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County Agenda Notes

Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors Meeting was scheduled for September 12, 2023 at St. Anthony’s Church Parish Hall, 10700 Lansing St., Mendocino.

Agenda Item 4i: “Discussion and Possible Action Including Direction to Staff Regarding an Increase to the Transient Occupancy Tax for Vacation Home Short Term Rentals in Mendocino County. (Sponsor: Supervisor Haschak)”

This will be interesting because, although the idea sounds good in principle, the County hasn’t exactly defined what a Vacation Home Rental is, nor how they will identify them, nor how they will calculate the tax base, nor how they will collect the tax. Nor have we heard what Tax Collector Cubbison thinks about the idea. It’s another half-baked idea that should have been accompanied with some proposed details. As it is, the most likely outcome is some meandering blather followed by another “directive” to staff to look into it where it, like Haschak’s non-existent “wildlife exclusion service,” will be indefinitely tabled.

Item 4k: “Discussion and Possible Action Including Approval of Creation of an Amnesty Program for Building Permit Penalties; and Direction to Staff to Implement the Amnesty Program for a Period Not to Exceed One Year (Sponsor: Supervisor Haschak)”

In the past, permit amnesty programs have attracted a few new buildings, and brought in a little permit revenue and additional property taxes, since only the penalty is being waived, not the often exorbitant permit fee itself. Reportedly, there are lots of unpermitted structures in the Mendo outback, including things like hoop houses which probably shouldn’t require building permits at all. Whether a permit amnesty will produce a significant amount of applications or revenue, however, remains to be seen. (The owners of the many abandoned pot grows/structures in the North County are not likely to get in line for permit amnesty.)

Consent Calendar Item 3n has a curious new word describing the “services” being paid for. Clifton-Larson-Allen LLP is already on contract to conduct the routine annual audit for the County. But now they’re apparently being asked to do a “forensic” audit as well. The contract language is not attached to the agenda item, so we don’t know at this point what the County expects Clifton-Larson-Allen to do “forensically” for an extra $50k. We cannot find any record of what “Agreement No. PA-23-63” is either. You might think with all the allegations swirling around the County’s finances these days that contracting for a “forensic” audit would be of interest to the public and the Board. 

We couldn’t help but notice that there is nothing on the agenda regarding the monthly report from the Assessor on tax assessment status or progress. Two months ago the Board “directed” that they get monthly written status reports on what was vaguely intended to be a two -year program to try to pick up maybe half of an unknown number of un- or under-assessed parcels/properties. Since then we’ve only seen an info-free informal oral report from Assessor Bartolomie. She appeared under public expression, even though the Board hadn’t even asked about it and Acting Board Chair Maureen Mulheren wouldn’t even let the Assessor finish her “report.”

A draft response to the Grand Jury’s scathing take down of the County’s Human Resources department was also on Tuesday’s agenda. Guess how many of the Grand Jury’s sensible recommendations regarding Human Resources the County’s response says will be implemented? (Hint, there’s only one and it says “already implemented.” Some responses are either “will not be implemented’ or partially disagree or disagree. A few say will be implemented “in future” with various dates.

For example, in Finding F6, the Grand Jury “found” that “The challenges faced by the HR Department are likely to continue for the foreseeable future because the BOS and CEO have stopped recruiting for a department director and have recently unfunded the position.”

Proposed response: “Wholly Disagree. A different model for HR leadership went into effect at the beginning of 2023 in which an Assistant HR Director position was filled to oversee the operations of the HR department, while the Interim HR Director position, which is filled by a fully qualified Deputy CEO, maintains the Director responsibilities. This model allows the Interim HR Director to focus on high-level HR strategies and coordination with department heads and Executive Office while working with the Assistant HR Director who is ensuring the HR department operates smoothly and implements changes/improvements. This model has been working well, because both the Interim HR Director and Assistant HR Director have extensive experience in HR and have set a strategic vision for the HR department and are implementing improvements. Staff are not confused or discouraged, rather they know where the department is going and how they’re going to get there.”

A “different model”! Take that, Grand Jury! They can’t hire a competent Human Resources Director so they simply called their present Rube Goldberg arrangement “a different model.” You’re excused if you think this response sounds not only muddled to the point of nonsense, but has echoes of the forced and unplanned consolidation of the Treasurer and Auditor offices which has worked out so well.

In finding F20 the Grand Jury found that “The County has a 27.5% vacancy rate overall, with some departments experiencing vacancy rates as high as 49%.”

Proposed response: “Partially disagree. The vacancy data was accurate at the time information was provided to Grand Jury but had yet to be defined down to funded/unfunded status of vacant positions. Unfunded vacant positions should not be used in calculations for vacancy rate because it is not possible to fill due to lack of funding. The vacancy rate has been updated since and with consideration of counting only funded vacant positions, the County vacancy rate is at approximately 15%.”

