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County Notes: Grand Jury Aims at Measure B Again. Misses Badly.

In our February article entitled “The Betrayal of Measure B,” we quoted from the Measure B language:

“Mendocino County is committed to improving residents’ lives and the public’s safety by strategically evaluating and enhancing resources for mental health treatment.” Measure B would “Provide for the necessary infrastructure to support and stabilize individuals with behavioral health conditions, including addiction and neurological disorders.”

Notice that it specifically said, “including addiction…”

And, “Conduct an independent annual audit and develop a performance management strategy which measures the effectiveness of the improved services, treatment and facilities and assesses the impact of the ‘Mental Health Treatment Act’.”

(This was listed separately from the requirement to create the Oversight Committee, which was required to “review the independent annual audit of expenditures and the performance management plan for compliance with the Specific Purpose of this ordinance.”

“For a period of five (5) years a maximum of 75% of the revenue deposited into the Mental Health Treatment Fund may be used for facilities, with not less than 25% dedicated to services and treatment; thereafter 100% of all revenue deposited into the Mental Health Treatment Fund shall be used for ongoing operations, services and treatment.”

The proponents, led by then-Sheriff Tom Allman, concluded, “Vote YES on Measure B to save taxpayer dollars by providing early treatment of mental illness and drug addiction, breaking the cycle of homelessness and re-incarceration.”

Measure B was passed into law by an overwhelming majority back in 2017, most voters having naively assumed that the County would at least try to honor the spirit of the measure. 

So it’s an unamusing understatement that the recent Grand Jury dismisses four years of near total inaction on Measure B by beginning, “After a slow start…”

Ya think?

The Grand Jury then proceeds to unapologetically slather some (false) sweet syrup on the County: “The funds generated under the Mendocino County Mental Health Treatment Act, known as the Measure B Ordinance No. 4387 (Measure B) have made considerable contributions to mental health services available in Mendocino County.”

“Considerable contributions”? Not even close. Only a tiny fraction of Measure B funds have gone to increase mental health services available in Mendocino County” — the crisis van, incorrectly named in the Grand Jury’s Measure B report as MOPS (Mobile Outreach and Prevention Services), the name of the non-crisis unit that preceded Measure B but ended when the woman running it retired. It is now called the “Mobile Crisis Response” unit. It was eventually re-funded as a crisis unit, but even that took years to roll out.

The Grand Jury also mischaracterizes the crisis unit’s function by saying that it “provides a mental health technician to accompany patrol officers on calls regarding mentally ill persons in crisis.”

Actually, our review of the crisis unit’s call list shows that most of the crisis unit’s calls are for NON-mentally ill people who are having a temporary crisis of one kind or another. Very few are assessed as “mentally ill.”

Out of upwards of $30 million in Measure B revenue, only a few hundred thousand grudging dollars have been allocated to the crisis unit which only exists because Sheriff Kendall pushed for it. Less than 1% of Measure B revenues have gone to actual “mental health services,” the rest has been spent on a grossly overpriced $5 million “Crisis Residential Treatment facility,” and a minimally used training facility in Redwood Valley. Around $20 million has been ear-marked for the Whitmore Lane nursing home demolition and rebuild into a Psychiatric Health Facility.

With that bit of upside down thinking, it’s hard to take the Grand Jury’s latest Measure B assessment seriously, even when they cautiously dip their toes into some legitimate problems.

For example, the Grand Jury correctly notes that, “very little attention has been devoted to substance abuse treatments.”

Actually, no attention at all. 

The Grand Jury also observed that “The B Committee, meeting only two hours monthly, had difficulty reaching consensus on recommendations.”

What a stupid sentence! Nobody required them to “reach consensus.” A simple majority would have sufficed. In fact, nobody involved even came up with any recommendations to vote on, recommendations which could have been submitted by the committee members if they’d taken their roles seriously.

Then the Grand Jury returns to County propaganda asserting that “The GJ received testimony that significant progress on Measure B projects occurred in May 2020 when the BHD was given responsibility for the implementation of projects.”

“Progress” in this case was wasting of $5 million on a $1 million house that was never mentioned in the Measure B language and which only occurred because the state Mental Health bureaucracy gave Mendo a strict deadline. Even so, the “services” which are being provided in that house are not paid for by Measure B funds.

The Grand Jury also states that “The County contracted with consultants Nacht & Lewis who conducted a study that determined the existing building should be demolished and rebuilt.”

No such study has been delivered, no such conclusions have been reached. The study is supposed to be available soon. Significant parts of the Whitmore Lane facility may not need to be “demolished.” (Although we’re pretty sure they’ll figure out a way to spend the entire $20 million either way.)

The Grand Jury states that “Available funds have limited the new PHF to a 16-bed facility.”

