Off the Record

by AVA News Service, September 2, 2010

SHERIFF TOM ALLMAN has endorsed Wendy Roberts for 5th District Supervisor.

IS THE WILLITS BYPASS a goner? Maybe, not that it was ever likely to have gone to construction. But the Army Corps of Engineers has missed a crucial permit deadline and Phil Dow of Mendocino Council of Governments or MCOG, on our end of the huge funding for the huge project confirmed Monday that the Bypass was in all likelihood finito, leaving the rest of us to wonder what will happen to the large pot of money MCOG has accumulated over the years to get the thing built?

WE'RE WITH DAVID DRELL. He said he always thought the bypass would get about halfway done before the money ran out, leaving Willits looking even more devastated than it does now.

MAN BEATER of the Week recognition goes to the lovely Ana Molina Perez, 25. Ana is five feet tall and weighs a fearsome 112 pounds. She hit her boy friend and he called the cops and again we ask, "Are there no real men left in Mendocino County?" Again we also hasten to say that if Ana snuck up on her guy with an ax as he slept well, yeah, he's got a beef, but just because she bopped him one he needs armed back-up?

SISTER YASMIN reminds us that the 11th annual Seafood and Harbor Festival, a benefit for the Point Arena Pier, will be held this Saturday, September 4th, noon to 6, at the Pier, music by Shotgun Wedding, The Pollinators, Cover Crop, and ol' Yazzle Dazzle herself.

HOPLAND NOTES: What's the story with the guy who sits in a folding chair all day every day just off the highway opposite the gate to Real Goods? I'll ask him myself when the weather cools down if he's still there, but maybe one of you could fill in the blanks before January of 2011. And the expensive Hopland sign at that fine little town's south end has been vandalized so it reads 'Ho Land,' which probably slays the pre-adolescents who did it but has become kinda tiresome to the rest of us.

THIS THING APPEARED as a half-page ad in last week's Independent Coast Observer. A sensible community would have stripped Iacuaniello naked and whipped him weeping clear across the Sonoma County line. And an honest teacher's organization, and I know when we talk teachers we're talking people with strong, nay overpowering nuzzlebutt tendencies, but an honest teacher's organization would apologize to the Point Arena and entire South Coast population for allowing Iacuaniello to fire Matt Murray, the first competent school administrator PA has seen in many a moon. So long as the Iacuaniellos of America are permitted to dominate American public education our children are doomed. PS. Natch, the final kiss-off to Mr. I doesn't mention that one of the "educators" paying for the ad was the perfectly pliable Paula Patterson, who Iacuaniello appointed to Matt Murray's position once Patterson had undermined Murray by rallying her lazy colleagues to oppose his reforms, primary among his insistence that teachers do their jobs. This was too much for the entrenched incompetents fostered by Iacuaniello, and soon Patterson, reinforced by Point Arena's spine-free school board, led the whining, and totally unsupported insurrection against Murray, who'd lifted the PA schools from its perennial place on state probation to acceptable. As soon as Murray left, PA's schools returned to "program improvement status."

GOOD NEW MOVIES include, "Mesrine: Killer Instinct," the best gangster movie I've ever seen, better than the Godfather because it doesn't glorify criminals like the Godfather movies do. Mesrine is apparently based on the adventures of a real guy, a bank robber mostly, who pulled off a series of spectacularly unreal crimes, becoming a kind of reverse national hero in France as he went. You think Marlon Brando was menacing in Godfather? Wait until you see the great Gerard Depardieu as a French crime boss. A truly great movie, and only Part One has been released. Another grisly cinematic adventure is a Brit film called "The Disappearance of Alice Creed," a harrowing tale of kidnap with a series of startling interludes, all of it masterfully acted as only the Brits seem capable of doing. Also worth seeing is a grim saga based on the true history of the French Resistance called "The Army of Crime." You know going in how it's going to come out – the heroes die, most of the collabos live on, with the entire subject still understandably sensitive in France where, if you didn't know better, you'd think the entire nation rose up to resist the Nazi Occupation while only a small percentage of the population took up arms against it. In fact, most of the population either cooperated or simply hunkered down until the Nazis were defeated. The movie is quite well done but painful watching.

