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County Notes: It’s Not Funny, Supervisor Williams

A large crowd of County employees appeared in the newly over-remodeled Board chambers on Tuesday to complain about pay rates, vacancies, over-work and general frustration and low morale. Several very presentable and articulate employees voiced their gripes about the County’s overall 27% vacancy rate and the implications of that unacceptably high level. 

Of course, as AVA readers know, we’ve been pointing out this ever-worsening chronic problem for years. It’s about time the employees got around to finally bringing it up, albeit kinda late. (The fact that the employees are in negotiations to renew their three year employment contract(s) probably has something to do with their belated recognition. But better late than never.)

As usual, the Board sat by impassively as their employees’ obviously legitimate complaints followed one after the next. One of the speakers was SEIU Local 1021 President Julie Beardslee who asked about the previously promised list of funded and unfunded vacancies broken down by General Fund positions versus state or federal grant funded. 

Only Supervisor Haschak seemed interested in the question, asking CEO Darcie Antle what happened to their request for the list three weeks ago?

Outrageously, CEO Antle — newly promoted from “interim CEO” — replied that she planned to bring up the subject later in the meeting — during closed session.

What!? Closed session? 

Is there a list or not? Why is the list not public? Is Ms. Antle saying that even a list of vacant positions has something to do with pending employment negotiations? If so, how? The union should be demanding that the list be produced and made public.

Of course, nobody asked. 

At the end of public expression, the crowd of employees, mostly in matching SEIU 1021 t-shirts, apparently satisfied that they’d made their point despite Antle’s ridiculous reply, then calmly filed out of the room chanting “We’ll Be Back! We’ll Be Back! We’ll Be Back!”

They should have chanted, “Where’s The List?! Where’s The list?!…”

So the question of the all-important vacancy list the Board asked for back on June 21 is still a big secret — if the list exists at all. If it’s a secret, we can probably assume the list shows that, as most observers have long suspected, the County has been using funded vacancies as a backdoor budget balancing slush fund for years. It’s a technique that former CEO Carmel Angelo had refined over the years and why she would never relinquish her authority over who got to fill what positions in what departments and bristled angrily the one time former Supervisor John McCowen asked about it.

In case anyone needs reminding, back in December of 2020 then-CEO Angelo rebuffed McCowen’s ordinary hiring freeze policy question by angrily replying:

“If this board takes away my ability to do a hiring freeze, it is taking away my ability to balance the budget. You are impeding my ability to do the job you have asked me to do. So I'm really surprised at Supervisor McCowen’s comment and request and I would say again that I don't know why you would do that. Again, I don't know why you would do that comment and request. And I would say again that I don't know why you would do that. I mean, first of all we had a 5% and then we had a 10%. If you take away my ability to tell a department head that they can either hire or not hire you are absolutely taking away my ability to balance this budget. It will be a free-for-all!”

Obviously, the union wants to know how much money the County is sitting on for funded but unfilled positions. But, as the workers pointed out, the vacancy rate is not just about money. Over-work, low morale, job stress, work not being done, deadlines missed, high turnover, increased training costs, etc. are all related to this key indicator.

Soon after the vacancy list was set aside, the Board unanimously declared Interim CEO Darcie Antle to be the no-longer-Interim CEO at the same rate of pay and perks as before: $200k per year plus $133 worth of bennies.

After that vote and some words of faint praise from the Supervisors — Supervisor McGourty actually praised the CEO for answering her phone — Supervisor Ted Williams commented that Ms. Antle had her work cut out for her:

“Probably the worst crisis of all will be cleaning up the financial mess,” said Williams. “Many years of Mendocino County not operating as effectively as we would like going forward. (Laughs) There’s the chair putting a positive spin on it. (Laughs).”

Williams giggled uncomfortably as he described the “financial mess” the County is in without saying which mess he’s talking about. Is it the pension fund? The County’s self-insured health plan that is now hemorrhaging millions of dollars? The jail expansion overrun? The lack of basic budget information? The employees demands for better pay? All of the above? 

