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When Mendo Had (Some) Serious Supervisors 

Despite the County’s many and growing staffing and budget problems, the Board of Supervisors has taken another month off. Their last meeting was November 8 at which they talked about the seriousness of the County’s financial difficulties but failed to come up with any ideas to solve them. Their next meeting is set for Tuesday, December 5, more than a week after the Thanksgiving holiday week. This comes on the heels of their summer break from July 31 to August 28. During that August break they insisted that they were working very hard, but despite that hard work they brought nothing substantive to the Board chambers to deal with the deficit. In the first half of fiscal year 2023-2024 (from July 1, 2023 to December 31, 2023. They have (or will have) met in open session only 11 times, less than twice a month. 

We’ve been looking back at our Board coverage from 2010 and 2011 when the Board dealt with major revenue reductions in the wake of the Great Recession. At that time, CEO Angelo had recently been promoted from her Health and Human Services Director job to Chief Executive Officer. Although her salary was a generous $180k per year, she at least didn’t ask for a raise during the financial crunch. (Angelo’s replacement, Darcie Antle, was the beneficiary of Angelo’s later big raises and now makes well over $300k a year for whatever she does.) That Board was made up of Kendall Smith, John McCowen, Carre Brown, John Pinches, and Dan Hamburg, who have mostly disappeared from the public arena since then, even though their experience from those tight budget days might be of value to the current Board. (Not that this Board would pay attention, but still…) In general, Supervisors McCowen and Pinches (and Brown to a lesser degree) were taking budget cutting seriously, including taking voluntary 10% pay cuts. Hamburg (like his predecessor, the late David Colfax) and Smith refused to take pay cuts even as they imposed cuts on all their staffers and departments. (Of the current Board, the longest in office is Dan Gjerde who took his seat in January 2013 — after the previous Board had slogged through those difficult budget years. Further, the key finance officials from those years have retired or moved on.

The only decent record of those difficult dry years is ours here at the AVA. Nobody else has consistently covered the Board’s budget cutting activities in any significant depth.

In April of 2010 as the impact of the cuts kicked in, CEO Angelo told the Supervisors that her office was considering several ways to make up the County’s estimated $7.6 million deficit through June of 2011 (a deficit similar in size to the current one): staff reductions, salary reductions, work-week reductions, office hour reductions, or combination thereof. Angelo noted that the County was “not likely to see a full economic recovery in the next couple of years.”

Although at that time they announced that they were laying off 25 people initially, only seven of the first 25 were really lay-offs. Thirteen vacant positions would be “defunded” (and left vacant) and five would be shifted to other “funding streams.” The April 2010 “lay-off list” was supposed to be the first of four phases of lay-offs which were estimated to total about 100 before the blood stopped flowing. Some of the other layoffs were not actual layoffs either, but early retirements or resignations of senior staffers who were not replaced. Nevertheless, they did save some money. Some of the layoffs were other senior staffers who had union bumping rights and could take other (lower paid) positions they might be qualified for, but which would involve the bumped person(s) to be laid off.

After reviewing the first set of proposed layoffs, Supervisor Pinches noted that “the next 25 will be tougher” – particularly because those would be layoffs of actual employees, not funded vacancies left vacant or semi-voluntary attrition. “In the past we could use attrition,” said Pinches. “Now we have no choice. This Board has been criticized for not cutting upper management. 14 of the positions on this list are over $90k cost-to-the-county positions. It's the higher end. We're trying not to go after the line staff.”

There were also questions of how the layoffs would play out in terms of the impact on already-thin Coastal staff and other smaller offices. 

Then-County union rep Jackie Carvallo summed up the initial proposed cuts this way:

“SEIU took 57% of the cuts of the actual people walking out the door, 4 out of 7 of the people who are actual layoffs – versus the shell game of moving people around or plugging them in where they can be funded under different revenue streams and stuff like that while our people are walking out the door. We are on the tail of the county saying, Please come back to the table and give more when we have already given 26 days out of our paychecks. The message from the workers is they find this hard to swallow. When I went back to the office at lunchtime I got a call from the Water Agency saying that the individual that was leaving has five pending grants on his desk and no one else is going to take up that slack. There are just some things that to the people that are working, that are currently giving mandatory time off, are just… We are still under a side letter [of agreement to continue with mandatory time off for the time being until the next bargaining session]. We're all for change. We're all for supporting everything. It's just a hard pill to swallow. I just feel obliged to point that out because I get so many comments on it from the workers. There is a process. We just kind of re-did the position in the [County] garage, and one in court collections and one in animal care and control. That took them out of management and put them in SEIU. There was a process they followed for that. They re-did the job descriptions, they compared it with like salaries, and they withdrew some of their benefits and they re-did it. The people were very, very gracious about it. But to just plug somebody in and say that they are going to do a comparable job when that's not how it's going to work is not how we do it for everyone else.”

