Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Commentary By Samuel Strait – January 28, 2023

It is not often where one put in charge of things has so manifestly
exhibited and in such a short time displayed his obvious lack of ability
to occupy that leadership role.  For Darren Short, newly elected to be
Del Norte County’s Chairman of the Board, his lapses and mistakes
continue to mount up.  It was only with the timely intervention of
County Counsel and public member Linda Sutter that “Chair” Short avoided
a very public violation of the Brown Act.  In fact, the Brown Act was
violated, and only because the Brown Act has no real meaning in local
government, and likely never has, the violation will no doubt be dismissed.

As the current Board continues its wayward ways, it is not surprising
that there is very little participation in the governing of this County
by the public.  While the trappings of County government continue to be
observed, that is when Chair Short remembers,  the Board reports and
follow up discussion were a thing to behold.  While it is interesting
that each Board member has the opportunity to relate to the audience,
mostly consisting of government employees, that they remain active in
the community, it offers little in the way a broader perspective that
beyond meetings with other public officials, the public in their
respective districts should be the voices that are the key to
discovering the NEEDS of that group and not what can be cooked up in
meetings with other public employees.

Public comments at a scheduled time became a victim of Chair Short’s
failure to understand that the County Department heads should not be the
focus of the Board’s concern, particularly when they are meant to
represent.  Nearly forty five minutes and a violation of the Brown Act
later, it was concluded that the topic of discussion was not on the
posted Agenda and should be perhaps actually placed on a future Agenda. 
Still not sure whether or not the Board was more concerned about the
County’s Department Heads, many of them have proven to be in charge of
dysfunctional departments, all the while giving them praise for their
noted dysfunction.  Kind of puts a huge question mark above the lengthy
discussion, particularly when Board members prattle on for some time
then turn about and limit public discussion to three minutes.

In any event the public finally managed to get their day in the sun,
notably more on vacation rentals, and another example of the County’s
inability to address maintenance issues in public buildings. The other
scheduled item, the County’s housing element for the sixth cycle was
largely word salad by a contractor from Sacramento, no doubt handsomely
compensated, which allows the State to dictate the composition of future
housing needs without any real appreciation of the actual needs of the
County.  But hey, it might lead to future grants to the County that will
unlikely to be of any help, but “FREE MONEY”, is hard for government
officials to pass up.  It is only when the public realizes that “FREE
MONEY” isn’t free and ultimately the bill will always wait the future
and then come calling.

If you are looking for the normal fireworks surrounding the inequities
of the “Consent Agenda” and the normal festivities that comes with it,
be patient, the fun is yet to start.  General Government, at least what
little was discussed by the Board, consisted of a resolution appointing
members to the Law Library Board Of Trustees.  Yes, that of  “leaky
roof” fame.   Things proceeded on to a discussion of the evils of
tobacco, and naturally concluded with another ordinance.  Won’t
Supervisor Starkey be proud.  It is not as if there is any likelihood of
enforcement, but its on the books.  Keep in mind that its still illegal
to hunt rabbits in some places in California, but I doubt that one is
being enforced either.

On to budget transfers, which should have merited at least some
discussion, but it seems that is not something the Board takes on unless
there is the potential for a Brown Act violation.  $25,000 to hire
another part time employee for the County’s IT department.  Another
$6,600 for the County Jail that continues to fall apart.  Fire alarm
system failure it seems.  Got to be prepared for any inmate barbeques,
garbage can heaters, or random protests that may catch one of the new
patrol cars on fire.  And finally another $10,000 for the “Nuisance
Budget” Unit at Community Development.  Seems the County has a line item
for professional services to cope with unexpected public nuisances, the
town drunk anybody?

Legislative and Budget issues are normally about complaining to the
State over the unexpected consequences of State actions.  In this case
it is a letter directed to the State asking for relief from the
ignorance of the State’s Fire Marshall regarding State authored Fire
Hazard Severity Zone Maps which can negatively affect insurance premiums
on your house or business.  Not that it is likely to have any affect on
your fire insurance any time soon, but maybe the next rain storm will
be $!00 bills instead of water.

AH, last but not least, the Consent Agenda became the grand finale. 
Branden Bieber managed to annoy Chair Short only slightly this time
around, and the Sheriff was not called.  This particular agenda
consisted of but fourteen items.  Good luck for a public comment if you
wish to have more than a couple discussed.  Part of the problem with the
County’s insistence to conduct a large portion of the County’s business
on the Consent Agenda is the failure to discuss many of the items it
contains in a public venue.  Many of those items contain contractual
obligations in which the County has entered into that are not of recent
origin. As such they should be treated as new business and properly
vetted in front of the public and not as an extension of the original
contract.  This alarming behavior by the Board should cease immediately
and a proper procedure be installed.  This would have the immediate
effect of shortening the Consent Agenda to a more manageable form and
allow the County’s supervisors to at least have the appearance of
governing.

Most of the County’s business is conducted nearly every Board meeting
with a 5-0 vote and hardly a murmur of discussion.  This particular
Consent Agenda was notable, only in the respect that item number Two had
to be pulled due to yet another failure on Chair Short’s part and the
fact that assignments to the various committees elicited nothing in the
way of discussion nor input from the public as to the suitability of
various supervisors to be appointed to such committees.  Two other items
were removed, one to call attention to our own Gerry Cochran as a long
serving Veteran Service Officer and the other calling for attention by
Supervisor Wilson to address the woeful behavior of the County towards
attention to its surplus equipment which has value if disposed of
properly.   While this may have concluded this particular meeting, it
should have been evident that the Consent Agenda continues to be a
problem and that problem is in the Board’s leadership, both past and
present and has yet to be properly addressed.   The train wreck continues.

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