The reverse is true. Behavioral Health Director Dr. Jenine Miller has made it clear that a 16-bed facility is the minimum size required in order to maximize government reimbursements — it is NOT a limit. In fact, Mendo’s PHF wouldn’t need more than eight beds for Mendo patients; the rest is to be rented out to other counties.

The Grand Jury notes that “The Kemper Report recommended 25 percent of Measure B funds, $750 thousand annually, be devoted to Substance Use Disorder Treatment (SUDT). Despite this recommendation, no funds have been dedicated to addiction treatment.”

The actual Kemper language is more definitive: “Of the revenue generated in the first five years, up to 75% of the revenue may be used for facilities and not less than 25% must be dedicated to services and treatment.” (Emphasis in original.)

Kemper is correct; the Grand Jury softened the Kemper language from “must be” to “recommended.”

Nevertheless, the Grand Jury concludes: “There has been no direct funding for SUDT as recommended in the Measure B Ordinance and the Kemper Report. The GJ determined this to be a serious oversight.”

The Grand Jury doesn’t bother to explain this “oversight.” Substance abuse and related homelessness services are not reimbursable and would therefore take money out of the Measure B pot that the CEO and Dr. Miller prefer to waste on facilities.

The Grand Jury applies more sweet syrup: “Several pilot programs, such as MOPS, are proving to be successful.”

Actually, only the mobile crisis unit (not “MOPS”) is “proving to be successful.” The other “pilot programs” that the Grand Jury doesn’t even bother to name — “Crisis Assessment and Psychiatric Hospitalization Aftercare,” and “Community Education, Awareness and Support” — are too vague and generic to measure.

Still, with all its misrepresentations and misstatements, the Grand Jury does at least unambiguously conclude that “the BOS fund SUDT programs as required by Measure B Ordinance No. 4387,” belatedly using the word “required.”

However, despite this “requirement,” there’s little chance that it will be met. Former CEO Carmel Angelo made sure that nearly all of the Measure B money was wired for her grossly overpriced facilities projects (remember the $50,000 kitchen analogy?) before she retired in March. Even with CEO Angelo gone, there’s not much chance that anybody’s gonna change that.

And if the Grand Jury is going to inaccurately soft-pedal their findings, that small chance goes down to zero.

* * *

IT’S OBVIOUSLY BESIDE THE POINT NOW, but in the Grand Jury’s recently released report on Measure B — “Measure B Re-examined” — they take a little indirect shot at County Counsel Cristian Curtis. “… The ordinance was imprecise about the execution of the programs,” and “In future ordinances prepared for ballot measures, the function and responsibility of County Departments, Advisory Boards and Committees be spelled out in greater detail.” And we would add “with clarity.” 

UNFORTUNATELY, the Grand Jury’s recommendation comes too late for the Cannabis Tax Advisory Measure, the Public Safety Advisory Board and the upcoming Fire Sales Tax measure. Not that the Supervisors are capable of spelling out anything in greater detail or clearly.

The cannabis tax advisory measure said that the “majority” of revenues should go to roads, mental health, emergency services and enforcement. But that was so vague that it let the Board do nothing of the sort and claim later with a straight face that they did.

Or, take this sentence from last year’s Public Safety Advisory Board ordinance: “Examine and report on interdepartmental issues related to law enforcement and public safety.” And, “Review public safety concerns by ensuring that complaints are appropriately dealt with for County employees…”

The ordinance does not define “interdepartmental issues” at all, nor what kind of reporting is expected. 

And “appropriately dealt with for County employees”? Which county employees? Surely they can’t mean all of them. Or do they mean law enforcement by “County employees” in this context? 

We have not reviewed the latest “advisory” language for the fire taxes, but the language came from the same source(s) and it has not been circulated for public comment, even though they want the public to approve it.

* * *

IN SUPERVISOR MULHEREN’S recent facebook post about County matters she included a heretofore unpublished chart entitled “Applications Per Recruitment.” 

As usual, these charts ask more questions than they answer. We assume “applications” means job applications submitted to Human Resources. But what does “recruitment” really mean? Is it a job offer? Is it a full-time employee at work in the job they applied for? Is it new hires who passed their probationary period to become full-time employees? Whatever it means, the chart’s number of applications looks suspiciously high. It basically says that for the last five years Mendo has been getting around a dozen applications per recruitment and that last year they got over 3800 applications from which they “recruited” over 450. Does that mean there were 450 new hires in 2021 out of a total of about 1100 employees? That would be a disturbing amount of turnover. According to the May CEO Report (the last one with a vacancy and recruitment list), the County had 299 “positions in recruitment” and 402 “vacant positions.” 

The June CEO Report did not have a vacancy/recruitment report and CEO Darcie Antle said the version that was supposed to include funding source categories would be discussed in closed session. 

