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The Road Ahead

Is it too early to start speculating about Mendo After Angelo? Of course it is. Way too early.

So, let’s look into our Crystal Ball using what little we know about the current chaotic state of affairs at 501 Low Gap Road and see what we can see.

Given the Board’s misplaced devotion to their pointless Strategic Plan — if you don't have a clue, what's the point of a plan? But we do see Interim Health and Human Services Director (and Strategic Plan point person) Ann Molgaard being appointed Interim CEO soon after the CEO’s departure in March, with Dr. Jenine Miller appointed Interim HHSA director to replace Molgaard.

Meanwhile, the Board has already indicated a preference for a “CAO (Chief Administrative Officer) model” administrative structure instead of the concentrated power of the Chief Executive Officer, but what that “model” will end up looking like is unclear.

The Board has already put in motion an unwise plan (actually, as Supervisor Haschak noted, there’s no plan, but they have decided to consolidate the Auditor-Controller with the Treasurer-Tax Collector into an elected position with an election on next June’s ballot. 

Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Schapmire has said she will probably retire rather than run for the new Finance Director position. But nobody has given any thought (on the record) to what the new Finance Director position will look like or what qualifications/experience will be required. 

It’s possible that Auditor-Controller Chamise Cubbison will stay on to run for Finance Director, especially now that CEO Angelo is out of the picture. (Perhaps wishful thinking on our part, but we think Mendo is lucky to have her bird dogging expenditures.)

They’ve also established a large new Cannabis Department. Most people don’t know that “Interim” Planning Director Nash Gonzalez is not a County employee, but a private contractor, working for a planning consultancy outfit. A new Water Agency is being formed. There’s been some talk about breaking up the Health and Human Services Agency into two or three new departments.

Then we have the other elected positions of District Attorney, Sheriff, Assessor-Recorder-Clerk which will presumably remain as is. The Board should take this opportunity to re-establish their own Clerk of the Board, but we haven’t heard any discussion of that. (This task was recently made more difficult by the departure of senior Board Clerk Lindsay Dunaway.) CEO Angelo brought General Services/Purchasing under the “Executive Office” a few years ago, but it’s unclear if it will continue that way under the CAO model.

Complicating matters is the Board’s lack of faith in their own County Counsel, Christian Curtis, given that Board Chair Ted Williams has hired costly outside Counsel to advise the Board on the proper procedure to raise his salary in the wake of Curtis’s embarrassing mishandling of his own raise proposal. But somebody will have to advise the Board on whatever legalities will apply to any new organization.

Pre-Angelo, under the old CAO model, there were something like 20 separate department heads all reporting to the Supervisors. We doubt the Board will want anything that unwieldy post-Angelo.

The timing of all of this remains unclear as well. When will the new departments be established? How long will it take to staff them? What new offices or facilities will be required?

We are unable to confirm the terrifying rumors that the husband and wife team of Linda Ruffing and Richard Shoemaker are in the running for co-CAO. But they can cite their “experience” as city manager of Fort Bragg and Point Arena, respectively. Never mind that the experience was not very good. But it paid well.

Given the gaping managerial experience and competency gap of the present Board, and their seeming inability to make even minor decisions without the CEO telling them what to do, combined with the new and rejuggled departments, senior level staff turnover and general upheaval in several existing departments, the only thing we can say for sure is that Mendo is in for a lot of “interim” job titles for a while. 

And, like the rest of the country, the road ahead is not just bumpy, but full of slides, potholes and sinkholes, most of which will come as a rude surprise to whoever is driving the bus.

10 Comments

  1. izzy January 24, 2022

    As that great Confucius of the Infield, Yogi Berra, famously advised, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

    • Scott Taubold, Ph.D. January 24, 2022

      We had a CAO up until Angelo, and I fault the CEO model as much as I fault Angelo. The old CAO model worked extremely well with the same CAO for nearly 20 years. He was paid a fraction of the current exuberant salary.

      • George Hollister January 24, 2022

        In the last 45 years I don’t remember a time the county worked extremely well. A better description would be it has gone from being not very good to being really bad. The problem is not the model. The CEO model is used in city governments quite successfully. What exactly would change for the better if the CAO model were brought back? At this point every change has been a change for the worse.

        The root of the problem is with the board of supervisors, and the people who elected them. In Mendocino County we don’t elect our supervisors to oversee and set policy for county government. We elect our supervisors to be advocates, or defenders of divisive causes. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

    • Mark Scaramella Post author | January 24, 2022

      Yes. But he also said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

  2. chuck dunbar January 24, 2022

    “The Road Ahead” would be more clearly discerned if “The Road Behind” was clearly laid out in detail, especially as to what did not work well. I would love to see the BOS take several days of public hearings to focus on such issues, drawing on testimony by those with direct experience over the past years with Angelo as CEO: including ex BOS member John McCowen (who very admirably has discussed some of these issues in written form); line staff with long experience; department heads; ex County staff with long experience (including some of those dismissed or driven off by Angelo); Sheriff Kendall; and others.

