Off the Record

by AVA News Service, September 9, 2010

LISA CHIAPERO still hasn't gotten her sulcatas back, but she and the equally committed Marty Moilanen have twice visited the giant tortoises at the County's Animal Shelter in Ukiah. Lisa and Marty (whom I misidentified last week as Mike Moilanen), were not pleased with the Shelter's accommodations. As it stands, Lisa says she's been assured she can get the three Sulcatas returned to her Fort Bragg reptile rescue operation if she builds them new quarters. Like many good people doing good things Lisa is short of cash to erect custom housing for the creatures. If you can help with a little money, please send it to The National Reptile Foundation, c/o Lisa Chiapero, Box 2533, Fort Bragg, Ca 95437. For $5 Lisa will send you a dvd of the visit she and Marty Moilanen made to the shelter to visit their hard shelled friends. I've never seen anything quite like what I saw on the dvd. I could have sworn the animals recognized Lisa and Marty. It may have been the vegan menu Lisa and Marty brought with them, but as soon as they arrived at the sparse dog run where the three tortoises are being held, all three hustled over to them.

MEASURE C, a 1/2 cent sales tax increase will appear on the November ballot. SEIU, the County labor union, commissioned a poll that says there is strong public support for increasing the sales tax to pay for “vital county services” like public safety, roads, libraries, and programs to benefit children, seniors and the disabled. On the strength of that poll, the Board of Supervisors voted to put the sales tax increase on the ballot.

THE MENDOCINO COUNTY Employer's Council immediately announced they would “vigorously” oppose the tax. The argument against, signed by Employer's Council President Margie Handley, criticizes the County for too much spending, no planning and no accountability, and laments adding to the burden of working families and seniors on fixed incomes. It is touching that the Employer's Council, dominated by real estate and developer moguls like Handley, John Mayfield, Dick Selzer, Paul Clark and Barbara and Monte Reed, have such concern for the downtrodden.

THE COUNCIL'S criticism of County spending rings true for many voters. Why vote to raise taxes when two of the people spending it are unwilling to take the same 10% pay cut they are forcing on everyone else? Or when one of them won’t simply write a check to repay improperly claimed travel and when that same one junkets off to Washington or Reno at the drop of a hat?

ON THE OTHER HAND, the Employer's Council good old boys and girls, who oppose frivolous government spending for libraries, schools and fire departments, make the Tea Party fanatics look like a bus load of nuns on barbiturates.

MOST OF THIS COUNTY'S medium to large size employers, including the hospitals, feel obligated to join the Employer's Council, for fear of getting blacklisted. The show is run by the Board of Directors which is self-appointed and self-perpetuating. The membership does not vote for the Board of Directors, or set policy. The irony is that the Employer's Council, which will not disclose its membership, is in the forefront of those calling for transparency in government.

THE ARGUMENT in favor of Measure C boldly proclaims the money will be spent for public safety, libraries, roads, and programs to help the children, seniors and the disabled. You can count on the liberals to always say they are doing it for the kids.

IT'S SIGNED by Board Chair Carre Brown, Deputy Sheriff's Association President Dan Edwards, Alliance for Rural Community Health Executive Director Kathy Frey, Willits Friends of the Library Treasurer Roger Adamson and Fort Bragg businessman Jim Hurst.

JOHN DICKERSON, who has rightly criticized the County and the retirement board for the “excess earnings” charade (and who wouldn't like to have excess earnings?) wrote the rebuttal to the argument in favor of the sales tax, dubbing it the “Pension Bailout Tax.” He claims none of the money will be spent for the vital services claimed by the proponents, but that it will all be spent to pay the County's long term debt, which he says will soar in years to come. No doubt the County has mismanaged its debt, but largely in the same way that cities and counties nationwide have done so.

PUBLIC EMPLOYEE pension funds are virtually all heavily invested in the Wall Street Ponzi scheme known as the stock market. The bet is that you “invest” a little bit of money in the market now and when you need to pay the worker's pension, most of the cost will be paid by the anticipated returns on the investment.

