LAST FRIDAY NIGHT (September 14th) about 10pm, Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputies cruising North State Street, Ukiah, stopped a vehicle driven by Christopher Eichiner, 26, of Fortuna. Deputies made the stop “for minor traffic violations.” Eichiner was found to be driving on a suspended license, and deputies discovered marijuana and more than $90,000 in cash “hidden in snack boxes in the trunk of the vehicle.” In other words, this guy, with $90 grand in the trunk of his car, was extremely careless. When the DA gets the report of Eichiner's arrest he will smile because Eichiner will undoubtedly forfeit the cash in return for, basically, a minor misdemeanor conviction under the DA's lucrative policy that allows defendants in pot cases to give up the money if they agree to save the taxpayers a lot of money by not going to court. The confiscated dough? It goes to support Mendo law enforcement. The Fortuna man is being held on $20,000 bail at the County Jail where he must kick himself to sleep every night.
THE NATIONAL ROAD TOUR called “On the Road to Remember,” is an awareness campaign that primarily focuses on missing person cases that have gone cold or have not received appropriate media coverage on the local level – much less the national level. The tour, which travels through many states annually, provides that attention. The media plays a significant role in getting the word out on the behalf of the missing person and should be recognized as a vital resource to any investigation. Interest in many of the cases we have featured in previous tours has been renewed. It is the belief of the CUE Center for Missing Persons that all investigators, the public, volunteers and the media should work in collaboration on cases involving missing children and adults; until this happens, there will continue to be cases of the missing labeled “cold,” “inactive” or unsolved.
THE CUE CENTER For Missing Persons founder Monica Caison and a team of volunteers will travel this week from Wilmington, North Carolina Mendocino, on the Coast where a rally will be conducted spotlighting missing persons Kathy LaMadrid and David Neily who are missing from the Fort Bragg area. The Rally will be this Friday, September 21 at 1pm at the Mendocino Presbyterian Church, 44831 Main St., Mendocino, CA 95460. Contact: Monica Caison at 910-232-1687
FINAL BUDGET HEARINGS for 2012-13 were held Monday and Tuesday of last week with the Board of Supes unanimously approving the budget as recommended by their CEO's office. Unlike previous budget hearings, there were very few questions and very little discussion.
MONDAY'S BUDGET SESSION of the Board of Supervisors meeting focused on Criminal Justice Realignment — the Governor's plan to keep non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offenders in the local criminal justice system instead of packing them off to overcrowded state prisons for graduate studies in advanced criminality. AB 109, which mandated the shift from state to local responsibility, requires each county to set up a Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) to approve a plan for spending state realignment funds.
INITIAL FUNDING comes from a portion of the state sales tax and vehicle license fees, but there is no guarantee of funding beyond this fiscal year. Unless, that is, the voters approve Governor Brown's tax plan, Proposition 30, which is supposed to guarantee funding for criminal justice realignment, plus provide enough money to prevent further cuts to social services and education. If Prop 30 fails, it will trigger large cuts to education. The underlying message of Prop 30, a masterful exercise in political cynicism, is “Vote yes or we kill your baby.”
PROP 30 increases taxes on those making $250,000 or more annually. It has been dubbed “tax the rich,” but it also raises the sales tax, which hits everyone. A competing measure, Prop 38, was funded by Molly Munger, the daughter of the billionaire partner of Warren Buffet. Prop 38 (which should be called “tax everyone”) hikes the income tax on anybody making $7,316 or more. Ms. Munger, who likely was raised on stories about the unfair treatment suffered by billionaires, believes everyone should pay to support education (whether they can afford it or not, apparently). Competing tax measures increases the odds that neither will pass. Ms. Munger, who resisted fierce pressure from the Guv to drop her ballot measure, is said to be interested in running for statewide office (a Democratic Meg Whitman, if you will). Prop 38 is projected to be her springboard to electoral relevance.
