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County Notes: Employees Union Authorizes A Strike

According to a notice on Saturday from the Union’s negotiating committee, a surprising 92.4% of all members (not just of voting members) of the County employees union SEIU 1021 have voted to authorize a strike for at least a week starting around Labor Day if no significant progress is made in negotiations before then. According to the notice everything the employees and their representatives have done so far including letters, public comments, demonstrations, etc. “has fallen on deaf ears.” A second “strike school” is scheduled for late August for employees who did not attend the first one. The Union is planning to set up a “hardship fund” as well as a GoFundMe Strike Fund webpage to distribute strike assistance to employees who may need financial help during a strike. Reportedly, the impolitic dismissive remark Supervisor Ted Williams made recently to Mendocino Voice reporter Dave Brooksher that the public probably wouldn’t notice a strike was a major factor in the unexpectedly high percentage of the strike authorization vote. 

A subsequent Union Press Release added:

“Despite total revenue for Mendocino County having increased 44.8% since 2019-2020, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors has continued to bargain in bad faith with its public health nurses, children’s social workers, road crews, and other employees. In repeated negotiation meetings, the County has insisted that its employees pay more for their healthcare and retirement — an overall pay cut. This effective pay cut will only exacerbate the current staffing crisis by pushing even more County workers to opt for better-paid positions in neighboring counties, cities, and the private sector. ‘Our members are frustrated with the lack of leadership from this administration,” said SEIU 1021 Mendocino County Chapter President Julie Beardsley, a senior public health analyst for the county. ‘Mendocino County has amazing people, natural resources, and the spirit to move forward. This strike authorization is a clear indication that things need

to change.’ Mendocino County has a county-wide vacancy rate of 29%. Among the critical staffing shortages jeopardizing the health, safety, and well-being of county residents, including the most vulnerable, are: A nearly 40% vacancy rate in Family & Children’s Services putting

at-risk kids in danger; A 44% vacancy rate in Department of Transportation road crews, meaning our roads don’t get paved or repaired in a timely manner; and A 70% vacancy rate for mental health clinicians.”

* * *

It was hard to miss the in-your-face symbolism of Tuesday morning’s board of Supervisors meeting opening. Board Vice Chair Supervisor Mulheren began by inviting (as yet undeclared) 1st District Supervisor Candidate Trevor Mockel — unanimously, prematurely and suspiciously endorsed by all five Supervisors for no reason at all — to the podium to lead the board in the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Being inexperienced, Mockel stumbled by starting to pledge his allegiance before turning the podium mic on for a few words. He quickly recovered and once he got the mic on he performed admirably, considering it was his first crack at publicly pledging allegiance. The man demonstrated that he is fully qualified to lead the Board — in the Pledge of Allegiance, at least. 

Retired County Planner Scott Ward told the Board that they might be able to collect more taxes if they re-instated the old permit amnesty program (i.e., waive permit penalties for unpermitted buildings for people who fess up and come in from the cold) to get more structures on the tax rolls. The Board flatly ignored Mr. Ward.

County Assessor-Recorder-Tax Collector Katrina Bartolomie explained that there wasn’t time to get a tax assessment report into this month’s CEO report. She then proceeded to give an oral report which was too long and disorganized to summarize at in this report. More later.

A large contingent of County workers filled the Supervisors chambers again to complain that the County still wasn’t negotiating in good faith and that they were fully prepared to strike if they didn’t get a decent contract soon, or even a decent offer. Many of them had signs with a picture of a coiled cobra with the motto “Will Strike if Provoked.” (More on their presentation later.)

A county social worker (whose name unfortunately was unintelligible… “Hamilton”?) was particularly annoyed by an item in a recent Mendocino Voice on-line article by reporter Dave Brooksher. After describing the many difficulties of her stressful job — dealing with drug abusers, spousal batterers, child abusers, alcoholics, etc. — she said that she and her colleagues didn’t “feel valued” by the County and in particular a paragraph in Brooksher’s report that read, “The Voice reached out to Mendocino County CEO Darcie Antle, as well as the Board of Supervisors, regarding how the union strike might affect county business. Fifth District Supervisor Ted Williams said the strike would likely go unnoticed by the public.”

The social worker said she couldn’t believe a sitting Supervisor would make such a dismissive and insulting remark as that. 

Neither could we.

