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County Notes: County Caves

On December 18, I filed a Brown Act Complaint and Correct and Cure Notice demanding that each board member explain their justification for voting the way they did.

Further, I demanded that the Board specify which budget this unbudgeted expenditure will be taken from.

Further, I demanded that the Board create a specific policy that requires all future department head or elected official pay increases to be handled in accordance with applicable government code sections on a regular agenda in open session.

Amendment:

Their attempt to correct the violation by adding a separate item to the Board meeting later in the day, also violated the Brown Act and further violated the Board’s own Rules of Procedure.

By re-voting on the item later in the meeting, there was 1) an acknowledgement of the initial violation and 2) a violation of notice requirements because no vote was taken to add the item to the agenda as an urgent item, nor was public comment provided for.

Further, your own Rules of Procedure (#26 and #27) require that the Board make a motion to rescind the initial vote to approve the consent calendar, then consider and approve a motion to reconsider, then take public comment and then vote on the item as revised.

Further, the provision in the pay raise item which ties the County Counsel’s pay to 15% more than his own subordinate’s pay is also illegal, not to mention unethical. Essentially, this provision means that the public official can give himself a raise by giving his subordinate a raise which in turn would violate Government Code which requires all raises for government officials and department heads to be agendized and individually voted on in open session. 

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I have since discovered that the provision in the pay raise item which ties the County Counsel’s pay to 15% more than his own subordinate’s pay is probably a violation of Government Code Section 1090 concerning conflicts of interest, a detail that I would have included had I known about it in the original complaint, and which I will bring up later if necessary.

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Board Agenda for January 4 Board meeting:

Item 6a: Discussion and Possible Action Including Reconsideration of the Board of Supervisor's Action on December 14, 2021, Approving Item 4 - Consent Calendar (Items A - R As depicted in Attachment A to this item) (Sponsor: Supervisor Williams)

Item 6b: Discussion and Possible Action Including Rescinding of the Board of Supervisor's Action on December 14, 2021, Approving Employment Agreement between the County of Mendocino and Christian M. Curtis to Serve as County Counsel for the Term of August 9, 2020 Through August 8, 2024, Including Compensation Effective December 26, 2021, in the Amount of One Hundred Ninety-two Thousand Four Hundred and Thirty-Six Dollars ($192,436.00)/Annually Plus Benefits (Sponsor: Supervisor Williams)

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Translation: Supervisor Williams proposes to re-vote on the December 14 Consent Calendar but without the proposed raise for County Counsel. Then, as a separate action, he proposes to rescind the incorrectly noticed atempt to approve the County Counsel pay raise that was voted on later in the day. 

But Tuesday’s agenda does not have a replacement item proposing to raise County Counsel’s pay. There is no specific mention of our Brown Act violation notice, except the indirect passive reference: “Subsequent to the Board’s action to adopt the consent calendar on the December 14, 2021, the Board was informed of potential procedural issues associated with the public noticing of an item included on the consent calendar for Board consideration and approval.”

If the Board wants to propose this kind of big raise for County Counsel at a later time in light of this fiasco they’ll look as bad as County Counsel does for setting the Board up for this violation and correction. We are not privy to what prompted outgoing Board Chair Dan Gjerde to initiate this large pay raise proposal, but we’d hope that if they decide to try again they at least do it right.

To the best of our knowledge — and we follow this stuff as closely as anybody in Mendocino County — this is the first and only time in Mendocino County history that a Brown Act violation has been upheld and corrected.

Massive Expansion Of Mendo’s Pot Permit Bureaucracy Approved On Consent Calendar

In a recent column Mendocino Observer Editor Jim Shields said that “[Mendocino] County just doesn’t have the appropriate resources, funding or ‘can do’ political will to administer and enforce any cannabis ordinance.”

Mendocino County doesn’t have the “can do” political will to administer and enforce much of anything, really. So no argument there.

But not enough resources? Inadequate funding?

Wait a minute. 

It seems like almost everybody but the recently promoted County Pot Czar (aka Cannabis Program Director) Kristen Nevedal has missed the big new pot program administration expansion. 

Maybe that’s because it snuck through under the radar on the consent calendar where lots of fishy spending programs sneak through. 

Board of Supervisors meeting, Dec. 14, 2021, Consent Item 4n:

“Adoption of Resolution Amending Position Allocation Table as Follows: Cannabis Program Budget Unit 2810, Add 1.0 FTE Cannabis Program Manager; 1.0 FTE Senior Planner; 6.0 FTE Planner II; 1.0 FTE Cartographer Planner; 1.0 FTE Department Analyst II; 1.0 FTE Office Services Supervisor; 1.0 FTE Administrative Assistant; 1.0 FTE Staff Assistant III.”

Translation: The Mendocino Cannabis Department is adding a Program manager, a senior planner, six journeyman planners, a mapping specialist, an analyist, an office supervisor and two admin assistants — a total of 13 mostly high paid people. 

From the accompanying agenda item summary staff reports:

“This program expansion is estimated to cost about $700k for the first half of 2022, then over $1.8 million per year thereafter. But the actual cost could vary based on a footnote that reads “pending time studies in 2022.”

How could such a huge expansion of Mendo’s pot bureaucracy end up on the consent calendar? 

Answer: Apparently because last it was previously approved when it was buried in a previous consent calendar item when the FY 2021-2022 budget was approved on the consent calendar. 

