Off the Record
by AVA News Service, August 26, 2010
THE DOG PEOPLE. Don't mess with them. You get bit no matter how you write the story, and Bruce McEwen's account of the struggle for Nutmeg in last week's paper has us up to our eyeballs in letters-to-the-editor, all of them saying, in amusing detail, how purely awful the other people are. I thought the story was not only true, it was a scrupulously fair account of what happened. We heard from everyone except Nutmeg, and I'm not ruling him out. KC Meadows, editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal, did call to tell us she'd been on vacation and “a whole bunch of letters to her paper were backed up in the pipeline.” KC said the Nutmeg letter that we assumed was so old it had gone to letter heaven would eventually appear. Other than that mistake, well, bow-wow and woof-woof.
LAST WEEK, I listened to an hour's discussion on KQED Radio about bringing America's Cup to San Francisco Bay. America's last fully civilized talk show host, Michael Krasny, was on vacation, but his substitutes are pretty good. Like the master, they're informed and they keep themselves out of the conversation except to keep it moving along. (KZYX could take lessons, but their talk people range from unteachable to certifiable, and way beyond instruction.) San Francisco's mayor, and almost everybody else, wants to bring the America's Cup yacht race to San Francisco Bay, which is fine with me, a big fan of large-scale spectacle. I also enjoy the small scale spectacle available round the clock on many City streets, but we're talking a kind of water borne polo here, sport of the emperors of capitalism, world class debauche in the town built on excess, an event the rabble seldom gets to see. As the promoters kept saying on the radio, San Francisco's hills offer a natural amphitheater for a big boat race in the Bay where us spectacle people have always gathered for the Blue Angels and mammoth ocean liners squeezing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and would be sure to gather for this unprecedented Frisco event. but I wondered about some of the things the race's promoters claimed. A couple of them said America's Cup was like World Cup Soccer, the World Series, a heavyweight championship fight, and whatever it is golfers do for their big trophies — all these sports rolled into one. The promoters claimed that more of the world's people follow yacht racing than all these other sports put together. Which is the first time this sports fan has ever heard that claim asserted. Yacht racing to me is about as remote as Jai-Alai. I also wondered about the mechanics of a big boat race in San Francisco Bay. Larry Ellison's boat features a mast so tall they had to take it down a couple of feet to get it under the Golden Gate, and the boat itself is what? A couple of hundred feet? The other of the world's yacht moguls enter boats at least as big. I assumed all of them would sail on out the Golden Gate and turn around at the Farallones for the race back, but the people on the radio said the race would be confined to the Bay itself with a turn around at Alcatraz which, to me, would be like racing a couple of destroyers in my bathtub. But then, what do I know? However they race these things I'll be at my post at the top of the Lyon Street Stairs, cheering on the American boats.
NOT BEING a conspiracy-minded guy, I can't help but wonder at the back door machinations that undoubtedly went into the recent botch-up of the County's garbage collection by County garbage czar, Mike Sweeney. Sweeney all by himself is a one-man catalogue of conspiracies. A devious little fellow twice as smart as the dull-not-so-normals he deals with in County government, Sweeney knew that unless Fort Bragg was all the way on board for the privatization of the County's trash transfer stations the deal would become a financial burden for Jerry Ward of Willits who had agreed to operate the stations as part of his successful North County garbage ops. The County had subsidized trash pick-up for Fort Bragg and the County's outback communities for years, and subsidized them at unaffordable rates approaching $300,000 a year. Ward said he could do the job with the existing employees paid at their present levels and keep trash rates down in the bargain. The risk was all his. But Fort Bragg was not all the way on board for the deal. Fort Bragg wasn't on board at all, but Sweeney presented the deal with Ward to the supervisors as a done deal and the supervisors presented it to the rest of us as a done deal, going so far as to fire all the County employees manning the County's far-flung network of transfer stations, including the employees at Caspar where Fort Bragg offloads its huge mound of trash as an immediate cost-saving measure. Without the Caspar station, Ward is left with the less lucrative, smaller outback stations. Fort Bragg was crucial to him. Ten years ago, Jim Shields, then writing for the AVA and his own Mendocino County Observer out of Laytonville, published memos written by Sweeney and then-supervisor Richard Shoemaker in which Sweeney and Shoemaker discussed ways of bad mouthing Ward, how to undermine the guy's reputation which, as it turned out, was solid enough to easily survive the machinations of the two creeps plotting against him. Now it's 2010 and Ward is again undermined by Sweeney who now claims he thought Fort Bragg was a done deal. Sweeney was in charge of doing the contract. If Fort Bragg wasn't in he would have to know they weren't in. Ward's other old nemesis, Shoemaker, a pal of Sweeney's from way back, is the long-time love interest of Linda Ruffing, Fort Bragg City Manager. I smell two rats here for sure. Maybe three.