Williams didn’t deny, respond, apologize or explain. 

During the consent calendar discussion, Williams said the contracts with Anchor Health/Redwood Quality Management Company (RQMC) were unclear in several respects and should be re-written. County Counsel Christian Curtis explained that the retroactive contracts were “a rush job,” adding that there’s “a fair amount of vagueness in the language as presented.” Apparently, the primary contract with RQMC will no longer include having the Schraeders do the financial oversight of the Mental Health subcontractors — that function will be taken on by the County’s Mental Health Department run by Dr. Jenine Miller. Dr. Miller said that two of the retroactive subcontracts were “crisis contracts” and needed to be approved immediately to avoid affecting client services. Miller said that the contracts needed to be approved “today” to not affect services. 

(Need we note that this “rush job” problem occurs suspiciously often with these retroactive Mental Health contracts so there never seems to be much opportunity to review them or restructure them or improve the reporting requirements?)

Supervisor John Haschak wanted to know what the “transition plan” was to shift financial oversight from the Schraeders to the County.

Dr. Miller replied that the new contract with the Schraeders removes financial oversight requirements including billing from the RQMC contract. She said that she is trying to avoid another Ortner “debacle” to make sure they get the ten years of electronic patient records transitioned to the County.

(Why does this sound so familiar? … Oh, yes, I remember now, the County paid Ortner tens of thousands of extra dollars when Ortner was terminated in 2016 to assure the same thing. Hmmm…)

Williams wanted to know why, if RQMC’s Administrative Service Organization contracts no longer include the financial oversight function, didn’t the dollar value of the contracts go down? Nobody answered the question.

In the end they decided to extend the current contracts with RQMC and subcontractors for up to 90 days to allow for whatever contract clarifications may be made.

Several RCMS managers came to the podium to say they resented what they saw as “attacks on their integrity,” saying that, of course, they are not only doing a great job but that the state is no longer demanding the large amounts of service payments back like they did back in the bad old Ortner days before RCMS took over the billing as the “administrative service organization.”

Supervisor Dan Gjerde (and others) pointed out that public scrutiny of public contracts is just part of the program and that Ms. Schrader and her crew need not take offense.

Gjerde also insisted that the millions of dollars in recoupments the state has demanded from the County going back to the Ortner years (2013 to 2016) was entirely the fault of Ortner. 

Gjerde didn’t mention that Mendo, in the form of former Ortner executive and then-mental health director Tom Pinizzotto, personally approved all of Ortner’s reports and billings. Nor did Gjerde mention that Ortner Management Group has been out of business for years now and is, nevertheless, being sued by Mendocino County for data they don’t have and millions of dollars that that long-dead turnip has already bled.

* * *

The Board spent the entire afternoon considering a proposed pot exclusion zone in Redwood Valley that would prohibit a relatively small existing legal grow site that’s been there for years. As is common with Mendo pot questions (but not with the many other more important fundamental issues), there were lots of comments for and against the exclusion zone — the non-pot-growing neighbors were mostly in favor of exclusion and the pot permit posse was against the exclusion. The Planning Commission had previously punted on the question, leaving it up to the Board to try to split the baby. 

Supervisor Mulheren’s sensible compromise suggestion to approve the exclusion zone but allow the existing grows (but no new ones) wasn’t acceptable to any of her colleagues.

Supervisor Gjerde moved to approve the exclusion zone and arrange for a three year phase out of the existing grows. This proposal produced more wrangling about Phase I and Phase 3 applicants and possibly sending it back to the Planning Commission and timing questions. 

But that went down 3-2 with Mulheren, Haschak and Williams against. Mulheren said she has never liked the exclusion zone idea and that it seemed to her more like a neighborhood popularity contest than prudent public policy. 

Williams proposed increasing code enforcement in the exclusion zone area. That passed unanimously.

After hours of comment and discussion, the Board voted 3-2 to deny the exclusion zone and let the legal growers continue, with Supervisors Gjerde and McGourty dissenting.

* * *

County Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Katrina Bartolomie told the Board on Tuesday that she was unable to provide a written report of assessment activity as directed by the Board because her staff was unable to run any reports themselves. 

“IT [Information Technology] is feverishly working on getting us reports that we can run ourselves to improve our reporting capability,” said Bartolomie. “In June we pushed everything we possibly could through to close the tax roll on time.”

