Sounds like Supervisor Maureen Mulheren got some significant pushback on the question of holding Department heads personally responsible for budget overruns, especially the Sheriff.
SUPERVISOR MULHEREN began: “I have an item for public expression. The five of us represent different geographies and different experience. It is important to work together and be professional. We need to normalize not all voting the same and we need to normalize accepting responsibility when decisions that we make affect other people. During the budget hearings we saw a slide about a state code that holds department heads personally liable for expenditures over their budget. The five of us are responsible for making sure we know when departments may be going over and, whether that is monthly or quarterly, we should be made aware of possible overruns before they actually happen. Accountability is our job. I am requesting that the referral of this item to County Counsel and the General Government Committee instead be brought back to our August 17 Board of Supervisors meeting for a vote. We have department heads who are afraid of losing their houses or not being able to pay for college tuition and I don't think that was the intention of this Board. But that's where we are at now. I realize that this is a state law and if we need to lobby for that to change, then that is an option. But I am concerned that the department heads that are required to provide state mandated services are unclear about how this affects them personally. We all know that revenues and reimbursements do not all come in at the same time and I think there are multiple other ways to make sure that we are being held accountable for the budget to the taxpayers of Mendocino County. I am happy to work on a budget ad hoc committee with anybody that is interested. But I would like our department heads to know that they are supported and we are committed as a board to work through any budget issues as they arise.”
SUPERVISOR WILLIAMS agreed: "I agree. And I think that one of the underlying problems is that none of us, not the department heads, not the Board of Supervisors nor the public knows how much has been spent year to date per department. I think we need to fix that. I don't think a department head would be concerned if they saw that they are spending well within their budget and there was adequate budget for the months ahead. We don't have that. We haven't had it since I've been on the board. I think it's just a changing time. The county wants to perhaps catch up with modern accounting standards. I agree to bring it back on the 17th.”
There was no objection to bringing the item back on August 17.
MULHEREN seemed to be trying to set the stage for some kind of actual budget reporting. If so, she’ll face the usual resistance from CEO Angelo and staff.
As AVA readers may recall, even the simplest budget questions are seen by CEO Angelo as an annoyance or intrusion. When we asked for a few routine clarifications of the CEO’s first-ever End-of-May 2021 monthly departmental budget status report, as the Supervisors should but don’t, on July 9 CEO Angelo replied snappishly, “The very nature of your questions is the reason the County budget team has been hesitant to present a ‘budget to actual’.”
INSTEAD OF WELCOMING an opportunity to clarify the budget status of departments which were overrunning their allotted expenditures, CEO Angelo prefers to staunchly resist monthly budget reporting on the grounds that she might have to actually answer some questions! (PS, the Supes still have not seen a final end-of-year departmental budget vs. actual report for the last fiscal year.)
WILL SUPERVISORS MULHEREN & WILLIAMS bring up the need for monthly budget reporting on August 17? If so, will CEO Angelo continue to resist it or shine it on? Will it make any difference to the ongoing dispute between the Sheriff and the Board since Sheriff Matt Kendall has made it clear that a large part of his objection is the possibility of losing his house if he overruns his overtime budget?
SUPERVISOR MULHEREN is moving in the right direction, but as usual, it won’t do much good unless there’s follow-through with long-overdue monthly department budget reporting and associated monthly Q&A.
LATER in Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Williams asked Water Agency pointperson Josh Metz whether there was any chance of getting a pipeline to pump water over the hill to the Coast (as former Supervisor John Pinches suggested here recently).
METZ replied that that would require a water source and would probably not happen this year. In fact, nothing much is going to happen this year but dwindling water. If you could drink water money from the many “funding agencies,” though, we’d be in flood stage 1. Mr. Metz apologized for not having any hopeful information, adding that there’s “more state and national press” about the drought, then rolling out his favorite cliche, “The only bad press is no press.”
WILLIAMS said the situation “looks pretty bleak,” adding, “I’m just trying to be realistic.” “We probably won’t be able solve even 1% of this problem without state or federal assistance,” said Williams, continuing, “I may be asking Glenn [McGourty] if I can take a shower at his house when I’m over the hill.”
MCGOURTY thought “our best option is to set up a contractor to haul water from Ukiah to Fort Bragg and people south of Fort Bragg. Maybe ten truckloads per day, which is doable. … But other agencies have to kinda weigh in on this. I don’t know if we have the availability of trucks to haul water. The wine industry has similar trucks, but they have to be certified by the Department of Public Health. … We will have a solution, but it’s not happening as quickly as we’d like. You won’t have to come over here to take a shower, I’m pretty sure, Ted.”