FOLLOWING PRESENTATIONS on Monday by members of the local CCP, including Chief Probation Officer Jim Brown, Sheriff Allman, DA Eyster, Public Defender Thompson, Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman, and Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) Director Stacey Cryer, the Board of Supes approved the recommended spending plan. The state is kicking down over $2.8 million for the current fiscal year but what happens next year is a big question mark if Prop. 30 goes down the drain.
MOST OF THE MONEY for realignment goes for new hires, including six correctional officers for the jail at a cost of $758,252. Except it looks like the jailers will now be called “Community Corrections Counselors.” Five probation officers and a half-time probation office staffer will be hired at a cost of $546,470; as well as a half-time eligibility worker for HHSA at $34,000; a half-time alcohol and other drugs counselor at $53,706; and a “Mental Health Rehabilitation Specialist” for $98,000. Also included is a $360,000 contract with an outfit called "BI" to operate a “day reporting center.” Over $800,000 of the $2.8 million is being held in reserve “for unanticipated expenses.” The reserve is short-term protection against having to use general fund money to pay for this new state mandated program.
PREVIOUS BUDGET HEARINGS have sometimes turned contentious with the department heads, the CEO and the Board of Supervisors squabbling over how to divide an increasingly slender slice of general fund revenue. Tuesday's final budget hearing was expected to be more of the same. Supervisor Kendall Smith, forever stuck in Blue Meanie Mode, is always looking for a way to take the Sheriff down a notch. Back in May the Board directed that $700,000 in funds raised for the Sheriff by DA Eyster’s “restitution” plan, which some people call extortion but is essentially a clever means of putting confiscated dope cash to public benefit, be put in a reserve for the Sheriff's Office. The Board also directed that $1.4 million that would normally be transferred to the Department of Transportation (DOT) Road Fund be used instead to pay off County debt. Smith was counting on Supervisor Hamburg, (also a Blue Meanie guy), and Supervisor Pinches (who probably regards the cops as simply mean given the special attention his family gets from them and who has more miles of County road in his district than anyone, to be able to shift money from the Sheriff and split it between roads and social services. But it never happened. In fact, Smith never even tried, at least not in open session, the only time it would have counted.
ASSISTANT CEO KYLE KNOPP, the Executive Office budget watchdog, made the budget presentation, starting with a recap of recent years which featured multi-million dollar deficits, layoffs, wage cuts and depletion of the reserves. But just as Knopp started to review the budget recommendations for individual departments, Supervisor Pinches said he supported the budget as presented. And that was it. Kendall Smith had lost her potential third vote in terms of being able to pry any money out of the Sheriff's budget. Knopp proceeded to discuss the recommendations, mostly minor adjustments, except for another $250,000 to the DA and a like amount to the Sheriff. Other than a few questions about the Sheriff's budget by Hamburg, that was it. Smith seemed largely disinterested in the process, fiddling with her County issued “Blackberry” most of the meeting. After a scant two hour hearing, the budget passed unanimously.
THE SHERIFF'S OFFICE apparently overestimated the amount of revenue to be received from zip ties and Eyster's “restitution” program, resulting in a shortfall of over $300,000. The Sheriff agreed to trim the amount down to $250,000 and requested additional general fund money to close the gap. And the Executive Office agreed. The DA's budget has gone from $4.2 million in 2008-09 to $3.2 million last year. Critics say Eyster's swift resolution of marijuana cases means he doesn't need more money, but Eyster responds that resolving the marijuana cases has allowed his office to devote additional resources to serious crimes, including the ten homicides committed in Mendocino County last year.
