by Mark Scaramella, November 15, 2017
A likely explanation of the abrupt departure of former Assistant CEO Alan Flora came to light last Tuesday in what seemed disguised as “retroactive” approval of payments to the contractors hired for the insurance-paid restoration work on the Social Services building next door to the Ukiah Co-op and in the County Museum, Willits. The Social Services building suffered a good bit of internal damage after a water pipe broke and flooded the office over a weekend last year. The Museum needed a lot of mold removal, some of which wasn’t discovered until the contractor was well into the job. Willits Weekly reporter Mike A’Dair caught the brief mention of the “Assistant CEO” (not his name) and reported on it in the WW’s November 9 edition, prompting us to go back to the video of that meeting of the Supervisors.
Background: The overruns on the Museum and Social Services facilities contracts happened after the overruns on the Northern California Construction Training Inc. (NCCT), which occurred when former Chief Probation Officer Pamela Markham told the training outfit to continue on for six more months even though the contract explicitly required prior Board authorization to continue.
Ms. Markham was fired for in-house sexual hijinks but never censured for this irresponsible and expensive decision either during her tenure or while on lengthy paid administrative leave while her termination was sorted out by the local judiciary. The Supervisors paid the extra money authorized by Markham to the contractor even after Supervisor John McCowen pointed out that it was against policy and set a bad precedent, that precedent being paying for services either not authorized by the Board, not rendered or rendered so badly as to amount to the same thing.
Then we had the $300,000 overrun on a legal services contract with an outside San Francisco law firm called Liebert Cassady Whitmore arranged by County Counsel Katherine Elliott. She farmed out the “investigations” of Markham to the San Francisco firm, and also a civil rights lawsuit filed by former Deputy Counsel Joan Turner who accused former County Counsel Doug Losak of violating her civil rights.
Ms. Turner alleged that while she was out on leave for one or more medical conditions, instead of accommodating her medical needs, Losak, apparently concluding his missing staffer was malingering, singled her out, Ms. Turner alleged, for retaliation and discrimination based on age, gender and medical condition. The case lingered, becoming a black hole for wasteful lawyer spending. It’s not clear at this point if the County’s insurance will cover it because the case is still pending. But the contract issue should have been managed by the County Counsel’s office.
(If you are beginning to suspect County officials are profligate with public money, you're at least a quarter century behind the profligacy curve.)
So we had two more cost overruns for clearly necessary work at the County Museum and the County's Social Service's bunker which Mr. Flora did not cause and had nothing to do with while the County paid the huge bills run up by San Francisco lawyers for a preposterous beef in the County's own office of lawyers while an incompetent "training company" was also paid off for unauthorized work without anyone at the County's command positions uttering a single publicly audible question about any of it at the time it occurred.
The “retroactive” approvals for the Museum and Social Services Building work last Tuesday were described by CEO staffers Heather Corral and Deputy CEO Janelle Rau and commented on briefly by Board Chair John McCowen.
Corral: “During the reconciliation of this project we discovered that the amendments to the project were actually not done correctly and that they should have been returned to this board and they were not. So to reconcile this project we need to be able to pay out the final amount and request reimbursement from our insurance agency.”
McCowen: “Obviously as stated this should have been brought to the board for approval and it appears that the Assistant CEO at the time signed off on these outside of policy. So here we are to give the retroactive approval. This is insurance reimbursable so there is no additional general fund expense.”
Rau: “This [the Museum work] was not determined to be an emergency so it's a bit different. But pursuant to the public contract code and board policy that should have been returned following standard practice as a contract change order and presented to the Board. Again under the reconciliation of the Project for final board approval this action gives final approval to the contract.”
McCowen: “Again this was signed off on by the Assistant CEO at the time without bringing it forward.”
CEO Carmel Angelo emphasized that the county's insurance carrier will likely pay for nearly all of the overrun costs: “What will happen is we will pay some, they will pay some, and then they will come back and pay most of what we paid. We will end up paying a relatively small amount, like $10,000.”
CEO Angelo added, “These will make three [sic, actually four] items that came out of our risk unit, where more money was spent than was authorized by the board. I want to assure the board that this is the end. You will not see this again.”
Ms. Angelo was saying that since Mr. Flora is gone the “problem” is solved!
So we have these other two overruns for work that was clearly necessary, that nobody objected to, that was not known to be required at the time of the bids and contract awards, having been discovered during the work, and which was almost entirely covered by insurance, and Alan Flora, of all people, is fired for authorizing the work without first bringing it to the Board? No mention of Losak, Elliott, Angelo, Markham, or the General Services Department which administers all contracts?
Something tells us that Ms. Angelo’s firm assurance that the board “will not see this again” a) has more to do with the unrelated departures of Losak and Markham, and 2) is simply not true.
Bottom line: Alan Flora was fired (scapegoated) for authorizing obviously necessary work (that may have been time-sensitive so the Flora may have saved money if contractor would have had to stop work and then re-start by going back to the Board, thus costing even more), while the people who caused or allowed the overruns go uncensured and unpunished.
Supervisor Dan Hamburg reported last week: “While I was down in Santa Rosa I spoke to Geof Syphers, who is the CEO, the very capable CEO, of Sonoma Clean Power and he had just been on the phone that morning with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He got a call from them with respect to the wildfires. They were soliciting his input regarding improvements in infrastructure and what would be advisable for the future to prevent future events like this and make us more resilient, more able to contain these kinds of events once they start. It was the first time I've heard that FERC was involved in this. Geof told me that his major input to them was around the issue of undergrounding. It costs about twice as much to underground as poling and cable. It's about $1 million a mile versus about half a $1 million a mile. But when you look at the many billions of dollars that this fire will finally cost out at it becomes more feasible to look at this. I was just glad to know that this was on the horizon. We are putting together a letter to the telcos about something done in San Diego County which was after the Cedar Fire in 2003. They embarked on a major underground utility program through a public private partnership. So we are urging the telcos to look at that as a possibility. And I think FERC is pushing in that direction. I think it's something we will probably hear more about.”
Another Mental Health Facility?
This week, the Supervisors will consider applying for a $4,837,500 grant on a Mental Health Crisis Facility. But, but, but… Didn’t we just vote for one? Yes, we did. But this facility on Orchard near the DMV would be called a “72-hour crisis stabilization unit so that some clients can be diverted from the hospital to a ten-bed crisis residential home for adults needing mental health intervention and support.” The nearly $5 mil would house people who will eventually be covered by a facility created out of Measure B funding, and perhaps a long overdue emergency response team. Think of it as interim until the sales tax proceeds start rolling in, sort of. (Or, if you’re inclined towards negativity, think of it as a way to pad the mental health contracts with Redwood Community Services.)
Mendo’s Corporate Investments:
Apple Inc: $1,850,000
American Honda Finance: $1,800,000
Cisco Systems: $1,800,000
Intel Corp: $1,750,000
Paccar Financial Corp*: $1,725,000
Costco Wholesale Corp: $1,700,000
John Deere Capital Corp: $1,700,000
Qualcomm Inc: $1,700,000
Bank of NY Mellon Corp: $1,700,000
Wells Fargo Corp: $1,600,000
Berkshire Hathaway: $1,500,000
IBM Corp: $1,480,000
Oracle Corp: $1,400,000
Charles Schwab Corp: $1,250,000
US Bancorp: $890,000
Home Depot: $200,000
*Paccar Financial is a credit bureau that specializes in big-rig purchases. Praxair sells industrial gasses.