WILLIAMS asked about the cost.
MCGOURTY: “That’s a good question. We may have to start this program with our own emergency money. Payment is always in arrears, so we will have to pick up the tab if we’re going to do this.” McGourty worried about the logistics of keeping track and billing.
Assistant CEO Darcie Antle observed, “It would be logistically challenging. We would need the towns to help in making this happen. There’s a lot to be worked out.”
METZ said he “sensed” that state and federal funds might someday come in to help “folks in need.”
* * *
Sheriff Showdown Part 3 – Down the Rabbit Hole
On July 20 County Counsel Christian Curtis told the Board of Supervisors that a conflict existed between County Counsel and Sheriff Kendall. Curtis said the Sheriff was entitled to independent legal counsel that the Sheriff had confidence in. But the attorney that Kendall had confidence in was Duncan James. Curtis objected on the grounds he thought James would be too expensive. Besides, he was suing the County on behalf of fired Ag Commissioner Harinder Grewal who alleged wrongful termination.
Kendall stood his ground, indicating that Duncan James was his first and only choice. Curtis told the Board the dispute would have to be resolved by the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, in this case the Honorable Judge Ann Moorman. Last Friday the parties were in Judge Moorman’s courtroom but she wasn’t willing to accept Curtis’ representation that there was a conflict. Her reading of the law required a vote of the Board of Supervisors and she issued a court order requiring the Board to take such a vote.
Tuesday, after being in Closed Session for two hours, Curtis and the Board emerged into another patented rambling open discussion to declare there really wasn’t a conflict. Neither individual Board members nor Curtis seemed to have any recollection of a specific budget dispute or specific threats to hold the Sheriff personally liable for any budget overruns. Kendall kept a poker face but must have thought he had dropped into an alternate universe, as strange and absurd as anything encountered by Alice in her legendary trip to Wonderland.
Last Friday, in his official brief filed with the court, this is what Curtis had to say about the conflict: “In this case, there is no dispute that a conflict of interest exists as to two discrete issues involving (1) the Sheriff’s ability to spend funds outside of his budget and (2) the Board’s obligation to provide Sheriff Kendall with computer infrastructure separate from the County IS department. During the course of the meeting [the BOS meeting of July 20] both County Counsel and Sheriff Kendall indicated a belief that a conflict exists, no one involved disagreed with the determination and the Board members repeatedly acknowledged the existence of the conflict.”
It must have been a surreal experience for anyone who watched the July 20 meeting or read the court filings to hear the Board declare there was no actual conflict on the budget, just an ordinary administrative hiccup, or a threat to merge the Sheriff’s IT function into the County’s computer operation. The Board wanted to know from Kendall why he thought there was a dispute. He referred back to the Budget Hearing in early June where the CEO presented a recommended budget for the Sheriff that was $2 million out of balance compared to the Sheriff’s requested budget.
On Tuesday Board peppered Kendall with questions at length alternately attempting to cajole, shame or persuade him to drop his legal challenge, insisting there was no conflict and everything could be worked out if Kendall would just sit down with the Board. Maybe over a beer Haschak, suggested at one point. Kendall several times told the Board that he was very uncomfortable having the discussion and being put on the spot to answer legal questions when the Board was represented by an attorney and he was not.
At length the Board directed Curtis to report to Judge Moorman that there was no legal conflict but the Board (Haschak dissenting) was willing to have legal counsel appointed on one narrow point. The Board was willing to furnish Kendall an attorney to provide Kendall with an opinion on whether he could spend funds outside of his budget. And of course the Board still wanted to pick Kendall’s attorney for him, not Duncan James.
Kendall requested an opportunity to respond, telling the Board he was “not happy we’re going down this road. I truly am not. But I didn’t pick the music. I didn’t put the quarter in the jukebox. But we are dancing this dance now. We just need to get clarity and get this behind us. I didn’t pick this fight and everybody knows that. I deserve to have someone I trust represent me. Not someone from Los Angeles or San Francisco.”
Kendall and Curtis are due back in front of Judge Moorman Wednesday afternoon. Will Judge Moorman accept Curtis’ and the Board’s revelation that there’s no conflict? Will Moorman ask for details of the vote? Who made the motion, who seconded the motion, what did it say and what was the vote? Or will she accept Curtis’ vague and rambling explanation that no, the Board didn’t vote, but after a couple of hours of Closed Session verbal Rope-a-Dope they realized there really was no conflict.
Instead of a clear statement and vote that the Board had no intention of holding Kendall (or any other department head) liable for budget overruns and had no intention of merging the Sheriff’s IT, which would have allowed the Board to truthfully say there was no conflict, the Board is choosing to go farther down the rabbit hole, sliding along on a cascade of taxpayer dollars.
