Press "Enter" to skip to content

County’s Pointless Fight With Sheriff Cost Taxpayers Almost $400k

On August 4, 2021, several months after then-CEO Carmel Angelo threatened to send a bill to Sheriff Kendall for $1.6 million for ordinary law enforcement overtime, as she simultaneously undertook steps to fold the Sheriff’s computer system into the County’s larger system, the Supervisors tried to convince Sheriff Kendall that they hadn't meant it, that there was no conflict, that the Sheriff could have his own attorney to argue against the CEO’s revenge ploys.

But the Supervisors didn’t offer to settle the matter, instead they hoped to cajole Sheriff Kendall to just fold up his tent and go home, as if the Sheriff had “sued” the County by demanding his own attorney. The Supervisors hoped the Sheriff would at least accept a random attorney from LA chosen by County Counsel Christian Curtis instead of the local attorney Kendall preferred, Duncan James, an attorney who has feasted on Mendo's civic incompetence for many years.

Sheriff Kendall told the Board he was “not happy we’re going down this road. I truly am not. I didn’t pick the music. I didn’t put the quarter in the jukebox. But we are dancing this dance now. We just need to get clarity and get this behind us. I didn’t pick this fight and everybody knows that. I deserve to have someone I trust represent me. Not someone from Los Angeles or San Francisco.”

Former CEO Carmel Angelo, the instigator of the conflict — “I'll show you, Mr. Man” — had “put the quarter in the jukebox,” aggressively supported by Supervisors Gjerde and Williams and County Counsel Christian Curtis. At that August 2021 meeting the Board suddenly decided that in their opinion there wasn’t a conflict, despite the active court case that was moving along in Judge Moorman’s courtroom, albeit at a glacial pace.

CEO Angelo sat quietly aside watching the ineffectual exchange she had spawned with no questions asked of her. It was as if the Board was more worried about upsetting their domineering CEO than they were about facing the wrath of the voters for wasting our time. Most local voters, if offered a choice, would simply support the Sheriff and whatever reasonable funding and computer set up he needs. 

Now here we are almost two years since the silly threats were made and the numbers are in. And, as we suspected, it is worse than we thought.

In response to our Public Records Request about a month ago, Assistant County Counsel Charlotte Scott wrote:

“We have uploaded the responsive records to your PRA request seeking ‘invoices and payment records associated with case number 21cv00561, Mendocino County Sheriff Matthew Kendall v. Mendocino County Board of Supervisors…’ In response to your inquiry ‘from which budget line item were payments made out of?’, as reflected in the uploaded payment records, legal services invoices for the defense of the litigation were paid from the budget line item 1020, Executive Office budget. Payment of $150,000 to the Law Office of Duncan M. James was from budget line item 1210, County Counsel budget. This concludes the County’s response to your PRA. Thank you.”

What were those “legal services”? According to the invoices submitted by the expensive SF-based Renne Public Law Group, they were for “mediation services” — not “defense of the litigation” (the Sheriff had asked the Court to order Mendo to pay for his own attorney; he did not initiate “litigation”) — over a six-month period starting in October of 2022 and continuing through March of 2023 about the time the case was settled. (We still don't have any paperwork providing the actual terms of the settlement.) 

There’s no evidence the Board of Supervisors new about, much less approved of the “mediation services” and its funding.

The invoices submitted by Renne LLC over that six month period from October 2022 to March of 2023 totaled almost $230k. There were also about $3k in admin costs such as transcriptions and court papers. And that doesn’t include the hundreds of hours of County Counsel’s office staff time during the first year of the pointless dispute.

Originally, Kendall asked for $50k to cover Duncan James’s costs to basically tell the Supervisors that they couldn’t charge the Sheriff for ordinary overtime expenses nor could they absorb his computer system into the County’s system. Of course, County Counsel Curtis should have told the Board that at the outset and the jukebox need not have been plugged in.

Instead, now, more than $380k later, nobody’s talking about charging the Sheriff for law enforcement overtime (in fact they used some covid money to pay it, no questions asked), and simple no-cost discussions between the Sheriff’s IT person and the County’s IT person about keeping things separate are now being finalized. Those discussions should have been held two years ago before CEO Angelo put the quarter in the jukebox.

During the more than 18 months since CEO Angelo’s music began not once did any Supervisor wonder about the cost of their folly, despite their frequent complaints about being short of money.