THAT WAS A GREAT plan right up until the bottom fell out of the global financial markets, a collapse driven by the kind of corporate greed and entitlement the Employer's Council usually endorses. The collapse was not only devastating to public employee pension systems, but to countless large and small investors, including many who saw their 401Ks become 201Ks overnight.

BUT IT IS UNDENIABLY true that the County is in a severe budget freefall with little reason to think revenues will soon return to previous levels. The current year final budget, set to be adopted September 14, shows an actual decline in spending from $233 million to $217 million. Much of the decline is in state and federal road funding for the Transportation Department, but almost every source of revenue is down and even the optimists don't see a rebound on the horizon for at least two or three years.

AS REVENUE has declined and State funding has been cut, especially for social services, the County has cut programs and laid off employees. Right now the County is halfway through salary negotiations with its eight bargaining units that so far has resulted in a permanent 10% pay cuts for all Department Heads, Management Employees, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Law Enforcement Manager’s Association.

FREY AND HURST, who signed the argument in favor of Measure C, also signed the rebuttal to the Employer’s Council argument against it. They were joined by Sheriff Tom Allman, Past President of Friends of Coast Community Library, Pearl Watts and Redwood Children’s Services Executive Director Camille Schrader who assert that the funds raised by Measure C will in fact be spent for “vital” County services.

DICKERSON, the pugnacious former Executive Director of the Employer’s Council, is perhaps best known locally for thumbing his nose at the Grand Jury over a decade ago when he was Executive Director of the Mendocino County Promotional Alliance. Since the Promotional Alliance was funded by $300,000. of taxpayer’s money, the Grand Jury thought they ought to be able to receive an accounting of how the money was spent.

BUT DICKERSON and the Promotional Alliance told the Grand Jury to shove it. Following an expensive court battle, the Superior Court, as is customary in Mendocino County, sided with wealth and privilege.

BASED ON ITS SIGNATORIES, the Measure C campaign appears to be shaping up as Cops, Kids and Libraries vs. the Employer’s Council while the latter hopes to make it a referendum on the Board of Supervisors.

IT REMAINS TO BE seen how much money the Employer’s Council will dump into the campaign to defeat Measure C.

IN THE END, the voters will be asked to choose between placing more money in the hands of the Supervisors, with all their misgivings about how the money will be spent, or watching as the parade of program cuts and layoffs continues.

97 CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATES oppose spending for the futile wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. Mike Thompson is not among them. Thompson of course is running for his umpteenth stay in Washington as the Northcoast's wine industry rep. He's opposed by the Invisible Green, Carol Wolman, and sacrificial Republican, Loren Hanks. The Republicans like Thompson so much they put zero money behind the local Republicans who take him on. This Hanks guy is on his own. Dr. Wolman is a good candidate — smart, articulate — burdened by the local wackos clustered around her led, of course, by The One True Green, Richard Johnson.

SPEAKING OF WACKS, the libs who turned out to oppose “privatization” as it affects outback trash disposal, made it sound as if Jerry Ward of Willits was the equivalent of the Bechtel Corporation's attempt to privatize Bolivia's municipal water systems. For many years, Ward has handled North County garbage at fair collection rates to his customers and no beefs from his workforce. So this guy's suddenly a villain? He's doing us and the County of Mendocino a huge favor in taking over the smallest transfer stations, all of them subsidized by the taxpayers at unsupportable amounts of annual money. Here's hoping Ward takes over Caspar, too. Trash is already privatized in Ukiah and every other gd place in America because there are some things that the warriors of free enterprise do better than the government can do them, and trash disposal is one of those things. Hell, look at it in a non sequitur kinda way: The Democrats and the Republicans are fully privatized and look at them.

LOIS NASH, the overpaid-underworked superintendent of the Ukiah schools, commutes to her Ukiah duties, whatever they are, from her home in L.A. Ukiah wants to build a new headquarters for Nash and her hard-hitting leadership team, and what exactly is wrong with their present headquarters in that old mortuary on North State, a perfect site for the braindead folks who run public schools?

