On a scale of one to ten, I admit that when it comes to governance, my confidence in the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors is zero. Nada cum zilch. For decades, county roads have equaled those of rural India. With our current board and county bureaucrats, county roads have morphed from a concern to a standing joke. Additionally, our supervisors knocked Air B&B out of business. Their goal: make room for low-cost labor migrants that work at corporate wineries and high-end B&Bs.
Our supervisors also spend an inordinate amount of time listening to crybaby cannabis capitalists unhappy with the county’s endless negotiations on dope regulation. Heck, I’d be crying too since, ultimately, all this back and forth is meaningless in lieu of state demands. In Ukiah, unaudited bureaucrats run the show. The county CEO pulls the strings. The board dances to her tune, and the County Board hasn’t had an independent, creative thought for decades.
Evidence Measure B, which was the inspiration of the county sheriff while the board sat on their thumbs dreaming of an expensive, new court house to house our expanding governing class. And…for all of this big nothing, the board grants themselves a shameful raise!
Then, I read about Dave Roderick, who’s running for 5th district supervisor now that handsome Dan Hamburg is headed to the political barn to rest up from his respite on the County Board. Something peaked my interest. Dave Roderick had a plan to contend with our crappy, county roads. His plan was a mobile asphalt plant (used elsewhere) that would drastically cut the costs of resurfacing our cratered roads. I thought, gosh, this guy isn’t gushing about global melting or aquatic oil drilling—the usual Mendocino, political window dressing that has absolutely nothing to do with the limited powers of our County Board. Roderick was talking about an issue that realistically affects all of us; including the undercarriage of my pickup, which is rattling loose because of our county roads. Thus…I called him up for an interview to hear what else he had to say.
Up front, I asked Dave Roderick what gave him the “big idea” to run for Supervisor? Roderick laughed; always a good sign, indicating a tendency at self-deprecation. A politician who laughs at himself will seldom laugh at us. Roderick answered that he initially thought he was going to run in four years, but when he learned that Hamburg was retiring, he had a conversation with Handsome Dan (my sobriquet). Handsome Dan asked Roderick, “Why don’t you run now?” In fact, Dan Hamburg has endorsed Dave Roderick. This was remarkable news to me. I would have thought Dan would choose a candidate backed by the Democrat, lunatic fringe mostly ensconced on the coast. Is Dan strolling into his legacy as a sadder but wiser man? Roderick admits that in terms of big scene politics, “Dan and I agree on very little,” but Roderick feels that Dan recognized him because “he knew I could do the job.”
Dave Roderick is a homeboy who left and returned to the county he loves. He was raised on the coast near Little River. He attended grammar school in Mendocino, and when his parents moved to Navarro, he attended and graduated from Anderson Valley High School. Roderick went on to praise vocational courses that were once pervasive in most California high schools, including Anderson Valley High School. They were courses that prepared students for well-paying jobs in the trades. At Anderson Valley High, Roderick was a Future Farmer president (focused on sheep and viticulture) and through a vocational course, Dave learned to fly an airplane, receiving his pilot’s license at age 17! After high school and working in vineyards for a stint, Roderick left the county, graduated from college, and went into construction in the Bay Area. In his late twenties, he started his own highly successful business designing, manufacturing and installing roofs and rain screens (walls) for commercial buildings. Roderick eventually brought his company headquarters back to Mendocino (seven employees) where he chose to live and raise his family. Although much of his business is still in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Roderick’s a homeboy, who had to came home again.
Before long, the focus of our conversation turned to a dark topic that affects every citizen of Mendocino County: unfunded pension debt. Like cancer, we’ve heard about it, but it’s a conversation most prefer not to have. Unfounded pension debt in Mendocino County is headed to a billion bucks. Look at this way: Mendocino County is a cruise ship. Let’s call it the Titanic. Let’s say the present captain’s name is Carmen—Captain Carmen, but there have been other captains on this long, expensive cruise. Captain Carmen has five first mates—the county Board—that has traded places with other first mates over the years. Along with the captain, they control the ship from the bridge. The upper deck of the ship is reserved for county employees. They’re called the crew. They have a smorgasbord and a band called SEIU that keeps them dancing night and day. The lower decks are for taxpayers. They’re called passengers. Unbeknownst to the passengers, there’s a hidden leak in the ship. The bridge and crew keep the leak a secret, because it’s the intension of the bridge and crew to retire from the ship by manning the lifeboats and taking their pensions ashore. As the ship sails on, the bridge orders bags of taxpayer money dropped into the hold in an attempt to stem the leak. But, the leaking never stops. By the time the ship and passengers sink, the bridge and crew are gone.
