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Mendo Suddenly Discovers $6.1 Million Budget Deficit

Last Tuesday’s “budget workshop” was so laid back and aimless that onlookers could only conclude that not only is nobody running the Good Ship Mendo, but nobody much cares either. 

Although the books are still not closed from last fiscal year (which ended five months ago), all of a sudden, that supposed and oft-cited budget problem didn’t stop CEO Darcie Antle from announcing that the budget deficit for this fiscal year is now estimated to be $6.1 million (so far?). The deficit stems mainly from well-known expenses already committed to for facilities (including the ever-growing estimated overruns for new jail expansion and future staffing costs) and computer upgrades on top of the a large health plan deficit and significantly diminishing pot tax revenues which, to the surprise of no one but the Supervisors, are millions of dollars lower than in prior years.

A “budget ad hoc committee” of Supervisors Glen McGourty and Ted Williams came up with a short list of embarrassingly vague ideas that might save some money — fewer vehicles, deferred facilities maintenance, etc. —but most of their items had no accompanying savings estimate nor a schedule of when they might occur, if ever. Not to mention that even if they were implemented — which is doubtful given Mendo’s monumental levels of hidebound inertia, lethargy and complacency — they would not produce savings this fiscal year or next.

The Supervisors gabbed extensively about possibly off-loading the County’s widespread local parks to local organizations (none of whom have been consulted), rejiggering some present and future pension payments, offering county employees a whopping 2% COLA… Supervisor Gjerde even brought up Sheriff Allman’s long-ago suggestion about consolidating the County’s highly redundant dispatch operations, a good idea that should have been pursued when Allman first raised it, but is years away from even being white-papered.

This Board has demonstrated that they have zero capability or intention to actually implement any cost-savings proposals — the affected departments were not even consulted, nor have they asked departments for cost savings options — so this pro-forma “workshop” has negligible budget value. 

At the end of the “workshop” the three other Supervisors pity-thanked McGourty and Williams for their nearly worthless ideas, then they boldly voted — UNANIMOUSLY! by roll call vote — to, wait for it… continue the discussion this week. 

* * *

On Wednesday, the day after the above report was posted on our website, Supervisor Maureen Mulheren posted an unusual budget explanation video on her “mo4mendo” facebook page. She did it, she said, because she received an email (from whom? we’re not told) asking her to “refute” an unspecified “article” about the Supervisors and the budget, adding, “Sometimes the media doesn’t portray things that are happening during our meeting as they are actually happening.”

We assume by “the media” she means the unmentionable AVA and yours truly; no one else had written on the subject at the time of the video.

Mulheren’s explanation was interesting and a decent summary of the meeting, such as it was. But it hardly constituted a refutation of anything. A “refutation” would involve citing what needs refutation and then providing the promised refutation.

Basically, Mulheren’s video was a summary of last Tuesday afternoon’s rambling, over-long Board budget workshop, part 1. The only thing we heard that was different from what we reported was that the Board and the bargaining units have apparently already agreed to a 2% COLA, not that it was planned. Mulheren also said that last fiscal year’s books are now not expected to be closed until January, formerly they’d hoped it would be done by now. Obviously not.

Mulheren concluded by insisting that, “We are on top of the budget. We are trying to do some things,” adding that, “I know the 2% COLA is not a lot of money.” She took another dig at “the media” by saying that people should not always assume that what they are reading is true. She concluded by saying she’s always open to questions, budget-wise or not.

However, after listening to Mulheren’s entire 14-minute spiel, we (aka “the media”) remain unrefuted. 

As far as our assessment that Board doesn’t seem to care much about the budget or seems incapable of doing anything significant to fix it, we will be happy to revise that opinion when they actually demonstrate something to the contrary.

PS. The 2% COLA will also raise the Supervisors own pay by $1600 a year each.

PPS. Whenever Mo’s name comes up, The Editor yelps, “Hey! Take it easy on the kid. I think she’s as cute as a bug’s ear,” as if that silly opinion has any relevance whatsoever to her job performance. And we only brought it up because of her unsuccessful attempt at “refutation.”

PPPS. Since Supervisor Mulheren says she welcomes questions, we do have a couple: Why is Mendo suing a bunch of former Ortner Management Group employees for “breach of contract” and “intentional interference with potential economic advantage” (whatever that is)? 

(County of Mendocino v. Ortner Management Group, LLC et al. Mendocino Superior Court Case #22CV00511, filed in June of this year)

What does Mendo hope to gain from this lawsuit, since OMG, LLC folded in 2018 and most of their former employees don’t seem to be involved in the missing billing info that the County has complained about?

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Unrealized Budget Fantasies

Not many people remember that back in 2018 CEO Carmel Angelo and her staff, including current CEO Darcie Antle, the Senior Budget Officer, promised to do some real budget management and reporting.

From the CEO Report, August 21, 2018

“Budget Update 

Although the Board of Supervisors passed a balanced budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018-19 on June 19, 2018, the budget team is ramping up their efforts to improve the budget process for FY 2019-20 and ensuring good financial stewardship in FY 2018-19 by implementing the following departmental budget administration and management practices and reporting methodologies. 

Budget Management trainings will be held once per month for department budget staff. 

Topics will include; Budget Management 101, Budget Metrics, Monitoring 1000 [General Fund] series, Budget development practices, Quarterly Reporting, just to name a few. 

A Metric Dashboard has being created for each department to report on their progress each month to the Budget Team including such metrics as: 

• Adopted Budget to Actuals (detail vs summary).

• Vacancy rate with department projected savings to the end of fiscal year.

• Three efficiencies from each department/division (this allows for sharing of best practices).

• Grant funding opportunities explored/awarded during the month.

• Other metrics will be added during the year such as Contract Management and Administration reporting.

All required budget forms will be reviewed for necessity, efficiency and duplication. Budget update reports will be presented to the Board of Supervisors every other month in addition to the regular quarterly and mid-year reports.”

* * *

Guess how much of this was “implemented.” (Spolier Alert: None.)

The point of this look back is to note that CEO Angelo and Assistant CEO Antle knew full well what proper budget management was and is. They did not pretend the Auditor was responsible for it, in fact the Auditor wasn’t mentioned. They also properly noted that the best way to squeeze the budget if it needs it is to require the departments to come up with budget cutting ideas, not to turn the question over to Supervisors who are ignorant of County operations. 

Of course, none of this stuff came to pass because Angelo soon realized that to do it might 1) create questions that she didn’t want to be bothered with, and 2) cause her staff to do some real work for a change. 

No Supervisors followed up on these promises or asked what happened then or now. As a result, some five years later with no budget management or reporting, predictably, the Board, the public and the (remaining) employees find themselves disengaged from the budget and ignorant of the general operations of the County’s departments, producing the administrative malaise that the Supervisors and the CEO’s office now find themselves in. Instead, they thrash hopelessly in the dark, discussing impractical and entirely theoretical budget options that are not grounded in managerial knowledge.

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