CRAIG STEHR WRITES: "Please know that Book Zoo is moving to Oakland's Piedmont neighborhood. The new address is 14 Glen Street, around the corner from Peet's Coffee on Piedmont Ave. If you'd like to help with the move, contact Eric at (510)564-2665, at Book Zoo located on Telegraph Ave. at Alcatraz. By all means, bring some beer to share, and take your break on the overstuffed couch while reading the current issue of the Anderson Valley Advertiser! " Yes, and double Yes! A fine little book store run by people who still read books; the other one in Oakland is Walden Pond Books at 3316 Grand Avenue, not far from Lake Merritt.

MENDOCINO COUNTY has reduced its workforce by 377 persons over the past 36 months. From an employment peak of 1,577 full time employees in 2006 there are now 1,200, many of them looking nervously over their shoulder. The panjandrums of local government point to declining state and local revenues as the cause of these painful cuts neglecting, of course, to mention their own fumbling contributions to fiscal mismanagement. As The Great Shopping Spree winds down, the supervisors and their chief exec, Carmel Angelo, rather than whack more jobs themselves, have appointed the usual blue ribbon array of self-certified locals to advise them about who and what to whack next. Fiscal Year 2010/2011 is going to be grimmer than Fiscal Year 2009/2010 as the rest of the economic chickens flock to their roosts. "It is critical that the Board, County leadership, and community partners engage in a process of public policy development to prioritize and preserve future vital public services..... the Chief Executive Officer is recommending development of public policy workshops to assist the Board and County leadership with establishing service priorities, ultimately leading to funding and service recommendations for long-term organizational planning and development...." Baloney. The supervisors and Angelo are well-paid to make these decisions and they should make them without sloughing off authority on, groan, the intellectual equivalent of the Washington Senators: Al Beltrami, Terry Burns, Patricia Darland, Claire Ellis, Margie Handley, Anne Molgaard, Richard Shoemaker, Hal Wagenet, and Steve Zuieback "volunteer facilitator. " These are the people who got us where we are.

WHAT WOULD you say is the biggest problem facing Mendocino County today? Most people would say it’s the budget, the structural deficit, the increasing long-term debt and the County’s desperate and belated attempts to deal with it by low-end layoffs, cuts in hours and services, privatization while they leave people like themselves at the management level untouched, lush salaries and fringe packages untouched.

SO WHAT did Fifth District Supes candidates Wendy Roberts and Dan Hamburg talk about in last week’s Supes race wrap-up in the Ukiah Daily Journal? Off shore oil drilling, financial integrity in county government, whether candidates are supported by liberals or conservatives, how to generate jobs, solid waste privatization, the Marine Life Protection Act, and the life experiences of the candidates. Not one word about County management, declining revenues, low morale, the budget or any of its component problems.

ACCORDING to an informative piece by Linda Williams in last Wednesday’s Willits News, Mendocino county property tax revenues will be down another $1.16% for the current fiscal year. Last year property tax revenues fell 3.3%. This is the third year of decline. Most of the County’s general fund comes from property and sales taxes. 5% decline in property tax revenues represent about $1 million in total revenue losses to the County’s general fund.

THIS WEEK, COUNTY CEO Carmel Angelo proposed to cut the equivalent of 12.5 more County jobs. Combined with a hiring freeze over the last few years, Angelo's ax has choppa-chopped the County’s employment rolls to 1200, down from 1577. Among the proposed new layoffs is the County Museum staff of three people, which would seem to mean the closing of the Willits-based enterprise. That staff consists of former Social Services Director and former Assistant CEO Allison Glassey and Russ and Sylvia Bartley. Glassey was only recently shunted off to the Museum from the County Admin Center where she was assumed redundant. At the Museum, she continued to draw her lush salary of $110,000 a year. The Bartleys are retired academics who volunteer much of their time. They'd not only kept the Museum alive when its curators moved on, the Bartleys brought in new collections and brought order to existing collections.

