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County Notes: Not Solving The Problem

Not much attention was paid to Supervisor Haschak’s proposal to increase taxes on short term rentals at the Board meeting in Mendocino last week. It couldn't even get a second from his colleagues. Supervisor Maureen Mulheren didn’t think the proceeds from the proposed tax would be worth the trouble of putting it on the ballot. Supervisor Dan Gjerde agreed saying it should be part of a road maintenance tax proposal, but adding that he doubted such a tax measure would pass. Gjerde pompously said that putting a road tax on the ballot would give the public the opportunity to “solve the problem or not solve the problem,” ignoring the fact that the voting public, such as it is, probably doubts that he and his colleagues, given more tax money, would solve anything, much less fix any roads. This board hasn’t delivered on a single local ballot measure this century. But it would give Gjerde another opportunity to blame the public rather than himself and his colleagues for “not solving the problem.”

CEO Darcie Antle told the board that she “thinks” County Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector Chamise Cubbison is “evaluating an agency” that could audit short term rentals who are not paying their transient occupancy taxes. 

Supervisors Glenn McGourty and Ted Williams both fell back into their annoyingly familiar position of blaming the Board’s self-created budget problems on Auditor Chamise Cubbison who, they say at almost every meeting now, is an elected official over whom they have no control.

Coast realtor Dierdre Lamb had a rather lengthy exchange with the Board. Lamb tried to tell the unhearing Board that the Supervisors should increase the Tax Collector staff. “I sell luxury homes,” said Lamb, adding that her clients “want to pay their taxes” but many of them have not been billed.

In fact, we know of a coast resident — perhaps a client of Ms. Lamb — who bought a million dollar house last year and has yet to see a tax bill. Reportedly, this home buyer has money set aside for the taxes he knows he owes but has not yet been billed for. 

Instead of agreeing to pursue this seeming low-hanging revenue windfall, the board suddenly switched gears, citing the budget bump they gave the Assessor’s office last year, which of course does nothing for the understaffed Tax Collector’s crew.

How hard would it be for the Supervisors to at least ask the Tax Collector for a report on tax collection status and offer the tax collector whatever reasonable revenue generating staff she needs? Apparently that’s beyond this Board’s limited ability because nobody disagreed when lame-duck Supervisor Dan Gjerde told Ms. Lamb, “We have dealt with Assessor staff increase and higher wages in her department. We have given more assistance to the Assessor to help them catch up. So we are doing everything we can.”

“Everything we can”? Sheesh! Since Gjerde is not stupid, the only way to interpret that ridiculous remark is that Gjerde is now fully on-board the ‘Blame Cubbison’ train that will not produce a nickel of new revenue for the County.

Astonishingly, Supervisor Williams finally mused, albeit about three years after the fact, “Maybe we should have an agenda item on how do we collect the taxes that are due and unbilled?”

Supervisor McGourty agreed, with one of his classic pearls of wisdom: “You can’t get anywhere unless you have a plan, correct?,” said McGourty, adding, “At some point we need to take action.”

But, as usual, nobody “took action.” (That “point” is not likely to be reached until January 2025 at the earliest when McGourty and Gjerde are off the Board.) Instead they accepted CEO Antle’s lame remark: “I have met with the Assessor and we are looking at how to improve the process.”

What they’re looking at is their own overpaid navels.

Nonsense Trumps Integrity

Readers may recall that last week we noted the absurdity of one paragraph in the County’s otherwise meaningless proposed response to the Grand Jury’s criticism of the County’s Human Resources department and processes. Surprisingly, Supervisor John Haschak pulled that response from the consent agenda last Tuesday saying, “I think supervisors Williams and Gjerde were the ad hoc that responded to [the Grand Jury report]. There are just some questions I had to it. Certainly the Grand Jury did a very thorough investigation of it and noted some real issues that we have with human resources and the workplace culture.” Haschak first wanted to know if, after “looking into” an Ombuds program that the Grand Jury had suggested and determining that it’s “not feasible,” then what? (Of course they would never “determine” that it’s feasible; that response was pure gibberish too.) 