ALISON GLASSEY, the former long time Social Services Director, who was later moved into the Executive Office (where she functioned as hatchet man for CEOs John Ball, Al Beltrami and Tom Mitchell) was exiled into the County Museum in Willits when Carmel Angelo took over as CEO. Other than the Sheriff and DA, who responded to a few questions, Glassey was the only department head to address the Board to plead for more funding. By all accounts, Glassey has done a great job breathing new life into the Museum. But the Museum is not a money maker and has lots of unmet needs. The curator was let go last year. There is no one to properly catalogue and manage the collection. The roof leaks. What was supposed to be museum quality storage, to preserve the artifacts, turned out to be unusable for that purpose. The Supervisors were unmoved. Finally, Glassey asked for a pittance, the $4,794 in the museum budget that didn't get spent last year. But only Smith came to her support, and to no avail. (Here in Amnesia County where history starts all over again every morning and everyone is whatever he says he is, an historical archive has almost no public support.)
SUPERVISOR SMITH also sought, again without success, to add a couple of thousand dollars to help maintain a gage on the Noyo River that measures water flow. The gage mainly benefits the City of Fort Bragg which pumps water from the Noyo, but can only do so if certain flow levels are maintained. The County eliminated funding for that and several other gages after former Water Agency Director Roland Sanford submitted a budget inflated with grant money that was never applied for or received. Sanford was shown the door and the remaining Water Agency functions were carefully scrutinized to bring the budget back in line.
AUDITOR/CONTROLLER MEREDITH FORD put in a cameo appearance to review actual revenue for last fiscal year and projected revenue for 2012-13. Revenue last fiscal year was $2 million more than the budgeted amount, but over a million came from one time revenues for extension of the solid waste franchise, sale of surplus property and a boost in tobacco tax revenue. Property tax was flat, but sales tax and bed taxes saw modest increases. The final closeout for 2011-12 showed a surplus of $2.7 million, which was promptly rolled into the current fiscal year to help pay for increased retirement and healthcare costs, which consume an ever larger share of the County's so-called discretionary revenue. Which really isn't discretionary, since the retirement and healthcare costs have to be paid.
THE COUNTY decided a couple of years ago that across-the-board wage cuts were necessary to balance the budget. The County, just like the state, had a classic structural deficit, with built in costs consistently exceeding available revenue. But unlike the state, the County took drastic action, in the form of layoffs and wage cuts, to correct the imbalance. In 2009-10 the County had a $3.5 million dollar deficit. In 2010-11 the County managed to pass a precariously balanced budget by implementing the first of the wage cuts and by taking the last $1.9 million from the reserve fund.
THE COUNTY BARGAINING UNITS, especially SEIU, which represents the majority of the County workforce, naturally don't like wage cuts but no one has come up with a better way to balance the budget, as us chickens out here marvel at Mental Health hires at $90,000-plus. SEIU was the last holdout, finally agreeing to a 10% wage cut earlier this year, but not before the inept union leadership bungled the employees into an unnecessary 12.5% cut. The County also consolidated the workforce into County owned buildings, saving $1 million in annual lease payments to private parties, and implemented other cost cutting measures, but it is largely because of the wage cuts that the County was able to balance its budget and put $2.7 million back into reserves in fiscal year 2011-12. And bottom line for 2012-13 is that the County is adding another $1.5 million for a total of $4.2 million in reserves.
SEIU, LARGELY MISSING IN ACTION when the Supes are discussing the budget or other issues that SEIU says are important to them, finally showed up. Dave Eberly, one of the bargaining team members, told the Board that the 10% wage cut had created a “labor quality of service crisis.” Eberly painted a grim picture of trained employees departing in droves, increased workloads, high stress levels, increased waiting times for people seeking benefits, all leading up to “an environment ripe for public backlash.” He asked the Supervisors to take a long range look at budget issues so that employees were not affected with short term funding swings. Which is the whole point of holding the line on spending, (including the just adopted wage cuts), and building up the reserve fund.
