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Mendocino County Today: September 1, 2012

Dr. Wandrei

KARIN WANDREI, recently appointed Assistant HHSA (Health and Human Services Agency) Director and Social Services branch director sent the following terse email last week to a wide circle of friends and associates: “I hereby submit my resignation effective immediately. My leadership skills are not compatible with MCHHSA. Karin E. Wandrei, Ph.D, LCSW.” On Tuesday, Dr. Wandrei showed up at the Board of Supervisors and gave the same reason for her abrupt resignation. She emphasized that it had been her pleasure to work with an “amazing” staff and wanted everyone to know that her resignation had nothing to do with anyone she supervised. Translation: Ms. Wandrei's abrupt resignation had everything to do with those who supervised her.

DR. WANDREI came to the County from the Mendocino County Youth Project, where she had been Executive Director for nearly 20 years. Many department insiders were unhappy that the position was filled from outside, but close observers of the agency were hopeful that Wandrei would bring real leadership to a department that was notorious for cronyism and a lack of accountability, not to mention gross incompetence at the leadership level. No doubt the County has many “amazing” employees (although most of us would settle for basic competence), but many unhappy and marginally qualified people have been hired over the years by the County, and many of them have risen through the ranks to supervisory positions based simply on longevity or palsy-walsyism, a big problem in public employment, schools included, in this County for many years.

SPECULATION within the department is that Wandrei, after calling the shots for nearly twenty years at the Youth Project, found it frustrating to work in a system where even routine decisions require a sign off from higher authority, prompting the comment that her leadership skills were not compatible with the agency. Which is unfortunate, because the County could use the skills of someone like a smart, hardworking, capable person like Wandrei, who has had to secure funding, balance a budget and deliver agreed upon work products to her funders for years before going to work for Social Services.

MS. WANDREI has lived east of Willits for the last quarter century; we understand that she has sold her house, split from her partner of many years and moved to Cloverdale, all of these major life changes occurring since signing on with Quicksand County.

HERE IS THE FULL, if cryptic, statement Dr. Wandrei made to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning: “I am literally transitioning between Willits and Cloverdale at this very minute. I recently resigned my position as Assistant Director of the HHSA agency because I found that my leadership skills were not a good match for the agency. I am here today because I want to make sure I have a chance to tell you how impressed I have been with the county employees I have worked with, especially the ones in Social Services. My resignation has nothing to do with the staff I supervised. I want you to know that and I want them to know that. While I found significant personnel problems, I found many employees who are doing amazing things working long hours for little pay with limited resources. They get lambasted in the press and by the public a lot. You are unbelievably lucky to have so many outstanding employees who are working under extremely stressful situations. I truly regret I will no longer be able to work with them. I have incredible respect for them. They continue to work hard on behalf of the residents of the county despite the many challenges that they face every day in their work. They are truly my heroes.”

WE ARE NOT AWARE of any “lambasting” of any HHSA employees “in the press.” There simply is none. (“lambaste, v. to beat or whip severely; to give a thrashing to; to scold sharply; to reprimand or berate harshly; censure; excoriate.”) The local chain papers go out of their way NOT to lambaste anyone. And the two other local independent weeklies besides the AVA never do and never would. And if Ms. Wandrei is referring to the AVA grandly as “the press,” we would challenge her to cite a single example of lambasting of HHSA management or staff, although there certainly is the occasional critical observation. Ms. Wandrei's reference to mysterious “significant personnel problems” makes us think that some of the HHSA management might well deserve some “lambasting” (not to say replacement) if Ms. Wandrei, who always struck us as a serious and competent person, might give us a hint what those “significant personnel problems” are.

THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS spent all day Monday and half of Tuesday in closed session interviewing applicants for County Counsel. Following a late afternoon return to closed session, the Supes reported out that no action was taken but “direction was given to staff,” which could mean almost anything. The position was left vacant by the elevation of former County Counsel Jeanine Nadel to the Superior Court bench. Doug Losak, chief deputy, was appointed interim County Counsel only to be pulled over for speeding within a week or so, then found to have a gun and a small amount of marijuana on board. Losak submitted his resignation from the interim position but said he still intended to apply for the County Counsel position. Terry Gross, another senior lawyer in the office, was then named as the interim County Counsel. Losak and Gross are assumed to be among the 15 or so applicants for the job.