Meanwhile, CEO Carmel Angelo, the likely instigator of the conflict that suddenly (according to the Board) isn’t a conflict, sat quietly by with no questions asked of her. It’s as if the Board is more worried about upsetting their domineering CEO than they are about facing the wrath of the voters, most of whom, if offered a choice, would simply support the Sheriff and whatever reasonable funding and computer system he needs.
* * *
Sheriff’s Overtime & Other Silly Disputes
Fresh off her welcome remark Tuesday morning that the Supervisors themselves are responsible for the County’s budget and its overruns, not the personal liability of department heads, Supervisor Maureen Mulheren took a step backward on Wednesday when she tried to address the dispute between the Sheriff and the Supervisors on her own supervisors website:
Supervisor Mulheren: “There were four items that the Sheriff believes are in conflict. 1. Is there a conflict in the budget or staffing of IT? The Board does not believe a conflict exists.”
AVA: This does not meet the legal standard of a motion and a vote as called for by Judge Moorman for the Board to specify whatever the conflict is. It barely rises to an opinion. It doesn’t matter what the Sheriff or the Board “believes,” nor what Ms. Mulheren believes they believe, whatever that may mean.
Supervisor Mulheren: “2. Regarding the consolidation of the Sheriff IT with the County IT per the Grand Jury Report the Board is in agreement that any decision will be delayed until there can be an Attorney General Decision and that the Sheriff should have independent Counsel to submit his request.”
AVA: “The decision” regarding IT consolidation isn’t even close to a becoming a “decision” because it’s all too vague. There has been no formal consolidation proposal, so how can the Attorney General opine on it? (And we’re pretty sure he will opine that Mendo’s Sheriff, like all the other Sheriff’s in the state, must control his own digital info.) As far as we know Government Code prohibits such “consolidation.” So we will need to know which government code section Ms. Mulheren or the Board or County Counsel say allows such consolidation. The Sheriff does not need to make a request to the Attorney General; if the County wants consolidation, the County should make it. Otherwise, just leave it alone.
Supervisor Mulheren: “3. May the Sheriff spend at will without having to come to the Board? This does not include emergency expenses. The Board sees that the Sheriff and the County Budget team have worked together to come up with an almost balanced budget just off $255,000. We agree that if he believes he can spend at will outside of emergency and the budget that he should have a legal opinion that also states that.”
AVA: The Sheriff has never proposed that he be allowed to “spend at will without having to come to the Board,” and it’s almost slanderous to even imply that. It also does not matter what the Board “sees,” nor what an “almost balanced” budget is. We’re pretty sure that if Sheriff’s department overtime was properly funded the difference would be a lot more than $255k.
Supervisor Mulheren: “The Board does not agree that the budget is off by $1.5 million.”
AVA: What’s the Board’s number then? Almost $255k? How do they calculate it? Sounds to us like a reasonable overtime budget would put the difference closer to $1.5 million.
This kind of lack of clarity is what got the Sheriff looking for an attorney in the first place. There is clear evidence that the CEO and Supervisor Williams wanted to consolidate the Sheriff’s computer system with the County’s. Instead of bringing the question to the Board with a well thought out proposal, backdoor maneuverings were attempted which the Sheriff got wind of and which happened to benefit one preferred CEO staffer without reference to government code and without even a specific proposal. Of course the Sheriff cannot “spend at will without having to come to the board.” But neither can the Board tell him not to spend on necessary and reasonable law enforcement. If it’s just the overtime that’s in question, simply set up a Sheriff’s reserve or emergency reserve and let the Sheriff request it as the needs arise, perhaps via the new Public Safety Advisory Board. Then put it in writing as a Board motion, vote on it, approve it, hand it to the Sheriff and see if he co-signs. If he does, end of problem. End of wasteful court costs, end of disputes over who should be the Sheriff’s attorney.
* * *
A couple of years ago when Ms. Georgeanne Croskey was on the Board for a few months the question arose as to whether $0 or $300k should be budgeted for overtime, Ms. Croskey, whose husband was a deputy sheriff, pointed out that the number should be around $1.6 million based on experience.
Here’s our coverage from the June 2018 Board meeting :
AS AN EXAMPLE of how precarious the budget for July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019 is, one need look no further than the Sheriff’s Department overtime line item. Before last week’s budget hearing CEO Angelo and the Sheriff had allocated exactly $0 to Sheriff’s overtime (It was $1.6 million last year) CEO Angelo offered up an apparent budget balancing trick so ridiculous Supervisor Georgeanne Croskey (whose husband is a patrol deputy) felt obliged to comment. CEO Angelo blithely responded suggesting $300k be allocated without any basis other than maybe the budget could handle that much.
