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County Notes (February 2, 2023)

The Good News (if you think that giving more money to these Supervisors is good): Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector Chamise Cubbison told the Supervisors last Tuesday that the County’s books are finally (basically) closed and the general fund carry-over from last fiscal year (ending in June of 2022) is a whopping $2.2 million (with some minor caveats about spending that’s been “encumbered” but not yet spent). This should not be a surprise to anyone since the County has been maintaining a large vacancy rate at around 25%. If anything, we expected the carryforward to be more than $2.2 million and that some departments may be padding their expenses or holding back pending other expenses. But there’s no way to know if that’s the case because the County has yet to provide departmental breakdowns, budgets or expenses. Board members seemed so happy to hear that the number was bigger than they thought that nobody bothered to wonder where the biggest carryovers were or what departments are suffering the most from prolonged vacancies. 

The Board spent considerable time listening to several complaints and disagreements from Teresa Thurman landlord of Creekside Cabins (and RV Park) in Willits. Thurman disputed some of the statements made by County officials about the big storm-caused sinkhole in late December that has blocked access, in and out, to her rental properties. She insisted that the treated water for the units is clean, despite Public Health Officer Andy Coren’s insistence that the Water Board had issued a “boil water” notice (see below). Thurman also took umbrage at Supervisor Haschak’s statement that she wasn’t being cooperative, claiming that she’s perfectly willing to do what the County requires of her. But, she insisted, the sinkhole is not on her property, but on a Caltrans easement and that Caltrans could do the repair for about $100k, much less than the $250k the County has hired a contractor for. County Counsel Christian Curtis told the Board that it might take upwards of six months to do the work and repair the sinkhole and restore the road access to Ms. Thurman’s units. 

Well-known and reliable north county emergency services reporter Danila Sand told the Board that for the short term the County should at least provide a temporary walkway for residents of the Creekside units to get in and out. She also said that the County’s plan to require people to evacuate the area in two days was unreasonable for many of the residents who may be on limited incomes, have few if any options, or who may be disabled in some way. 

In the end the Board approved the $250k emergency repair project proposed by County staff and Ms. Thurman reluctantly agreed to meet with County officials outside the meeting to address her complaints and concerns.

But after their lunch-time closed session, the Board returned to announce that the County was going sue Ms. Thurman and her holding company to address conditions at her Creekside Cabins property (see below). How this precipitous decision will affect Ms. Thurman’s declaration of cooperation was not discussed.

* * *

The New ‘No Bad News’ CEO Report

Last week we noted how devoid of actual content CEO Darcie Antle’s “new” CEO report format was, even less than what her predecessor and guru, Carmel Angelo, included. At the Board meeting on Tuesday, we got a clue about why. 

Sonoma County Ag Commissioner Andrew Smith, who has been hired as Interim/Part-Time Mendo Ag Commissioner and may not (yet?) be fully indoctrinated about No Negativity Mendocino, told the Supervisors that info from his department had been omitted from the CEO Report. 

Smith: “Our department has been working very hard on some organizational development and working on building out our mission and our vision. It's been missing for some time. We think it's a great thing and it connects very well with the organizational excellence this community and county strives for. I didn't see any information related to our department in the CEO report. I hope that when departments submit their input for the CEO report that it is at least able to be shared by the CEO's office and the Board of Supervisors collectively. Even if excerpts are not chosen to be displayed publicly.” (Our emphasis.)

Supervisor Williams commented: “I don't know if I've received all the updates. I don't know what I don't know. It seems like there may be some updates circulating that I have not seen.” (Our emphasis.)

Antle: “I'll review it and we will get it circulated if we missed something. Absolutely.”

Smith: “I had no intention to pull anybody under the bus or anything. I'm just trying to advocate for a way to circulate the CEO Report amongst the board members. Because I'm not opposed to covering some of the more glamorous things for the public as to what different departments are up to, to align with the strategic plan. But I think it's also important for the board's understanding to be able to know what's going on in each department. That's how we advocate for resources. That's how we really let you know what's going on within the nuts and bolts in each department with staffing and so forth.” (Our emphasis.)

Supervisor Mulheren: “It is my expectation departments are submitting information to the CEO report, that is how we communicate to the public. That will be an expectation for the departments. And of course all of our elected officials, obviously we can't require them, but we can encourage them to submit a summary of the work they are doing in their departments as well.”

