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County Notes (June 2, 2022)

AT A CAMPAIGN EVENT in Willits a couple of weeks ago, Supervisor John Haschak claimed, “I have been working for the last three-and-a-half years on the transparency in the county, the accessibility for people to be in touch with their supervisor and accountability. I think that I’ve done a great job. But, it’s not just me, it’s people helping me do that job.”

Supervisor Haschak’s opinion of himself is not exactly a convincing reason he should be re-elected. Transparency? Yeah, if you count posting tediously long zoom meetings and rubberstamped consent calendars as “transparency.” Transparency is one of the emptiest and most over-rated features of local government which does the minimum of actual information distribution while flooding the field with reams of official and self-serving gobblygook and gibberish. Accessibility is pretty subjective, but it’s possible Haschak does answer his email and phone. We’d like an example or two of what he means by the awkward phrasing of “the accessibility of people to be in touch with their supervisor and accountability.” There is no accountability for anything in Mendocino County. Need we repeat the many major failures and screw-ups which have never been mentioned, much less addressed? Is Haschak accountable for those?

In his campaign ads Supervisor Haschak also claims that he has “created more affordable housing opportunities.” Nobody has done that, especially not Haschak. Nobody has even tried. It’s one thing to make the usual vague political campaign promises; it’s quite another to claim to have done something that has not been done, at all.

But it doesn’t matter. Running against Haschak is a delusional Fox News watcher from Willits whose position on just about everything is: Government Bad. We don’t know why Haschak is even wasting money on campaign ads, if all he’s gone to say is empty slogans and falsehoods when there’s no question of the outcome.

* * *

FACING A SEVERE DROUGHT like most counties in California, a private company called “Poseidon” got approval from Orange County and Government Newsom to build a $1.4 billion desal plant there. But the Coastal Commission nixed the proposal — unanimously. A CalMatters summary reported: “The commission, in a marathon session on Tuesday, May 12, killed a proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach that’s been debated for more than 20 years.”

CalMatters continued: “The unanimous decision about the $1.4-billion plant in Huntington Beach is pivotal because it sets a high bar for the future of turning seawater into drinking water in California, which can help buffer its vulnerable water supply against drought.”

“The Coastal Commission staff had advised the commission to deny approval — citing, among other factors, the high cost of the water and lack of local demand for it, the risks to marine life and the possibility of flooding in the area as sea levels rise.”

But Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth added, “Denial of this project does not mean that we’re setting the stage for the denial of all desal facilities or other critical infrastructures across the state,” he said. “Every project has a different set of circumstances, facts and context.” 

Whatever the merits and demerits of the proposed project, the implications for Mendocino County and/or Fort Bragg and the persistent suggestions that the Mendo Coast needs a desal plant are that the process is so slow and costly that even a proposal would take a long time to develop and submit — with no guarantee of approval.

* * *

IN HER INTERVIEW of Sheriff’s write-in candidate Trent James, Ms. Audra Faber of Albion, a graduate of the hippie school on the Coast, and heretofore unheard from on topics of Mendocino County law enforcement, asked James:

“One of the ongoing issues with Matt K is his absolute refusal to have the financials of the budget audited. I believe he is suing the BOS over it and has called it a ‘witch hunt.’ As Sheriff, will you be committed to transparency with how the department distributes its budget? What can the community expect from you with regards to this? Are you willing to undergo an audit from an independent auditor?”

1. Sheriff Kendall has not “absolutely refused” an audit, nor has he even refused an audit. Not at all. Completely and "absolutely" false. (See below.) Nor is it an “ongoing issue,” except to the imaginative. But he did call it a witch-hunt.

2. Sheriff Kendall has not “sued the BOS” over anything. He asked for a private attorney to explain the law to the Board over matters related to his overtime budget and computer autonomy. The Board refused his request because they didn’t like the attorney he requested. It went to court. Judge Moorman said he could have his own attorney but didn’t specify Mr. Duncan James, sending it back to the Board where it has been stuck for months now.

3. Sheriff Kendall is more “transparent” with his budget than most other County departments (the DA’s pretty good too). Nobody has ever had a budget question go unanswered by the Sheriff. The Sheriff is on budget and has a detailed budget package available for review by anyone who wants it. (Nobody has asked, including Candidate James.)

4. Ms. Faber obviously has no idea what an audit is, what kind of audit she wants, or what she’s asking about.

So how does Candidate James reply?

Rather than correcting Ms. Faber, he quickly agrees, saying that he supports an “immediate” audit, and implying that some budget info is being hidden. Then he says he doesn’t know why the Sheriff sued the BOS. Again, the Sheriff hasn’t refused an audit and he didn’t sue the BOS. He asked for an independent attorney after the CEO (Angelo) tried to take over his computer operations and threatened to send him a bill for routine overtime-related overruns.

We aren't surprised that an uninformed Coast person wouldn’t bother to inform herself about the issues before interviewing the last-minute candidate, but shouldn’t a person who wants to be taken seriously as a candidate for Sheriff at least be cautious and say he doesn’t know much about the budget issue or the legal dispute before jumping on the interviewer’s patently false premise?

As I reported back in May of 2021…

SUPERVISOR TED WILLIAMS’ SHERIFF’S AUDIT agenda item was a non-starter Tuesday afternoon. After some meandering discussion about budgeting and staffing and other marginally related topics, the Supervisors decided (if you can call it a “decision”) to form an ad hoc committee of Supervisors McGourty and Williams to “look into” setting up a Sheriff’s department workshop someday to get a better understanding of the Sheriff’s budget.

[Update: No such ad hoc was formed, of course, and no workshops have been scheduled and nobody has looked into anything.]

