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County Proposes To ‘Dissolve’ Citizen Committees

Let’s see, for the past 18 months we’ve heard from the Board of Supervisors that the County is broke but they don’t quite know how that happened.

Supervisor Ted Williams says the County “has three set of books.”

At a recent Board meeting, Williams asked County Counsel Christian Curtis, “Can you assure us we have accurate (financial) information now, that we can trust this data we have now?” Curtis succinctly responded, “No, that’s something the Board will have to take up.” 

Supervisor Glenn McGourty says, “It’s difficult to do business when you don’t know how much money you have in the bank.”

Negotiations with the County’s largest bargaining unit are stalemated because the union doesn’t believe and/or know how much money is in the bank either.

So with all this uncertainty surrounding finances, what’s being done to straighten this mess out?

Well, according to a memorandum-report submitted by County Counsel Curtis in support of a proposal to be discussed at Tuesday’s BOS meeting, the supervisors may approve “dissolving” upwards of 29 citizen committees, including all six of the existing Municipal Advisory Councils (“MACs”) located in Gualala, Hopland, Laytonville, Redwood Valley, Round Valley, and Westport.

That’s the brainstorm to solve financial woes.

Here’s relevant excerpts from the Curtis memo outlining the plan.

“During budget hearings on June 7, 2023, the Board of Supervisors directed the Executive Office to work with departments and community partners to identify functions of the County which community members and nonprofits could fulfill the role at a lower cost to the County. The fiscal year 23/24 budget approved the use of approximately seven million dollars ($7,000,000) in reserves and other one-time monies to cover expenses that will recur on an annual basis. This structural deficit is projected to grow to more than ten million dollars ($10,000,000) in fiscal year 24/25, at which would deplete most of the remaining reserves. As such, the Board has undertaken a larger effort to reduce expenses related to nonessential operations. As part of that process, the Executive Office and County Counsel have worked with departments to identify existing boards, committees, commissions, and advisory bodies (collectively “Committees”) that are not required by statute, citizen’s initiative, or other law … Per the included fiscal analysis, the Executive Office has calculated the annual costs of operating the identified committees at $921,020.66. True costs are likely much higher, but significantly more difficult to calculate.”

It should be noted the annual budget for all six MACs is a combined total of $17,500. For some unknown reason, the Gualala MAC is allocated $5,000, while the remaining five MACs are budgeted at $2,500, each. I can tell you that the Laytonville MAC, on which I serve as chairman, has not spent a dime of our annual $2,500 in the past four years. 

So the bottom line is the County is planning to terminate all six MACs to save $17,500 which is probably not being expended by the MACs in the first place. That makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?

Basically, the same is true for the other 23 citizen committees on the chopping block. 

Counsel Curtis in his memo alleges that MACs and other citizen committees just aren’t up to doing their jobs because they can’t cope with the Brown Act, which is complete nonsense and demonstrates his ignorance of the open meeting law in relation to citizen committees.

Here’s his unique interpretation of the Brown Act as it pertains to how advisory committees actually function and operate:

“When a Brown Act body deals with a broad range of subject matter, then its members are restricted from discussing a broad range of topics outside of their meetings. Thus, as the MACs role has broadened over time, it has further limited the ability of its members to pursue local civic engagement outside of the MACs. MACs members have increasing limitations on their ability to participate in the meetings of local districts, nonprofits, or other areas of community interest without violating the Brown Act. This, coupled with the fiscal and operation impact to the department, has led PBS (Planning and Building Services) to conclude that the current MAC functions may be better performed by local nonprofits or nongovernmental organizations (“NGOs”).”

This whole scheme is a reprise from seven years ago when then-CEO Carmel Angelo attempted to deep-six the MACs because she didn’t agree with some of the recommendations they were making to the Supervisors.

I was successful in putting a stop to it by working with Supes Dan Gjerde and Carrie Brown to overturn Angelo’s actions.

