the fingerprint review by the State will cost $150.00 which will be incorporated into the overall fee. This license fee is authorized by Mendocino County Code 20, Section 9.31 as amended effective May 6, 2010. It is anticipated that the fire departments will join us in this process and will enact a similar fee schedule of their own. Sgt. Scott Poma will be the license reviewer.”

At the June 22 Board meeting and in subsequent radio interviews, the Sheriff and Supervisor McCowen said there had been “hundreds of inquiries” about the new dispensary rules from people who, they implied, were interested in applying for dispensary permits.

Hundreds?

The paperwork submitted by the Sheriff regarding the expected revenue from the new permit fees assumes six applications at $1,050 per application, plus an additional six third-party inspector license applications at $1500 per.

So by their own revenue estimates, only six people are expected to apply for the pot dispensary permits in Mendocino County in the next few months now that these complicated and totally unworkable rules are official.

Meanwhile, dope season has kicked off a series of raids on a group of young producers based in Ukiah.

One Response to Whacking The Sheriff’s Budget

  1. Monika Fuchs Reply

    July 2, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    I just laughed myself (almost) to tears reading Mark Scaramellas most recent article on the county farce called the board of supervisors and supporting characters. Nack-a-Lack!?! Mohu!?! It’s making me laugh all over again!
    In these times were there is not much to laugh about – this tickled my funny bone in a BIG way.
    Thanks for brightening my day!
    Monika Fucs

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