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Off the Record 7/8/2009

THE SCANDAL-RIDDEN Redwood Coast Senior Center, Fort Bragg, just keeps on reeling. The center's business manager, Janice Tholmaides, is being sued by a Louisiana-based bank for defaulting on a $650,000 property deal in Baton Rouge.

THE SENIOR CENTER'S former director, Joe Curren, as revealed by this year's Mendocino County Grand Jury, took severe advantage of the Center's suspiciously indulgent board of directors, one of whom, Barbara Durigan, has her own troubled history of shady public agency dealings. A three-person executive committee, anchored by the inevitable Durigan, acting apart from the rest of the center’s board, not only paid Curren some $71,000 a year, far more than any senior center director in the county, they paid for Curren’s law school classes. Curren pulled down his $71,000 while “working” two days a week in Fort Bragg while he commuted to classes in Santa Rosa. The GJ said there had been numerous complaints about both Curren’s suspiciously sweet deal at the center and his instant dismissals of employees who questioned his management of the center.

CURREN resigned four days after learning the center was being audited. Curren described his critics as “a small group of people” who were trying to “damage” his reputation. Curren had been employed at the center for 12 years. In addition to his lush salary of $71,000, Curren received more thousands in “bonuses.” Because so much funding was diverted to Curren, the Fort Bragg Senior Center has had to reduce spending on programs for the elderly the center allegedly serves.

LAST WEEK, WHEN THE AVA appeared in the Fort Bragg stores, David Gurney of Fort Bragg followed our Ten Mile Court reporter, Bruce McEwen, from the Fort Bragg Library to a downtown store where, in McEwen's words, “Gurney assaulted me with a stream of invective, dropped his shoulder like he was going to take a shot at me, but thought better of it and just threw the AVA at me saying, 'You haven't heard the last of me. I'm going to get you, you motherfucking lying son of a bitch, you.'  I called the cops, and Gurney's wife dragged him away by his sleeve.'” McEwen says a friend of Gurney's has also threatened him.

GURNEY and his San Francisco attorney wrote to us last week to say we'd lied about an episode involving Gurney and a State Park ranger, wherein Gurney, the ranger said, had threatened to kill him. Gurney said none of the subsequent charges brought against him were true, and in fact Gurney and his San Francisco lawyer managed to get Gurney's violent encounter with the ranger reduced to a single seat belt violation in a cozy deal arranged out of public view in the judge's chambers.

AND IN TUESDAY'S mail, we received this registered letter from Gurney: “This is a formal demand that you cease and desist from further publication of lies and false statements, the repitition of false allegations from police reports, or any further malicious and defamatory aspersions or conjecture of a libelous nature against myself, a private citizen.”

DEAR MR. GURNEY: If you would be so kind as to visit our Boonville offices in person and without your wife I would be happy to discuss your unfounded requests. In the meantime let me know if you need more hankies, you sniveling prick.

OUR ACE REPORTER, Bruce McEwen, is looking for a place to live in the Fort Bragg area. Great guy, terrific company. If you have a room, cabin or other accommodation, please call the AVA at 895-3016.