    Clearly laying out and discussing the details of what did not work–and why– would help the BOS better know the next steps as to the broader outline for efficient organization and functioning of County departments. It would also point out the skills, past experience and leadership characteristics of a new CAO (what kind of leader do we need to change course from Anglo’s autocratic ways?). There does need to be a clear and full reckoning of what has happened, it should go without saying. But such an undertaking is extremely rare– and it takes guts and smarts and courage to do so. Will it happen? Probably not, and that is too bad.

    • Mark Scaramella Post author | January 24, 2022

      Mendo has only had two people in County Government (some would say three, but not me) who were reasonably competent experienced managers: Mike Scannell and John Ball. Mike Scannell quit in the mid-90s to take a job as a city manager in Colorado. Supervisor Colfax engineered the departure of John Ball when Mr. Ball tried to follow the law and put a large supervisorial pay raise on the Board’s agenda. They are gone.

  3. Marmon January 25, 2022

    I was right, Deputy CEO Darcie Antle is replacing Carmel Angelo, at least for the time being. The Board just announced it.

    Marmon (aka The Prophet)

  4. Betsy Cawn January 26, 2022

    In Lake County, the Chief Administrative Officer has wielded her authority deftly since stepping into the position after heading the county’s Department of Social Services for decades and proving herself to be a master of the county’s mystifying budget process and machieavellian management tactics, filling the vacuum left behind by the outgoing incompetent CAO (Perry) who fell on his sword after bungling the administration of the county’s OES between 2012 and 2015. The current CAO has been conducting the orchestration of county operations under various department heads whose independent authority must capitulate to her authority; on more than one occasion the job of “Interim Director” has been held by her after forcing the departure of the former incumbent.

    Empire building, palace intrigue, and obfuscation of decision-making processes have become the hallmarks of the County administration using a flock of new “ad hoc” committees with no accountability to the public, typically yielding fiats and edicts of compliance (“or else”) with abruptly announced necessities such as the hiring of a highly specialized consulting firm to “re-organize” the Community Development Department or separating the Department of Water Resources from the Department of Public Works, after adulterating the Department of Public Health (pushing out a very competent director) and taking direct control of the formerly separate Human Resources department.

    Making good use of the California State Association of Counties “leadership institute” for aligning the fealty of “at will” department heads that remain (several key individuals retired after the 2016 regime change), removal of easy access to public information safeguards the fiscal fiefdom draped in civility and superficial congeniality. Individual elected officials with their own “agendas” and huge pocketbooks of discretionary spending allowances ($100K/district) appear to have long leashes, if not actual autonomy, and blithely announce their busy calendars at each regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

    But the paucity of reporting on results of their heralded busy-work leaves the public wondering what, in fact, is being done other than attending meetings in venues most often not accessible to the mere tax payers and voters allegedly being “served.”

    Cock-ups like the commercial cannabis licensing (with heavy-handed taxation), glorifying the county’s long-standing rejection of precautionary principles, accompanied by the frustrations of stalwart law enforcement agencies (thanks to Prop. 40, among many communal errors of the Newsom era), leave us at the mercy of rhetorical phantasms such as our “Vision 2028” and the insistence on “rebranding” the county.

    Soon enough our beknighted communities, ravaged by social and economic ills will be “revitalized” — again — by renewed “enforcement” of codes and regulations, and auctioning off of tax defaulted properties (thousands of them) abandoned by private and public property owners. And all those failed pot operations will leave behind them further landscape-scale modifications that will become new environmental hazards unremediated by restoration activities.

    Facing the multiple concurrent disasters of the day and unmitigated hazards (now multiplied by massive forest devastation and hugely increased wildfire perils) with autocratic disregard and deliberate indifference, every action guarded by procedural compliance with County Counsel’s advice, to achieve the latest incarnation of government wishful thinking — our new “Blue Zones” program of super healthy “life styles” — while the privileged in-group gambols on the playing fields of equestrian parks, golf courses, and waterfront promenades, is folly enough. But to call the psychodrama of county administration “management” reveals the absence of coherence in the remains of the day.

  5. George Dorner January 26, 2022

    Whether a CEO or CAO is next to run this county, now is the time for a complete outside audit of the county budget. It will provide a starting point for the new regime, as well as supplying budget information to the Board for the first time in years.

    • Betsy Cawn January 26, 2022

      Doesn’t the Board of Supervisors review and approve the annual budget every year? Ours (Lake County) reviews and approves the “recommended budget” and then adopts the “final budget” each year. Of course the way the budgets are constructed you have to be an obssessive-compulsive anal-retentive cluster of monkeys to keep all the pieces straight, and they never explain the origins of the funds and the fund obligations. It’s all a mumbo-jumbo of allocations, budget units, funds, and plusses and minuses. Checks issued by the Auditor-Controller’s office (to special districts, for example) do not reference any account number from which the amounts were withdrawn. I don’t know how they keep track using that method. Also, the Auditor-Controller’s office is non-responsive to requests to see the checkbook (the cities publish the list of their monthly “warrants” that are public, but not the county).

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