In a normal county, this ridiculous fiasco would be a front page scandal and a major embarrassment, and heads would roll. But not here Behind the Green Curtain. It’s just another waste to shrug off until the next one comes along.

* * *

Even third-rate Mendocino County knows that inflated or bogus numbers seem more credible when they’re gathered and assembled by a computer, then stuffed into a PowerPoint presentation. That’s probably why Mendo is spending about $45k for a cellphone app called “Counting Us!” (the exclamation point probably cost an extra $5k) to “Automate the 2023 Point-in-Time Count and Conduct Surveys with People Experiencing Homelessness in Mendocino County, Effective January 11, 2022 Through a New End Date of December 14, 2023.” According to the app developer, Counting Us! lets the Counters conduct cellphone “unsheltered surveys when a person can be engaged, and Observation Tally forms are used for times when that is not an option.” Another fancy feature makes sure that children are not asked if they are veterans! (Such a waste of time!) Built in GPS “captures the exact location of each survey interaction,” etc. But there’s nothing in the app about duplication prevention or incentives that might artificially increase counts or any of the other Point in Time Count flaws identified by the Marbut Report which said that Mendo’s point in time counts significantly exaggerate the number of homeless persons in Mendocino County. There’s also no mention of whether the app helps in determining if the countee is a local or a traveler.

* * *

Remember the “veg mod hell” problem some pot permit applicants found themselves in because of the arbitrary strictness, rigidity and cumbersomeness of the rules about tree removal for pot grows? At the same time that the Supervisors claim to be trying to “streamline” the pot permit process, they asked County Counsel Christian Curtis to “clarify” the veg mod rule. Here’s the proposed clarified new rule:

“Prohibition on Tree Removal. Removal of any commercial tree species as defined by Title 14 California Code of Regulations section 895.1, Commercial Species for the Coast Forest District and Northern Forest District, and the removal of any true oak species (Quercus sp.) or Tan Oak (Notholithocarpus sp.) for the purpose of developing a cannabis cultivation site is prohibited. This prohibition shall not include the pruning of any such trees for maintenance, or the removal of such trees if necessary to address safety or disease concerns. For purposes of this Section 10A.17.040(K), ‘for the purpose of developing a cultivation site’ shall mean the alteration, grading, removal, or other development of land to create, or expand, a cultivation site, as that term is defined in Section 10A.17.020.” 


* * *

Meanwhile the pot permit processors (aka Mendocino Cannabis Department, MCD) provided an “update” as part of next Tuesday’s Board agenda packet.

“Annual Permit Renewal Update 

Department staff is currently focused on reviewing renewal applications and has 168 renewal applications in the review queue, of which: 

77 applications are under final review, and 

31 need compliance plans, 

14 are non-responsive, 

15 are under vegetation modification review, 

20 are under sensitive species habitat review, 

55 are in need of inspection, 

7 need DCC license alignment, and/or 

3 need administrative permits. 

The department recently implemented an updated tracking system to gain insight into compliance and processing issues as they come up during renewal application.”

* * *

Notice that the “update” does not say how long these applications have been under review. (Most were submitted four or five years ago.) Nor does it say how many are not being reviewed and why. However, according to a chart in this week’s Supervisors agenda applications are taking 4 to 9 weeks to conduct and the 182 applications (more than the 168 listed above) will take a whopping 54,000 hours of staff time to review (equivalent to 27 full time equivalent staff years), for an average of around 300 hours per. At an average of say, $100k per staffer (salary & benefits), that’s almost $3 million to review (and possibly approve?) 182 clean applications, or about $150,000 per review. 

These numbers are ridiculous, of course, but that’s what we’re told by the MCD and nobody at 501 Low Gap seems dubious.

These are the applications that have made it this far and are presumably relatively clean and reviewable. There’s nothing in the pot permit update about streamlining even as the Supervisors consider eliminating some steps or having the state do some or all of it.

In fact, the Pot Permit Department has grown to 22 high paid/funded staff positions (not all of which are filled, of course). This does not include code enforcement staff nor does it include the 8 outside consultants the County recently hired (also without mentioning any streamlining). 

And, like all the other County departments, there’s no budget info, other than, at last count, the Pot Permit department is at least about $700k over budget. State grants cloud the Pot Permit Department’s budget picture, however.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *