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The County has taken the questionable course of removing the elected Auditor/Tax Collector/ Treasurer from her elected office. Whether they have the power to do this will be determined as the lawsuits begin to fly.
In her stead, a Deputy Chief Executive has been put in that Acting Position. The County currently is lacking 5-6 department heads, and the Executive Office (EO) is now running about 75% of all the County departments. What could go wrong with that? Well, it opens up the possibility for fiscal malfeasance and/or fiscal mis-management. One is deliberately stealing and the other is inexperience or incompetence. I am not asserting that there is any malfeasance and I believe most people who work for the County are good people and well-intentioned. But sometimes that isn’t enough.
When we interview department heads, we vet them to see if they have the in-depth program knowledge for that department. For example, you wouldn’t hire an Ag Commissioner to be the Chief Medical Officer. They both may have advanced degrees, but neither would know how to do the other’s job. The Executive Office is putting their cronies and their friends, in charge of complicated programs that require in-depth program knowledge, administrative experience and an understanding of the qualifications staff need to do their respective jobs. This is not only very de-moralizing for existing staff who are more qualified, it’s creating a situation where experienced staff with the institutional knowledge and qualifications are being marginalized. These staff are primarily older, have been in government for years, and are the people who will question decisions made by these inexperienced, unqualified managers.
These inexperienced and unqualified managers aren’t bad people, but they’re being put into highly paid positions that come with a hefty pension. So while they aren’t stealing, there is a nice reward whether they do a good job or not. Where is the oversight? The County can move whoever they want into “Acting” positions. These Acting positions are not supposed to extend more than 6 months, but guess who can over-ride that? The CEO.
Why does this matter to you? Because most of these people don’t understand what the department and its programs or services does, they are making wrong decisions. They are firing highly qualified staff members before they have completed their probationary period, and replacing them with their cronies. No merit system. Who suffers from this? You. The public. Instead of having a meritocracy, we have a system that doesn’t reward initiative, education, experience or character. We have a system of sycophants who will never question decisions made. And it trickles down. We also have new employees who never receive training or guidance because their managers don’t know how things should be run. This sets these new employees up for failure.
The Board of Supervisors tell us the County is in an economic hole – with a budget gap that they must fill of between $7 million dollars to $50 million by June 2024. But apparently no one is really sure what the numbers are. In order to help close that gap, the Executive Office is using grant funding from various departments to pay the salaries of these managers. This is technically not illegal, however in Public Health, for example, this is resulting in the inability of the department to conduct the programs and services mandated by the state to keep the community safe. Who loses? You do. Public Health makes sure your food and water are safe. We make sure beaches get closed when there is poop in the water. We provide disease surveillance and research the health of the community to address gaps in services. We make sure children in foster care get the health care and support they need. We monitor restaurants so you don’t eat rat tainted food. We provide free vaccine clinics so we don’t all get sick at once and over-run the capacity of our three hospitals. In Public Health having unqualified people making decisions has resulted in such a toxic work environment that there has been a literal exodus of experienced and trained personnel.
I am retiring after long years of public service. But I leave you with these cautionary words and a suggestion – We desperately need a Public Health Director with the experience, training and education, who understands how a functioning Public Health department operates.
I care deeply about this community. You deserve better.
Julie Beardsley, MPH
Mendocino County Senior Public Health Analyst
President, SEIU Local 1021