RECOMMENDED READING: “Field Days — A year of farming, eating, and drinking wine in California” by Jonah Raskin. Ernest Callenbach is quoted on the cover: “Anybody who reads this book will gain a new appreciation of this new generation of farmers.” I did. All the while I was reading along I was thinking about all the small farms of the non-marijuana type that have sprung up in every part of Mendocino County. If Dr. Raskin had changed some of the names of his Sonoma County farmers you'd think he'd been touring Mendocino County where small-scale ag is the most interesting thing going.
THE OMNI-TALENTED LAWRENCE BULLOCK, musician and poet, appears in concert Saturday afternoon, August 21st, 3pm at the Helen Schoeni Theater, Mendocino. Bullock's play, The Fairy Wife is in production at the prestigious Producer's Club, New York City. This guy's a hoot, and worth every penny of the admission price of ten bucks at the Helen Schoeni.
LONG-TIME Ukiah resident and local videographer Jimmy Rickel is in a battle with the owners of the Mobile Country Club mobile home park where he lives on North State Street. Rickel believes the owners are charging too much for water at the park and has filed suit in small claims court to get his money back and has lambasted the owners on his cable TV show on Channel 56. The owners filed a counter action against Rickel for defamation of character, demanding a restraining order against his broadcasting his views about their operation. They also filed against Comcast cable for allowing Rickel to broadcast his views. Comcast submitted a lengthy rebuttal to the owners citing numerous court precedents about how the cable industry cannot be held responsible for the editorial content of its programming. Rickel was represented by local attorney Barry Vogel. The owners lost the first round when sitting judge John Behnke denied a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction against Rickel or Comcast citing technical errors with the filing and also a lack of evidence. Rickel’s suit goes forward on September 1. With the help of Redwood Legal Services, Rickel has prepared a case asking for $7500 in back water fees and hopes that the owners will be forced to repay all the park's residents. (KC Meadows)
AS PREDICTED, the Board of Supervisors, by a 3-2 vote (Supervisors Colfax and Smith dissenting) officially turned over the operation of five of the six county-operated trash transfer stations to Jerry Ward’s Solid Waste of Willits. Ward would also have assumed responsibility for all six but Mike Sweeney, the County's hundred thou (including a handsome benefit package) garbage guy, failed to ensure Fort Bragg's participation before presenting the deal to the Supervisors and the Supervisors didn’t seem to care. Sweeney's hold on official Mendocino County remains a mystery. He created his present job right down to his handsome pay package. Sweeney has been involved in local trash matters for twenty years now as rates have sky-rocketed, roadside trash has accumulated and County trash policy has become a morass of competing agencies and enterprises with only one clear beneficiary — Sweeney.
DURING THE three-hour discussion of trash privatization last week with its predestined outcome there were opposed fulminations from professional Democrat Joe Wildman and The One True Green, Richard Johnson, who made it seem as if Dick Cheney were poised to privatize Mendocino County's liberals and sell them off to Arab slave traders. Ukiah's and Willits' trash operations are already privately owned, as is almost all of America's trash collection. Supervisor McCowen has said the County-subsidized transfer stations have been costing the County at least $300,000 annually, and that the deal with Solid Waste of Willits would eliminate the County's annual subsidy and guarantee stable curbside rates.
