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County Notes (January 13, 2022)

CEO Angelo To Retire In March, Months Before Her Contract Expiration

The rumors were correct. County CEO Carmel Angelo announced her March retirement this weekend with an exit interview with Matt LaFever. The CEO said she was retiring early for family reasons. Her contract as CEO for Mendocino County was to expire in October. We do not know if she will receive any early retirement incentives other than accumulated sick leave, accumulated vacation, accumulated personal time off.

LaFever: “[CEO Angelo] also shouted out former 1st District Supervisor Carre Brown and 2nd District Supervisor John McCowen for their constant teamwork to do what is best for the community.”

Brown of course, but McCowen? It’s no secret they now loathe each other.

Since his retirement former Supervisor McCowen has been constantly critical of CEO Angelo who wrongly accused him of stealing County property near the end of his term. Last July, referring to the pointless and seemingly endless dispute with Sheriff Matt Kendall that was clearly engineered by CEO Angelo, McCowen wrote:

“I believe the Board has been set up by the CEO who is angry at the Sheriff and by County Counsel Curtis who takes direction from the CEO, not the Board that hired him. … Because Angelo is at odds with the Sheriff, Curtis has allowed himself to be used in setting up the Board. This is a continuation of a pattern of unethical behavior by the CEO and County Counsel Curtis who have created a lose, lose, lose situation. This fight will drive unnecessary expense onto the County; destabilize the working relationships of the County partners; tarnish the reputations of all involved (some more than others) and reinforce the negative opinions people have of County government. This is a self-inflicted injury to the County that could have been avoided if County Counsel was ethical and competent. Earlier this year Sheriff Kendall stated he would no longer meet with the CEO because he could not rely on what she was telling him. Kendall’s statement crossed the line of no return. The CEO will not tolerate anyone who questions her or who crosses her.”

But while on the Board, Supervisor McCowen was not so critical, and in fact was the lead Supervisor in engineering CEO Angelo’s fat pay raise in 2018. In October of 2018, justifying CEO Angelo’s four year contract which raised her base salary to $225k (plus over $100k per year in benefits) this year, McCowen said Angelo deserved the raise because she’d been underpaid for years and she has great contacts at the state level and she almost single-handedly got some money from the State for the post fire disaster over-excavation reimbursement of upwards of 100 burned out inland home-owners in the 2017 fires. “Although it is a lot of money,”McCowen admitted, “it actually is justified. Carmel Angelo was hired by the Board in March of 2010 at $30,000 less than her immediate predecessor.”

No wonder Angelo kissed him goodbye.

 * * *

Back to LaFever’s interview: “The county’s financial health was Angelo’s biggest concern in the next few years. With four out of five the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors is in their first term, Angelo fears the current infusion of cash from the state and local government could make them spend in excess. ‘These board members think we always have money. Stop spending money. just stop,’ Angelo said. ‘I guarantee in three years we will be in trouble’.”

This is very rich. This is the same CEO who thought that spending $5 million for a $1 million Crisis Residential Treatment house in Ukiah next door to Camille Schraeder’s admin complex was a great deal. The same CEO who thinks that County projects and spending should be modeled after a private citizen’s “$50,000 kitchen.” The same CEO who hands out raises to loyal senior staffers without the slightest hesitation, whose sudden and arbitrary senior staff firings and personal grudges have cost the County hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside legal fees, who has refused to even try to break up the contract with her personal friend Camille Schraeder to allow for competitive bidding (as Supervisor Williams requested), and who steadfastly refused to produce a monthly budget report for over a decade. We certainly agree with the CEO that “in three years we will be in trouble.” Probably sooner. But that will because of the CEO and all the spending she has committed the County to already, not future weak boards of Supervisors.

* * *

Angelo also told LaFever that “a key factor in determining Mendocino County’s future success is the implementation of a strategic plan.”

This is the same “strategic plan” that a large percentage of her own employees described in the Strategic Planners own survey as “a waste of time,” The same strategic plan that is squandering over $75k of supposedly limited revenue.

* * *

LaFever complimented (i.e., quoted) Angelo saying that, “Her work building a fiscally-responsible, stable county government grew county reserves from $1.9 million in 2007 to $20 million today.”

We did not know that the “reserves” had ballooned to $20 million. Maybe that’s because the CEO has been so successful in avoiding having to produce ordinary monthly budget reports. But it’s a very self-serving way of spinning the fact that the CEO fired a bunch of people in 2009 and has kept the County chronically understaffed since then, even in departments not funded by the General Fund.

* * *

Angelo wrapped up by saying that the public should view her well-reimbursed tenure as CEO as a large personal sacrifice: “Though many larger counties offer more salary and status,” Angelo said, “that is not what I wanted.”

Please. Angelo woulda been tossed anywhere but here just for her many failings to even follow Board Directives.

Maybe it’s just an oversight, but in “shouting out” to various former officials, including Sheriff Allman, CEO Angelo neglected to mention Sheriff Kendall.