WE'VE THOUGHT for years that the entire County history effort should be combined under the auspices of the Held-Poage Library, a private volunteer entity based in Ukiah whose archive already contains much of the true history of the County, including an impressive newspaper trove, which is readily retrievable. For years now, Held-Poage has been the sole reliable repository of County history. In Ukiah, H-P is more accessible to more people and its collections are much more comprehensive than the County Museum's because Held-Poage pre-dates the County's effort and benefits from an effective core of volunteers. The County Museum has much more space than Held-Poage, and much of the stuff housed at the County Museum includes artifacts too large for Held-Poage. These artifacts include a hippie van, a pre-War Willits lunch counter, horse-drawn wagons and so on. Held-Poage is books, documents, newspapers. But both Held-Poage and the County would profit from a merger.

OF COURSE COUNTY HISTORY has always been pretty hazy, perhaps because so much of it is so shameful, beginning with the mass murder of Indians and on through a local racism so intense that it wasn't until the early sixties a black person could live comfortably in Fort Bragg. And not to even mention the thriving Mendo Klan of the 1920s and astonishing unsolved crimes like the 1987 Fort Bragg Fires and the so-called "mystery" of the Judi Bari interlude. Not to worry, though, history mavens; I've got the goods in my archives, some of them already stored at UC Davis, some at the County Museum in Willits, but the real hot stuff I'm keeping with special instructions to my heirs to copy and air drop on the County Courthouse after I'm gone.

THE COUNTY'S four-person Water Agency has existed on the edge of extinction for three years. It looks like it will at last be shoved over the side. Roland Sanford was paid a hundred thou a year, his hydrologist $80,000. The Museum and the Water Agency are described as "not core functions of the County” in the thinking of the new austerity. A Juvenile Hall supervisor is also proposed for layoff, and several other positions will be reassigned to funding sources other than the General Fund. CEO Angelo figures these cuts and reassignments will save the County about $1 million a year.

MENDOCINO COUNTY more and more resembles that old cartoon depicting a lifeless office, skeletons draped over their last desks as a disembodied voice announces, "We are pleased to announce that the water cooler has been repaired."

WE HEAR that the Scout Lake negotiations with the Boy Scout officials in the Bay Area have bogged down in recent months because the County isn’t willing to actually “negotiate.” The Boy Scouts have told the County that flooding the area and putting more of the lake basin under water would cover up their existing recreational facilities and they want some kind of arrangement with the County to compensate for the loss (or relocation) of those facilities. The County either can’t or won’t provide any compensation and the Boy Scouts have stopped “negotiating.”

SO IF PINCHES agrees with eliminating the Water Agency (which was always something of a luxury and very difficult to fund in these declining days) that would be an admission that his one pet project – Scout Lake – is, ahem, dead in the water, and all the money they spent on feasibility studies was wasted.

ANOTHER MEMO from CEO Angelo is entitled “FY 2010-2011 CEO Department Visits,” and reads: “As we proceed with final budget hearings, the Executive Office would like to inform the Board that 25 department visits were completed over the past six weeks. The purpose of the visits was to dialog with staff and answer questions about the FY 2010-2011 budget.” After rattling off the usual clichés about the difficulty (aka “challenge”) of balancing the budget and how important services and staff are to the County, Angelo then summarizes, “questions repeatedly asked from all departments”– Why can’t we take Mandatory Time Off instead of a wage reduction? Why are departments who are consistently giving asked to give more? What is this county doing about economic development? Will there be more privatizations? When will the budget crisis end? Why do we have to give up money when we are state and federal funded? Why doesn’t the County go to a 32 or 36 hour work week? Angelo's blandly disingenuous answer: “While the questions were challenging, the experience was positive in that departments were engaged in dialog and appreciative of the Executive Office efforts. Just as the same questions came up in all departments, the two common themes that resurfaced were ongoing communication and low morale. The Executive Office will make every effort to keep the lines of communication open and to listen to staff suggestions. Within the next few weeks, you will see a suggestion box located outside the Executive Office. Our hope is that staff will have more opportunity to have their ideas and comments be heard and to participate in structuring an improved county government.”