Part of the settlement agreement I wrote specified, “Earlier versions of the proposed MAC policy [written by Angelo] not only attempted to re-write the original legislation, but it conflicted with both the letter and spirit of the MAC statute found in Government Code Section 31010. It was and is the LAMAC’s (Laytonville MAC) position that the statute’s enabling resolutions are sufficient guidance for the formation and operations of Municipal Advisory Councils.”

Anyway, I don’t believe there will be majority support on the BOS at the Tuesday meeting to implement this foolish proposal. Both the Supervisors and the MACs understand the mutual benefits that derive to our communities from working together to at least get a few things accomplished that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, HYPERLINK "", the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live:

* * *

Who Closed The “Puff” (Phf)?

Last week’s column revealed the true story about how, when, and why California’s mental health hospitals were closed — and it wasn’t then-Governor Ronald Reagan who did it. 

For the past 50 years, the Reagan myth has been circulated and rumor-mongered by the Homeless-Mental Health Industrial Complex, most likely because as George Hollister explained in a post: “The myth also provides a straw man argument that allows us [the Homeless-Mental Health Industrial Complex] to avoid dealing with the mental health problem. Reagan screwed it up, and there is nothing we can do.”

We’ll now take a look at what caused the infamous closure of the County’s Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF, pronounced “Puff”) Unit, back in 1999-2001. This is an issue that people continue to talk about today even though it occurred over 20 years ago.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote back then.

* * *

Colfax Doesn’t Buy Mental Health “Crisis”

November 9, 1999

It was literally a tear-jerker at the Supes weekly conclave (Tuesday, Nov. 2, 1999).

County Mental Health Director Kristy Kelly broke down in the midst of informing the Supes that it’s a full-scale crisis at the Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF). Attempting to regain control, Kelly apologized for crying but was told by a choked-up Patti Campbell, “You never have to apologize to me for tears …” Campbell has been known to shed a tear or two herself during her BOS tenure, including occasions when general assistance payments have been at issue, as well as those times when recovering-addict single mothers have testified to the merits of the Drug Court. While Richard Shoemaker offered Kelly a box of tissues, 5th District Supe David Colfax appeared unmoved by the waterworks display and more concerned with probing the cause of the “crisis.” Here’s the story.

Kelly appeared first thing in the morning with an “off-agenda” item requiring the Supes immediate attention. Kelly said an emergency situation necessitated her seeking BOS approval to close the PHF unit immediately. The PHF, located at the Low Gap county complex, provides acute psychiatric care and other inpatient services to the seriously mentally ill, including those charged with crimes or being treated against their will (so-called “5150” cases from the penal code section of the same number). The PHF unit is licensed by the state “which has clear guidelines for the conditions that allow its operation.” One of those conditions causing suspension of its license is “that certain patient/staff ratios are maintained and that a specific array of licensed staff must be working on the unit at all times.” 

As Kelly explained it, chronic understaffing at the unit fell below state standards in the last two weeks when “violent incidents” forced four staff members off the job with work-related injuries. Additionally, 11 PHF employees filed grievances “regarding working conditions due to concerns for their personal safety.” No details were provided about the violent incidents or the unsafe working conditions, but one can imagine that whacked-out mental cases are capable of bodily harm both to others and themselves. On an average basis, upwards of 25 percent of the PHF’s patients are also jail inmates. In the first 10 months of this year, almost 600 out of the 1900 total patient days were logged for “penal code” patients. 

Speaking to the dangers of housing mentally ill inmates in the PHF, William French, a member of the Mental Health Advisory Board, as well as a former PHF patient, advised the Supes that “You have to look at how to better protect staff and patients (in the PHF) because with inmates there it’s not safe.” 

Kelly told the BOS that “as of 3 p.m. today, we will not be able to maintain the minimum number of licensed staff on the unit required by our license.” Kelly recommended that the Supes “affirm PHF operations should be suspended until staffing and other problems are resolved.” In the meantime she proposed re-opening the PHF as a “Crisis Stabilization Unit” (CSU) on an interim basis while the county Personnel Dept. develops “recommendations on incentives and/or other solutions to address chronic problems in recruiting and retaining qualified staff.” However, the CSU could not house for longer than four hours “5150” cases. Likewise, mentally ill offenders would have to be sent elsewhere. She also pointed out that the CSU would use the existing PHF facility and staff. Finally, all services at the CSU would be “billable under Medi-Cal unlike PHF, which is only partially reimbursable.” 