Every year in Mendocino County there is less money for our roads, and less money for everything else except for the people who run the ship. In our conversation, Dave Roderick said that the problem of unfunded pension debt has been consistently “kicked down the road.” Roderick points out that most people who are in “entrenched control, benefit from it.” (The county’s pension plan.) Roderick ponders that if we are a county with twelve hundred employees and one billion dollars in unfunded, pension debt, “it seems to me that this just isn’t going to work…what this means is that eventually we’re going to be in Federal Bankruptcy.” Roderick spoke of switching to a 401K system, pointing out that counties across America that switched to 401ks back in the 90s “are in much better shape today.” However, Roderick believes there has to be some kind of equitable incentive to switch to a 401k saving plan. Cash for instance. However, Roderick pointed out that even county employees at the lower end of the county financial bracket, who retire, at say, $25,000 a year have a retirement account that adds up to about $600,000 bucks. Many retire young and go on to other jobs. “What other people in Mendocino County, have over $6000,000 in their retirement account?” Roderick asks, as I think of loggers, fishermen, restaurant workers, vineyard employees, newspaper editors, and, yes, even cannabis farmers. Roderick speculated that for higher paid county employees—the county CEO, and other department heads, there are millions waiting for them. Millions. “These are funds that the county must set aside to cover their defined pensions,” Dave Roderick contends. Where will the money come from? It will come from taxpayers, and they will receive less and less for county services as time goes on. Again, think county roads. If elected, I asked Dave Roderick if he believes he will have any support from his fellow supervisors to take on this momentous, financial problem. Will they choose to confront this problem? Roderick replied, “it’s not a matter of choice, we’re going to have to do it.”
Moving on, Roderick said that CEO Carmel Angelo is “very tough,” and “you have to do your homework” when confronting her. He said overall, the board is not tough at all except for John McCowen, who is often too “nuanced.” I added so was Robespierre, which enlisted a nervous laugh. Roderick believes, “we need some stronger voices on the board.” I brought up Dan Gjerde, who went straight from diapers into politics. (My depraved opinion.) Roderick paraphrased kindly that, “he (Gjerde) needs to speak up more.” However, Roderick added that he has been on several ad hoc committees with Gjerde, “where he is very smart” and “speaks up readily…so when he’s sitting there very quietly at a Tuesday meeting, that’s not the whole picture.”
I asked about the county's crack down on AirBnB. Roderick feels it’s a poor business model to eliminate any bed and breakfast taxes to fix the affordable housing problem. I pointed out that, that in my opinion, the so-called affordable housing problem was nothing more than camouflaged rhetoric to provide housing for low-cost labor immigrants. If the rich require housing for their wage slaves, they should construct it themselves rather than use the County Board to enforce economic, social engineering on small time property owners. (My opinion not Dave Roderick’s.) Roderick partially concurred, pointing out that a home on the coast worth, say, $600,000 and rented on AirBnB is not going to be rented monthly to low wage earners. Roderick stated that that house “should not even be on the table for this discussion.”
I asked Roderick about his main opposition on the coast: Ted Williams, and, Chris Skyhawk. (No relation to Elizabeth Warren.) How does he differ from his fog belt opponents? Roderick answered with one word: “experience!” Roderick said, “Chris Skyhawk’s work resume is listed at starting in 2012, and the guy is 55 years old!” “In Ted, I don’t think he’s ever had a real job. He is the fire chief, (Albion) but broad experience counts,” obviously meaning work experience: making payrolls, negotiating contracts, dealing with government regulation—the hard and daily knocks of the business world. However, compared to Williams, it should be noted that Dave Roderick has been with the Volunteer Hopland fire department; is vice chair for the Hopland fire district; and is one of the co-founders of the Mendocino County Association of fire districts. In fact, Dave Roderick stated that one of the reasons he’s running is because of the Redwood Complex Fire and the county’s lackluster response during and after this tragic event.
Other things discussed: Roderick states he’s predominantly Libertarian. The Ukiah Daily Journal endorses Roderick. As to other current members of the board, he feels that John McCowen, “is a bit of an obstructionist.” He said Georganne Croskey is “great,” and it’s too bad she’s leaving. Carre Brown wasn’t mentioned. Roderick believes the Smart Train should be extended through Ukiah to Willits. The tracks are already there. It would open job opportunities to the south and business development north. He believes Mendocino County needs a “reliable” fiber optic system to lure tech companies and that Mendocino County, “should say yes to any business that wants to locate here just so long as it provides a decent wage and doesn’t screw up the environment.” Roderick says he's “shocked” at how low prevailing wages are in Ukiah.
Dave Roderick’s favorite food is “Barbecue,” adding prudently, “anything my wife cooks.” His hobby is raising fruit trees—pruning and propagating. He like dogs, and his family nickname is “Farmer Dave.” Farmer Dave is on the march against the inertia that defines our county government. It may be in for pruning if Dave Roderick makes it to the county seat.