Who is responsible for creating the County’s unfunny “financial mess”? Could it be the giggling Supervisor and his half-asleep colleagues who rubberstamped everything former CEO Carmel Angelo put in front of them for years?

Apparently it was lost on the Board that the person they now expect to “clean up the financial mess” — newly promoted CEO Darcie Antle — is the person who just a few months ago was CEO Angelo’s long-serving and extremely loyal Budget Officer.

Later in the meeting after the board emerged from lengthy “labor negotiations” in closed session, presumably including the vacancy list mentioned by CEO Antle, Chair Williams simply declared: “No reportable action.”

* * *

WORD OUT OF COUNTY EMPLOYEE CIRCLES in Ukiah has it that union negotiators have been told that the County is will not offer cost of living raises to County employees. The people who spoke to us said that they and their co-workers are considering calling in sick or outright quitting if that’s the County’s official position, particularly employees on the low end of the County’s payroll spectrum. 

Ironically, this info came just a day after the Board discussed a “living wage ordinance” for county employees and possibly employees of county contractors. During that discussion all five Supervisors thought that the “living wage” subject was a good idea but should be put off until after the planned cost of living raises were dealt with. The timing of this latest development which reached us on Wednesday, assuming it’s confirmed, comes just one day after the Board’s Tuesday afternoon closed session when the subject of vacant funded positions and other labor negotiations were on the closed session agenda. Leading up to that closed session were several dire remarks from the Supervisors, especially Ted Williams, implying that the County’s finances were worse than previously thought.

* * *

SUPERVISOR MAUREEN MULHEREN (Wednesday facebook update):

“Chamise Cubbison was sworn in as our Auditor-Treasurer-Tax Collector [on Tuesday]. The combining of these offices is meant to create efficiencies and more importantly increase transparency. I’m glad that those team members from the two departments can now move forward with coming up with a strategy to improve the work flows and collaborate more efficiently.”

Cubbison(r), with County Clerk Katrina Bartolomie

Also on Tuesday the Supervisors all said that they support Ms. Cubbison to the max and promised to help her in any way they can.

Translation: You’re on your own, Ms. Cubbison.

Supervisor Mulheren and her colleagues (except for Haschak) forced this consolidation on the Treasurer and Auditor’s offices over their strong public objections. When they did it, they had no plan (as Haschak told them). They never mentioned any problems with “transparency” that the ill-considered consolidation would address either. Two top Treasurer staffers — Shari Schapmire and Julie Forrester — soon retired or quit, Schapmire saying she couldn’t work with “this board” anymore. 

Since the consolidation was made official there has been no effort to plan the consolidation other than to ask the ever-loyal Ms. Cubbison — who objected to the idea from the outset — to come up with one. In previous remarks Ms. Cubbison has told the Supervisors that 1) she is badly understaffed in both (soon to be consolidated) departments, and 2) there will be minimal if any cost savings or “efficiencies” and in fact it will require at least another top Treasurer position to maintain the legally mandated separation between the two now-combined functions.

Ms. Cubbison is trying to shore up the Treasurer-Tax Collector side of her office because 1) she wasn’t particularly familiar with it prior to the forced consolidation, and 2) the two most experienced people there have left. 

The Board asked Ms. Cubbison to hoke up some kind of rush job consolidation plan on Tuesday, but there’s still no date on when that will be submitted or what it will look like. 

Other than mouthing their “full support,” not one board member offered to help work on the plan or have staffers from the CEO’s office help. Not one board member offered to see what can be done to fill the vacant positions in the already small and understaffed department(s) — even though, as Supervisor Williams noted, “I think we’re in a bad financial place. This is a county that can’t tell me how much money we have today. Or how much we have spent year to date.” 

Further, everyone agrees that without a fully-staffed Treasurer-Tax Collector office there will be problems collecting the taxes that the County runs on, leading to revenue shortfalls. 

So again: You’re on your own, Ms. Cubbison. Good luck.

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