4850, 5150…187

by Mark Scaramella, December 16, 2010

Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors Meeting was oddly serene given the County’s hemorrhaging budget, especially as it affects The Sheriff’s Department. Out in Sheriff Allman's office there's a frantic effort underway to save money without laying off patrol deputies and key staff. Patrol in the Ukiah Valley has been essentially eliminated in favor of dispatch after the fact. Deputies, like firemen, wait for a call to come in then dash out to nab the malefactors. Response times are of course slower than they would be when deputies were already in their cars in the area. The deputies who take to their patrol cars must double-up.

An overnight holding cell on the Coast to reduce deputy transport time, and an arraignment court at the Jail to reduce transport time back and forth to the Courthouse in downtown Ukiah would save the Sheriff a lot of money, but neither of these straightforward and widely accepted proposals are being considered. The arraignment court at the jail is blocked by the Superior Court judges. As one cynic put it, "If the usual suspects were processed at the jail, an efficient, competent judge could handle them in half a day, but then people might ask why we need all the judges we have downtown." Mendocino County has more Superior Court judges — nine of them — in relation to the population of Mendocino County than any other county in the state.

As the budget burned, the Board of Supervisors fiddled. They took a couple of hours handing out service pins, ironically all the Sheriff’s service awards had to be presented to Sheriff Allman because the recipients were “out on patrol,” whatever that may mean these days.

Covelo took up a large chunk of time and suffered as a result. First dump fees at the Covelo transfer station are going way up from $16.25 per cubic yard (i.e., a pickup load) to $22.00 per. The reason? The usual reason: The County has no money — so the subsidy that the County had been giving to Covelo to offset the dump truck distances involved was eliminated.

Things have deteriorated to the point that we don’t really need a Board of Supervisors anymore since all they do these days is approve cuts whenever staff proposes them. The rest of the “business” the Supes do is irrelevant to the true business of local government. They issue proclamations and announce that there's no money, so the next level of service has to go.

Covelo, an ongoing crime scene, is about to lose their resident deputies. Even though the Sheriff lined up a federal community policing grant, pending layoffs in the Sheriff’s Department will push the recently hired Covelo deputies off the payroll sooner than anyone else.

“I can't imagine being able to field deputies in all three sectors (Ukiah, Fort Bragg, Willits) if we lose five more,” Allman told Ukiah Daily Journal editor K.C. Meadows last week. Allman says he will also have to lay off two corrections officers from the jail. If he has to lay off five patrol deputies, Allman said there’d be two less in Fort Bragg, the Covelo deputy plus additional layoffs in Fort Bragg and Willits when two sergeants are demoted. There’s also some chance that Allman will reduce some senior deputies from Deputy II to Deputy I to save more money.

Allman is already down to eleven sergeants, having been authorized up to 24 as recently as last year. Considering that the Department has to cover 24/7 calls over a very large geographical area in addition to the department’s other key functions — investigations, internal affairs, drug policing, and coroner duties. “People don't understand the impact they're going to see,” if more layoffs take place, Allman said. “I don't want to change the Bookmobile into the Bookingmobile, but we have to find more non-essential services to cut. … Nobody likes to be pushed into a corner.”

During a drifting discussion of the overpriced Technicolor draft version of the Ukiah Valley Area Plan, Supervisor Colfax rightly complained about the cost of producing such a fancy document at a time when the County at least claims to be trying to live frugally. Colfax, as always producing his own scant credentials, grumbled that he’d been a consultant in the past and implied he’s going to go back to being a consultant in the future and that he’d never waste money on fancy color Government Plans. He had a point — the UVAP is unnecessarily fancy — but coming from Colfax — there was no response.

Colfax is like the crazy uncle who suddenly appears at family dinners. Uncle Crazy Man delivers a brief, irrelevant rant before he's hustled back to his attic. Everyone knows that Colfax chiseled several thousand dollars in travel reimbursements he hadn't traveled on County business, and he engineered a large raise for himself and his colleagues. These dubious achievements are his legacy. Needless to say, lame duck Colfax was "honored" at a reception in board chambers this week for… For being the most venal, least capable person to occupy the 5th District seat ever.

