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County Notes: Another Budget-Free Supervisors Meeting

It continues to amaze us that the Supervisors complain at almost every meeting about the “structural deficit” and the need to cut costs (but never about collecting taxes due). But they have yet to even discuss a single significant cost-savings proposal or cut.

Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting continued the pattern with no significant agenda items about the County’s budget problems or the finances. 

The closest they get to the subject is to make it worse by spending more consultant money on it:

Consent Agenda Item 3k): “Approval of Agreement (Second Amendment to Agreement No. PA-23-39) with Regional Government Services Authority, in the Amount of $120,000, for a New Total of $158,000, for Fiscal Systems Review and Related Consulting and Advising Services, Effective October 7, 2022, through a New End Date of June 30, 2024 (Previous End Date: December 31, 2023).”

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They’re also handing out another 100k to the DA on the consent calendar for another District Attorney investigator:

Consent Agenda Item 3s) “Adoption of Resolution to Amend the Position Allocation Table as Follows: Budget Unit 2070, Add 1.0 FTE, District Attorney Investigator, $81,390.40 - $98,904.00/Annually.”

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Consent Agenda Item 3v is a “non-controversial” rubber-stamping item to contract out some juvenile delinquent management for half a mil to Madera County. But there’s no corresponding elimination of or reduction in the existing, expensive juvenile hall (over $2 mil at last check) which should be one of the first things on the budget balancing list:

“3v) Approval of Agreement with County of Madera Probation Department in the Amount of $500,000 with a Maximum of $250,000 per Year, to Provide Detention Services for Mendocino County Youth Placed in the Facility for the 2-Year Period Commencing Upon Full Execution of this Agreement.” 

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As usual, there’s a retroactive no-bid $150k hand-out to Camille Schraeder’s Redwood Community Services.

Consent Agenda Item 3ac) “Approval of Retroactive Agreement with Redwood Community Services, Inc. in the Amount of $152,000, to Provide an Inland Shelter to Individuals in Mendocino County, Effective July 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024.”

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We were surprised to see that Mendocino County has a special “Operational Processes (Special Ops) Team.”

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ANDREW SMITH, the Sonoma County Ag Commissioner who has been filling in as Mendocino County Ag Commissioner part-time (two days a week) for more than a year now, is ending his interim appointment at the end of the year and returning to Sonoma County full-time. 

Mr. Smith’s fill-in role was supposed to give Mendo time to find a permanent full-time Ag Commissioner. But the two candidates they offered the job to in recent months both turned it down. According to our source, Mr. Smith got nothing for this fill-in assignment although Mendo was paying Sonoma County a fully loaded part-time salary; apparently Sonoma County was keeping the money on some shaky grounds that Smith was not working overtime, but just splitting his regular time. Mendo has turned to the State Department of Agriculture for help, but the state will only provide the minimum of Ag Department functions, mainly those that absolutely require some kind of professional certification. All other daily tasks will be taken over by the CEO’s office. The Ag Department will thus become yet another major department being run by unqualified staff assistants. The CEO’s office is already running the Human Resources Department, the Auditor-Treasurer’s office (including payroll), General Services, Cultural Affairs (including local parks), Emergency Services, Cannabis, budgeting, cost efficiency ideas, and more. 

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The Roots Of The Cubbison-Eyster Flap

A reader sent us a copy of the formal court filing submitted by former Auditor-Treasurer Chamise Cubbison’s SoCo attorney Chris Andrian. It’s over 100 pages long.

The main elements of Andrian’s submission have already been reliably covered by reporter Mike Geniella: Ms. Cubbison's attorney, Chris Andrian, argues that District Attorney David Eyster should recuse himself from the prosecution of Ms. Cubbison because of his bias against Ms. Cubbison for challenging a Broiler Steakhouse Dinner/Training Session reimbursement claim.

Andrian includes dozens of pages of local media coverage of the dispute going back to when Ms. Cubbison was up for appointment as Interim Auditor-Controller. (This was before that office was combined with the Treasurer-Tax Collector office.)

Also included in Andrian’s filing is an extensive email string between then-Assistant Auditor-Controller Cubbison and the DA’s Administrative Services Manager Carmen Macias in which they debate at length and in great detail whether the DA is “exempt” from county reimbursement documentation requirements because in the past CEO Angelo had said the DA was exempt, sort of. At the time of the exchange Ms. Cubbison was Assistant Auditor-Controller and Lloyd Weer was Auditor-Controller.

