Sunday, July 21, 2024

Mendocino County’s Board of Supervisors Considers Axing Multiple Committees to Cut Costs

(L to R) 4th District Supervisor Dan Gjerde, 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams, 1st District Supervisor Glenn McGourty, 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak, 2nd District Supervisor Mo Mulheren [Screenshots from County of Mendocino’s YouTube Channel]

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday not to dissolve the beloved Municipal Advisory Councils, in spite of a 12-page staff recommendation to do so.

But the Mendocino County Climate Action Advisory Committee and the Public Safety Advisory Board remain on the chopping block, along with others that were formed decades ago, are defunct, or are operating under statutes that no longer exist.

With next year’s deficit projected to exceed $10 million, the Executive Office calculated that dissolving the committees would save the General Fund over $900,000, most of it in staff time.

In spite of its length, the staff report was lean on specifics. A single paragraph on the fiscal impact acknowledged that, “True costs are likely much higher but significantly more difficult to calculate.” Supervisor Maureen Mulheren asked that staff keep track of how much time they spend on each MAC, so they can provide more specific information. “If one MAC is causing very little staff time, then we should know that,” she said. “If another MAC is charging up hundreds of thousands of dollars, or potentially presenting hundreds of thousands of dollars in liability and potential litigation expenses, then that should immediately come back to the board, and perhaps it shouldn’t be so quiet.”

There are six MACs, or Municipal Advisory Councils, in unincorporated parts of the county. At the meetings, which are subject to the Brown Act, community members typically receive regular updates from law enforcement, fire chiefs, water experts and other institutional representatives. They play a key role in creating community plans, and they are on the list of entities that must be notified about discretionary permits in the neighborhood.

The MAC members are appointed by the district supervisor, who usually attends the meetings to take the temperature of the community, answer questions about what’s going on with county government, and receive recommendations.

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At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, MAC members protested that they had not received any notice about plans to dissolve them, prior to the publication of the agenda on Thursday. Supervisor Dan Gjerde, too, said he would have liked a little more notice, airing a procedural complaint. “I do think it’s unfortunate, because I have a standing request with the CEO that before any budget-cutting items come to the Board, that the CEO personally meet with each of the five supervisors —this is what a city manager would do — and make sure that there are at least three votes,” he explained; “But more importantly, that all five supervisors know the proposal, have an opportunity prior to publication of the agenda to have some input on the agenda. That didn’t happen here…We have a $7 million structural deficit.We probably have a $10 million structural deficit looking at next fiscal year. These cuts today are actually very tiny, and they’re kind of a distraction from the work that we need to be doing. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, this item landed on our agenda without consultation with the supervisors early on, when we have much bigger items to cut that are not even on our agenda yet.”

The board directed staff to keep track of how much time it spends on the MACs and put a limit on it. None of the MACs were dissolved.

But the MACs were not the only committees being eyed for dissolution. Supervisor John Haschak questioned Planning and Building Services Director Julia Krog’s claim that the county Fish and Game Commission costs the general fund $55,000 a year. She provided some detail, saying that county workers do provide staff support, including responding to inquiries from MAC members, publishing the agenda, sending out packets, attending the meetings, and providing support services like queuing up items on the Board’s calendars. The Fish and Game Commission meets every other month. Haschak calculated that at $55,000 a year, each meeting costs almost $9,000 but Krog told him staff also engages in outreach work and support for accounts payable. “It just seems rather high,” Haschak noted. “I think they’re doing good work, and I don’t want to see it go. But I don’t want to see $55,000 spent on that.”

Krog said that the Fish and Game Commission’s work, which mostly consists of obtaining grants, could be accomplished through “another pathway,” but Gjerde was dubious, saying, “I think in theory, we could have some unnamed county employee who was going to be energetic and interested in this topic and engage with the community in allotting these grant dollars in a way that is as effective as the Fish and Game Commission. It’s highly theoretical, because I have no idea who that county employee is. That county employee may or may not exist. I would hate to throw the Fish and Game Commission out for what may be a very big fail by the county.”

The board decided to keep the Fish and Game Commission, but reduce the number of seats.

Mulheren summed up the rationale for directing staff to dissolve the climate action advisory committee, which has had a difficult time gathering its large membership for in-person meetings since the end of the pandemic. “As a board member, I see the GrassRoots Institute, I see Climate Action Mendocino, I see NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations, typically nonprofits) bringing things forward to the board in ways that are really productive,” she said. “And I’m afraid that the Brown Act and getting a quorum is really inhibiting this committee from doing the work that the people who are invested in it are trying to do. So I’m in favor of not having it as a county committee so it can continue to operate, not under the Brown Act, and not having to jump through all the county hoops.”

Gjerde agreed reluctantly, saying, “I don’t really want to see it go away, but I don’t know if it will be a huge loss if it does go away.”

Supervisor Ted Williams successfully argued for measures to reduce the staff burden of the Mendocino Historic Review Board, which holds time-consuming meetings at night. But he recommended the dissolution of the Public Safety Advisory Board, which met once since being formed in 2021. Other defunct committees that the board agreed to dissolve are the Safety Council, formed in 1965, the Social Service Citizens Advisory Council, which was already disbanded by resolution, and the Underground Committee, which was formed in 1970 and served an unremembered purpose.

Staff will come back with responses to the recommendations next month. Marybeth Kelly, an original member of the Redwood Valley MAC, summed up the feeling of all the public comments, from MAC members and the undersheriff to people who missed a full day’s work to have a chance to plead for their continued existence.

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“Democracy’s messy,” she declared. “It’s inconvenient at times. It’s expensive at times, and it is definitely a participation sport. Do not cut us off from participating in our government. Thank you.”

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  1. To call this a cost cutting measure is very disingenuous. Where is the plan to layoff the staff that would no longer be needed? They just throw some random numbers at each committee and claim the money is saved by eliminating the random committee. Now, maybe you will save money on “snacks” not being purchased, but either County Counsel and the CEO have no idea what they’re doing, or they’re using “cost cutting” as a lame/dunce-headed excuse to get rid of pesky public input and questions. Instead, the result of this meeting is that the BOS thinks certain committees need more education on their roles. In other words, they realized they need to spend more money and more time on the committees! Hilarious!

    • Mendocino County as an employer is understaffed and more often than not underpaid. Some of the depts are heavily subsidized from the state and feds and do not effect the general fund. Some of these committees are causing the county to spend employable hours which cost money to the general fund. There will be more cost cutting don’t you worry this is just the beginning.

      • So I don’t disagree with you. Realistically though the only way to actually “cut costs” is to eliminate the people who were staffing these committees. Otherwise its just flat out false. At most its freeing up staff time that can be redirected. I’m not advocating cutting the staff. I’m not even convinced there is a “financial crisis” because the CEO and Board pushing that narrative show time and again they have zero fiscal acumen. I’ve also never seen the attorney for any board of any type of organization lead the presentation on a organization-wide “cost cutting” measure ever before.

        • Spending though important is really only half the problem in this county. The vacancy rates in the Assessors office has been as high as 67% and 50% for the last several years. There are lots of property taxes sitting backlogged and lots more black market property taxes yet to ever be collected. The BOS funds the depts for full staff but its up to the heads to hire them. Some dept heads that maintain vacancies have large surpluses accumulating within the depts due to empty staffing positions.


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Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith is a radio and print reporter working in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, focusing on local politics and environmental news.

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