BUT WITHOUT CASPAR, where the largest volume of County-subsidized trash is processed, McCowen's claim that the County’s cost of transfer station operations would be “eliminated” is, well, mysterious.
THE CASPAR-FORT BRAGG transfer station will still be jointly operated by the County and Fort Bragg, although most of the County’s solid waste staff has been laid off. The cost savings that were supposed to accrue to the County from privatization are now substantially less because Caspar represents about half of the trash volume of the (previously) County-run transfer stations. We assume that at some point somebody, probably the County’s capable Transportation Director Howard Deshield, will point out to the bumbling leadership that the Caspar problem remains unaddressed. The Supes will then proceed to screw that up too, either by jacking up rates more than Fort Bragg will be willing to pay, or by assigning untrained people to operate the place. The Board may find additional ways to screw things up that we cannot anticipate at this time. Stay tuned.
CALVIN WALKER, the Ukiah man who filed a small claims suit against Fifth District Supes candidate Dan Hamburg, withdrew his claim last week in the aftermath of what most observers assume was a pre-trial cash deal rumored to be worth $10,000 to Mr. Walker. Mr. Walker had alleged that Hamburg owed him money Mr. Walker said he'd earned tending a Hamburg-sponsored medical marijuana grow.
UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL Editor K.C. Meadows told us last week that the letter mentioned in Bruce McEwen's Nutmeg article last week which was thought to have been “deep-sixed” at the Daily Journal has NOT been 86'd and will run. The UDJ gets a lot of letters, said Meadows, and sometimes it takes a few days for them to make it into print. Meadows says Ms. Wallis Williams' letter will indeed run any day now.
DA MEREDITH LINTOTT has directed County Auditor Meredith Ford to dock Supervisor Kendall Smith’s pay to recover the $3,087 Smith got in County travel reimbursements for travel she didn't travel. Previous grand juries said Supervisor Colfax also received County money for travel untraveled but Colfax, a lifelong nickel-noser with years of off-the-books chiseling experience, was able to conceal his petty thefts. Smith wasn't.
AS OUR EXHAUSTED readers are aware, we've covered Smith’s TravelGate case at length, but one new bit of info provided by the Grand Jury is a statement by DA Lintott confirming 1. That Smith has absolutely no right to the money, and 2. Smith had previously told the DA she would pay the money back only to renege and retreat behind cretinously transparent wrong-headed interpretations of the County’s then-travel policy (since watered down by Smith and Colfax so that they no longer have to document their travel or commuting, thereby avoiding any pesky questions from the Grand Jury).
IN CRITICIZING the District Attorney for not pursuing Smith to get the $3,087 back the Grand Jury wrote, “California Penal Code 932 clearly states that the District Attorney shall [our emphasis] ‘institute and maintain an action’ to recover money due to the county.” Lintott responded last week with a self-canceling tautology: “Penal Code 932 is simply authority for a District Attorney to exercise discretion to maintain an action. Allow it to speak for itself: ‘after investigating the books and accounts of the various officials of the county, as provided in the foregoing sections of this article, the Grand Jury may order [our italics] the District Attorney of the County to institute suit to recover any money that, in the judgment of the Grand Jury, may from any cause be due to the county. The order of the Grand Jury, certified by the foreman of the Grand Jury and filed with the clerk of the Superior Court of the county, shall be full authority for the district attorney to institute and maintain any such suit.”
THE GRAND JURY also found that “the District Attorney continues to say that she did not file suit because ‘there was insufficient evidence of intent’.”
LINTOTT, who stresses her “experience and integrity” in her campaign literature, replied, “The current District Attorney has chosen to recommend [our italics] an alternative method that will fully reimburse the county without the expense of a lawsuit and the evidentiary problems of a lawsuit, to recommend [our italics] that the Auditor, under the authority of Government Code section 53232.4, commence payroll deductions. The same purpose is achieved at much less cost to the county.” (Any candidate for any office who tells the voters he or she is a person of integrity shares the same level of integrity with those candidates who pimp their families at election time; you know, those heartwarming photos of the candidate, every plastic hair in place, his obviously drugged wife, their kids from multiple marriages, and a big shaggy dog they borrowed from a neighbor. Female candidates are heavier on the kids and the dog because the old man is generally unpresentable.)
