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Sharing McCowen’s Thoughts On CEO

I’ve never done this before but I’m going to share this space so someone else’s voice can be heard on something I believe is important to be heard.

What follows is former Supervisor John McCowen’s thoughts, insider elucidation and job performance evaluation of soon-to-be-retired Chief Executive Officer Carmel Angelo’s tenure with Mendocino County. I believe McCowen mostly gets it right but I’ll have a few things to say on follow-up next week.

Here’s McCowen’s take on Angelo’s stint of “public service” in Mendocino County:


One of the best (and worst) decisions I made as Supervisor (along with my colleagues) was hiring Carmel Angelo as CEO. We were dealing with the steepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. The Board of Supervisors adopted tough economic policies to stabilize county finances, pay down debt, build reserves, balance the budget and continue to provide public services. The Board and Angelo took a lot of heat for implementing a 10% pay cut but the alternative was 10% layoffs. The Board set the policies but Angelo provided critical leadership in implementing those policies.

Angelo advocated effectively with State legislative and administrative officials on behalf of Mendocino County. She was instrumental in securing funds for the Redwood Valley water system upgrades and correcting the “over digs” (aka over-excavation) following the 2017 fire storm.

In short order Angelo became Clerk of the Board, Purchasing Agent, Emergency Services Director, Risk Manager, Water Agency Director and the overseer of Recovery Services, Information Services and Fleet and Facilities. Angelo has direct authority over most departments, including Health & Human Services (Mental Health, Public Health & Social Services), Planning and Building Services and Human Resources. She also created a “Fiscal Unit” within the Executive Office. Several of these actions (creation of the Fiscal Unit and taking over Information Services to name a couple) were done without formal approval by the Board of Supervisors.

As Angelo consolidated power, her unilateral dictates increasingly trumped the professional judgement of the County’s senior managers and department heads. Her orders were often unethical and sometimes illegal but nothing mattered except the CEO getting her way. She became increasingly blatant at ignoring and/or acting without Board of Supervisors direction. The progression of her autocratic tendencies has been a textbook case in the corrupting influence of unchecked power.

Angelo has a tendency to take things personally, won’t tolerate dissent and has a notoriously short fuse. Employees have felt her wrath for not having her coffee ready when she comes into the office or simply speaking during a meeting.

Over the years, I was Angelo’s foremost defender, but also one of the few Board members (and often the only one) willing to hold her accountable. In my last year in office Angelo retaliated against me for questioning her complicity in illegally diverting $500,000 out of the budget of a state created and funded agency. With the help of County Counsel Christian Curtis (who thinks his job is to do whatever Angelo tells him to do), she was able to effectively block my ability to do my job as a County Supervisor.

But many employees have been “Carmelized” by Ms. Angelo so my experience is not unique. Over time she’s caused dozens of employees to be fired or leave and has destroyed the morale of several departments. I was ready to terminate her years ago but there were never three votes to do so.

Her self-serving comments in the interview with Matt LaFever announcing her retirement exemplify her skill at managing for perception. As Angelo tells it, the Leadership Initiative, Measure B and the Strategic Plan have all been great successes. But after nine years in operation, if the Leadership Initiative has been so great, why do employees leave faster than they can be trained? Why are there no measurable results from Measure B after five years? Why is the public only asked for input at the end of the consultant driven Strategic Plan process, not at the beginning?

“Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis” (attributed to Machiavelli) has been fully utilized by Angelo during Covid. She locked the Supervisors out of their offices and locked them and the public out of the Board Chambers. She openly bragged about how great it was to have the Supervisors out of the building! The ability of the public to have meaningful input and the ability of the Board to function effectively has been steadily marginalized.

The number and complexity of issues within the Board’s purview has steadily increased, but Angelo has intentionally limited the capacity of the Clerk of the Board function. As a result, numerous issues are not presented to the Board, lack sufficient background information or are slipped through on the Consent Calendar.

Angelo insists on personally making or approving virtually all decisions. As a result, the Executive Office has been a major chokepoint for years. For much of the past two years Angelo has been obsessively focused on micromanaging Covid to the detriment of numerous other County issues which have been dealt with poorly, belatedly, or not at all. Everything from routine business to critical issues have been given short shrift unless they were of personal interest to Angelo.

The County appears to be in reasonably good fiscal condition but that’s largely a result of the PG&E settlement money and Covid disaster funds. The impact of Angelo’s failure to effectively manage key issues will begin showing up after her departure.

The Board seems poised to move to a CAO (Chief Administrative Officer) model but that’s likely to solve one problem (the CEO has too much power) at the cost of another (how will day to day operations be managed and new policy directives implemented?).

The problems we’ve seen, especially in the last couple of years, have little to do with CAO v. CEO but stem from the autocratic, self-serving and megalomaniacal actions of the departing CEO and the reluctance of the Board to hold her accountable. Angelo repeatedly ignored Board direction, set her own policy and got away with it.

