Friday, August 12, 2022
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Letter to the Editor: Former Supervisor Questions Competency and Ethics of County Counsel- Objects to Proposed Pay Increase

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Welcome to our letters to the editor/opinion section. To submit yours for consideration, please send to matthewplafever@gmail.com. Please consider including an image to be used–either a photograph of you or something applicable to the letter. However, an image is not necessary for publication.

Remember opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of MendoFever nor have we checked the letters for accuracy.

The Board of Supervisors is poised to approve a huge pay increase for County Counsel, fixing his base salary at $192,436. With benefits the annual cost to the County will be $327,141. This huge increase is not justified by performance or by adherence to minimal ethical standards.

The primary duty of County Counsel is to avoid legal liability for the County, not create it. But County Counsel Christian Curtis routinely creates liability for the County, resulting in needless legal action and expense. Case in point is the dispute with the Sheriff’s Office which is a direct result of County Counsel failing to accurately and ethically advise the Board of Supervisors on the law. County Counsel set the Board on a collision course with the Sheriff when he advised them they could bill the Sheriff for budget overruns. The State Constitution and case law makes it clear that this is not accurate. Especially when the Sheriff’s budget is underfunded to begin with.

County Counsel Curtis, having first created the conflict, next objected to the Sheriff hiring his choice for legal representation, in part because he claimed the Sheriff’s proposed attorney would be too expensive. But this dispute has generated dozens of case filings and numerous hearings solely because of County Counsel’s objection to the Sheriff’s choice of counsel. In the course of these hearings, County Counsel has managed to ignite the ire of the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, who is expected to shortly issue a ruling in the case. At a minimum, the BOS should wait until the Court’s opinion is issued before granting the proposed raise.

County Counsel also worked behind the scenes to conceal the involvement of the CEO in the illegal diversion of $464,008 out of the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) budget and into the County General Fund. The CCP is funded by the State with dedicated funding that is not part of the County budget but is allocated according to a budget recommended by the CCP and approved by the BOS. Removing funds from the CCP approved budget, if done legally, would require a recommendation from the CCP and approval by the BOS. In fact, the CCP had no knowledge of the illegal diversion until after the fact when it resulted in a deficit in their approved budget, largely as a result of the illegal transfer of funds.

Some of you may know that at some point in my last year on the BOS I became persona non grata with the CEO. That point coincided exactly with my refusal to sweep the illegal diversion of CCP funds under the rug. From that point forward the CEO refused to communicate with me, prevented me from having access to my files (in fact had my files randomly boxed up removing them from their file folders and file headings) and conspired with County Counsel to make false allegations against me, going so far as to pay outside legal counsel to conduct a sham investigation. (Yes, it got ugly.) I have not previously gone public with this level of detail out of loyalty to the County but I cannot sit quietly by while the BOS approves a huge pay raise for the ethically compromised and incompetent County Counsel.

In addition to conspiring in furtherance of false charges and a phony investigation against me, County Counsel also succeeded in short circuiting the Grand Jury investigation of the CCP funds. I have direct knowledge that the Grand Jury was actively investigating the illegal transfer but at some point the investigation was abruptly dropped. I was later informed by a reliable source with direct knowledge that the investigation was dropped “because it conflicted with the dispute with the Sheriff.” In fact, the two disputes are completely separate. The real conflict of interest is that County Counsel (who created the conflict with the Sheriff and who conspired to smear me and cover up the illegal diversion of CCP funds) is also legal counsel for the Grand Jury.

Of lesser importance, but still relevant is that County Counsel falls seriously short in routine job performance. The apparent inability of County Counsel to litigate anything beyond the simplest of cases results in the County paying out huge amounts for outside counsel. The bill in one case alone is $600,000 and counting. Keeping the BOS in Brown Act compliance is another responsibility of County Counsel but whether it’s out of a misguided willingness to please the board members or a lack of competence, County Counsel frequently falls short in the performance of this duty. While I was in office a common complaint from department heads on down was that the office of County Counsel was a choke point that seriously hampered their ability to serve the public. Routine items that required County Counsel review would sit for many weeks or months with no action taken. These are just a few examples of lapses in performance but my main issue is County Counsel’s apparent lack of any ethical standards.

Instead of rewarding corruption and incompetence by granting a huge pay raise, the Board of Supervisors should issue County Counsel Curtis his walking papers.

John McCowen
Ukiah

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12 COMMENTS

  1. There have been a series of underqualified, if not incompetent, persons in the position of county counsel since the worthy Jeanine Nadel became a judge: one had no prior civil litigation experience whatsoever, her buffoonish successor was busted for possession of marijuana and a concealed handgun in his vehicle causing Sheriff Tom Allman to call him out. In the background of all this is the rigged processes and cronyism of County HR and the notorious CEO who enables that. Not always the biggest fan of Bruce Anderson and the AVA with their sardonic style, but they got this entirely right. McCowen hit the nail on the head.

  2. I am so glad I moved to Mendocino county! The graft and corruption here is well known in the Bay Area…. actually I heard about that years before I discovered this paradise. The soap opera style clumsy outwardly arrogant behavior of any city or county officials displays their obvious feelings of entitlement and their God given right to steal and abuse county money. A TV sitcom screenplay in the works!!

    • If you hold your breath and listen 👂, you can SERIOUSLY hear the Bay Area calling you back!!! You should take those whispers seriously 😳

    • I agree with everything here. Top that off with thousands of drug dealing deuche bags that call mendocino county home and you have inbred nirvana.

  3. This item is on the Consent Calendar which is supposed to be reserved for non-controversial items. Putting huge pay raises on the Consent Calendar, deserved or not, makes the Board look bad. Years ago I succeeded in getting the Board to direct the CEO to put large pay raises and other obviously controversial items on the regular calendar. But this is only one of many directives that the Executive Office chooses not to comply with.

    • The PG&E Settlement Funds were also put on the Consent Calendar. That’s when I learned that the Consent Calendar is where the CEO hides things she doesn’t want people to notice. If she’s the Wicked Witch of this story, that makes County Counsel her flying monkey. I’d like to see both of them gone.

    • John you sat in the board and watched for years as this happened. Becoming a whistle blower does not excuse you of all the dirty work you were part of

  4. I agree, County Counsel is steering this county in the wrong direction. The county is robbing our money to pay certain employees too much. How much does the CEO make per year?

  5. When John McCowen and I agree about something, it’s amazing. 3 votes is all it takes. Pay her off and get rid of her. We won’t start healing until she is gone.

  6. Wow John! Agreed the corruption runs so deep in these upper management positions majority are overpaid for basically doing nothing. Really great to hear your honesty and truthfulness about the situation. So many people complain about it but all the complaints including the grand jury dissections get squashed. Many people have been praying for some kind of state oversight or evaluation for years and it still hasn’t occurred. One can always hope Mendocino county can get rid of the corruption and start getting the government to actually function. Geeze, did I say that government function and Mendocino county in the same sentence what the hell was I thinking?

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
Picking Brains—Baring Bones—Playing it By Ear: I'm a reporter in Mendocino County and the Founder of MendoFever.

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