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Mendocino County Today: September 5, 2012

Pervier

THE UKIAH PD is looking for a man involved in a stabbing that injured three people at Denny's restaurant in Ukiah last Saturday. The other man believed to have been involved has been arrested. According to the UPD, officers were summoned to Denny's at 4:13 a.m. early Saturday morning where three people had been stabbed. Officers learned that one of two men, unprovoked, began to punch a man seated to the rear of the restaurant, repeatedly, in the face. When the victim's companions began to punch back, the second suspect began to punch the victim as well. Then one of the suspects pulled out a knife and stabbed two of the three victims repeatedly. The suspects then ran from the restaurant. The victims, all Willits residents, were transported to Ukiah Valley Medical Center for treatment of their injuries. The UPD identified the suspects as Richard M. Pervier, 32, of Marysville, and Joshua R. Stredwick, 32, of both Ukiah and the Healdsburg area. Officers later located Stredwick in the 4800 block of North State Street and arrested him. As of Tuesday, the UPD was still searching for Pervier, who is described as a white male, 5-10, 220-pounds, with light brown hair and a thin, short goatee, was was last seen wearing a black sweatshirt, white t-shirt and light-colored pants.

PATRICK REILLEY, 28, of Oak View (near Santa Barbara), has been identified as the abalone diver found dead Friday afternoon in about 18 feet of water near the Sea Arch rock formation off Mendocino Headlands State Park. The young man had apparently drowned but his cause of death has yet to be officially confirmed pending results of an autopsy.

THE LARGEST POT RAID of the 2012 season (so far) occurred last Thursday just up the road from Sheriff's Department headquarters on Low Gap Road, Ukiah. On one of the properties visited on Low Gap, the raid team found more then 230 large plants and processed marijuana, as well as $5,471 in cash. Taken into custody were senior citizens Susan Applebaum, 58 and Sidney Sittig, 61. Max Rapoport, 26, and Jonathan Sells, 27, of Hawaii were also arrested.

Sittig
AppelBaum
Rapaport
Sells

AT A SECOND PROPERTY, the pot team confiscated 280 plants and arrested Edward Husiar, 55. A search of nearby fields turned up 335 marijuana plants in five gardens. More gardeners believed to be affiliated with these particular ag projects are being sought. State fish and game wardens are investigating illegal water diversion to some of the gardens.

THE BASSLER MATTER continues to create an undercurrent of vague recriminations. Bassler, you will certainly recall, was the young Fort Bragg mountain man who shot and killed Matt Coleman and Jere Melo in the fall of 2011. Bassler, after the Melo shooting, managed to elude law enforcement for more than a month before he was shot to death by a Sacramento swat team. It then developed that both Bassler's mother and father suspected that their son may have murdered Coleman near Westport but failed to report their suspicions to law enforcement. Bassler's mother had dropped her son, armed with a rifle, at the gate of the property where Coleman would soon be killed. Aware of the Coleman murder, Bassler's mother, at a family picnic about two weeks after Coleman's death, mentioned to her former husband that she'd deposited their disturbed, rifle bearing son in the vicinity of Coleman's murder. Neither parent reported that fact to the police who were, at the time, mystified by what appeared to be the absolutely senseless, and perhaps random, shooting of Coleman. Bassler subsequently shot Melo to death. If the cops had known that Bassler, armed and in precarious mental health, often isolated himself in the forests between Westport and Rockport, and roamed even farther north into Southern Humboldt County, he could have been stopped long before he killed Melo.

BUT FISH AND GAME had Bassler down among a number of suspects in the shooting of an elk in the Usal area a month before the Coleman murder. Elk range north of the Usal campground but seldom south of the campground. And we should pause here for a word about that campground. Two words. Don't go. Or if you do go, hike up a the Lost Coast Trail a ways if you desire a wilderness experience sans wild drunks and loudmouthed party dudes and dudettes. All kinds of drunks and nuts, gun nuts among them, are found at the Usal campground because it is mostly unsupervised. The awful people at Usal, of course, are mostly sedentary. They don't walk far from their tents and vehicles. You can elude them simply by hiking north up the Lost Coast Trail and throw your sleeping bag off the trail somewhere, out of the hearing of the depraved oafs below. Knowing that Bassler was an isolato, it is unlikely he spent time in the area of either the campground or the elk shooting. And he was not known to be a hunter.