On the down side, closing the PHF and opening a CSU would increase various costs, such as case management and transporting mentally ill offenders to far away state institutions such as Atascadero or Patton. 

Colfax wasn’t buying the crisis argument. “Given the history of the agency you’re responsible for (Ukiah PD killing of DMH patient Marvin Noble, plus two other jail suicides of DMH clients),” he said, “and all the potential impacts on other departments, like the Sheriff, Jail, DA, Courts and Public Defender, I want something in writing, on paper, from all those affected by this (closing the PHF) before we make a decision.” 

Colfax went on to say that the so-called PHF crisis “has been building for years” but nothing substantive had ever been done to tackle it comprehensively. He also cited chronic understaffing at the jail and with patrol deputies. “I find it difficult to respond to this emergency when it’s been building for three to five years or more. We need to look at why we’re out of compliance and not getting qualified people.” 

He laid a large part of the blame on a lack of funding and voters who don’t seem concerned about service cuts in those areas. He urged the “Sheriff and District Attorney to get on the soapbox” and let people know how serious the problems are.

Sheriff Tony Craver, responding to Colfax, likened the situation to “driving a car that runs out of gas — you won’t get there until you pay what a gallon of gas costs. You need to pay for services what they cost.”

Captain Gary Hudson, who oversees the jail, told the Supes his facility had failed the last two inspections by the Dept. of Corrections. He said the jail was out of compliance with one-quarter of the positions vacant. If the PHF unit closes, it would place the entire operation at risk. “We are at our limits also,” Hudson stated. “With the inability of the PHF unit to function as a PHF, the jail could not operate as a jail.” 

Hudson was referring to the seriously mentally ill inmates who must be housed at the PHF because the jail is not equipped to deal with them. He told the Supes that transferring inmates from here to facilitates in Patton or Atascadero would require 12 to 14 hours processing and transport time. That cost is multiplied each time the mentally ill offender is returned to Mendocino County for a court appearance. Furthermore, it would result in less street patrols since those deputies would be assigned transport duties.

Responding to an inquiry from Tom Lucier suggesting private security services handling transport of inmates to state mental institutions and back for court appearances, Hudson said there would be “significant problems.” He pointed out that some “high profile” mentally ill inmates are so “very sophisticated, assaultive” and violent (towards jail officers) that “we have to double up on guards” when transporting them between jail, court and the PHF unit. He speculated that because of the risks involved, it most likely would prove difficult to find private security companies willing to assume the liability.

Kitt Elliott, from the Public Defender’s Office, warned the BOS that they were “looking at significant costs” if PD staff had to travel out-of-county to represent mentally ill offenders. 

“Realistically, the Public Defender’s staff can’t drive back and forth to out-of-county facilities … phone calls (to the mentally ill) don’t work … you need face-to-face contact with them,” she commented.

With Colfax dissenting, his four colleagues voted to give Kelly the discretion to suspend operations at the PHF if she couldn’t find the personnel to maintain state staffing mandates. According to Kelly, if operations are suspended by local officials they can re-open the PHF any time they are once again in compliance without state approval. If and when Kelly closes the PHF, then the CSU would open, which would, in turn, trigger transporting criminal mentally ill offenders out of county. Meanwhile, DMH, the Sheriff, DA, courts and the PD will be meeting to come up with a plan that will hopefully resolve this mess. 

Colfax was not happy with the decision. “We keep backing away and backing away. We’re pretending we’re solving something but this is a major policy change. We’re making it (the PHF problems and related issues) out-of-sight, out-of-mind.” 

Speaking for the majority, Mike Delbar scolded Colfax: “We’re not here today to grandstand. I have faith that the Mental Health Director and the ‘support’ departments (Sheriff, DA, PD, courts) will work on this problem — they will not let it fall off the table.”

* * *

Guess what? Nothing fell off the table because the table collapsed under it.

(To be continued.)

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