Expectations and encouragement (and hope for that matter) are not good management concepts. The Board should require reports from all departments, including budgets, staffing and project status. Period. No exceptions. But they never have and never will.

Newly Seated Board Chair Glenn McGourty seemed to confirm that the CEO Report has been reduced to happy talk, selectively glossing over County operations, not informing the Board or the public about what’s actually happening in the County’s many departments, a number of which have not been asked, much less required, and so don’t even bother to submit reports. 

Supervisor McGourty concluded: “I'm very enthused about this because one of the things I don't think we do very well is tell our story here in Mendocino County and we let other people take over the narrative which sometimes doesn't turn out good for us, so I think an informed public and the transparency in our business is critical to us being effective as a county. So I appreciate the efforts of CEO Antle and her team to do a better job of this.”

“Other people”? Like who? Most of the local Board news coverage is minimal and without a hint of criticism. We only know of one local news outlet that doesn’t go along with McGourty’s “narrative.” We’ll take this as a compliment. And a “better job of this”? Meaning, presumably, that McGourty is pleased that CEO Antle is making sure that “the narrative” contains nothing meaningful, and certainly nothing that is “not good for us.” 

* * *

Spy Rock Road was in bad shape before this winter’s rainstorms. It is even worse now, as several Spy Rock Road residents, including Chris ‘Dead Dog’ Brennan, complained to the Supervisors Tuesday morning. They said that the pot holes are up to a foot deep and getting worse, and they are causing serious vehicle damage. Making matters worse was the apparent recent closure of the small Spy Rock School which requires parents of school-age kids to drive down the road every week day to the Laytonville school. There was no response to the complaints on Tuesday. 

Wednesday morning, County Transpo Honcho Howard Dashiell told KZYX’s Karen Ottoboni that he can’t do much about the problem in the winter season because repairs wouldn’t hold up for very long in another storm. Therefore, there are no repair plans until spring at the earliest. 

On Tuesday, the Supes confirmed that the Laytonville County Road Yard no longer has any staff (no explanation offered), meaning that repair crews, even for emergencies, have to be dispatched from Fort Bragg or Covelo. Dashiell told Ottoboni that he has some new hires in the pipeline and hopes to have up to four new employees at the Laytonville yard soon. (But given the County’s sludge-like hiring processes, that might not be until spring or later either.) Dashiell also noted that it seems like whenever they do patchwork repairs on Spy Rock Road, the drivers then speed up causing the potholes to re-appear. 

Compounding the problem even more is former Supervisor John Pinches’s observation last year that Spy Rock Road now has some 800 residential parcels and traffic has increased exponentially since the last century. 

There’s also the County’s decision last year to abandon the previous “dust-off” procedure which annually applied some commercial dust-control compound to reduce the traffic damage impact because of (disputed) water availability problems. Dashiell said Wednesday morning that he and the Supervisors are now using that dust-off road budget, such as it was, to chip-seal segments of the lower end of Spy Rock Road where it approaches Highway 101. Which won’t do much to allay the complaints of the people further up. Dashiell’s advice to people and emergency vehicles using Spy Rock Road? Slow down.

* * *

Mike Geniella on John Arteaga’s critique of the plans for the rehab of the Palace Hotel: “I suspect the ‘team’ Mr. Arteaga mocks is far more qualified to assess the Palace’s fate than he and his fellow naysayers. Let’s see what they come up with before we trash the determined efforts of Ms. Shankar to do something positive. A successful Palace project could transform the downtown, and make our community more liveable.”

One Comment

  1. George Dorner February 3, 2023

    Mr. Geniella, this is just the latest “rinse and repeat” restoration effort. Experts have trying to come up with restoration plans for the Palace Hotel for the past half century. What no one wants to acknowledge, is that after those decades of neglect, the Palace is no longer a building. It is a ruin. It is also the logical site to locate a new courthouse via eminent domain.

    As Mr. Arteaga so eloquently described, the judges could have their exclusive abode adjacent to the present courthouse, with a second story air-bridge connecting the two. The non-judicial offices in the present courthouse could stay put. No one has to schlep public files in the rain, waste time transiting between courthouses, lose papers en route, etc.

    Building a new courthouse on the Palace site would anchor Ukiah’s downtown.

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