Remember, the County paid millions of dollars for this fancy new property tax system, “Aumentum,” and it still can’t provide basic reports. Somebody back in the CEO Carmel Angelo days was obviously asleep at the switch when this conversion was made. For decades the County limped along with its antiquated property tax system. But when it came time to install the new one, nobody bothered to make sure the new one worked properly before they abandoned the old system. Now they’re reduced to begging the already-paid software vendor to do even their most basic reports.

“We currently have six real property appraisers and two personal or business auditor appraisers,” continued Bartolomie. “We have interviews set up within the next ten days for two real property appraisers and an auditor-appraiser/Senior auditor-appraiser as well as our second real property assessor tech. We are excited about that.”

Which is very good, but has nothing to do with assessment reporting. 

Then she moved in the direction of a report.

“We have over 61,000 parcels in Mendocino County with 4500 of those in the Williamson Act (agricultural tax exemption).”

OK, but what about the assessments?

“We assigned three appraisers to get their reports last week but most of them failed. So we had to go to the vendor to get these figures. We have noted before that with a lot of these reports, if we run them in the morning, and then run them an hour later they vary. So this is the best I could do right now without having the appraisers do a manual report.”

Nobody seemed interested in why a report would change if no info was added or changed.

“One change of ownership can affect one parcel or multi parcels,” Bartolomie said. “In June alone we processed 536 parcels. That was worth $65 million. That was for our supplemental roll.”

That works out to about $121k per parcel. If those are residential parcels, that sounds suspiciously low. Although since they’re “supplemental,” they could be for added structures on existing parcels. But no one asked.

“For our corrections and escapes, which are refunds and escapes — escapes are where it escapes the roll. It doesn't mean anybody did anything wrong, it just escaped that actual fiscal year roll.”

Ok, good; nobody did anything wrong. So why did they “escape”? Staffing? Nobody asked.

“We processed 500 parcel numbers with $52 million for the tax roll.”

In addition to the 536?

“We have also been processing refunds which we've been trying to process…”

Refunds? How much are those worth? When do they have to be paid?

Board Vice Chair Maureen Mulheren abruptly cut Ms. Bartolomie off at this point claiming she had used up her three minutes. Mulheren said she hoped that the Assessor could provide a report in the CEO Report next month.

Bartolomie tried to continue anyway: “We plan on doing another supplemental roll and escape correction by the end of the month. Our next report will be data that is not included in our report…”

Mulheren cut her off again and did not allow for any board discussion or clarification of these seemingly random, uncontextualized numbers, limited as they are.

Despite Ms. Bartolomie's well-meaning attempt, her belated “report” was obviously incomplete, haphazard, not in writing and unclear. You might expect that since these assessments are the foundation of both the County's General Fund revenue as well as local schools and special districts that the Board would have taken some time to at least make sure the reports are clear and provide useful information. Instead, all we were told was that they “processed” 536 parcels worth $65 million. Or was it 500 parcels at $50 million? What does that translate to in terms of taxes? And when might they come in? How many of those were sent to the Tax Collector for collection? How many are past due? What does Ms. Bartolomie mean by “Our next report will be data that is not included in our report…”?

As usual, the Board complains about not having enough financial information, but they make no effort to get it. They even rudely cut off the person who was trying to give them a report.

Will the next report be any better?

One Comment

  1. Bernie Norvell August 3, 2023

    Anchor/RCS contracts

    The contracts are an interesting story for sure. If a Supervisor or Supervisors have an issue or concerns with the contracts, by all means, let’s get them right. Who doesn’t support that?

    Here is my rub. These contracts are renewed every year. So why the rush job? We have all year every year to deep dive into the language. Most of, if not all of them don’t contain much new information. The 90 day extension proves the county feels they need only 90 of the 365 days the contracts allow. It is without doubt at this point that all of Anchor/RCS employees are on a 90 contract. That must be good for morale but I guess they at least have a contract. This is more that the union has. This also means the crisis respite that the City wrangled for two years to get opened is on a 90 day contract. What happens to our respite if RCS doesn’t like the new language and worst case they walk? Unlikely but not impossible. Putting out an RFP could be fruitful but if you were an outside the area provider, how long or how deep would you have to look into county business over the last few years to decide, no thank you? 81 days and counting!

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