A year later, in May of 2011 when the County was still downsizing in every department and slowly renegotiating their seven union contracts, they triumphantly announced that the public attorneys union had agreed to accept significant salary cuts of $12.5%. The Board even denied themselves their usual travel and conference junkets — on 3-2 votes. 

We’ll be looking further into those tough budget years in the weeks ahead. 

The point? It’s easy to say there’s a budget problem, as Supervisors Williams, Gjerde and McGourty casually observe at every meeting. But it’s never easy or simple to make the necessary cuts in salaries and hours and staff. It involves a lot of very contentious effort working through the process and the impacts over an extended period. Yet this current CEO and Board are doing nothing but looking at “efficiencies” like turning out lights sooner, an ill-defined hiring freeze (without distinguishing between general funded positions and grant funded positions), and some vague potential “cost savings.” They are not addressing fundamentals like revenues going uncollected, high paid staff salary cuts, reducing staff or office hours, nothing about bloated management (including themselves, the CEO’s office or the County Counsel’s office), deleting costly unsupportable functions like the cannabis department or the juvenile hall. And this month, they’re not even holding a meeting to try to deal with the problems. 

* * *

OUR FAVORITE QUOTE from the late Supervisor David Colfax comes from his reaction in September of 2009 to Supervisor John McCowen’s bold move to put Board member salaries and benefits on the agenda as a matter of public information.

Colfax wasn’t having it.

Colfax: “The problem I have is once again joining with the Ukiah Daily Journal and certain segments in the County that are fascinated, intrigued by the abuses, perceived or otherwise, including the Grand Jury in that at the very top of the list. I am sick and tired of taking crap from these people and these organizations! And for you to come on the board after, what is it, eight and a half months now? And to join in that kind of fascination with this is just filthy. I agree with you if you have genuine interest in this. Rather than grandstanding your willingness to give up, oh, five, ten, fifteen, twenty percent of your salary for which you have made no effort to make sure that this board is adequately compensated for the work that members of it do, and we do earn our money. But perhaps your circumstances are different from other people's circumstances so it's really a bit petty, a bit of a pet peeve of a concern in my opinion, of having made no effort as a Supervisor to get increased compensation. I ran on a platform eleven years ago saying we need to increase the compensation of members of the board of supervisors. And that has been opposed by some of the worst elements in this community for all those years. Now, bottom line, and my reason for raising this, the clerk of the board has done a good job of presenting this information. I'm requesting the CEO's office, since Mr. McCowen has made this request of our Clerk to do this, I want to see the exact same document for each and every member earning more than members of the Board of Supervisors. By name! Now, do you have any problem with that?! [Silence.] Sure you do! Because we're not going to put names on it. We're going to have positions. But when you go down and you start talking about the great benefit that I have for my, uh, for paying contributions, uh, to pay for my contribution to employers insurance of $11,000 which takes my money up to a certain level, that's not my income, that's the county's charge of doing business, the cost of doing business! So some of these numbers are not accurate, they are not more accurate, Supervisor McCowen. They are misleading. But I will accept the fact that there's a format that's been presented and it is now part of a public document that has me just absolutely outraged! That addresses five members of the Board of Supervisors. But it somehow is not addressed to the people who in my opinion, and this is now my 60th birthday, by the way, so I can take off a few weeks. But it infuriates me that this would go forward without any effort made to run it by, and to do so in the name of members of the Board of Supervisors. One supervisor apparently requested this. And yet it has real implications for this whole organization. Make sure we get it out there and quickly in the same format for those who in my opinion are grossly overpaid in this organization. And it's not the members of the board of supervisors! So I think that it's a pet peeve [shaking angrily]. I'd rather see you work in behalf of advancing the interest of the members of the Board of Supervisors. Moving us up to below the median salary for this organization. To perhaps just what the ordinary employee in this organization gets. Then I would have more respect for your fascination with this. Frankly, I consider this another element of the grandstanding you've done since being on this board with these items, and I don't… if this is taken as personal, and overreactive, I've had too much of an investment in this organization and wasted too damn much time bickering over a crappy salary connected to a not terribly rewarding job. … I don't like having my contribution to workmen's compensation added into the line item about [illegible] out of this organization. That's not what it's all about at all! It's what I see in my paycheck. It's not terribly, terribly exciting to put it very mildly.”

One Comment

  1. Joseph Turri November 25, 2023

    Mr. Colfax, was mistaken (misleading) when he states:
    “But when you go down and you start talking about the great benefit that I have for my, uh, for paying contributions, uh, to pay for my contribution to employers insurance of $11,000 which takes my money up to a certain level, that’s not my income, that’s the county’s charge of doing business, the cost of doing business!”

    The “contributions” are for benefits he was eligible to receive in certain situations.

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