Supervisor John McCowen agreed.
McCowen: “It is not realistic to have a zero line item for overtime. You [the CEO] are suggesting $300,000 if we were to put a number in there. I do think that's conservative. As we have all said we don't know what may happen as the year goes forward. But we know we are going to have some overtime just in the normal course of events. If there is no disaster or there are no tragic car wrecks or complicated homicides then that naturally would drive further overtime. If we have none of that we still know that we are going to have it. So perhaps between now and tomorrow the executive office and the sheriff can work to identify what other line items in the budget could potentially be reduced to at least put in the $300,000 for overtime which would be kind of the minimum realistic figure I believe.”
Angelo: “I'm fine with that. If that's the board direction we will do that. And then – … What I have noticed in the last 10 years with the Sheriff's office overtime, which of course you have noticed as well, is when the positions and critical positions are really low obviously that's when we have more overtime. What I am also seeing is a real effort on the part of the Sheriff's office, particularly with various funding streams either being diminished or going away [probably a reference to a significant decrease in pot-related asset forfeiture plus the approximately $1 million cannabis permit program deficit] there is a real effort to focus on the overtime. The positions – he [the Sheriff] has his positions filled now. If we were going to budget overtime right now in the Sheriff's office we would have budgeted approximately $300,000. With what happens with the sheriff's office, it is, it's just, you know, you never know what the next crisis is going to be. So I'm fairly confident. I have to say that we have had problems in dealing with the Sheriff's budget. He obviously has managed his budget very well. And he has helped. So we can talk about this tomorrow when this board is ready to make recommendations and make decisions on this. If we are going to budget I would say that we would have budgeted approximately $300,000. The other thing is that we can't really say today as far as what happens over the next 12 months that it is possible that there are other funding streams for overtime that we just -- we just -- you know -- we just don't have right now, or don't have the ability to say right now. Honestly, in seeing the Sheriff’s budget I don't have a problem with this. Clearly you are the decision-makers and if you do [decide] we will rearrange the money.”
Deputy CEO Janelle Rau said they put zero overtime in the budget because they plan to keep close track of the overtime.
Rau: “I have been working with the Sheriff's office on their budget. They did go through some budget balancing strategies [translation: they made some ridiculous assumptions]. And working with their budget officer Kyra [the Sheriff’s budget analyst] and the Sheriff himself, they did do some reductions to meet net County cost. [Arbitrary cuts.] With that is an understanding that the executive office is going to be working with them hand in hand and in turn with the board, meaning that we will be coming to you -- and there are descriptions in the information to you -- monthly, not quarterly. We will be coming to you with adjustments as they are necessary. We have made that arrangement with the Sheriff to say, you let us know when there is an issue so we will have discovered that between all of us here if there is one. Overtime was one of them. We knew it was out there. It is a strategy that we will watch. And that we will look at their vacancy factors as well to see in their total 1000 series [general fund] where they will be. It's a different approach this year. But we have been working on it effectively. Kyra and I started working on it this last year in July to make sure we could come here and feel good about what we are giving you and actually give you the confidence that we will be informing you as we go along as well.”
So the CEO’s Office and the Sheriff are going to start providing monthly reports on overtime! Does anybody believe that? They should have been doing routine monthly overtime tracking all along and now all of a sudden they’re going to start monthly reporting on something?
This reporting will either be non-existent or — if it happens at all — will be lame to the point of uselessness. Mendo just does not do monthy budget and staff reporting. In all likelihood they will ignore the overtime as it routinely goes over-budget like they do everything else and wait until it’s a problem, then make some equally preposterous declaration like the magic assumption change from 5% position vacancy to 10% position vacancy and cover the overtime like they always do by shorting or understaffing other already short departments.
Supervisor Croskey wanted to hope — in spite of her gut knowledge that even $300k is nothing more than a place holder — that this still-ridiculous $300k approach would help.
Croskey: “That helps. I certainly have concerns. But we have nothing budgeted for overtime. It's not as if overtime won't happen. I understand we will be looking at it as we go. But it's — it's not as if — I don't know — I have concerns that we are pretending that that $1.6 million is — that we will find a way as we go. But…” [Shrugs.]
* * *
And of course as we predicted nobody monitored the overtime (except the Sheriff of course), and no monthly reports were made to the Board. And here we are three years later singing the same song again. The difference, as the Sheriff amusingly noted last Tuesday is, “I didn’t put the quarter in this jukebox.”
Who did then? Elvis?