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Anatomy of a Blackball

Stop me if I’m whining, but as long-time readers are aware, quite a number of local tax funded agencies and quasi-public agencies avoid placing advertising with the AVA. That’s how they get their revenge. They think.

It’s almost a full-time job tracking down these mini-retaliations but when they pile up I like to deconstruct them.

I just had a losing go-round with Caltrans for not placing a public notice with the AVA, the legally-adjudicated newspaper for the Anderson Valley. Caltrans spent triple tax dollars to avoid me, tossing a thousand bucks for public notice for road work in Yorkville to the New York Times-owned Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the Arkansas-based Donrey Media Group.


The AVA’s critical of Caltrans’ bureaucracy, particularly the boys in its Eureka office whose incompetence and intransigence resulted in the death of a child not long ago in downtown Philo.

Caltrans Eureka, like a lot of the boys in the cush upper echelon public slots at all levels of government, hide behind phone ladies. Why Caltrans Eureka recently sent office heart throb Debbie Ginn all the way to Boonville to nicklenose the AVA.

Similarly, the Mendocino Transit Authority deploys a nice lady named Glenna Blake to obscure the petty hostility for Anderson Valley’s premier weekly newspaper of bumbler-boss, Bruce Richards to whom we shall return.

PG&E hides behind impermeable layers of 800 numbers and, after a dozen or so calls to find a more or less human being, several more layers of nice ladies who always say, “Mr. Fuzzlebuns will get right back to you.”

It’s still “Chicks Up Front” after all these years.

PG&E, a monopoly, avoids the AVA while placing thousands of dollars worth of totally unnecessary and nauseatingly self-serving advertising with all of Mendocino County’s media save this one because, I suspect, supervisor Patti Campbell’s husband, Peter Caton, a rightwing Brit, is PG&E’s main man around here and a big buddy of people under regular attack by the AVA. Campbell, incidentally, is a sort of political Manchurian Candidate created by hubbykins, Caton, who has been seen at public meetings waving hand and arm signals to his missus as to the “right” way to vote.

The County’s redundant garbage agency, Mendocino Solid Waste Management Authority, naturally eludes placing announcements of its rare forays into actual beneficial community trash disposal with the AVA because of the quite understandable hostility for the AVA harbored by its director, a sawed-off little conniver and former Maoist named Mike Sweeney. (Ex-commies are an absolute menace as public bureaucrats because they’re veterans of all kinds of nutso but sophisticated infighting which is the primary activity of what’s left of the American Left, and during which the fad rads become master manipulators of people and words. They also tend to be absolutely ruthless, their totalitarian instincts having drawn them to the worst parts of the left in the first place.)

Various other County bureaucracies similarly try to sneak around us, including, as mentioned, the County’s weirdly managed bus system, the Mendocino County Transit Authority, whose lies to avoid the AVA we’ll explore as today’s lesson in tax-sponsored retaliation directly following this public service announcement:

This paper supports itself by stand sales and subscriptions, having known going in lo those many years ago that an unbeholden newspaper wasn’t going to be very popular with public bureaucrats — by nature supple-spined — or embraced by the captains of local enterprise. But occasionally I call around to update my blackball file to see what excuses for AVA avoidance currently prevail among the little ones.

MTA, or the Mendocino Transit Authority, runs ghost buses around Mendocino County — buses without passengers. It doesn’t go to Laytonville or Covelo or lots of other places in Mendocino County where there are pockets of potential non-riders. After all, if you can find non-riders in Ukiah, why drive all the way to Covelo to pick up a load of ghosts? Joe Shmoe wants to run a jitney from Covelo to Ukiah? MTA fights the very idea every time it comes up.

The annual expense of running ghost buses is justified by its phantom boss, Bruce Richards, and the “liberals” who comprise its board of directors, as a vital service for the poor, the elderly, the handicapped, immigrant Mexicans, and miscellaneous other persons who would otherwise be housebound.

That’s the line anyway.

It is fair to say that in Ukiah proper MTA’s vehicles do help a few of the handicapped and the elderly get from point A to point B at a total cost per passenger that would provide each with 24-hour door-to-door limo service. But as a county-wide link people can depend on to get from, say, Fort Bragg to the county seat, Ukiah, one must plan one’s MTA adventure exceedingly well or rely on friends and neighbors, which is exactly what most transportation-challenged Mendolanders do.