Last June 22 on the Consent Calendar the Board approved: “Adoption of Resolution Authorizing Changes to and Adoption of the Master Position Allocation Table for Fiscal Year 2021-22 … On June 9, 2021, as part of the Fiscal Year 2021-22 Proposed Budget process, the Board authorized changes to various position allocations per Attachment D of the Budget Presentation. Attachment A represents the Master Position Allocation Table for Fiscal Year 2021-22, as of Pay Period 11-21 ending May 29, 2021 and incorporates changes per Attachment D of the Budget Presentation authorized during the June 9, 2021 approval of the Proposed Budget for Fiscal Year 2021-22.”

Attachment D was the budget for the newly expanded Cannabis “unit,” which added about $1.8 million of revenue to the local cannabis bureuacracy via a state grant which was intended to help Mendo’s struggling pot growers. Instead, it only helps Mendo’s clearly NOT-struggling newly flush pot bureacracy.

The December 14 consent item continues:

“The addition of the proposed thirteen full-time equivalency (13.0 FTE) allocations will enable the Cannabis Program to expedite the processing of Phase One and Phase Two applications and be adequately prepared for Phase Three applications as well as taking on Cannabis Facility Business License applications.” 

This expanded new organization is supposed to “enable the Cannabis Program to expedite the processing of Phase One and Phase Two applications,” most of which are dead in the water and will never make it to full state licenses. 

“These allocations will be funded initially by the Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant program and by permit fees pending time studies in 2022.”

“Funded initially”? Meaning funded for one year? What about after that? Where will the long-term funding for 13 new cannabis positions come from?

With this new “Jurisdiction Assistance Grant,” the cannabis unit is expected to go from about $700k per year to more than $1.8 million per year — “pending time studies in 2022.”

Oh wait, we just noticed we had the wrong organizational chart. Please ignore the one above, and use this one which is obviously much more efficient:

In essence, while Mendo’s cannabis businesses, both permitted and non-permitted, are tanking due to a glut of product, falling prices and shriveling markets, Mendo’s cannabis bureaucracy is soaring to new heights.

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PS. Looking back at other consent calendar items from that momentous June 9 meeting we also noticed:

“Board Directive: GENERAL CONSENSUS OF THE BOARD to direct the Executive Office/Information Services to discuss consolidating County IT with Sheriffs Office IT, per Board directive in 2019; return to the Board with an update within 30 days.”

That never happened because soon after this “directive” appeared the Sheriff asked for an outside attorney to tell the Board that they couldn’t do it. But the item and the intent remains on the record.

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“Board Directive: GENERAL CONSENSUS OF THE BOARD to direct the Chief Executive Officer to reinstitute regular recurring meetings with the Sheriff in order to ensure effective communications regarding Board Policy and Sheriffs Office Operations.”

That “directive” never happened either.

As we have noted in the past, the board’s “directives” carry no weight, are not followed up on, and are routinely ignored by the CEO and her staff.

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And this one: “Upon motion by Supervisor Mulheren, seconded by Supervisor Haschak, IT IS ORDERED that the Board of Supervisors provides direction to Department Heads and Elected Officials that it is not and has not been the policy of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors to hold officials personally liable for budget overages that result from duly authorized expenditures, variations between actual and projected revenue, and other issues routinely addressed through quarterly budget adjustments.”

Here the Supervisors are giving “direction” to department heads that they will not be held personally liable for overruns. If “direction” is called for it would be better to give it to themselves. You do not “direct” your subordinates to ignore your previous policy in favor of your new one which is that you have no policy. 

Unless you’re in Mendocino County, of course.

Judge Moorman Rules For The Sheriff

OUR INTERPRETATION of Judge Moorman’s split-the-diff full ruling on the question of whether Sheriff Kendall can retain the Duncan James law firm on questions of conflict with the Board of Supervisors: 

KENDALL can have an outside attorney on the question of computer consolidation (because the Board simply cannot legally consolidate the Sheriff’s computer system with the County’s). But she punted on the question of whether he can have Duncan James as his attorney, sending that question back to the Board of Supervisors. If the Board holds firm on their “anyone but Duncan James” and Kendall sticks by his “only Duncan James,” they’ll probably be back in court again, drawing this stupid argument out even longer. 

But since the other things — an unresolved budget dispute or a bill sent to the Sheriff for any overrun — have not yet actually happened, a technically and narrowly defined “conflict” does not YET exist. In other words, the Sheriff has to wait until he gets a bill or is refused funding for a specific law enforcement purpose before he can even dispute these points. Thanks a lot, Judge.

HOWEVER, Judge Moorman made a point of noting that the County’s position has been all over the map as the case evolved over the six months it took to get this far, and that “one or more members of the BOS have publicly seemingly threatened to hold him personally liable for any such expenditure(s) under section 29121 which is [sic: has] also been incorporated as county policy.”

JUDGE MOORMAN also complained about the Board’s pre-emptory attempt to force an outside attorney on the Sheriff engineered by County Counsel Christian Curtis, writing, “This action was in express defiance of the existing proceeding and interpreted by the court as an effort to circumvent the court process.” … “County Counsel admitted that the action of the BOS was on the advice of County Counsel.”

BUT IF THE JUDGE was as annoyed by this “defiance” as she says she is, she should have just ordered Duncan James to be appointed for the computer consolidation issue at least, not sent it back to the Supervisors.

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