NO SOONER did we go to press last week than it was announced that County Counsel Jeanine Nadel had referred the question of how to get Kendall Smith to pay back the $3,000 in purloined travel money she scammed the taxpayers for back in 2006. Guess where Nadel referred it to? The Sonoma County Counsel’s office, undoubtedly a foggy bottom office of blitherers comparable to Nadel's team in Ukiah.

TO RECAP: The Mendocino Grand Jury calculated that Smith owed the County for claiming reimbursement for non-existent travel. The Grand Jury “ordered” District Attorney Meredith Lintott to recover the money. Lintott first said she couldn’t prove “intent to defraud” and told the Grand Jury to take Smith to Small Claims court. The next two years of Grand Juries repeated the order to Lintott who continued to refuse. This year (a campaign year) Lintott “ordered” County Auditor Meredith Ford to dock Smith’s pay. Ford refused, saying she needed either a court order or a ruling from County Counsel Jeanine Nadel. After getting back from vacation last week, Nadel declared that she couldn’t issue a judgment on the question because she was the Board of Supervisors’ attorney of record and Smith is one of her “clients.” (Never mind that Smith stole the money by herself, not as a Board.) Nadel said she’d refer the question to the Sonoma County Counsel’s office. Then two days later, the Attorney General’s office finally got around to answering the Grand Jury’s request for an opinion on whether the District Attorney could use discretion on whether to prosecute or if the District Attorney had to comply with the Grand Jury’s order.

“DEAR MS. WYLIE, Foreperson, Grand Jury, County of Mendocino: August 24, 2010. Thank you for your letter dated June 14, 2010 which we received on August 3, 2010. Your letter requests an opinion from the Attorney General on the apparent conflict between Penal Code section 932, and the principle of a District Attorney's prosecutorial discretion. Unfortunately, we must decline your request. The Attorney General's authority to issue opinions on questions of law is limited by Government Code section 12519, and does not extend to grand juries. I regret that we could not be more helpful to you in this matter. Sincerely, Susan Duncan Lee, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, Opinion Unit. For Edmund G. Brown Jr., Attorney General.”

BUT THAT’S a self-serving interpretation too. Here’s the full text of Government Code Section 12519. “The Attorney General shall give his or her opinion in writing to any Member of the Legislature, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, State Lands Commission, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Insurance Commissioner, any state agency, and any county counsel, district attorney, or sheriff when requested, upon any question of law relating to their respective offices. The Attorney General shall give his or her opinion in writing to a city prosecuting attorney when requested, upon any question of law relating to criminal matters.”

NOTHING in that says they can’t give opinions to anyone else. It merely says who they must give opinions to. Never mind — the AG refuses to help.

THE NEXT THING you know the question of how to get the $3,000 back from Supervisor Smith will be referred back to Supervisor Smith who will start the process over again and the circle will be unbroken.

FOOTNOTE: Nadel told the Ukiah Daily Journal last week that the Sonoma County Counsel’s office “will report directly to [Auditor Meredith] Ford's office.” What do you wanna bet that Ford will not accept the Sonoma County Counsel’s office as sufficient legal authority?

JEN DEPARMA WRITES: “Sanctuary Forest and the Bureau of Land Management invite you to take a Mattole River Streamflow & Fish Hike in the Mattole River headwaters on Saturday, September 11, from 10am until 3pm. The hike will be led by Ray Lingel, Mattole Salmon Group board member, Tasha McKee, Co-Executive Director of Sanctuary Forest, and BLM geologist Sam Flanagan. Participants will hike in-stream among beautiful old growth forests, along shallow gravel reaches and deep bedrock pools and learn about geologic processes of the formations along the river, watershed function and watershed health, the Mattole low flow problem, and impacts of low flows on salmonid populations. Moderate exertion is involved on uneven and often slippery river bottom. River shoes and a walking stick are recommended and hikers must be prepared to get wet up to their waist and bring a lunch and water. Call 986-5415 to register. For a complete list of hikes, visit www.sanctuaryforest.org.”

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