LET’S SEE if we can answer them for her. Q: Why can’t we take Mandatory Time Off instead of a wage reduction? A: Because wage reductions produce more net savings by also reducing benefits. Q: Why are departments who are consistently giving asked to give more? A: Because they are the biggest departments. Q: What is this county doing about economic development? A: Nothing. Q: Will there be more privatizations? A: Yes, probably Information Services and the County fleet maintenance garage. Q: When will the budget crisis end? A: Never, and expect blood in the streets by next summer. Q: Why do we have to give up money when we are state and federal funded? A: Because only a teensy bit of some salaries is paid out of the General Fund and preserving the General Fund is all we care about right now. A: Why doesn’t the County go to a 32 or 36 hour work week? A: We tried that and it didn’t save enough money.

IF THESE ANSWERS are even close to what Angelo and the Board of Supervisors are thinking, then we predict very difficult union negotiations in the upcoming weeks, especially with the County’s largest employee union, the Services Employees International Union. From what we’re hearing, the union isn't willing to accept any more salary cuts, much less the 10% cut that law enforcement agreed to recently. The County will probably hope that by asking for a 20% or more cut, the union will settle for 10%. But a more likely scenario is a few fruitless negotiations sessions followed by a declaration of impasse, an invitation to a state mediator who will not get any further, a postponement of reckoning until after the November election when the County might get a half-cent sales tax increase approved, but if it’s not approved, another round of big layoffs to make up the blossoming deficit. And if big layoffs are required, it will probably include the Sheriff’s Department, which will produce a serious outcry from citizens, and the bond rating agencies will downgrade Mendocino to full junk-bond status and then … well, our crystal ball has already been strained to capacity. However, it seems likely that some form bankruptcy is not that far off.

A HEADLINE in last Tuesday’s Ukiah Daily Journal read: “8 facing theft, embezzlement charges over Hopland casino slot machines.” The article, by UDJ reporter Tiffany Revelle, went on to describe the charges and name the defendants based on a 2008 State Department of Justice's Bureau of Gambling Control investigation of the Hopland Casino. According to the charges “Former casino employee Joan Elizabeth Pickron, 42, of Ukiah, and seven alleged cohorts reportedly embezzled more than $102,000 by manipulat(ing) jackpot slot machines to cheat the casino." From what we gather the “manipulation” involved using a special “override” provision in the Casino’s procedures to pay out false jackpots to selected “winners.” The DA then filed charges against Joan Elizabeth Pickron, 42, of Ukiah, and seven alleged cohorts – Alex Ralph Martin, 47, of Ukiah; Teresa Marie Miller, 40, of Clearlake; John Steven Glass Jr., 38, of Ukiah; Mary Ann Moore, age and residence unavailable; Roberta Lynn Reeder, age and residence unavailable; Thomas Jay Williams, age and residence unavailable; and Gloria Marie Nelson, age and residence unavailable.

THEN ON FRIDAY, only three days later, the Journal ran a follow-up story by Ms. Revelle. “Charges against Nice woman dropped in casino embezzlement case.” (That's the Lake County city called "Nice," not a Nice woman charged with a felony.) One of the people charged with felony embezzlement was a 77 year old Lake County woman named Gloria Marie Nelson. Somehow Ms. Nelson was lucky enough to have Ukiah attorney Keith Faulder appointed to her case; Faulder immediately noted that the charges against Ms. Nelson were bogus. “Her signature was forged," Faulder said. A signature reading “G. Nelson” appears on an override ticket for a $1,000 jackpot. Faulder said it was obvious that the signature on the override ticket didn’t match the one on Ms. Nelson's Driver’s license. Faulder showed a copy of the signed override ticket used as the basis for the charges and a copy of Nelson's driver’s license signature to Norman who quickly agreed to drop the charges against Nelson and apologized to Faulder and the aging Ms. Nelson. Faulder said Friday that this is an indication that charges are being filed against people without adequate review. If the DA’s office had made even a cursory evaluation of the evidence, they would never have charged Ms. Nelson and wrung her through the court system unnecessarily.

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