Haschak highlighted the most absurd paragraph.

Haschak: “[Grand Jury] Finding #25 was, ‘The county as an employer has suffered due to the workplace culture which makes the county less attractive to potential applicants.’ And the response was, ‘partially disagree.’ I just want some clarification on this answer: ‘The county's workplace culture looks less attractive to potential applicants if the culture is known by the applicant and it is as bad or worse than the current workplace culture that the applicant is enduring’.”

Laughter from the audience.

“And so,” Haschak continued, giggling to himself, “if there's an explanation for that it would be welcome and I think there might be a better way to address this issue.”

More laughter.

Supervisor Maureen Mulheren added to the absurdity: “When I read that I certainly heard it in their voices. I'm not sure that Deputy CEO Johnson wrote that answer. If there's a better way to frame it, I would hope that the ad hoc members could collaborate on this in that way.”

Gjerde mansplained: “We have a large number of people in society right now who are moving from job to job and the employers are experiencing… It's not just in Mendocino County. So if someone's going to look for a job at a different employer, part of what captures into that is, Are they happy at their current employers? I think it's kind of…” Then even Gjerde fizzled out, realizing he was just making matters worse. “If someone has a suggestion on how they'd like to reword that, I'm open to that.”

Haschak started over: “Well, the finding is that the county has suffered due to workplace culture which makes the County less attractive to potential applicants. It's not wrong to agree with what the Grand Jury said in that case. We don't have to say, Well, it's bad, but it certainly could be a lot worse.”

More laughter in the room.

McGourty said, “I can enlighten [sic] on that a little bit too,” conceding, after a few more pointlessly redundant sentences, that “Definitely there's room for improvement. It's in our strategic plan, it's one of the things we are striving for to make Mendocino County a better place to work and I think steps are being taken to do that, but HR plays a really critical role in making sure that we properly staff the County.”

Ms. Johnson added more bureaucratese — “anniversary interviews and exit interviews,” “feedback,” “surveys,” “share the information,” etc.

Haschak suggested rewording the response. Hours later they came back with revised wording: “Partially disagree. The County’s workplace culture varies by department. The County’s workplace culture is not consistent throughout the County. The County recognizes there are some departments with challenging workplace cultures due to varied reasons such as vacant management and leadership positions, lack of trained supervisors and managers, lack of accountability and challenges in filling vacant positions. Depending upon the current or previous department the employee or potential applicants talks to the applicant could be influenced equally as to whether they applied for County employment in certain departments due to concerns about workplace culture.”

Which is still a non-sensical insult to the public and the Grand Jury.

It fell to First District Supervisor Candidate Carrie Shattuck to break through the nonsense: “Thanks to Supervisor Haschak for pointing out this item. All you have to do is watch one of these board meetings to see the [workplace] culture. Elected officials are degraded, belittled, their competence is called into question and their statements cut off. If an elected official is treated like this, how bad is it for an employee? I will give you several examples that have happened recently. At a board meeting Supervisor Gjerde told for the union employees that the increase in health care costs was ‘on them,’ that they had been over-using it, upsetting many employees who were attending the meeting. Even Supervisor Haschak was offended by that statement since he has been using his insurance lately. Isn't that what health insurance is for? Supervisor Williams at the July 25 board meeting had an agenda item to ‘direct staff to initiate modernization of new hires and annual employee standards including position appropriate physical, psychological, moral character and computer literacy.’ You can't read this grand jury response and hear these recent board comments and not think that the current culture is intentional on some level. This culture at the County will never change with attitudes towards employees and each other like this. The poor way this response was written is embarrassing. As a citizen and having previously had employees, and as a taxpayer, that you would respond and direct a county like this…? A county is its employees, whether elected or not. What happened to integrity?”

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