Supes Working Diligently (?)
by Mark Scaramella, October 4, 2017
ON MONDAY of this week, Supervisors John McCowen and Dan Hamburg convened a meeting of their two-person Public Health, Safety, and Resources Committee to discuss the County’s Class K relaxed-standards building code, which apparently hasn’t been looked at since the early 80s and is now out of date, especially compared to California’s stringent new conventional building codes. Class K originated when back-to-the-landers were objected to generally, but especially their “hippie shacks,” many of them soon legalized so they could be taxed.
THIS LATEST “update” involves removing certain building code exemptions so that Class K is closer to conventional building codes than it used to be. The County’s top building official, the inflexible Mike Oliphant, told the two-person housing committee of McCowen and Hamburg that from now on Class K Single Family Residences will require: An automatic fire sprinkler system; they will be limited to 2,000 square feet of habitable space; they will have to comply with all new applicable Wildland Urban Interface (fire prevention/protection) requirements; they will require a perimeter foundation, and will be limited to a minimum parcel size of five acres.
NO VOTE was taken. Several members of the public commented that the new requirements should not be imposed retroactively. A couple of pot growers trying to get permits said the requirements were too onerous for their remote structures.
ON THE ONE HAND you have the Supervisors trying to restrict vacation rentals in the faint hope that it might produce a few additional year-round residential rental units, but on the other hand they’re putting more requirements on new small residences. Granted the new requirements may make buildings safer, but, as pot grower rep Casey O’Neill said, if the new requirements can’t or won’t be met, primarily due to additional cost, the result will not produce any real improvements.
THERE’S LOTS OF SUBSTANDARD HOUSING in Mendocino County that presents a variety of health and safety hazards, which the County doesn’t seem very concerned with, so this latest exercise seems more like another bureaucratic layer on top of an already large pile of unenforceable rules than a genuine attempt to improve public safety.
MAYBE NOW people will stop blaming enviros and NIMBYs for the lack of various kinds of development in Mendocino County (they’ve been invisible for years now) and focus their complaints where the real problem is: the state’s construction industry and their increasingly expensive building codes and the dozens of local and state agencies that seem to pop up with new requirements to obstruct just about every construction project that comes up.
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SEVERAL COUNTY DEPARTMENT HEADS are in line for big raises via the backdoor, aka the consent agenda. Supervisors Agenda Item 4s):
“Adoption of Resolution Authorizing Adoption of Salary Grade Adjustments as follows:
Agriculture Commissioner/Sealer Weights and Measures, Salary Grade D45B to D47D; Chief Probation Officer, Salary Grade D46A to Salary Grade D48D; Director Human Resources, Salary Grade U46A to Salary Grade D48D; and Director Planning and Building, Salary Grade D46B to Salary Grade D48D Recommended Action: Adopt Resolution authorizing the adoption of salary grade adjustments.”
TRANSLATION: Five sons and daughters are getting very large pay increases on top of already high salaries without so much as a hint why they deserve them. Transparent California says “Interim” Ag Commissioner Diane Curry’s 2016 base salary was about $72k per year. But that translates to less than $2800 per biweekly pay period, which is below the range shown in the attached resolution-chart for her existing pay range. Nevertheless, the Ag Commissioner’s salary bracket will increase from $86k-$105k to $100k-$121k, an increase of between $14k and $16k per year. Then add 75% of that to get total pay and benefits which, like all of Mendo’s lavishly compensated department heads, includes generous health insurance, pension, up to five weeks of paid vacation, ten paid holidays, bottomless sick leave, bereavement leave, management leave, disability and catastrophic leave, and personal time off.
ON TOP of these bennies, there are numerous non-salary perks like life insurance, training compensation, computer/cellphone, memberships, professional books, computer training and materials, physical exams, health club memberships, and credit cards.
THE CHIEF PROBATION OFFICER, whoever that person is today given that Chief Probation Officer Pamela Markham has been out on indefinite paid administrative leave, the salary goes from $91k-$111k to $105k-$128k, an increase of between $14k and $17k.
HUMAN RESOURCES BOSS Heidi Dunham’s salary goes from $92k-$112k to $105k-$128k, an increase of between $13k and $16k.
ACTING Planning and Building Director Ignacio ‘Nash’ Gonzalez’s salary bracket will increase from $92k-$112k to $105k-$128k, an increase of between $13k and $16k.
ADDING to the confusion (probably intentional), the current pay bracket ranges on the County’s website for these four positions don’t match what the Resolution says.
ALL TOTALED, these four department heads are pulling down around $200k a year each in total pay, benefits and perks.
LOOKED at another way, when one of these department heads sits in the Board chambers and talks for a few minutes it costs the taxpayers about $100 an hour.
AND THEY DON'T even have to provide monthly reporting to the CEO or the Board of Supervisors.
PS. We found it surprising that, according to Transparent California for 2016, Assistant CEO Alan ‘The Kid’ Flora made more in total pay and benefits than the District Attorney.
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ONLY A FEW DECADES LATE, the Board of Supervisors is planning to “Consider a Unified Approach Regarding Contracting for Dispatch Services for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Fire Services.”
THE DISCUSSION is on the Tuesday Board of Supervisors agenda as a follow-up item to their September 19 decision to hold off on putting Calfire’s dispatch services out to bid. During that discussion it seemed to suddenly dawn on Ukiah and the Board of Supervisors that there are too many semi-redundant dispatch operations in Mendocino County, a point that should have been raised long ago.
