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County Notes: Transparency, Mendo Style

For two weeks, last week and this week, the Supervisors have spent their meetings entirely in closed session, mostly conducting “performance evaluations” for six department heads. Despite their frequent hosannas to “transparency,” the public has no role in these seemingly important evaluations other than a brief and limited opportunity to express an opinion before the Board goes into closed session, an opportunity which is never publicized and which we have never seen taken by anyone. Performance evaluations of such highly paid and responsible positions are treated the same way as line worker performance evaluations: in secret. The public is not asked or involved in the criteria used for these evaluations conducted by elected officials, nor are they generally aware of what these officials even do, much less how well they do them. In the past, these evaluations were not even posted. Only this year have we seen them listed on an agenda because when CEO Carmel Angelo retired, these positions were removed from the CEO’s responsibility (for reasons that were never explained) and who now work directly for the Board of Supervisors. The Cannabis Program Director, Kristen Nevedal, who presides over an embarrassingly dysfunctional permit program, also works directly for the Board now. She was secretly evaluated a few months ago. The Air Quality District Director may also work directly for the Board, although their funding is not provided out of the General Fund. 

In addition, none of these departments (or any other departments for that matter) are required to submit monthly reports addressing budget, staffing, project status or problem highlights, so these “evaluations” are based entirely on personal opinions, anecdotes and occasional appearances at Board meetings. The Supervisors have never made any effort to systematically evaluate individual departments or their day to day operations or functioning.

The February 16 closed session listed evaluations for Transportation Director Howard Dashiell, Animal Care Director Richard Molinari, Public Defender Jeffrey Aaron, Child Support Services (aka Deadbeat Dad office) Director (whose name we don’t know and can’t find on-line), and Cultural Services Agency Director Deborah Samson (whose responsibility includes the library system, county parks and the County Museum in Willits).

For a few months after Mr. Molinari was hired the CEO report included some Animal Shelter statistics which at least showed the level of activity at the Shelter and seemed to indicate Mr. Molinari was an improvement over the badly run department he inherited. Public Defender Aaron keeps a very low profile and stays within his budget so he’s probably getting high marks since nobody but his indigent clients has any idea how is office is doing “defending” the usual mostly guilty suspects. The Deadbeat Dad office is completely invisible to the public and only came to public notice once back in the early 2000s when the late DA Norm Vroman charged then director Ralph Freedman with disturbing the peace in his office after he threw an angry screaming and insulting fit at an IT worker and Vroman told the Board that if they didn’t fire him, he’d file charges. They didn’t; in fact they paid for his legal defense. After the case was filed it came to light that Freedman had been fired from previous jobs for similarly volatile behavior but nobody had checked. Freedman eventually was fired, but he ended up getting a not-guilty verdict in his disturbing the peace case because the DA couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his office tantrum was “malicious.” We assume that whoever is running the Deadbeat Dad shop these days is keeping their temper in check so he or she will probably get a good review too since the Supervisors have no idea what their “performance” is and nobody ever says anything critical or negative about anybody (on the record) at 501 Low Gap Road.

There’s also an odd closed session item entitled: “Existing Litigation: One Case - Doe, John et al. v. Mendocino County et al. County Superior Court Case No. 22-cv-01700.” But when we went to the Superior Court’s case index, no such case number is listed. 

After the February 16 casual half-day morning gab session, Board chair Glenn McGourty reported out of closed session that “no reportable action was taken.”

The February 23 agenda is the same, including the mysterious John Doe case which is not listed on the Court index. 

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