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Local News

Union files complaint; questions about satellite funding at BoS meeting

A building with a brick facade on one side of four glass doors and stucco on the other. A sign above the doors says "County of Mendocino Administrative Center."
Mendocino County Administration Center.

SEIU Local 1021 complained to the state about the county's failure to divulge information. MCA questions the use of grant funds to pay for satellite imagery; says they have raised similar concerns that came out in a Grand Jury report.

July 28, 2022 — At a brief Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, the Board heard about Measure B, cannabis, covid, and labor.

Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren called in to warn about new variants. He is strongly recommending that people wear masks indoors and gather outdoors. Since May, the county has recorded eight deaths from covid, six of them in the greater Ukiah area. The descedents ranged in age from 67-91, and most had comorbidities.

And negotiations between the county and the union representing most of its workers are not going amicably. SEIU Local 1021 filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state Public Employment Relations Board, claiming that the county has refused to give union negotiators all the information they need to participate in bargaining sessions. Union representative Patrick Hickey called into the Board meeting on Tuesday  to say that he thinks the county does have the money to give members a cost of living allowance, or COLA.

“We’ve been waiting since November for a variety of information requests,” he said. “And the county continues to drag its heels, has failed to present the information that we’ve needed to analyze the budget…we did finally get a dribble of information from the county last week in our negotiations. They provided a small portion of the information requested regarding the more than 402 unfilled vacant positions in the county…based on the limited amount of information provided, it’s clear that there is certainly funding available to provide county employees with a reasonable COLA to address the current high level of inflation. Based on the current budget, a lot more attention is being paid to taking care of the buildings, rather than taking care of the employees. Some of those projects are not imminent or urgent, and certainly can be postponed and that money can be rededicated to COLAs…there’s a sizable amount of money set aside to buy new vehicles. The County has a large number of vehicles that are not even used on a regular basis, that are just sitting in parking lots, getting old.”

The union told the employee relations board that “the County should be ordered to provide complete and accurate responses to the Union’s outstanding requests for information; ” and asked it to “order all other remedies it deems just and proper.”

The union frequently contends that low pay leads to understaffing, a theme that emerged in many of the Grand Jury reports, which started to come out last week.

Michael Katz, the Executive Director of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, drew the board’s attention to the Grand Jury report on the cannabis equity grant program, which is supposed to provide grants to people who have been harmed by the war on drugs. The report detailed communications failures, and noted that as of May, the county’s Cannabis Department had ten vacant positions and only twelve employees. Katz said the report bolstered many points the board has heard before. “I’m not sure you had a chance to review it. It came in yesterday,” he began. “If you had, you might see that some of the findings and some of the recommendations align with what MCA and stakeholders from the community have been saying for quite some time. One of the first findings indicates that there was no process developed for the distribution of grant funds to individuals prior to applications being received. What that indicates is a project management issue, I believe, that speaks to the need for additional support of the cannabis department by the CEO’s office to ensure that as projects are set up, they align with all of the requirements of the county infrastructure and that we are not waiting for the last minute to identify potential roadblocks in getting out these much-needed funds. That goes on, additionally, to finding #2, that the County did not ask county did not ask the State for requirements on record-keeping until May of 2022, and apparently only did so to establish the County’s risk of having to repay funds if they were not spent for approved purposes.”

The county received $2.2 million for the equity program, and close to $10.5 million for a local jurisdiction assistance grant program to help growers comply with environmental regulations and cover the cost of various fees.

Supervisor John Haschak pulled an item from the Board’s consent calendar approving a year-long agreement with a company called Planet Labs to provide satellite imaging services, starting July 27, for a little over $350,000.

“This is the Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant money,” he said; “and the concern expressed was that this only be used for helping out with getting people to their annual licenses, which is the intent of the Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant.”

The Mendocino Cannabis Alliance sent a memo to the Board, sounding the alarm over the satellites’ potential use for enforcement purposes, which it contends are ineligible uses for the grant money. Katz called out what he sees as a double standard. “It’s been made very clear that if funds are misused, we will not be able to retain them,” he warned. “And seeing County Counsel’s focus on making sure that the misuse of funds policy was in place for applicants to the equity program, people who have already been harmed by the war on drugs, it seems obvious to us that there should be similar misuse of funds policies in place for the administration of these funds.”

The Board passed the consent calendar and agreed to fine-tune the use of the funds later.

In the Measure B update, Behavioral Health Director Dr. Jeanine Miller told the Board that a new crisis team of mental health specialists worked with law enforcement to answer about one call a day last year. Sheriff Matt Kendall claimed that law enforcement visits to hospital emergency rooms with people in mental health crises are down 60% since the team started working together.

But the mental health training center in Redwood Valley is expensive, and so far not living up to expectations. Again, Haschak was dubious. “We’re hearing that there's two trainings per month at this point,” he said. “So that’s 24 per year, and if we’re looking at the operational cost of $50,000 per year, plus it looks like $30,000 for the capital, so we’re talking $80,000 a year just to keep it up and running. So I guess the question is, how do we get better usage of it.”

Miller said she expects better marketing will get the training center rented out more often. While the Measure B committee has put aside a prudent reserve, there is no reserve for capital improvement projects or maintenance, though one of the stated purposes of the Measure was to “Provide for the necessary infrastructure to support and stabilize” people needing treatment for a variety of conditions.

The Measure B committee has ordered a gun locker for the training center and is deciding where to put it.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.