Since when is the vacancy rate based on funded positions as opposed to workload and shift coverage? If a necessary position is unfilled because there’s a funding shortage, it is still “vacant” and should be listed as such. Besides, if you want to reduce the vacancy rate, wouldn’t you recruit for all vacancies, not just the ones that may be funded at the moment? 

The proposed response continues: “When the budget was approved for Fiscal Year 23/24 the positions authorized for funding was for 1,100 with a 15% vacancy rate. The adopted budget, with a $7 million structural deficit, did not assume all these positions would be filled and funded for the entire fiscal year.”

There’s that infamous and still-undefined “$7 million structural deficit” reference again. The only person on the Board who has mentioned that particular “structural deficit” is Supervisor Gjerde, so we assume he’s the one who drafted this (these?) non-responses. Instead, Gjerde (and his colleagues) again insult the Grand Jury and the public by ignoring not only the Grand Jury’s serious attempt to identify a systemic personnel management problem, but by assuming nobody cares how bad the responses are. (Unfortunately, they may be right.)

The Grand Jury also found that “The hiring process is reported to average 2-4 months before an applicant is notified of a job offer, sometimes up to 6 months, resulting in the loss of qualified applicants.”

Here, although the draft response says “Agree,” nothing is proposed to speed up the process. (In other local jurisdictions, we know of managers who use extra-help and temporary hirings to bring people in early and see if they work out, for example, while they wait for the tedious hiring process to take its sweet time.) Instead, all we get are lame excuses: “After a recruitment (minimum of two-weeks posted) closes, Human Resources provides a referral list of candidates to departments. Departments then receive the referral and have 30 days to schedule interviews, interview, and extend an offer to candidates and they then need to onboard their new hires. Referral lists are typically sent to a department within 72 hours pending other factors such as they are still interviewing from a previous referral.”

Similarly the Grand Jury found that “The County is experiencing major challenges retaining employees. Average turnover rate in the County was 30.6% in 2022, with turnover among some job classifications up to 120% in a year.”

Proposed response to this staggering statistic: “Agree.” 

That’s the entire response. High turnover? Yup. Guess so. Ho-hum. 

The Grand Jury concluded: “The County as an employer has suffered due to the workplace culture, which makes the County less attractive to potential applicants.”

Proposed response: “Partially disagree. The County’s workplace culture may look less attractive to potential applicants if the culture is known by the applicants and is as bad or worse than the current workplace culture the applicant is enduring.”

This makes absolutely no sense at all. 

Grand Jury Recommendation, #R17, which the County says “has been implemented.”

Grand Jury Recommendation R17: “Set timeline expectations and track the hiring timeline with a standardized report from year to year, and report on them at department level and to the HR Director. Key metrics should include:

• Time elapsed between when job was requested by department and approved, and when job was posted for hire.

• Time elapsed between when listing is posted and when list of approved applicants is given to hiring manager.

• Time elapsed between when the hiring manager receives a list of eligible applicants and when job offer is extended.”

County Response: “Has been implemented. Annual reporting has been implemented with the exception of when the job offer is extended due to current system capabilities.”

Although the County says that Annual reporting has been implemented, no reports have been provided to date, so that one, although the County agreed to implement it, remains unimplemented and since it involves a report with specific information, is unlikely to ever be implemented. 

The County claimed that several other Grand Jury recommendations will be “implemented in the future” and in some cases even provided specific dates by which the recommendation(s) will be implemented. But since the County has a very poor track record on following through with such promises, we categorized them all as “will not be implemented.” We will, however, save the response and check back on the dates promised by the County and will be happy to report any recommendations that are implemented, if ever. 

Here’s a typical recommendation and response. 

Grand Jury Recommendation #R21: “Assign a relocation support person for new employees within six months of publication of this report. Similar to a “concierge” type concept, they will help new employees adapt to, get connected with, and settled into our County.”

Proposed response: “Will not be implemented. Not reasonable. Professional assistance is available through realtors, Chamber of Commerce, online sources such as Visit Mendocino and Visit Ukiah.”

Grand Jury Recommendation #R24: “Track vital staffing statistics such as job vacancy rates and turnover rates in the County and include those statistics in the public CEO report.”

Proposed response: “Has been implemented. Scheduled reporting to be included in CEO reports.”

Simply false. There is nothing of substance in the CEO report, especially not any meaningful “statistics.”

It will be interesting to see if the Grand Jury revisits this report and grades the County’s response next year.

Summary: Mendo’s personnel management is in serious disarray as clearly spelled out by the Grand Jury and even in the Board’s “responses.” But instead of addressing the problems, this Board’s response is to tell the Grand Jury to bugger off.

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