View from East Gobbi just before turning right on Orchard












AN IMPROMPTU Memorial for Dr. Douglas Rosoff, killed last week in a dump truck vs. bike accident, was held Thursday at the corner of East Gobbi Street and Orchard Avenue in Ukiah, the scene of the tragedy. Upwards of a hundred people are estimated to have shown up, some adding to a growing memorial, including flowers, a bike frame and other mementos, placed at the base of the large oak tree that stands on the corner. Details have not yet been released, but indications are that Dr. Rosoff and the truck were both traveling west on East Gobbi as they approached the intersection and both turned right onto Orchard. Except the truck was pulling a long trailer which reportedly caught Dr. Rosoff as the driver cut the corner too tight while making the turn. The truck was on its way to the intersection of Perkins and Orchard to haul away debris from the McDonald's which was being demolished to make way for a new negative food value emporium at the same site. Dr. Rosoff had been the chief psychiatrist for the County for 17 years before resigning last year to work for the Veteran's Administration at their clinic on Orchard Avenue.

Veda Bennett-Swank

WE'VE ALL WONDERED at the number of pot grows consumed by the Pass Fire northeast of Covelo, but the following is about a guy who consumed his own garden, so to speak. From the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department, the details: “Suspect #1: Name: Veda Bennett-Swank, 21, Santa Rosa. — On 8-30-2012 Mendocino County Sheriffs Deputies were dispatched to the area of the ‘North Pass Fire complex’ in Covelo regarding a firefighter who had been threatened with a firearm. Upon arrival deputies contacted a CalFire firefighter who reported he was on a vacant lot of land, in the ‘Blands Cove’ area, involved in fire suppression duties and documenting fire damage, when he came across a small marijuana garden. The firefighter, who was driving a marked CalFire vehicle and wearing firefighter protection gear, ignored the marijuana garden and proceeded with fire suppression efforts. (It should be noted that this area was clearly marked and identified as a mandatory evacuation area due to the aggressive fire behavior and ongoing fire suppression efforts.) As the firefighter was continuing with fire suppression efforts, he noticed a vehicle drive up to his location. The vehicle approached him and pulled up next to him. The male subject inside the vehicle told the firefighter that he needed to leave the area. When the firefighter attempted to explain to the subject that he was engaged in fire suppression activity, the male subject told him that he needed to leave immediately, the subject, Bennett-Swank, then looked down at an object that was between his legs on the floorboard of the vehicle. As the firefighter looked into the vehicle he could see that a shotgun was between the subject’s legs, and that the barrel was pointed directly at him. In fear for his life, the firefighter left the area immediately. Following a search of the area, deputies located a residence (located within the mandatory evacuation area) and the possible suspect vehicle. Deputies contacted a male subject at the residence who admitted to confronting the Calfire firefighter. In addition, the male subject, later identified as Veda Bennett-Swank, admitted that he was growing marijuana and that he was aware that he was remaining in a mandatory fire evacuation area. Veda Bennett-Swank was arrested for brandishing a firearm in a rude, angry or threatening manner, interfering with emergency personnel or a firefighter at a fire and criminal threats. He is currently being held at the Mendocino County jail on $20,000 bail."

THE WPA-COMMISSIONED mural called “Resources of the Soil” had graced the old Ukiah Post Office since 1939. When the Post Office on Ukiah's Westside closed recently in favor of a move to its present bunker-like structure on Orchard Avenue, the building, with the painting still mounted inside, was put up for sale. Its private buyer, if we're lucky, may have some regard for the comely building housing the painting, erected at a time when what their public buildings and spaces looked like still mattered to Americans. But would the new owner of the old Post Office appreciate a left-inspired tribute to working people by a radical called Ben Cunningham, a bosom buddy of Diego Rivera, a straight-up commie? Would the new owner now also own the painting as part of his purchase? Could a valuable and much-loved work of art fall into the barbaric clutches of the Employer's Council? The horror, the horror! There was great concern for the painting's future. But darned if the Post Office didn't alert Mr. Dallan Wordekemper of the “federal preservation office” who has dispatched the painting to an art restorer in Chicago with a promise to Ukiah that the marvelous work would be returned to Ukiah and put on public display, the most likely sites being either the Grace Hudson Museum or, possibly, the County Museum in Willits.