Say what you will about Carmel Angelo’s nearly unprecedented 12-year tenure as Mendocino County CEO (plus a couple of years as head of Health and Human Services before that), but she has put her imprint on almost every aspect of the County, and takes a huge repository of recent Mendocino County history with her. Her departure will create a vacuum that will take months if not years for the county to adjust to.

Money, Money Everywhere, But Not A Drop To Drink

As an ominous “dry pattern” descends on California in 2022, Official Mendocino’s well-deserved reputation for being long on self-congratulatory rhetoric and short on action, looms larger. 

Take, for example, their much ballyhooed water road show that Supervisors Ted Williams and Glenn McGourty kicked off and brought to Boonville last July in the teeth of the historic 2021 drought. 

We called our report on that roadshow “Born Yesterday,” because the Mendo officials hadn’t done even the slightest amount of homework on the water situation in the Anderson Valley, or the other towns they dropped in on.

It was obvious that the roadshow’s main purpose was to kickstart an exercise to revive the County Water Agency and thereby enrich a few water bureaucrats; not to seriously address local water issues or the drought, either in the short or the long term. 

Since then, the well-compensated water bureaucrats have gone into full blather mode, setting up ad hocs and task forces and contracting with expensive consultants to set up the water agency ($310k with GEI Consultants Inc.) and apply for grants ($1.7 million with Larry Walker and Associates. And this is just the beginning.

The December drought task force meeting this past Thursday saw the water blah-blah machine at full volume as the Task Force members — McGourty and Supervisor John Haschak along with consultant Josh Metz — spent an hour and a half talking about water, praising each other for “working tirelessly” on partnerships, grant opportunities, assessments, sustainability, grant applications, collaborations, coordination, committees, strategic plans, monitoring, “template agreements,” “groundwater investigations,” outreach, more consultants, and so on. Haschak said they were “trying to figure out what strategies will help us for long-term drought.”

They’ve been “trying” for months and the only strategy they’ve developed so far is to ask for more money for themselves.

The closest the water talkers got to an actual project was a passing mention of some possible groundwater monitoring in the Ukiah Valley, but nothing about water supply or storage.

In June, when the Board of Supervisors first raised the idea of creating a water agency, Supervisor Williams, before voting to spend money on the Water Agency consultant, grandly declared, “I support water infrastructure and spending our money to implement infrastructure or directly plan for it or apply for grants, but I don’t want to spend money on administrative overhead, studies that won’t actually get us more water, town hall meetings, or listeneing sessions.”

But what Williams says he doesn’t support is pretty much what’s happening.

Following the Williams-McGourty roadshow in July, the nascent water agency announced on their webpage:

“For the past few months, local water suppliers have been developing projects to submit for emergency drought funding, both to help deliver water for immediate use and to implement projects for long-term resiliency.”

Let’s look at that sentence again for emphasis: They bluntly claimed that “local water suppliers have been developing projects…

Accordingly, the webpage asked local non-profit and water related agencies to: “Please submit your responses to Sara Pierce at the Executive Office at pierces@mendocinocounty.org.”

As an incentive the webpage added, “This program offers $190 million in grant funding [at the state level] available for interim or immediate drought relief to address impacts on human health and safety, on fish and wildlife resources, and to provide water to persons or communities that lose or are threatened with the loss or contamination of water supplies. The Draft Guidelines/Proposal Solicitation Package (PSP) was released and a final Guidelines/PSP is expected to follow in late October. Minimum grants awards are $2 M, though smaller projects can be bundled into one application, such as the NCRP regional proposal, to meet the minimum budget amount. If you are interested in applying for drought funding via the NCRP Urban and Multibenefit Drought Relief Grant regional proposal, please contact them at colettem@planwestpartners.com no later than October 31 with the following information: Organization Name, Project Name, Project Description, Brief description of how the project addresses the existing drought, Contact Name, Contact Email, Contact Phone.”

Millions and millions of dollars to address drought and water shortages! Just send in the projects that we said you were already developing! 

Since then, there have been more meetings, more discussions of grant opportunities, bi-weekly discussions and reports from all the water agencies in the County… It was clear that if the drought hadn’t convinced local water agencies and organizations that project proposals were called for, this latest county request would. Or so they thought.

Curious as to what this solicitation produced, a couple of weeks ago we submitted a Public Records Act request for “copies of all responses to this request.”

Response: “The County did not receive any responses to this request.”

Remember, this is after their own announcement had said that “…local water suppliers have been developing projects to submit…” 

We also asked for “a list of the current grant applications either submitted or in the process of being prepared for submittal to address the ongoing drought in Mendocino County for this or any other grant opportunities.”

Response: 

“Program: Small Community Drought Relief Program

Project: Mendocino County Community Water Supply Replacement Project

Application Date: 8/31/21

Amount of Application: $3,840,000

Received Notification of Funding for $2,000,000

Timeline for eligible activities: 9/21/2021-2/28/2023”

and…

“Program: Urban and Multi-benefit Drought Relief Program

Project: Mendocino County Drought Water Resiliency, Management, and Enhancement Strategic Plan

Plan to submit application by Phase 2 deadline of 1/14/2022

Amount not yet final. Program Funds expire: June 30, 2026.”