BUT MENDO'S expensively outsourced advisers, the Sonoma County based LEMSA (Local emergency medical services agency) named Coastal Valley EMS, the supposed “staff” that Mendo has turned such things over to, failed to bring up the redundancy despite thousands of dollars, several reports, studies, and of course, consultants.
SHERIFF ALLMAN had previously noted that Mendo doesn’t need three or four overlapping night-shift dispatch operations. Mendo really only needs two dispatch operations: Fire/Medical and police. The Board will discuss Supervisor Dan Gjerde’s proposed “unified approach” to dispatch in an ad hoc committee, clearly avoiding the Sonoma County LEMSA which seems to be leading Mendo astray time and again. Mendo already has a small emergency services office and it’s past time to stop wasting money on the Sonoma County agency and bring the entire issue back home to Mendo.
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THE BOARD ALSO plans to issue its typical non-responses to grand jury criticism, particularly the Grand Jury’s recent “Another Look At Family And Children’s Services” (FCS, formerly CPS). At least this year it looks like the Board actually read the reports and prepared some responses themselves, rather than turning the Grand Jury report over to the County Counsel’s office for blanket denials as per previous custom.
BUT THE SUPE'S responses, while at least acknowledging that there’s a serious staffing problem in FCS, is simply more empty rhetoric because the Board and the CEO continue to refuse to require monthly status reports from their most troubled department. (How many children in foster care, how many taken from parents and why, how many vacant slots, service calls, response times, etc.)
THE GRAND JURY noted that “Mendocino County has a higher rate than the State average for removal of children from their families due to a lack of early intervention in troubled families, the drug culture, high unemployment, lack of housing, and the lack of teenage drug treatment programs.”
THE SUPES FATUOUS RESPONSE: “Partially disagree. Mendocino County does have a higher rate than the State average for removal of children from their families. However, the reasons stated by the Grand Jury are only contributing factors in this problem and not solely responsible for the emergency removal due to abuse or neglect. That said, the BOS understands these factors can be detrimental to families and is working with HHSA and partners to address them. The BOS incorporates the response by HHSA.”
IF WE had any idea what the Board meant by “working with HHSA and partners” we might have some remote hope that the grim situation of displaced children would improve. But without specifics as to what “working with” means, it sounds like the County plans to do nothing at all.
THE GRAND JURY also observed, “The new State eligibility requirements and training requirements for foster homes may reduce the rate of abuse and changes in foster care placements, but make it even harder for Mendocino County agencies to recruit foster families.”
SUPES PIE IN THE SKY RESPONSE: “Partially disagree. This is speculation and the hope is that the rates of abuse will decline and foster families will be able and willing to comply with the new requirements. This will need to be evaluated after sufficient time has passed for an effect to be seen.”
UNLESS THE SUBJECT is put on a monthly reporting schedule so that the “evaluation” can be followed up on, the County will again do absolutely nothing and the “hoped for” improvement won’t materialize. As with everything else, the Board’s failure to require even the most minimal monthly reporting from its biggest department, Health and Human Services, means that nothing ever gets “evaluated” and nothing ever changes.
THE GRAND JURY also reminded the Board that nothing has changed since the last time the GJ looked at FCS: “The Grand Jury notes management is seeking outside help to analyze and correct the Departmental issues. However, the problems noted in the 2014-15 Report still need corrective action.”
SUPES RESPONSE: “Partially disagree. HHSA management has been working diligently to improve morale, increase training opportunities, improve response times and have an atmosphere of collaboration. HR has worked hard to fill vacancies since the 2014-15 report. The BOS has approved a pay increase of 3% for the next two years to include longevity pay and differential pay for certain areas.”
“WORKING DILIGENTLY.” … “Worked hard.” Right. Without that reporting the Board has no basis at all to say how hard anyone is working or whether that “work” is producing any results. The only thing true in this response is the last sentence, a simple reflection of the across the board pay raise the Board authorized a few months ago — which had nothing to do with the problem the Grand Jury was talking about.
AVA READERS comment on the department head pay raises...
re: “Adoption of Resolution Authorizing Adoption of Salary Grade Adjustments…”
If all of that money is available to spend on raising the pay of county department heads, how about using it to begin to re-staff the woefully inadequate departments instead? These raises are not justified by the fact that they are lower than other overpaid department heads. The other department head salaries should be lowered to be in line with these instead.
The county is getting so top heavy that it’s going to topple over. And it is the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to reign in the CEO. Many services have deteriorated and key positions are left unfilled yet the people at the top keep getting raises. Will the Board take a stand and be responsible with the county’s finances? Not if this remains on the consent calendar, along with the now standard consultant fees. Does anyone have totals of the amount spent by our county administration on the various consultants each fiscal year? How did they come to rely on them so heavily?
On August 1, the Department Heads signed off on a new MOU (available online under Mendo Government/Human Resources/Labor Relations) that runs from September 1, 2017 through August 31, 2019. It has the same general terms as the other bargaining units, meaning the 3% raise with $2000 cash each year. This was to occur September 1. So, it seems that these raises are in addition to and outside of the negotiating process. I would think the other units would show up to object. Also, keep in mind that in addition to the added benefits these folks get, they also have a dual retirement of defined pension AND deferred at 4% base match, both of which will add to the cost of the raises and increase the inequality gap of line staff and department heads.