USAL is a hard slog from where Coleman was shot, and the elk range north of Usal is a harder slog yet, but Bassler, as we now know, was very fit and certainly capable of moving great distances very fast on foot. At one point while he was the subject of the huge manhunt that finally resulted in his death, he appeared at Four Corners at the north end of the seldom traveled Usal Road, far to the north of where the police were looking for him.

FOR FISH AND GAME to associate the shooting of the elk north of Usal with the subsequent shooting of Coleman near Rockport wouldn't necessarily be an association Fish and Game might make, especially in a suspect pool that includes people from the campgrounds just south of elk habitat. But Fish and Game wardens based in Fort Bragg did know that Bassler, whom they regarded as odd, camped in the wild country from Westport north to Usal, and they did talk to Bassler's father about the shooting of the elk. And cleared Bassler.

DID FISH AND GAME tell the Sheriff's Department at the time of the Coleman shooting that this strange young man was known to them, that they suspected him of shooting the elk even though Bassler was not known to hunt game? Yes, but that information included other people and Fish and Game was certain that Bassler had not shot the elk. The cops had no reason to red flag Bassler when Coleman was murdered on the basis of the broad information supplied to them by Fish and Game.

THE UNHAPPY FACT remains, that if Bassler's parents had reported their suspicions that their son might be responsible for Coleman's death, Jerry Melo would still be with us; the Sheriff's Department would have had a month between Coleman's shooting and the shooting of Melo to bring Bassler in, dead or alive.

JOHN SACKOWICZ hosted a lively debate on his KZYX radio show, All About the Money, a couple of Friday's ago. Gadfly financial analyst John Dickerson and County Supervisor John McCowen went mano y mano. Dickerson is the pugnacious former head of the Mendocino County Promotional Alliance (MCPA). He famously stonewalled the Grand Jury when they wanted to see how MCPA was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money. Judge Richard Henderson, a reliable go-to guy for the local entitlement class (who tried to unseat Dan Hamburg in a failed recall attempt 30 years ago when Hamburg first served as Supervisor) ruled that how Dickerson and the MCPA spent the public's money was none of the Grand Jury's business. But Dickerson went too far by constantly antagonizing the Board of Supes, who had the power each year to decide whether or not to continue the sweetheart deal that transferred $300,000 in public money with no accountability. The Promo Alliance first banned Dickerson from speaking to the Board of Supes ('every time you speak, we lose money', said one board member) and finally canned him. Dickerson still blames the Board of Supes and Jim Andersen, the CAO at the time, for his demise, but it was his own hubris that did him in.

DICKERSON, a self-proclaimed 'life long Democrat' (and whenever anyone feels compelled to say that you know they vote Republican every chance they get) later became head of the Employer's Council of Mendocino County (ECMC), a front group for the extremist views of a handful of wealthy wahoos who include Ukiah real estate honcho Dick Seltzer, John Mayfield, Jr., Margie Handley and Paul Clark. County businesses are 'invited' to join up and contribute dues, (with the implied threat of a boycott from the uber rich if they don't), but are not allowed to have a say in any positions the ECMC takes or who sits on the board of directors, all of which is decided exclusively by the board of directors, who only select wealthy, right wing carbon copies of themselves to run the organization. Dickerson, who sees himself as a big picture kind of guy, was fired from this sinecure when he couldn't be bothered to pay the utility bill and the lights got turned off for non payment, much to the embarrassment of the ECMC wanks. Dickerson also embarked on a failed winery venture, acting as the Chief Financial Officer until the firm dissolved in bankruptcy. One might conclude from this cv that the guy's financial analyst credentials are shaky.

