Saturday, June 3, 2023

Letter to the Editor: Former 2nd District Supervisor John McCowen on CEO Carmel Angelo’s Retirement


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.

Former 2nd District Supervisor John McCowen [Picture from Mendocino County]

One of the best (and worst) decisions I made as Supervisor (along with my colleagues) was hiring Carmel Angelo as CEO. We were dealing with the steepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. The Board of Supervisors adopted tough economic policies to stabilize county finances, pay down debt, build reserves, balance the budget and continue to provide public services. The Board and Angelo took a lot of heat for implementing a 10% pay cut but the alternative was 10% layoffs. The Board set the policies but Angelo provided critical leadership in implementing those policies. 

Angelo advocated effectively with State legislative and administrative officials on behalf of Mendocino County. She was instrumental in securing funds for the Redwood Valley water system upgrades and correcting the “over digs” following the 2017 firestorm.

In short order, Angelo became Clerk of the Board, Purchasing Agent, Emergency Services Director, Risk Manager, Water Agency Director, and the overseer of Recovery Services, Information Services and Fleet and Facilities. Angelo has direct authority over most departments, including HHSA, P&BS and HR. She also created a “Fiscal Unit” within the Executive Office. Several of these actions (creation of the Fiscal Unit and taking over I.S. to name a couple) were done without formal approval by the Board of Supervisors.

As Angelo consolidated power, her unilateral dictates increasingly overrode the professional judgment of senior managers and department heads. Her orders were often unethical and sometimes illegal but nothing mattered except getting her way. She became increasingly blatant at ignoring and/or acting without the Board of Supervisor’s direction. The progression of her autocratic tendencies has been a textbook case in the corrupting influence of unchecked power.

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Angelo has a tendency to take things personally, won’t tolerate dissent, and has a notoriously short fuse. Employees have felt her wrath for not having her coffee ready when she comes into the office or simply speaking during a meeting.

Over the years, I was Angelo’s foremost defender but also one of the few Board members (and often the only one) willing to hold her accountable. In my last year in office, Angelo retaliated against me for questioning her complicity in illegally diverting $500,000 out of the budget of a state-created and funded agency. With the help of County Counsel Christian Curtis (who thinks his job is to do whatever Angelo tells him to do), she was able to effectively block my ability to do my job as a County Supervisor. 

But many employees have been “Carmelized” by Ms. Angelo so my experience is not unique. Over time she’s caused dozens of employees to be fired or leave and has destroyed the morale of several departments. I was ready to terminate her years ago but there were never three votes to do so.

Her self-serving comments in the interview announcing her retirement exemplify her skill at managing for perception. As Angelo tells it, the Leadership Initiative, Measure B and the Strategic Plan have all been great successes. But after nine years in operation, if the Leadership Initiative has been so great, why do employees leave faster than they can be trained? Why are there no measurable results from Measure B after 5 years? Why is the public only asked for input at the end of the consultant-driven Strategic Plan process, not at the beginning?

“Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis” (attributed to Machiavelli) has been fully utilized by Angelo during Covid. She locked the Supervisors out of their offices and locked them and the public out of the Board Chambers. She openly bragged about how great it was to have the Supervisors out of the building! The ability of the public to have meaningful input and the ability of the Board to function effectively has been steadily marginalized.

The number and complexity of issues within the Board’s purview has steadily increased, but Angelo has intentionally limited the capacity of the Clerk of the Board function. As a result, numerous issues are not presented to the Board, lack sufficient background information or are slipped through on the Consent Calendar.

Angelo insists on personally making or approving virtually all decisions. As a result, the Executive Office has been a major chokepoint for years. For much of the past two years Angelo has been obsessively focused on micromanaging Covid to the detriment of numerous other County issues which have been dealt with poorly, belatedly, or not at all. Everything from routine business to critical issues have been given short shrift unless they were of personal interest to Angelo.

The County appears to be in reasonably good fiscal condition but that’s largely a result of the PG&E and Covid disaster funds. The impact of Angelo’s failure to effectively manage key issues will begin showing up after her departure.

The Board seems poised to move to a CAO model but that’s likely to solve one problem (the CEO has too much power) at the cost of another (how will day to day operations be managed and new policy directives implemented?).

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The problems we’ve seen, especially in the last couple of years, have little to do with CAO v. CEO but stem from the autocratic, self-serving and megalomaniacal actions of the departing CEO and the reluctance of the Board to hold her accountable. Angelo repeatedly ignored Board direction, set her own policy and got away with it.

Reverting to a CAO model but with continued understaffing of the Clerk of the Board will add to the Supervisor’s workload while doing nothing to hold the administrator accountable. Instead of taking on direct supervision of 15 or so department heads the Board should create the conditions that will allow them to successfully manage policy.

Understaffing the Clerk of the Board function has been a primary means of the CEO controlling the agenda and marginalizing the Board. Instead of 5 full time staff (the number in place in 2008 when the workload was much less) the current CEO has limited the Clerk of the Board function to half that or less.

Instead of reverting to a CAO model, the Board will be better served by reclaiming the Clerk of the Board function from the CEO, staffing it up and restoring it to department head status. Doing so will provide the structure and resources the Board needs to fulfill their policy setting role

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  1. It’s still not to late to fire her John. The county will be a much better place with her gone. She’s nothing but a muppet

  2. How about a farewell party that involves tar, feathers, and a rail?
    Worn Out Welcome Waltz, sung with a Hank Williams twang
    Your more that welcome to leave
    And while we’re glad that you came
    Through the door that you entered
    Please depart by the same
    And while it’s been nice to have you
    We’re gonna dance when your gone
    Can’t you see there’s the exit
    Buddy please move along
    by Douglas Wayne Coulter

  3. Shes just following the draconian power grab that’s going on federally and when there are no checks and balances or punishment for unethical behaviour we all lose.

  4. Wow, it’s mind boggling how corrupt and detestable she was. Everyone should have organized to kick her out long before things got that bad. She sounds like an evil dictator.

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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