ON FRIDAY, the highly regarded Berkeley New Deal historian Gray Brechin wrote this letter to the Ukiah Daily Journal: “To the Editor: Why would the supposedly insolvent US Postal service waste its meager resources removing, restoring and relocating the Ben Cunningham mural in Ukiah's now closed downtown post office except as a favor to its exclusively contracted selling agent, CB Richard Ellis? Such legally public art has served as an obstacle to quick sales at other commercially, architecturally and historically significant post offices that CBRE is throwing on the market around the US with as little concern for community input as the USPS gave Ukiah. Senator Feinstein should know your concerns about losing your post office along with so many other towns and cities, although her husband owns CBRE. — Gray Brechin, Berkeley

JOHN COLE WRITES: “I know I swore not to watch any of the RNC, but I had to walk down the street and take my parent's dogs home and put them to bed (I was watching them while my folks were at the game), and when I came back my local CBS network had broken away from the Steelers game to the RNC, and I saw Dirty Harry rambling to an empty chair. Did this really happen or did I hallucinate the whole thing? Is this what an acid flashback feels like? I almost feel obligated to put on the Grateful Dead's Blues for Allah and go into the bathroom and stare at my face in the mirror for ten minutes while the four different cigarettes I lit in different rooms all burn out. Am I supposed to start giggling now and spend a half hour looking at my hands? I'm so f'n confused. This is like Koyaanisqatsi meets a Klan rally.”

DAVID TORRES of the ICO nicely fleshes out the armed robbery at Redwood Credit Union in Point Arena last week in this week’s ICO. Here are some excerpts: “…Meanwhile, plumbing contractor Jerry Moyles and local educator Randall Babtkis were at another teller's window when the armed suspect brushed by Moyles who saw the guy had a gun.”

“TELLER Heather Morrison hit the floor and screamed, 'I have kids! I have kids! Please don't shoot! Don't shoot!' Babtkis was in Morrison's line and found himself side by side with the robberæ"

“…NOW BEHIND the counter, the man pointed his gun at Moyles's face and told him and Babtkis to back away from the counter and sit down…”

“MOYLES said the gunman warned, 'If anyone pokes their head out of this door I am going to blow their fucking head off,' as he and his accomplice rapidly left the building. 'It was very scary for all of us while we stood back there in that little room,' said Babtkis, adding, 'Moyles was very calm and unflappable during this stressful siege.'

"…DEPUTY ESPINOZA, with the assistance of CHP Officer Solomon, conducted a felony vehicle stop on the suspects' vehicle at Milemarker 17” (as they fled on Fish Rock Road).

RANDALL BABTKIS is a very fine poet married to the equally talented writer Carolyn Cooke. Jerry Moyles is baseball coach at Point Arena High School.

MILE MARKER 17 on Fish Rock is not quite halfway to Highway 128 at Yorkville.

THE OTHER DAY in a report from CalFire on the big blaze northeast of Covelo, which remains almost two weeks away from full containment, the press release mentioned a “pyro cloud,” which I thought was maybe a cluster of fire bugs driving down a hot, dry country highway throwing lit matches out the window.

NOPE. According to NASA, CalFire was talking about Pyrocumulonimbus, the fire-breathing dragon of clouds, an “anvil-shaped tower of power reaching five miles high, hurling thunderbolts, wind and rain, but add smoke and fire to the mix and you have pyrocumulonimbus, an explosive storm cloud actually created by the smoke and heat from fire, and which can ravage tens of thousands of acres.”

IN COVELO? Wow! The Pass Fire is worse than we thought.

ONE WAY TO TELL you're in Mendocino County is the pure number of workshops and vision statements. The workshops shop and shop and shop until the guy in the white, drawstring hemp pants, finally says, “My fellow visionaries we've envisioned.”

LITTLE OR NO WORK in any known sense of honest labor is done at a “workshop,” but visionaries and their visions, never quite 20/20, have always been quite the thing here Behind The Green Curtain where life does tend to be kinda blurry.

ACCORDING to the much put upon Justine Frederickson who has to sit through these things as a reporter for the Ukiah Daily Journal, “at a workshop Wednesday, the Ukiah City Council and a handful of staff members discussed whether the city needs an overarching Vision Statement to help guide its future.”