Translation: Mendo is in line for lots of water bureaucracy money for “management” and a “strategic plan,” and more, but they haven’t got a clue about practical steps to use it for other than for themselves. I.e., essentially what Williams said he didn’t support. 

At the end of Thursday’s Drought Task Force meeting, having lauded each other at length for doing nothing but talking about handing out or applying for more money, Supervisor McGourty fell back to Mendo’s usual water policy when he mumbled, “Hopefully we will get a break weatherwise so we aren’t in as quite dire circumstances as we were this year.”

Metz agreed: “Here, here!”

County Employees Unhappy With County Management & Strategic Plan

A few (selected) items from Tuesday’s Strategic Plan presesntation and the Employee Survey the consultants conducted… Ironically, one of the suggestions from the employee survey was that Mendo Management use employees to do work that is farmed out to consultants. For example, they could start by asking their own Personnel Department to do employee surveys and exit interviews, instead of asking an expensive Sonoma County consultant to do it. 

Aside: On the Bay Area News last week, they did an unusual story about an item City of Oakland is dealing with: Cops leaving the the Oakland Police department in record high numbers. Besides the obvious problem, the presentation made clear that Oakland management does a much better job of tracking trends in their departments than Mendo does. (In fact most local jurisdictions do a better job than Mendo, as we’ve pointed out time and again.) And the cop staffing statistics, along with many other interesting statistics, were assembled and reported on by Oakland’s police review committee — a committee that could be a good model for Mendo if they ever get theirs going. (Unlikely.)

It turned out that based on exit interviews, cops were leaving, not because of anti-cop public opinions, or covid mandates or being asked to do too many non-cop duties. No, the primary reason given was that they didn’t like the new Chief’s discipline policy. The TV news segment didn’t dig into the point, but viewers were left with the impression that (some) Oakland cops don’t like being held to their rules in the same way that they expect the public to be held to. 

Anyway, back to the Mendo employee survey…

According to the consultants, they got a pretty good response rate of 36% from County Employees. Most of the feedback was critical to one degree or another, so the responses may be skewed toward those who had complaints. But our experience with County employees is that a sizable fraction of them follow county affairs fairly closely, and the remainder either don’t care or don’t feel like their complaints matter or will be heard. Upshot: the responses are probably fairly representative of County employee opinions. 

Like us, “Many employees believe that a strategic plan is a ‘waste of time’ because goal setting efforts have failed in the past due to leadership failing to honor those goals.” And, “Staff is concerned that the County does not have enough employees to implement the objectives presented in this proposed plan.”

That second comment is fairly nebulous since the “objectives” are the usual vague hopes for better this and more that, so there’s no way anybody could determine how much staff is needed to “implement” them.

Not surprisingly, Employees were “Critical of County leadership receiving salary increases when employee wages remain stagnant.”

They also said that “Public Health needs more funding, more staffing, and experienced leadership.” They expressed a “Desire for increased mental health services, including facilities specifically for homeless, general adult population, and youth,” and later in the survey added that “Many are discouraged regarding Measure B (mental health sales tax). Not seeing the positive impact on the population in need.”

The employees expressed “Concern about cannabis and water use, with some even suggesting that cannabis permitting be stopped due to water use concerns.” We understand the sentiment, but the county’s permitted users represent only a very small percentage of pot growers in the County and they don’t represent much of the pot-water usage. Stopping permitting wouldn’t save much water.

Some employees say they are bothered by the County’s move toward an all-electric vehicle fleet saying that “Resources that could be wasted as employees wait to charge EVs.” (Is that a problem?) And that “Some vehicles might not ‘get the job done’ for all work.” (That could be true for some heavy-duty or very rural driving and tasks.)

Under the general topic of water, employees were worried about the ongoing drought, but, oddly, the consultants added that the “Ag community feels misunderstood about its use of water and energy / resources.”

The “Ag community” is a euphemism for grape growers, of course. And what that comment has to do with County employees escapes us. Those poor grape growing babies are constantly feeling put upon when anybody complains about their water consumption for irrigiation and frost protection for their more than 17,000 ACRES of grapes in Mendocino Country. If only people would try harder to understand how important their grapes are, all those gripes would magically suddenly “dry up.”

Some employees said that the County “Needs to understand the [housing] situation from the developer’s perspective.” This one actually has some validity. The few projects that developers have proposed in recent years have met with county obstacle after county obstacle, permits sit in limbo for years. They can’t even get their permits processed, much less approved. And, although some officials like to act as if Mendo’s historical anti-development attitude is the problem, it’s much more a problem of local and state rules and endless delays. Even a bad project at least deserves to have their applications processed in a timely manner.

To read the consultant’s full report of their employee survey go to the County’s agenda webpage and look up the agenda item for the Strategic Plan.

2 Comments

  1. George Dorner January 13, 2022

    For once, I am in favor of hiring an out-of-county consultant. With this change in the CEO position, there should be an independent audit of county finances. Of course, that’s not going to happen.

  2. Sick of lies. January 19, 2022

    If Mendocino County is not doing extensive audits of all departments after Angelo leaves the results will be their own blind eye fault.

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