It’s hard to know what to make of these suspicious numbers. The high number of applications probably has to do with people submitting applications because they are required for various unemployment and welfare benefits, but which they probably either aren’t remotely qualified for or have no intention of accepting at the current rates of pay. 

With vacancies and the many related budget and staff problems now getting more attention, you’d think that the Supervisors and management would be paying attention to these numbers. Supervisor Mulheren at least cared enough to post the charts, but without explanation or followup. 

If working conditions and pay rates don’t improve pretty soon we’re probably going to see more vacancies and “positions in recruitment” than in the past. But will anybody be paying attention or doing anything to address it?

* * *

THE JULY 2022 CEO REPORT IS OUT. 

by Mark Scaramella

If anything it’s worse than when CEO Carmel Angelo did it. Of course, the entire “report” is whatever the CEO feels like reporting on. Nobody has ever told her what to include. So it’s mostly a random collection of promotional materials for selected County departments going into excruciating details here, skimming over important subjects there, and leaving out many departments entirely. Law enforcement, for example, the biggest part of Mendo’s discretionary budget, has never been included in the CEO report; in fact there are no law enforcement reports other than the occasional isolated presser on this case or that. The County Counsel’s office is missing. Probation is ignored. Nothing from the Ag Department. Nothing from the CEO’s office itself. The woefully understaffed Clerk of the Board is never mentioned.

Under a section called “Exit Survey” the CEO reports that “terminating” employees are asked why they terminated,” adding, “County leadership is very interested in hearing employee thoughts, concerns and suggestions.” That’s it. They claim to be “interested,” but there’s no report of what the surveys say, what the concerns are or what suggestions were offered. Current employees are asked to fill out an “anniversary survey,” each year with their views on how “favorable” they see their work for the County. “No response data will be individually identified.” So where’s the summary of their views? Not in the CEO Report. Probably too negative to be included.

Under “Behavioral Health…” the CEO reports that “July is Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Minority Mental Health Month.” Etc. They got some grant funds too. Whoopee! Some state audits were conducted and everything’s fine, just fine. The Mobile Crisis Response unit now has three people on staff responding to crisis calls with law enforcement. It only took three years for these three people to be hired. The $5 million Crisis Residential house run by the Schraeders over on Orchard Avenue has been open for 72 days now and is “full.” In those 72 days they have “served” a whopping 14 people. In addition, we are told that “staff are carefully reviewing potential grant options to enhance or expand our services wherever we can.” Right: Build a $5 million house and then look for grants to see if you can pay to put people in it.

Elsewhere the CEO reports that the Board Chamber “upgrade” has cost over $330k plus whatever technology upgrades are yet to be done. 

For the last two months the CEO report no longer contains a “vacancy list.” Apparently that’s too hot a subject for inclusion. Might lead to difficult questions they don’t want to address.

From January to March of 2022 Mendo hired 84 people, but 74 people quit. Departments have 223 open staff requisitions. Which, we assume are funded and not likely to be filled given the slow pace of recruitment and the budget shortfalls. This would translate to 223 funded positions at an average, say, of $100k per position (salary plus benefits) or $22.3 million worth of funding not likely to be spent (for these positions anyway). Most of the vacancies are in Social Services which is running an overlarge 27% vacancy rate, most Social Services positions are not funded by the General Fund. But if you assume conservatively that 25% of the funded positions are General Fund vacancies, that’s still close to $6 million that the Board should have some discretion over. Unfortunately, the CEO refuses to discuss this subject and the last time she was asked told the Board that it’s a secret that can only be discussed in closed session. Repeat: Maybe the most significant budget issue at hand is a secret, and not a peep of objection from these Supervisors who always tout their allegiance to “transparency.”

In case you were wondering how the PG&E settlement money was spent… Turns out more than half of it was allocated to Mendocino County itself. 

* * *

Other CEO Report highlights

American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) 

Mendocino County’s allotment was $16,849,976, of which 50% was awarded on August 6, 2021. The remaining 50% will be awarded 12 months after the first allocation. The Board of Supervisors on November 16, 2021, directed ARPA funding to be designated for County core services, infrastructure projects, and emergency funding before other considerations, and to be appropriated using the final guidelines released in January 2022. The County has obligated $12,283,737 in funding as of June 30, 2022. 

New Hires & Separations: Includes 63 regular and 21 extra-help with 66 regular and 8 extra-help separated during reporting timeframe 

Jail Expansion - The County’s architect is finalizing bidding documents for the Building 3 Jail Expansion Project having received state Fire Marshall and Planning and Building Services plan review comments. The project team anticipates bidding in the winter of 2022-23 subject to approvals by state and local oversight agencies. [No information on how much the projected overrun will be or how it will be paid for.]

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