There are two interesting points that emerge from the Cubbison-Macias email exchange.

1) Most of the DA’s claims are legitimate training expenses, including the Broiler Dinner. The DA went to some trouble to arrange for job-related off-hours training presentations to his staff during the dinner which probably was cheaper than sending his staff to comparable formal trainings, and such trainings as the one at the Broiler were legitimately reimbursable. The other disputed claims were also for what appear to be additional legitimate job-related training that wasn’t accompanied by the proper supporting authorizations. The DA didn’t think he needed to submit full documentation for such “mandatory” trainings because of the exemption he had received from the CEO.

2) Ms. Cubbison was correct in calling for accompanying paperwork showing that trainings were authorized and that the amounts claimed were correct. She was also doing her job in questioning whether the guests of the DA’s staff at the Broiler dinner should have their dinner costs included in the DA’s claim.

Cubbison even went so far as to request a legal opinion (from outside counsel since the County Counsel’s office declined the question) on the dispute.

Ironically, the same attorney who engineered Cubbison’s abrupt suspension on October 31, 2023 (attorney Morin Jacob of SF-based Liebert-Cassidy-Whitmore) issued a detailed (and undoubtedly costly) two-page opinion on the question: 

“Conclusion: The Auditor-Controller’s office has limited authority to deny the District Attorney’s claims. For purchases of goods or services, the Auditor-Controller can deny claims or reimbursements that are outside County Policy and not specifically authorized by law. The Asset Forfeiture fund is specifically authorized by Government Code 11489 and therefore claims 9169228.1 ME380-001 stemming from that fund should be considered with an eye to Government Code 11489 and not merely County Policy. The District Attorney has likely not been completely exempted from the County’s Travel Authorization requirement. Per County Policy, the District Attorney’s office must obtain Travel Authorizations for expenditures that are not directly related to a case, and are either (1) out of California or (2) over $1000… Sincerely, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, Morin I. Jacob.”

Which seems to support Ms. Cubbison’s position.

Who’s right? We still don’t know. 

What we do know is that the dispute was over a very minor issue and both parties were doing their jobs as they saw them and that the amounts involved were pretty small, probably less than the cost of the opinion from attorney Jacob. We also know that this entire seemingly minor flap simmered over the years to the point when it boiled over with the DA's now-famous October 2021 speech to the Supervisors, demanding that because of this exaggerated dispute Cubbison should not be appointed as Interim Auditor-Controller. Eyster’s pique, in turn, merged with the Board’s unfair complaints about Ms. Cubbison’s job performance and ultimately to the Board’s rash decision to suspend Cubbison (for doing her job) but without due process.

The entire matter could and should have been easily resolved early on if the DA had simply paid for the extra (non-staff) dinners (these are all well-paid attorneys after all), and provided basic authorizing paperwork. But the DA, it seems, famously stubborn, is more interested in being “right,” than the bigger question of what’s best for Mendocino County.

It reminds us of the pointless $400k fight the Supervisors and the CEO picked with the Sheriff over who controls his computer system and ordinary budget overruns. This squabble between Eyster and Cubbison has grown into another avoidable but costly court battle that will do nothing to solve the County’s ever-larger budget woes, and will probably make the budget deficit worse.

We doubt Eyster will voluntarily recuse himself. He’s become too invested in the case to back down. We hope we’re wrong.

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MIKE GENIELLA (Commenting on whether the Broiler Steakhouse claim was legitimate training): 

“There was no ‘training’ offered at the Broiler dinners, a series of them by the way, not just one. Even the documents submitted by Andrian note two - in 2018 and 2019. The dinners were holiday centric, and spouses, friends etc. were always included at county expense. The dinners featured brief chats by DA Dave and updates from key staffers. There was never ‘training’ involved of any nature. Ask the Sheriff. He attended a few times with his wife. So, frankly, I was sorry to see credence being given to DA Dave’s ‘training’ cover. Also, the Broiler dinners were always held in January to get around the ‘office party’ label. Lastly, I have requested, and acting Auditor Sara Pierce has agreed, for all disputed expense claims dating to 2011. Let's take a real look.”

Since Mr. Geniella attended at least one of these “trainings,” I defer to his judgment on this question. 

One Comment

  1. Dane Joe December 6, 2023

    They may be lawyers, most don’t pass the bar at the Broiler during those “trainings.”

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