A tiny group of coasties represented by a righteous woman from Gualala who nobody has ever heard of before named Miquette Thompson ran through her pro forma presentation alleging inadequate transparency in and overbudgeting for the Sheriff’s Department. Ms. Thompson said she represented an array of self-alleged racial justice groups headquartered on the Mendocino Coast. None of these vague entities had interviewed the Sheriff who goes out of his way to make himself accessible to anybody who wants to talk with him. 

Sheriff Matt Kendall did his best to contain his umbrage at the implication that his Office needs some kind of independent audit and/or improvements, saying the presentation was ok, but that some of the information in it was “just flat wrong,” adding later that it seemed like a witch hunt, a lack of support for his dedicated deputies, and an end run around him to go directly to the Board of Supervisors by a small group of coastal residents with an anti-law enforcement agenda.

Supervisor Gjerde noted the audit advocates should have at least approached the Sheriff before coming to the Board. Gjerde, a prominent Coast Democrat of long-standing, said he wasn't invited by the Coast Democrats to discuss an audit either. At no time did Ms. Thompson or her unnamed Coastal collaborators offer to actually review the Sheriff’s budget or approach the Sheriff with questions or input.

Although McGourty said he hadn’t heard from any of his First District constituents about the audit or anything else related to the Sheriff, Williams and McGourty both seemed to think that the Coastal audit advocates somehow represented “the public,” even though neither of them offered any evidence that “the public” wants an audit or even has any questions about the Sheriff’s Office. In fact, as far as we can tell “the public” simply wants the Sheriff to be adequately funded, if not better funded, especially in Covelo. Even Williams agreed that the likely outcome of an audit (whatever it might have entailed) would be that the Sheriff needs more funding, not less.

PS. According to the County’s fancy “budget portal” the Sheriff has spent about $30 million through the end of April [of 2021] against an original $36.1 million budget. But that $30 million represents 83% of the $36.1 with two months to go. Since July through April is 10 months, assuming there are no big one-time expenses coming in before June 30, the Sheriff should be at 10/12ths of $36.1 or about on budget.

* * *

IN HIS SEPARATE INTERVIEW, MendoFever’s Matt LaFever summarized Candidate James’s opinion of Measure B:

“[James] recognized Mendocino County’s Measure B, but characterized its substance as lacking. Despite promises of crisis workers working alongside law enforcement, he remembered when he was working as a deputy requesting the backup of a mental health professional who would then refuse to respond.”

It’s hard to know where the confusion here is. But it definitely does not involve Sheriff Kendall. Measure B never “promised crisis workers working alongside law enforcement.” That was never mentioned, much less promised, although some could argue that it was implied by the general language of the Measure about helping people who don’t already qualify as “severely mentally ill” (aka non-reimburseable).

It’s probably true that while on patrol Mr. James's calls for mental health backup fell on deaf ears. The Mental Health department and their contractor have never seen their jobs as responding to police calls until after the cops have done all the heavy lifting, if then.

It took the Measure B committee years to even discuss the Crisis Van even after having been prodded by then-Ukiah Police Chief Justin Wyatt. Then after they finally recommended that it be funded and the Board finally approved it, it took years for the County to staff the three positions as the Committee and Supervisors paid no attention nor inquired about the delays. Mr. James and his supporters never complained about this embarrassing failure while it was unfolding.

Meanwhile Sheriff Kendall had sent his staff to Butte County to train and become familiar with the emergency response protocols they already had in place and set them up for Mendo so they could get going as soon as someone was hired. Kendall also helped recruit the first two positions the County finally filled.

Again, it appears that Candidate James has taken a knee-jerk position without doing any homework on the subject so that he can wrongly fold it into his list of ill-documented complaints about the Sheriff’s department.

If there’s blame to be placed regarding the lack of mental health backup on police calls, it falls directly on the Measure B committee and then-CEO Angelo and her Mental Health Department and Angelo’s captive Board of Supervisors.

* * *

ANOTHER FALSEHOOD being circulated by write-in Sheriff candidate Trent James’s fans on the coast listserve etc. is that Matt Kendall got himself appointed by some vague (as usual) underhanded process to avoid a special election. 

In fact, Kendall was appointed by the Supervisors after County Counsel Christian Curtis told the Supervisors that they were legally prohibited from calling a special election. We found Curtis’s reasoning kinda weak — we would have preferred an opinion from Elections Officer Bartolomie — but the Superivsors didn’t, so they appointed Kendall. They had no choice, nobody else was interested, Allman recommended Kendall, and it was done. Nobody did anything to avoid an election other than following their attorney’s advice. 

If anyone is interested in the particulars — not that the James-ites care — look up the Board meeting on the County’s youtube channel for December 17, 2019. Agenda Item 5b. (The minutes do not record Mr. Curtis’s pre-amble about the Board having no choice but to appoint.)

All this stuff is a matter of record, albeit buried in the bowels of the County’s not-so “transparent” postings and videos. 

To review, also from the available record: 

Sheriff Kendall has not refused an audit. 

Sheriff Kendall has provided a better documented budget than most other departments, updated quarterly, unlike other budgets which are updated sporadically if at all and at the discretion of the CEO. 

Sheriff Kendall went to court (to say that he “sued” is a stretch) because he wanted his own attorney to advise him and the Board after he was threatened with personal liability for expending overtime on undisputed and necessary law enforcement and because CEO Angelo tried to illegally bring his computer operations under her control where unauthorized persons would have access to confidential law enforcement data. 

And he was appointed in December of 2019 by a process that legally prohibited consideration of a special (and costly) special election.

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