DICKERSON has since become the chicken little of local government finance, constantly sounding the alarm that the County is on the brink of bankruptcy and will soon be unable to provide services, pay its current employees or meet its obligations to its retirees. There is certainly reason to sound the alarm. Government financing at all levels is a house of cards, with virtually all public pension systems heavily dependent on the Wall Street Ponzi, which hasn't been working out so well lately. The whole system could, and almost did, come down in an instant, taking several trillion dollars of government pension funds with it.

PREVIOUS BOARDS OF SUPES, putative conservatives and lib labs alike, made a series of bad financial decisions that either increased County long term debt or drove more cost onto the retirement system. They issued Pension Obligation Bonds and Certificates of Participation (a real estate financing scheme). They botched the Teeter Plan. They dramatically increased wages via the Slavin study without calculating the impact to the retirement system. Tom Lucier, the supposed conservative businessman from Willits, was the driving force behind the completely unnecessary and grandly titled "Willits Justice Center" and "Willits Integrated Service Center." The so-called Justice Center sits empty on land owned by the City of Willits. The County can't sell the building or even give it away without approval from the state controlled Administrative Office of the Courts which is in no hurry to act. Meanwhile, the County is forced to continue maintaining the building and making the payments. (That structure, incidentally, is the ugliest structure ever erected in Mendocino County and ought to be demolished.)

HERE IN MENDO, the fiscal problems have been compounded by the manipulations of former long time County Treasurer Tim Knudsen and long time former County Auditor Controller Dennis Huey. They ran the County retirement system as a closed corporation for thirty years, including nutty calculations that claimed the pension systems had racked up excess earnings that did not exist. The phony excess earnings were used to fund retiree health insurance, a benefit that Knudsen and Huey were happy to take advantage of, but for which a legitimate funding source had never been identified. Dickerson helped focus attention on the excess earnings scam, which probably drained $50 million or more out of the retirement system, but his over the top rhetorical approach brings more heat than light to the on-going problem.

DICKERSON BEGAN his stint on the Sackowicz show with the usual doom and gloom by claiming that changes by GASB (the Government Accounting Standards Board) were going to decimate the ability of the County to fund its retirement system without shutting down services and laying off hundreds of employees. Dickerson predicted County pension costs for 2011 would increase from $15 million to a GASB required amount of $40 million. Dickerson then claimed the County was about to get hit with a double whammy as Moody's Investors Services, a major credit rating firm, was about to adjust the way it determines government credit ratings for purposes of calculating interest rates.

MCCOWEN countered that the new GASB rules only require changes in how information is reported, makes no change in funding requirements, and will only become effective for financial reports issued beginning in 2016. McCowen also questioned the assumptions and calculations that Dickerson used to create what he claimed was a model of the GASB changes as applied to Mendocino County. This led to a lengthy exchange with Dickerson defending his claims that Mendocino County has the highest per capita government debt of any county in the state and that the Mendocino County Employees Retirement System (MCERA) has the lowest rate of return on its investment of any of the 21 counties (including Mendo) that participate in the 1937 Act Retirement System. McCowen pointed out that an independent review of all 37 Act counties rated MCERA fifth from the top, a fact confirmed by Sackowicz, who sits on the retirement board. Dickerson then said that was for a different year and that he no longer rated MCERA. McCowen got in a nice dig when he observed that MCERA deserved credit for its stunning turnaround, going from last to near the top in only one year. But if Dickerson is so sure of his numbers, why would he blandly accept the independent survey?

THINGS HEATED UP a bit when McCowen quoted from Dickerson's blog that "Moody's new calculation is that Mendocino should have paid $42 million into the pension fund in 2011," instead of a measly $15 million, and that "Moody's new calculation is that Mendocino's unfunded pension liability is really $267 million," which is more than double the currently reported amount of $125 million. McCowen, apparently aware that no such report exists, pointedly asked to see a copy of the Moody's report for Mendocino County. Dickerson admitted there was no such report and apologized for not making that clear. McCowen drove home the point that neither the current GASB changes or Moody's proposed changes will set the funding requirements for public pensions; that the GASB changes don't take effect for several years; and that it is a disservice to the employees and retirees to make them think their pensions will be cut off tomorrow.