DA LINTOTT, four years after the fact, has finally agreed that Smith should pay the money back. “However,” said Lintott last week, “in an effort to collect the claimed overpayment, the District attorney has issued an ‘order’ to the Auditor-Controller directing that the overpayment be collected via payroll deductions. Said order is made pursuant to government code 53232.4(b).”
SO, IN ONE MEMO Lintott first calls it a “recommendation,” then call it an “order” (putting the word “order” in quotes, even). Lintott concludes to the Grand Jury, “Hopefully, this simple remedy, which will not require a lawsuit, will prove effective in settling the overpayment without the cost and expense of trial.”
LINTOTT is in a tight race with Dave Eyster for DA and it would appear that Lintott’s newly created “order” is motivated more by political timing than principle.
THE PACKAGE from the Grand Jury also includes a letter from DA Lintott to Meredith Ford, Mendocino County Auditor-Controller. “Pursuant to Government Code section 53232.4, you are hereby directed [our italics] to immediately commence payroll deductions from supervisor Kendall Smith’s payroll checks until the sum of $3087 is paid in full.”
AND THERE'S A LETTER from District Attorney Lintott to James L. Larson Esq. of Fort Bragg dated March 24, 2008: “From our last conversation I understand that you no longer represent Ms. Smith in this matter. I respectfully request that you either forward this correspondent to Ms. Smith's new counsel or directly to Ms. Smith as the case may be. Recently, I have had two sessions with the Grand Jury pertaining to Kendall’s travel claims. I wish to assure you that the Grand Jury intends to pursue reimbursement to the County by Kendall for trips she claimed between Fort Bragg and Ukiah when there was no actual travel and when her cost of overnight lodging was little or nothing because she either stayed with friends or in a room which she rented for $100 per month.”
SO DA LINTOTT 1. Refers to Supervisor Smith in the overly familiar form “Kendall,” 2) Admits as far back as 2008 that Supervisor Smith had received money for travel not traveled, and 3) Couldn’t devise her “order” to Auditor Ford to dock Smith’s pay until August of 2010.
BUT IF YOU THINK that an “order” from the DA “directing” the County Auditor to garnish Smith’s wages to get the money back would be the end of the story, you 1. Wouldn’t be even close to being correct and 2. Don’t know Mendo.
COUNTY AUDITOR Ford immediately announced she would not dock Smith’s pay without consulting County Counsel Jeanine Nadel. “I forwarded Meredith Lintott's letter to County Counsel for her to render an opinion about whether I have the legal authority to do that,” Ford told the UDJ. “It hasn't come back yet.” “The grand jury determined it was overpayment,” Ford told the UDJ, failing to mention that Ford herself had calculated that the amount owed was closer to $3,700 back in 2007. Ford told the UDJ that she needs a legal judgment from “a court of law” to deduct anything from Smith's pay. “As the payer of county employees, I can't in my own mind justify taking away pay without the legal authority to do so,” Ford said.
TRYING as hard as she could to follow the bouncing order, UDJ reporter Tiffany Revelle then called Ms. Nadel. Nadel told the UDJ that Ford asked “for an opinion on whether she can automatically deduct payments from a payroll check without a court order.” And Nadel told the UDJ that she intends to issue an opinion when she returns on August 30 from vacation!
“I’VE ALWAYS been of the opinion that she owes the money,” Lintott told the UDJ, although until recently Lintott hasn’t done anything about it. “It's just a matter of how to collect it. This particular circumstance with this supervisor is an unusual one … When I was researching this issue, there was nothing to look at to know how to handle this.”
NOTHING, that is, but the Grand Jury’s order to collect the money.