This week’s meeting of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, September 26, was disrupted by three or four individuals who made racist and anti-Semitic remarks during their Zoom call. Board Chair Glenn McGourty quickly shut down these offensive comments. It appears that these individuals used fake names, including one person who identified himself as “George Lincoln Rockwell,” a notorious American fascist and founder of the American Nazi Party. The Mendo Rockwell and his followers should be condemned for their hateful actions. If anyone knows of a suitable punishment, please let me know. My old union colleagues and I will take care of the rest.
Now, let’s get back to the important matters at hand.
As you are all aware, Mendocino County is facing a severe fiscal crisis that is affecting every aspect of our community.
Currently, there is a state audit of the County’s financial records and reporting underway, in addition to the ongoing federal annual audit.
For months, I have been urging the County to stop talking about this crisis and start taking action. Indecision is the worst trait for any elected representative.
The main reason for the dysfunction in our governance is that those in power often mistake activity for productivity. They believe that endless meetings dominated by hard-working staff members constitute effective governance.
Recently, Supe Ted Williams asked me for my thoughts on how to address this crisis. Here is the recommendation I gave him:
“Ted, as I have previously suggested, along with Supe Haschak and Supe Gjerde, the Board should invite former officials who were responsible for fiscal matters (Treasurer-Tax Collector, Auditor-Controller, Assessor, CEO) to be interviewed and questioned. We need to learn from them how they performed their duties and exercised fiscal oversight. This information is crucial, as the Board has admitted to lacking it. The inquiry should cover various aspects, such as their responsibilities, the financial controls they implemented, the systems they used, staffing levels, and their working relationships with other departments and outside auditors. Since no one has answers to the current fiscal mess, an inquiry is necessary to find those answers before making substantial changes to the organizational structure, such as creating a Department of Finance. Additionally, the beauty of Zoom meetings is that former officials don’t need to attend in person.”
Unfortunately, Williams never responded to my suggestion.
Why should we talk to these former officials?
There is likely a lot we can learn from them.
Understanding our history, both institutional and otherwise, is essential to avoid repeating past failures. As the old saying goes, if you don’t know how you got here, you are doomed to repeat your mistakes.
For example, in February 2022, CEO Carmel Angelo, who was about to retire, spoke about the county’s financial situation. She mentioned that the county had faced near bankruptcy in 2010 but had since achieved a healthy financial position with $20 million in reserves and an annual budget of $340 million. However, a few months later, the Board discovered a structural deficit of $6.1 million. At the recent meeting, Supe Dan Gjerde stated that the deficit had increased to around $10 million, with an additional several million dollars if employee salaries were adjusted. He also mentioned that the CEO and the Golden Gate Initiative team had identified $5.5 million in cuts and cost-savings but that this was only a third of what was needed. Gjerde emphasized the importance of balancing the budget with both small and large cuts.
Towards the end of the meeting, Williams expressed his concern about the lack of progress in addressing the financial crisis:
“I know you may not be happy with me for bringing this up, but I’m really worried about how we started the year in such a bad place. We’ve given some direction to the staff, but we’ve been avoiding the reality of our financial crisis. I’ve been looking at the numbers, going through the position allocation table, trying to identify areas where we can make cuts. Unfortunately, I don’t see an easy solution without a major restructuring. And we need to start planning for that now, not in March or April. We need time for staff to implement our decisions, and we’re going to come up with ideas that require research. We made a commitment to work on this as soon as the budget was passed, but we haven’t done much in that direction. The CEO and the Golden Gate Initiative team have been working, but they need to pick up the pace. I don’t see it happening. We’re resource-constrained, and the easy gains have already been made. I don’t want to dampen the mood, but we need to be realistic. My job is to plan how we’ll balance the budget next year.”
Chairman McGourty reassured Williams, saying, “I think we all agree with you. That’s why we have an upcoming agenda…”
Williams interrupted, saying, “Well, you know what happens to the messenger.”
McGourty replied, “Yeah, sometimes it’s tough.”
To summarize both my perspective and Williams’, it is high time to stop discussing the fiscal mess and start taking concrete steps to resolve it.
Jim Shields is the editor and publisher of the Mendocino County Observer, the district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and the chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. You can listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, or stream it live at http://www.kpfn.org.