North State Street, Ukiah

OVERARCHING or fallen arches no arches, simply driving from one end of State Street to the other, the future of Ukiah is evident in that six miles of post industrial distress.

THE MAJOR DIFFERENCE between Obama and Romney is that Romney will accelerate the decay. Both are beholden to the forces who have brought us to State Street, but Romney will make things worse a lot faster than Obama. There is, however, a huge diff in what we might call the aesthetics of Obama-Romney. Obama is smart and articulate and, I would think, wants US to do well so long as he doesn't have to take on Wall Street to do it. Romney is simply preposterous, beyond consideration by any American with even a residual sense of affection and loyalty to our tattered land.

MATT TAIBBI explains why Romney himself and the people like him have destroyed the lives and hopes of million of US: "…Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a ‘turnaround specialist,’ a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don't know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality… Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on Planet Earth.”

AND PARKED huge amounts of his money in overseas accounts so he doesn't have to pay taxes on it. And wraps himself in the flag, and hauls a bunch of his vacant-eyed “friends” on stage to say how wonderfully charitable he is, and chooses a straight-up nut as his vice-presidential pick as Clint Eastwood mutters to an empty chair. Even by the degraded standards of the time, it's hard to believe that a plurality of voting Americans would choose these people to run the government, hard to believe until you remember that this same plurality twice elected George Bush.

BUT IT'S JUST PATHETIC that people in government are so out of it they can even talk “vision statements” in a social-political context like this one.

One Comment

  1. Bruce Anderson September 3, 2012

    Some clarifications on your piece on my resignation]
    I am writing to clarify a few items in your piece on my resignation from the county health and human services agency. I don’t have much to say about the circumstances of my resignation except to say that my public expression at the Board was probably my swan song to Mendocino County politics. I’ve been deeply involved through my work for over sixteen years in a variety of efforts to try to bring about positive changes to the County and, frankly, I’m tired. There are some great people involved in these advocacy efforts and there have been small but significant successes over the years. Now that I’ve moved to Sonoma County time to pass it on. BTW, I have heard that my newly hired replacement at the Youth Project is great and the Youth Project is doing very well and doing some fantastic things. At a time when other agencies are struggling, Youth Project is growing. They deserve your financial and other support. The clarifications I want to make pertain to my personal life. The paragraph you wrote makes it sound like I suddenly dumped my long-term partner, sold my house, and moved to Cloverdale. In reality, while it may look that way, it’s a little different than that. And while I am somewhat uncomfortable discussing the details of my relationship in the press, both Linda and I are tired of people assuming that our decision to live apart means something more sad than it is. We live in a world of wanting to simplify everything. You are married or you are single. I am interested in new models of relationships. Linda and I love each other dearly and are family and have been for 29 years. Linda is fourteen years older than I am. Several months ago, before I quit my job, we had decided that staying living together in a defined primary relationship (a registered domestic partnership), was interfering with both of us needing to explore different paths in the years to come. So while we won’t be defining ourselves as being in a primary relationship or live together, we anticipate continuing to be involved deeply in each other’s lives. She is also planning on moving to Cloverdale. We had decided to move to Cloverdale about four years ago. We felt a lack of stimulation as a couple without children living in such a small community and over the years have both developed interests that are better met down here. We put our house on the market once before and it didn’t sell so we took it off the market. This July, before I quit my job, we put it back on the market and the very first day the very first person who saw it offered us $7000 above our listing price. We were shocked and had no idea it would go so fast this time. Fortunately for me, living frugally I have enough money from the house proceeds to live for about six months without working. Since in forty years I’ve only not worked for three months when I won a sabbatical award and six weeks recovering from surgery, this is a true gift. I have decided to use this time to do at age 59 what I wanted to do at age 65, which is to develop more teaching and consulting opportunities to support myself. Maybe even start a therapy practice again. I’ve never left a job without another job but I actually feel excited and blessed by this series of events. Doug Rosoff’s death occurred a day before I resigned and it had an impact on me of why stay in a job that didn’t turn out to be the way it was supposed to be and postpone what I really want to do? I wish my friends and work associates in Mendocino the best and hope to be able to do some work in the future up in Mendo. To find out more about my professional background, go to

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