Reverting to a CAO model but with continued understaffing of the Clerk of the Board will add to the Supervisor’s workload while doing nothing to hold the administrator accountable. Instead of taking on direct supervision of 15 or so department heads the Board should create the conditions that will allow them to successfully manage and implement policy.

Understaffing the Clerk of the Board function has been a primary means of the CEO controlling the agenda and marginalizing the Board. Instead of five full time staff (the number in place in 2008 when the workload was much less) the current CEO has limited the Clerk of the Board function to half that or less.

Instead of reverting to a CAO model, the Board will be better served by reclaiming the Clerk of the Board function from the CEO and restoring it to department head status. Doing so will provide the structure and resources the Board needs to fulfill their policy setting role.

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, observer@pacific.net, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)


Beth Bosk:

I shared John McCowen’s post [critical of CEO Angelo] to both the Mendocino County 4th & 5th District group sites. It was immediately dumped as "hate speech" by the manager of the 4th District group site. Folks are commenting on it on the 5th District site, but that may be in an adjunct "Community" site established by Bruce Broderick. Retelling a personal history that involves criticism of one public official by another is not hate speech, it's lived history.


John McCowen:

A few days ago the Administrator of the [Fourth & Fifth] District pages deleted the following comment which was considered to be bullying or hate speech: "The mismanagement starts at the top with CEO Angelo who is more concerned with rewarding her friends and punishing her perceived enemies than with managing the county for the benefit of the public." If this is hate speech or bullying then either the Administrator lived a very sheltered life or is personal friends with the CEO.


Dickey Weinkle: 

I shared it on the Willits Fan Page Community page. It was approved with a notation at the bottom that it was hate speech. What a pile of poop.


Supervisor Mulheren:

Recent editorial comments have been “interesting.” The fact of the matter is that Mendocino County has five Board of Supervisors [sic] that represent the community and will need to decide what needs to happen next with this [CEO] position. So before anyone goes jumping to conclusions please know that the decision about how to move forward, will be agendized for the January 25th meeting. This has been an ongoing discussion the last year that I’ve been on the Board, please feel free to ask questions and share opinions but know that NO DECISIONS have been made yet.


CEO Angelo’s Retirement Announcement, two on-line comments

[1] Angelo leaves behind a deeply damaged county government that is far more damaged than the one she was elevated to lead. Prudent reserves are good, but what has been set aside is actually a disservice as it’s a huge volume of money that went unspent on community services, safety, economic development, roads etc. Angelo has used the pandemic, wildfires, PSPS to obscure her incompetence. She’s simply too busy “saving the County” through crisis management or arguing with PG&E to work on actual management of the organization. She has failed to bring in qualified people to actually manage these events. When she does step in on management matters, its always to create conflict, for example with the Sheriff or Auditor. Its all an unnecessary distraction to keep people from judging her on what she’s actually responsible for. She has gotten away with this for years and years, Board member after Board member. How? The revisionism in this article is funny. She has somehow turned employee morale around and listens to the employees? Hitting the bottle much? She states the County was a jobs program, as though that’s something that will help with morale as well. But again she’s wrong. When she became CEO the county had about 1,200 employees. Today? They’re trying to bring it to 1,400. So if it is just a jobs program and she’s the butcher, she’s done one hell of a job trimming that down! Also, it should be clear that Angelo is leaving behind million dollar lawsuits left and right for her bad judgment. That being said, I do think she manages crisis well, but that shouldn’t be a CEO’s job. Where are her qualified people? Why is she so averse to people with actual qualifications? Did she beat Darcie Antle to the punch by resigning a couple months earlier than expected?

[2] Oh residents of Mendocino County you better be really aware. Hopefully no one is appointed to the position before she leaves by her choosing. Foolishness if we announce with a shiny press release of her hand-picked muse appointed with much fanfare. Carmel rose herself to the highest paid Mendocino County staff member and retirement recipient ever! Hopefully, we can find a brain on the board of supes, even one would do!!! Can we get several candidates on such short notice that can be evaluated by the Board of Supes and the public before they are appointed? We do not need more of the same hand fed puppets delivering stale soft serve watered down ice cream. HELLO… Our county is in crisis from the poor upper management. I can’t see any problems with a self appointment by Carmel and no accountability said no one ever.

One Comment

  1. Douglas Coulter January 21, 2022

    Is it hate speech to say Adolf Hitler did great things for Germany’s economy but destroyed any who opposed him. Book burning, propaganda, censorship, intimidation all backfired to leave the name Hitler as a curse and his nation in ruins.
    Read the praise for Adolf from America’s media and government up until 1939
    His methods work for quick results but do not endure, they create backlash.

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