KZYX MANAGER John Coate, under fire for what many listeners see as the arbitrary dismissal of Christina Aannestad, the station's popular on-air reporter, appeared on Norman DeVall's lob ball KZYX talk show last Friday. “John, let’s start with the budget. How are you spending what’s left? How long will it last? What should the real annual budget be including depreciation?” Coate laughed nervously and pushed out to sea, way, way out to sea:  “Well, the truth is this station has lived, um, basically a hand-to-mouth existence for a very long time, for some years in fact, and that is certainly true today. It’s been true all year, um, part of it is the nature of this kind of, uh, uh, business, I guess you could call it in a sense, uh, and that is that, uh, it tends to be fat quarter, lean quarter, fat quarter, lean quarter, uh, because pledge drives also coincide with the larger grants that we get from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and then, uh, a lot of things get paid for, and then it goes pretty lean again.” Apparently satisfied with these staggering evasions, DeVall didn’t persist, blithely moving on to his next question. “But John, right now the Savings Bank of Mendocino has extended their loan, they’ve increased their line of credit. If we didn’t have that line of credit would we be on the air?” Coate replied. “Uh, it’s possible. But we would not be on the air in this form. We would not be on the air in the kind of, uh, multiple facilities and this kind of paid-for programming.” DeVall didn't ask how much credit has been extended by the bank, but did ask, “How close is the real crunch?” Coate, suddenly alive at the mention of doom, exclaimed, “We’re on it! We’re there! I’ve been saying it! We are there!” The trouble is Coate has not been saying it. Only the dismissal of Aanestad raised the subject of survival among the station's demographic. “What should the real budget be for this station a year?” DeVall asked. “The real budget for this station,” Coate began before he again staggered off into the thickets of incomprehensibility, “well there’s the, there’s the, the, the real budget for the operation, uh, sort of as we know it, sort of as, as, as, or at least uh, a, a deg… a few degrees leaner than what, what we have, uh, or what we’ve become used to, uh, would be, uh, in the low $500,000s a year. The budget that I, that, that, that… the budget number for, actually, the last couple of years was in the low $600s, uh, with that kind of money, uh, then we would, would be, if not comfortable, uh, at least able to, uh, pay for everything that we have, uh, either built out, or, or agreed to, uh, but, you know, we’re in…” DeVall clarified. “But that was the proposed budget, that was not realized.” Coate said DeVall was correct, and that “We’re probably up to about $425 this year in actual banked money.” Actual banked money, the best kind. “In this time of crisis,” DeVall wondered, “do you think it’s reasonable that the board of directors meets every other month?” Coate went silent for several seconds. DeVall rescued the general manager with, “I mean, it seems to me you should be having a crisis meeting of your board, like, like this weekend!” Coate replied, “Uh, I have many conversations with them. But, but…” DeVall: “But you’re not having board meetings that the members can attend?” Coate: [Another long pause...] I would say, where was everybody in all the meetings we had all year when we talked about this non-stop? The two people who did show up could tell ya.” So, it's the membership's fault for not showing up at board meetings.

THE REST of this dialogue of the deaf was equivalently vague, but among the suggestions from callers was more volunteerism, more money from listeners, less costly programming, less or no NPR, the control, somehow, of escalating costs. One caller thought Coate should take a pay cut and spend the savings on Ms. Aanestad. Another thought Coate should have told listeners what was going on sooner. Apart from offing Ms. Aanestad and a few canned programs, the G.M. doesn't seem to have a plan. Or a clue.

THE MAJOR has been monitoring KZYX lately. He transcribed the above exchanges between Coate and DeVall. I seldom listen except for Jeff Blankfort's always informative program every other Wednesday. I'm down to two radio shows that I intentionally look for — Michael Krasny mornings on KQED Radio Monday through Thursday, and Doug Henwood on economics on KPFA Saturday mornings at ten. I also listen to Sports Talk on AM radio when I tune in early for Giants games where a lot of the talk is very funny and always lively. Krasny, of course, is the best there is in talk radio, bringing a kind of omni-erudition to his work that's otherwise extinct in American radio and long gone from television. Henwood is the only audio I know of where you get intelligent chat about economics. The hugely vilified John Sakowitz on KZYX is also quite good, whatever else you might say about the guy, and Beth Bosk has said it all. On the occasions I've heard Sako he's been knowledgeable and accurate in his assessments of the deepening crisis, and by “accurate” I probably mean his views coincide with what I can glean from recent fiscal events, and we do tend to go for reinforcement, don't we? But KZYX, for all its blab about talking to truth to power, is cringingly timid. Always has been. And humorlessly tedious as only liberals can be. The station has always needed a reason for local people to listen. A lively morning call-in show would do it, but we're talking an apparatus that burbles directly into incoherence off-script, and unfettered talk would be sure to drive them straight into the fetal position. The station's board of trustees meets Monday, July 6th, in the old Footlighters Building at 248 E. Laurel, Fort Bragg.

ON JULY 23rd of this year, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to award a contract to a Mental Health Transportion Service to transport mental health patients to out-of-county facilities. (The only in-county place for the mentally ill is a Redwood Valley facility that charges many thousands of dollars a month for limited and very dubious services.) The local outsourcing of the mentally ill is currently in the bid review stage. The winning contractor is supposed to provide 24/7 on-call car and driver services. We were pleased to see that the contract also calls for “and transportation from out of county to Mendocino.” Lots of our walking wounded are simply shoved out the door from whatever distant bin they've been consigned to and left to find their own disoriented ways back to Mendoland. One of the contract provisions is “Response to requests for unscheduled drives [will be] within 30 minutes from time of request for Ukiah or Willits and 90 minutes from time of request for Fort Bragg when a driver in Fort Bragg is not available.” Exactly how a contractor can provide this round the clock on-call service is unclear, but we assume it would be something like the local volunteer ambulance service which maintains a somewhat loose shift schedule that's firmed up and occasionally juggled as required. Transport privatization comes on top of the imminent elimination of out-patient mental health services by the State. Remember also that many mental health patients get crazy via illegal drugs. We'll be seeing a lot more clinically crazy people on the streets and roads of Mendocino County.

