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County Notes (May 29, 2024)

The Measure B Committee: Still Inconsequential After All These Years.

The last time we watched a Measure B committee meeting they had decided to reduce their already minimal role in the “oversight” (hah) of the Measure B activity, by limiting what they would review and reducing the frequency of their meetings. This was in the wake of the Supervisors handing over the management of Measure B to Behavioral Health Director Jenine Miller whose primary function is financial management and administration of mental health programs, with delivery of mental health services basically an afterthought.

At that last meeting, Committee member Shannon Riley reminded her fellow committee persons that the text of Measure B requires that at least 25% of the revenues be spent on services (at least $8 million and counting, not that anyone is counting). But only a few hundred thousand has been spent on “services” (mostly on the inland crisis van). The committee ignored Ms. Riley’s reminder then and has continued to ignore the requirement ever since.

Ms. Riley wasn’t on hand on Wednesday, May 22 when they met in Dr. Miller’s conference room on South Dora, just down the hall from where the Veterans Service Office remains unmoved some three months after the Supervisors reversed their ill-advised and abrupt eviction of the VSO. The meeting place itself was a vivid reminder that Dr. Miller is in charge, not the Measure B committee or the Supervisors or the CEO.

If anyone strays from that party line or tries to dig into the Measure B particulars, former Sheriff Tom Allman is always on hand to steer any errant questions or remarks either to a future meeting or back into Dr. Miller’s lap.

Current Committee Chair Sherie Ebyam opened the meeting with a good faith question about plans to pay back the $7 million loan that the Supervisors took from the Measure B fund to help fund the huge overrun of the new wing of the jail which Allman (and others) insist is the “mental health wing.” Since Measure B finances are very much in limbo these days with the Psychiatric Health Facility (estimated at over $20 million at last check) finally going out to bid and the $7 million loan and the Board’s claimed intention to pay it back, and a $9.3 million state grant on the horizon and the Board nixing a $3 million Measure B expenditure for Ford Street (which Ford Street still wants), Ebyam wanted to know about the timing of the PHF and the payback and the state grant (which is a reimbursement after Mendo spends the money — no money up front) and what contingencies are being made if things go awry.

Dr. Miller immediately suggested that that question be held off until later in the meeting.

When Ebyam asked about whether Measure B’s residual 1/8 cent sales tax would be spent or held as a contingency, Former Sheriff Allman immediately said that question should be put off for a future agenda.

Ms. Ebyam quickly and meekly backed off.

Acting Auditor-Controller Treasurer Tax Collector Sarah Pierce summarized loan repayment plan she proposed to the Supervisors in April — ten years at 2.5% — but which was shuttled to the back burner for future consideration. Pierce noted that she wouldn’t use the Measure B loan money until after all the other jail expansion funds were spent, so there’s no point in a repayment plan since theoretically they might not spend it all.

General Services Facilities manager Doug Anderson proudly announced that the Request for Proposals for the Psychiatric Health Facility had gone out just that day of the meeting.

For those keeping track, Measure B was approved with the specific intention of building a PHF back in 2017. Now almost seven years later they have finally released an RFP. (Never mind that the RFP is for a gold-plated facility that is twice the size necessary and includes millions of dollars for project management and overhead and other “soft costs.”

In a partial answer to Ms. Ebyam’s earlier question, Dr. Miller explained that the hoped-for $9.3 million state grant won’t be available until up to two years after construction is complete.

Doug Anderson said he expects construction to be complete in the fall of 2025, despite the County’s white-shoe consulting outfit Nacht & Lewis projecting a year longer than that in their last project report. (Maybe it depends on what “completion” means.)

Former Sheriff Allman was of course very pleased that the RFP for the PHF had finally gone out since the PHF and the new jail wing are his top Measure B priorities these days, not the services that were promised for street people when Allman spearheaded the sales job for the measure which produced its large majority approval in 2017.

As a sort of afterthought, Allman casually observed, “There’s a misunderstanding that we squandered money away which is all inaccurate.”

“Inaccurate”? We’re the only entity in the County claiming that Measure B money has been wasted, so let’s look at the record.

The County spent about $5 million on a substandard four-bedroom house which could have been purchased on the Ukiah housing market for less than $1 million and which is now being used exclusively for about a half dozen of Camille Schraeder’s paying customers (i.e., reimbursable mental patients).

That sure sounds like squandering to us, especially since Measure B never even called for the “Crisis Residential Treatment” facility next door to Ms. Schrader’s admin offices on Orchard Avenue. The CRT was only built because the state’s offer of a half-mil grant as part of the $5 mil cost had a hard deadline.

Then we have the PHF itself, a 16 bed facility, twice as big as what was recommended by Measure B consultant Lee Kemper in his $60k “needs assessment” which Allman himself promoted in the early days of Measure B and which the Supervisors officially designated as the Measure B “strategic plan.”

So that’s $4 million squandered on the CRT and at least $10 million squandered on the PHF and nearly nothing spent on services or Ford Street. If Mr. Allman has evidence that any of that squandering is “inaccurate” we’d be happy to look at it. The failure to spend much Measure B money for services isn’t squandering in the literal sense, but squandering it on overpriced buildings instead of on the services called for by Allman’s own measure is not what we’d call prudent.