SACKOWICZ, who generally talks as much as his guests, largely stayed out of this one, only cutting in at the end to ask each of his guests to take a minute to sum up. Dickerson, not surprisingly, stood by his prediction that Mendocino County and the retirement system were about to be hit by a ton of bricks. McCowen frankly admitted that everyone should be concerned about the financial health of the retirement system and the County, but that it was irresponsible to engage in fear mongering.

DICKERSON'S THEATRICS are calculated to create the impression that the retirement system is about to go over the cliff and take the County with it and that the people in charge at the retirement board and the County are too dumb to take the obvious steps that are needed to avert disaster. But Dickerson himself never says what the solution is. The main prob is that the retirement system, based on a series of bad decisions over the last couple of decades, is already over the cliff and has entered into a sort of slo mo free fall, (much like the Social Security system), and will bottom out years down the road. But current projections, even assuming a zero return on the investment, are that the retirement system can meet its current and future obligations for the next twenty plus years.

DICKERSON is unlikely to admit it, but the retirement board and the Supes have limited options and there is no silver bullet. The current Board of Supes, led by Pinches, Brown and McCowen, (who all have real world financial experience), have mostly made smart budget decisions, including reducing wages and numbers of employees and acquiring the right to adopt a new retirement tier for new hires. But state and local governments nationwide (who have mostly made their own bonehead financial decisions) will continue to struggle to pay past obligations incurred when the economic outlook was a lot rosier than it is now. And increasing numbers of them will continue to fail. But from what we understand, there will be plenty of examples of what public sector bankruptcy looks like before Mendo is forced to take its turn.

THE GOVERNOR'S so-called pension reform package (that passed the legislature on Friday) might address the worst cases of pension spiking and may offer genuine reform for new employees, but it does little or nothing to address the basic prob, which is that current employees have been promised retirement benefits that are simply not affordable for state and local governments without large tax increases and just try to raise taxes in a political climate dominated by greedheads and demagogues. The courts have so far held that public sector employees are entitled to the full slate of benefits that are offered as of the day they are first hired. Since today's employees, on average, will retire in about 15 years, that means they will continue to earn unaffordable retirement benefits well into the future. San Jose and San Diego voters recently passed initiatives that will reset the clock for future benefits that have not yet been earned, provided they survive the inevitable legal challenges. If San Jose and San Diego prevail, expect Mendo and everyone else to scramble to get on board. Without the ability to reduce unearned future benefits for current employees, the slo mo free fall will continue.

DRIVING NORTH SUNDAY ON 101, I counted eight CHP patrol cars between San Rafael and Ukiah, most of them in the act of ticketing someone. Sooooooo, it's no surprise that Sonoma County alone racked up 169 suspected drunken drivers over the past couple of weeks. Of the 169 drunks, 45 were arrested over the Labor Day weekend.

Wolff

JOHN SAKOWICZ WRITES: KZYX is pleased to present one of America's leading economists, Richard D. Wolff, on Friday, September 7, at 9 AM, Pacific Time, on "The Truth About Money", with host and producer, John Sakowicz. Wolfe will be in the Bay Area over the weekend for several readings and book signing of his new book, "Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism", published by Haymarket Books. "A new historical vista is opening before us in this time of change," Wolff writes in this compelling new manifesto for a democratic alternative based on workers directing their own workplaces. Our broadcast is heard at 88.1, 90.7, and 91.5 FM in the Counties of Mendocino, Humboldt, Lake, and Sonoma in northern California. We also stream live from the web at www.kzyx.org During the second half of our show, we will take listener calls at: (707) 895-2448.

One Comment

  1. John Sakowicz September 6, 2012

    Again, readers owe a big thank you to the AVA for fair and accurate reporting on important financial issues facing our county.

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