CARL CARR, SEIU field representative, apparently flushed out by a recent mention in this column noting his long-term absence, showed up to complain that SEIU had not had enough time to review the budget and demanded that the County “meet and confer” on the budget issue. (Jesus H. Keeerist! Sure, Carl. How about if we bring the whole show over to your house for you?) Supervisor McCowen, Chair of the Board, tried to coax an answer out of Interim County Counsel Terry Gross that meet and confer was not a budget issue, but Gross seemed unsure. Supervisor Pinches stated clearly that the budget process is not a meet and confer issue. Which it isn't. In the face of such obvious grandstanding, you have to wonder: is SEIU that dumb, or do they think their members are? (Answer: Both. SEIU is incompetent and the membership is clearly content to go on paying union dues to people who don't know or even seem to care about what they're doing.)
THE RECOMMENDED BUDGET was published a month ago, which should be plenty of time for the largest labor union in the whole goddam world to brush up on the numbers. And if the locals can't grasp what the numbers mean (and clearly they can't) they can refer the budget out to someone who can. If, that is, they really want to know what the County's financial condition is.
THE COUNTY BUDGET ADDS about $1.5 million to the reserves for this fiscal year, but that figure is misleading. Projected revenue for the current fiscal year, despite hoped for modest increases in property, sales and bed taxes, is less than actual revenue from four years ago. And for each of the last four years the budget has taken multi-million dollar hits for increased retirement and health care costs. And the only reason the County is able to put money into reserves is because it reduced by an equal amount the General Fund transfer to the Road Fund. So the roads will further unravel as the County continues to teeter on the financial edge. And only SEIU is still asking if we really have a budget problem.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: “Occupy was doomed — destined to fizzle out — for many reasons; but if you had to narrow it down to three: 1) No clearly defined leadership, 2) No real agenda or game-plan, 3) No clue (comprehension skills) on how to attract the proper demographic that would help Occupy become a significant movement. If all you attract are students, underachievers, anarchists and vandals — how the heck do you really expect to make any real difference or effect any real change?” (SF Gate comment line)
NEW FACES At Anderson Valley Health Center — Exciting things are happening at the Anderson Valley Health Center. Recruitment for an additional physician is underway, hours of service are being expanded, and a new children’s health program has already started. Because helping kids establish good health habits early in life is so important, AVHC has developed an innovative children’s healthcare program that could become a model for other health centers in the county. Shannon Spiller, an experienced Physician Assistant, has been hired by AVHC to head up a pediatric program providing on-site services at Anderson Valley Schools and the Anderson Valley Family Resource Center. The program incorporates education and health monitoring and focuses on prevention, fitness and nutrition. In addition, through a federal grant recently awarded to Anderson Valley Elementary School, Ms. Spiller will be involved in a national system of tracking the Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 500 students to develop a baseline for fitness assessment. Shannon Spiller, who is bi-lingual, has worked in healthcare for the past 23 years, specifically in healthcare administration, family practice and women’s health. She also has extensive experience in rural community healthcare, and is familiar with the challenges that small health centers such as AVHC face. “It is great having Shannon as a member of our clinical team, and it is thanks to the close working relationship between the health center and our schools that we are able to provide this new pediatric program,” said Diane Agee, CEO, AVHC. “We are confident that by providing this service in our community we can have a greater impact on meeting the healthcare needs of our children.” As Shannon Spiller works with local children in our elementary and high schools during the next few months, she will be joined and assisted by Briana Bobrak and John Diehl, two AmeriCorps Navigators who have been assigned to Anderson Valley Health Center. Briana and John will be in the community through early summer 2013. By that time, Dr. Mark Apfel, Medical Director at AVHC, is hoping to have a new medical provider on the staff at AVHC. The recruitment process is underway and Dr. Apfel is confident that there will be an additional primary care physician at the health center by next spring. And, for those in the community who have a hard time getting to the clinic during the current hours of operation, there is good news. In response to requests from community members, the hours of service at AVHC will be expanded and, starting Tuesday, October 2, the health center will be open Tuesday and Thursday evening until 7 p.m. Currently the health center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. (Diane Agee, 895-3477.)