A READER WRITES: “According to the June 24, 2009, Sacramento Bee, Mendocino County’s Court Executive Officer Ben Stough made $169,463 per year plus benefits totaling $231,830 which apparently makes him the second highest paid public employee in Mendocino County after the CEO Tom Mitchell. According to the Bee the average salary for the 58 Court Execs in California was $155k and total compensation averaged $214k, making Mendo's court executive officer well compensated compared to counties of similar size. The Humboldt County Court Exec makes $130k, Lake $141k, Sonoma $188k, Glenn $112k, Del Norte $122k, etc.”

CHERYL HODGE, well known jazz and blues artist with local connections, will perform at Headlands Coffee House in Fort Bragg on Thursday, July 30, at 7pm. Hodge's musically precocious son Dylan, 13, will accompany mom on bass as she performs hits from her top 10 jazz release, Indigo. All ages welcome. In other show biz news, Sister Yazzle dazzles locals with the Funkanauts, Saturday, July 3rd at Shanachie Pub in Willits, and Saturday at the Ukiah Music Center, Ukiah, both events beginning around 8pm.

JIM ANDERSEN presently functions as Mendocino County's retirement system manager which, to County employees, is likely to translate as their golden years spent in Safeway shopping carts on the sidewalks of Ukiah. Andersen has also “served” as Mendocino County's CAO and has worked as assistant CAO in Sonoma County where he's now among the lead candidates for the recently vacated top slot. That job pays well over $200k per year plus perks, with Andersen’s recently acquired Mendo retirement board experience, as the retirement funds shrinks as Andersen regurgitates unfounded opinions derived from the Press Democrat about “turnarounds” and the “green shoots” of economic recovery, may give Andersen an edge over the other applicants.

OVERHEARD on a Boonville answering machine: “Pick it up. I know you're there doing something queer or un-American or both.”

AND TO THE GUY who said to me, “You know why this country is broke? Because the government is bringing in Mexicans and buying them Escalades!” In fact, this country has limped lushly along right up until yesterday because of cheap Mexican labor, and the root cause of today's crash is not immigrant Mexicans but an economic system wholly owned and operated by a very few people whose profligacies have run US off the rails, this time for keeps. Bernie Madoff is a symptom, not the cause, and the grandstanding judge who called Madoff “evil” might just as well have included all of Madoff's enablers, including federal regulators who'd been informed years ago that Madoff was running a Ponzi. Of the many educational crimes committed against US the most damaging is our utter ignorance of our own economy. But blaming the ongoing economic collapse on Mexicans is not only incorrect, it's dangerous in the ultimately lethal ways ethnic scapegoating is always dangerous.

A DELUSION at the other end of the political stick is  Mendolib's mantra-like invocation of itself as “speaking truth to power.” In its way, this is as dumb as blaming Mexicans for everything gone wrong. Speaking truth to power is a waste of breath. Power knows the truth. Got that? Power could care less what you — especially you — say to it. Power only cares when you do something to it, like take power away from it which, given the givens of political opposition in this country, is unlikely to happen until ordinary Americans stop whining and placing blame everywhere but where it belongs.

SPEAKING OF MULTI-CULTURALISM, that was an interesting multi-agency pot bust the other day in the Mendocino National Forest east of Covelo in the area of Bently Ridge and Etsel Ridge. Bulgarian (!) immigrants named Ayvazov, Petkov, Dzaynelev and Dzaynelev, and an American, John Henry Ross, had apparently been growing at these sites for at least two years. This quintet is being held at the Mendocino County Jail on bail of $45,000 each. Another big raid at the Ukiah end of the Masonite Road pulled up 7,714 devil weeds while at the Red Mountain Campground east of Ukiah raiders confiscated 13,000 plants. Quick! What's the difference between a Bulgarian and a Mexican grow? The Bulgarians get caught.

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