Allman’s denial that Measure B money has been squandered reminded us of Claud Cockburn’s paradoxical axiom: “Believe nothing until it has been officially denied.”

Allman did, however, bring up a good point about the upcoming PHF contract, asking Doug Anderson how the County/GSA would keep from being ripped off with sole-source change orders.

Anderson replied that they would try to see if the change order pricing was consistent with the basic contract and so forth.

There are two basic categories of change orders. 1. Add-ons and design changes initiated after the contract is awarded, and 2. Corrections to erroneous plans and specs that may be discovered by the contractor during construction.

The customer has some control over the first category because they don’t have to accept add-ons and revisions. But if the contractor finds errors in the plans and specs, or if certain specified equipment isn’t available and design changes are necessary to accommodate substitutes, those change orders can become a sole-source gold mine for a contractor, because the customer has very little choice but to approve them and pay for them, and the approval usually has to be fast because sitting on them would hold up progress while the change order is reviewed and processed.

If Mendo is lucky, their high-priced consultant/architect has provided solid plans and specs. If not, the cost and the schedule could become major problems.

Near the end of the meeting Chair Ebyam tried again to bring up the question of whether there would be any money left over for the services required by Measure B. Again Allman jumped in to suggest that the services question be put over to a future meeting.

Former Sheriff Allman concluded his remarks by requesting that the Measure B committee be ready for a special meeting between now and their next planned meeting on August 8 if something “goes awry,” such as if the bids in response to the RFP, currently planned to be opened near the end of June, are much higher than expected.

If the jail expansion project is any guide, the County may be in for serious sticker shock when those bids come in.

Glossing Over Incompetence

KZYX’S Sarah Reith usually gets the essential elements of County issues in her regular, albeit brief, KZYX County reports. But when the essentials are trimmed down into misleading sound bites, the impression that’s left is the reverse of what’s going on. In her Friday report, Ms. Reith glossed over so much that Reith is at risk of being seen as part of the Ukiah City Council staff or County administration, not an independent reporter.

Speaking of the Palace Hotel demo permit, Reith remarked that the deal Ms. Minal Shankar offered to Palace property owner Mr. Ishwar “fell through.” Oops! No mention of why. To find that out you have to read Mike Geniella’s extensive coverage of the Palace hotel issue. Shankar’s deal didn’t “fall through,” it was declined by Jitu Ishwar at the last minute when he discovered that he might be able to make more money by entering into a “scheme” with the Guidiville Indians and some other shady-investors, thus depriving the City of Ukiah of an opportunity to make the Palace into an attractive downtown magnet. And, with Ukiah’s recent hands-off approval Ishwar’s demo permit, the City has essentially ensured that almost an entire downtown city block will be flattened and left that way.

Reith noted that the County has hired Ag Commissioner Angela Godwin from Ventura County for $258k per year including a large hiring bonus as if it was some kind of accomplishment. Farm Bureau rep Devin Boer was quoted as telling the Supervisors that “several projects” were underway that required an Ag Commissioner. But the only “project” mentioned was the 2022-23 Crop Report. Godwin told the Board that she was “enthusiastic about working on the crop report.” There was no mention of the high turnover in the office for years and years, the still-pending wrongful termination lawsuit of former Ag Commissioner Mr. Grewal, or why the Farm Bureau thinks that the Crop Report or unspecified “other projects” are so important that the County needs to be congratulated for paying $258k per year for an Ag Commissioner to get them done. (We suspect that the lack of an Ag Commissioner is somehow affecting the wine industry which is why the Farm Bureau is pleased that the “other projects” are now being attended to. Otherwise, why would the Farm Bureau congratulate the Board for finally finding an Ag Commissioner for such a high salary?)

Reith reported that the County has been unable to find a Public Health Officer, quoting Deputy CEO and acting Human Resources Manager Cherie Johnson saying that although thousands of requests have been posted but “no applications have been received so far.” However, Reith didn’t mention that for the last two board meetings CEO Darcie Antle’s boyfriend Dr. Theron Chan has been on the consent calendar for appointment as Public Health Officer only to be withdrawn at the last minute. Did he not submit an application?

Reith also reported that Point Arena Librarian Melissa Hannum is now the County Librarian. Supervisor Haschak was quoted saying that the Library was “formerly part of the Cultural Services Agency:” which, Haschak noted, was “widely opposed” when it was created a few years ago. Then the CSA Director departed last year for what Reith described as a “free speech dust-up.” (The CSA Director was essentially fired after she illegally told employees that they would be fired for publicly pointing out her many management deficiencies.) Months later Haschak and a board colleague got around to forming an “ad hoc committee” which magically declared that the CSA director position which was “widely opposed” could be eliminated for a $125k per year savings. A savings! (Wasting money on the widely opposed position filled by an incompetent manager for two years went unmentioned.) Haschak was quoted saying that not continuing to waste $125k a year on a widely opposed consolidation was “a better way to go.” (Like the guy who thought that not banging his head into a wall was a better way to go than banging his head into a wall because it felt so good when he stopped.) Haschak conveniently ignored the fact that — like every other consolidation the Supervisors have dreamed up — the CSA consolidation and the creation of the unnecessary senior position and the years of wasted money was a worse way to go.

If all you did was listen to KZYX’s Supervisors coverage, you’d never know how ridiculous all this is.

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