About an hour of Board time was taken up considering four applicants for two positions on the County’s Retirement board. The applicants included Donald Coursey, MD; former Willits Councilman Bruce Alfano; financial consultant Ted Stevens of Yorkville; and John Sakowicz of Ukiah. Dr. Coursey, who was not present, was re-appointed 4-1. Supervisor John Pinches dissented, saying he wanted new blood on the Retirement Board because they had collectively screwed up by applying non-existent “excess earnings” from the Retirement Fund to medical care for retirees without informing the Board that there really weren’t any “excess earnings.”

Mr. Sakowicz took the podium to discuss his candidacy for appointment to the Retirement Board, beginning with an assurance that he “would not litigate against the board I also serve on.” The candidate said he was “willing to put that in writing.” Sakowicz launched into a lengthy rehash of his overwhelming resume that went on and on and on but was still in the twentieth century when he said....

“In 1988, I left Dean Witter Reynolds…”

The Supervisors looked startled.

1988?

There were 22 years of resume to go?

Board Chair Carre Brown tried to put on the brakes.

“Mr. Sakowicz, we need to…”

Sako, unhearing and perhaps mesmerized at his recitation of his Official Work History, continued: “…and I quit to form my own hedge fund. I worked in the Cayman Islands. All these credentials are embodied and can be documented in a snapshot of my career at FINRA, the financial industry national regulatory authority. I have a copy of that document and so does my General Manager at KZYX where I have a program, as you know, in finance and business. On my show I have many national guests with reputations on Wall Street.” Sako finally fast-forwarded a bit, saying that since 2004 he had been “a moving force in getting transparency and accountability in the Retirement Board.”

Then he started to describe those efforts “with Jay Johnson who…”

Chair Brown, tried again to rein in the nominee.

“We need to conclude, Mr. Sakowicz. Most of what you’ve told us is in your application. OK? So…

“I have concerns about the retirement board,” the undeterred Sako went on. “I don’t have concerns about the investments. We’ve hired Calihan and Associates, they’re very able, they have many billions of dollars under management. My issues go more towards the audit.” Sako insisted that somebody do a “forensic audit” of the Retirement Board to unearth alleged wrongdoing “I’ve been questioning some of the assumptions,” he said. “Also I’d like to see some of the policies regarding 4850 which are very ad hoc right now revised to save the county some money as well.”

4850? It’s a section of California Labor Code which describes tax-free advance payments for disability pensions for cops and other peace officers.

Supervisor John McCowen asked, “In a nutshell, what is policy 4850?”

Sako: “It should be revised! I mean, how frank can I be? Do you want me to be brutally frank?”

McCowen: “Say what the policy is.”

Sako: “Well, let’s take a look at some recent cases…”

McCowen, perhaps aware that Sako's appearance at the podium could become an all-day event, hastened to add, again, "in a nutshell.”

Sako: “In a nutshell.”

McCowen: “We don’t have time to review recent cases.”

Sako: “In a nutshell, it’s been abused. We have a former Sheriff who got 4850’d basically for hemorrhoids and weak knees for being 300 pounds overweight and sitting on his butt for most of his career. We have a former interim Sheriff who got it from stress for losing an election to our current sheriff.”

Well! That was brutal enough, certainly.

McCowen seemed flustered, but regained his official demeanor: “Well, I think, you know… So you disagree with the allowances for disability retirement and that’s going to be governed by statute and case law…”

Sako: “Right.”

McCowen had heard enough: “…not local policy. So anyway, you have answered the question. Thank you.”

Chair Brown terrified her colleagues with “Further questions?”

Silence. Nobody wanted to chance it.

After a short discussion the Board appointed the far less hyperbolic Retirement Board critic Ted Stevens who told the Supervisors that the Retirement Board had “treated me like a second-class citizen and told me to sit down and shut up” when he'd asked them for some ordinary paperwork. The vote for Stevens was 3-2, Pinches and Colfax dissenting.

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