MTA spends a whole lot of public money on a handful of people but still can’t manage to link the Greyhound arriving from Frisco a little after four every afternoon with its bus departing for Boonville and the Mendocino Coast an hour or so earlier.

Name the MTA disconnects and we’ll be here all night waiting for the bus bringing them.

Logistical ineptitude characterizes the management of MTA by Richards who has been MTA’s main man since the agency’s formation a quarter century ago. A lot of ghosts have gone nowhere on Richards’ buses in that twenty-five years.

The other day I’m plowing through a week’s worth of local newspapers when I spot an MTA-sponsored survey which probably cost the taxpayers a couple of hundred bucks each time it appeared in the corporate-owned papers paid tax dollars to print it. Worse, MTA, which runs a very big deficit every year and always has, sub-contracted the survey out to a private polling business in the Bay Area called J. Kaplan and Associates, probably J. Kaplan and his secretary, but not cheap we can be sure.

“Do you ride the bus? How often? Every day? Seldom? Never?” Then you collate the stats from the ten people who responded to the survey, the results are fed to some remote government funding agency and Richards gets to continue running empty buses at a big salary for himself.

The survey’s a funding requirement. A fake, like empty buses running from nowhere to nada.

I called MTA headquarters in Ukiah four times Monday before someone finally answered at 2:30 in the afternoon although one call ignited a voice mail menu as if the MTA operation was Grand Central Station with several thousand employees and eight thousand trains to coordinate rather than Richards and maybe five other people holed up out in the bus barns in Ukiah.

On the fourth call, a pleasant lady answered on the first ring and identified herself as Glenna Blake.

“It was my understanding,” she told me, “from the consultant that they tried for weeks to get in touch with you. They said they called many times. They left messages. Either no one answered or the line was busy.”

Consultant? You mean a five question survey had to be farmed out to a consultant?

But Ms. Blake, we faithfully answer the phone during work hours and our answering machine is always on after work hours. Nobody left us any messages having to do with MTA or a survey of any kind.

Ms. Blake insisted: “We wanted to have it (the survey) in the paper. We wanted it in all the papers that serve the area. Our desire was to have it in your paper but time was going by and we had to get it out. This is what I was told by the consultant about why we couldn’t get it in your paper. You were definitely on the list I gave him.”

The MTA never advertises with the AVA, I informed Ms. Blake, who said she was in charge of marketing and advertising for the let’s pretend bus line. She said she “wasn’t aware of that” but asked me to send over the AVA’s ad rate sheet. “I’d love to advertise with you,” she said.

I called J. Kaplan and Associates, the Bay Area consultant Ms. Blake said was in charge of the survey.

The associate answered. She was very pleasant. She said ”Our consultant — she’s a sub-contractor to us — lives at Sea Ranch and she called you from there. She tried many times to call you.”

Now we’ve got a consultant to the consultant.

Who didn’t call us from Sea Ranch. And she didn’t call me back after I left a message asking her to Monday, not that I’d necessarily call me back either.

The Sea Ranch consultant to the consultant is named Kathleen Morgan.

MTA in Ukiah hires a consultant who hires another consultant to do a job the average moron could do in an hour for five bucks.

The tax dollar is really getting around on this little sweetheart. And it’s positively heartwarming to know that an oppressed person trying to survive in the grim ghettos of Sea Ranch is getting some government work, the employer of first resort in Mendoland if you’re plugged in right.

J. Kaplan’s associate said consultant to the consultant Kathleen Morgan called the AVA “many time weeks ago.” J. Kaplan’s associate laid off the failure to communicate on that old standby, the weather.

“It could have been you were having trouble with flooding. It was during the heavy rain period. Double check your message center.”

I checked with both human message centers and the mechanical one. Nobody called about any survey any time in either 1997 or so far in 1998. And we were high and dry — dry anyway, during the big rains. Our technology never faltered.

Ms. Morgan is lying her ass off. J. Kaplan is lying its ass off. MTA has always lied its ass off.

MTA’s board of directors is made up of people mostly hostile to the AVA, as is the agency’s director, the aforementioned Richards.

Hey, boys, get some guts for once. Just tell me straight up you hate me and my paper and you’d rather paraquat your pot before you’d shove a private or public nickel my way. Hell, the feeling is mutual. Always has been.

Charles Peterson; Lindy Peters; Diana Stuart; Gordon Logan; Johanna Burkhardt; Sam Kingsley; and Jim Mastin are MTA’s board of directors.

None of them ride the MTA.

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