Sun. May 19th, 2024

Commentary and Opinion by Samuel Strait – March 18, 2024

What?  Someone else is on vacation, and it is not Supervisor Howard. 
Perhaps he used all of his “vacation time” down in Fresno, or maybe the
County’s “travel budget” has been exhausted by Sir Howard.  I don’t
suppose we will ever know until the next time Supervisor Howard takes a
trip on the County’s dime.  He and Mayor Inscore of the City’s fame
ought to get the group rate discount, judging by the amount of time they
both spend out of town.  In any event, the March 12th social hour, often
disguised as a Board of Supervisor’s meeting, turned into some what of
an education for our Board, not that they can ever be considered “educated”.

With Board Chair Wilson, off to the emerald isles for a couple weeks of
R and R, it was left to the stoic and normally silent, Vice Chair Borges
to guide the hapless Board through the uncharted waters of the County’s
bureaucratic dysfunction, and my what a bureaucratic jungle it was.  The
meeting commenced with its usual solemn opening ceremonies and was
quickly led through a forest of “New” hires clearly in an effort to fill
the ranks of the sadly depleted Health and Human Services, 40% vacancy
we are informed later in the “show”.  The Board reports Ms. Starkey
verbose as usual, her “short version”, Mr. Howard, puffed up with his
version of “being important”, Mr. Short, lost as usual and finally Vice
Chair Borges, the silent one.

On to the vaunted Consent Agenda, sixteen items, a mere two thirds of
the County’s business by way of the County’s staff. 4-0, Chair Wilson
being absent, with little to recommended as being particularly
transparent despite an effort by the Consent Agenda’s perennial
assailant, Mr. Branden Bieber, to the need for a number of the items
passed with no explanation as to their critical value for the County’s
residents.  What is new?  More power into the hands of the Director of
Health and Human Services (DHHS) without question and yet another hire by DHHS
slipped into the mix.

Scheduled items to include “Public Comments” after a brief dip ahead
into Budget transfers, Vice Chair moving right along.  A Board of
Equalization couple of items quickly dealt with then on to a report by
one of the many, “essential” Deputy Directors of DHHS.  Must not expect
the $200,000 plus yearly compensation package to cover “all”  the duties
expected out of the actual director of DHHS while she seems to run most
of what passes for governance in Del Norte County.  Such as we have the
report being given and then the fireworks began.

A quick comment by yours truly suggesting that as DHHS has grown to the
behemoth it has now become, 60% of the County’s $220 million budget and
nearly half the County’s work force, were there many left of the
County’s residents that had escaped the Department’s  benign
attentions?  The suggestion being, for the Board’s attention which has
clearly escaped them, that as DHHS has grown, the County’s dysfunctional
residents have grown in numbers faster than that particular department
can solve their respective issues.  The implication being, can there
ever be some indication that this department’s ministrations of the
public is meeting any measure of “substantial success”?

We then were exposed to a podium pounding firery rant by the County’s
Union President, Norma Williams, who quickly redefined “dysfunctional”
to “vulnerable” without ever addressing the question being asked.  Great
spin as usual by the near constantly angry Union propagandist that we
have come to expect.  Following this redefining of DHHS’s clientele, Ms.
Williams launched into a challenge of the Board to speak with those
workers, clearly not Directors, Assistant Directors, Program Managers,
and other supervisory staff, to determine “what their actual issues
were”. Then Ms. Williams slipped up by suggesting that “salaries” were
not the problem.  After being told over and over again for years that
MONEY was the root of the County’s retention and recruitment issue, Ms’
William’s claim clearly ran afoul of that message. While Ms Williams, no
doubt, had other things in mind, she failed to elaborate just what were
those issues.

Following that exchange, the Board moved on with haste to a presentation
of the Smith River Alliance/Collaborative and a representative of the US
Forest Service.  Consisting primarily of funding spent to protect the
County from future catastrophic forest fires, it is nice to understand
that much of the recent major fires as a result of poor forest
management throughout the State of California was to finally be
addressed in some sort of fashion  I remain uncertain as to what exactly
the Smith River Alliance/Collaborative had to do with the presentation
other than some sort of “feel good” presence, but the Forest Service
attention to Fire protection is long over due and most certainly welcome.

General Government items consisted of a largely “word salad”
presentation by the County’s ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER,

Randy Hooper regarding the future planning
direction of County Government and how to make it whole.  While the
“Strategic Plan” was wildly praised by the Board, beyond County
Government, it had nothing to offer the citizens of the County in the
way of positive direction.  Clearly another example of the sad waste of
resources and taxpayer funds that fail in so many ways to address
critical issues in the County.  Following that clearly waste of effort,
the Board moved to the homeless shelter “crisis” by waiving a
competitive bidding requirement to address the construction of a more
formalized Homeless encampment to speed up the process.  We were assured
that the Homeless encampment was not to be labeled “encampment”, but
“temporary homeless development” as if this would change what it will
become.  Finally the meeting came to a merciful end with the quick
passage of a Memorandum of understanding with the Sheriff’s Employee
Association.

While the meeting ended with little fanfare, it should be understood
that the County’s struggles with retention and recruitment of employees
can not be laid to rest by addressing salaries that are competitive with
other jurisdictions.  The problems are much more deeply rooted in the
County’s work force that need to be exposed and recognized before that
is even a gleam in the eye of the Board.  The first step may be
extremely difficult, but to continue to deceive themselves by thinking
that everything is “Peachy” and a well oiled machine the Board should
acknowledge that “increasing salaries” merely “papers over” serious
deficiencies within it staff leadership that effects its work force.  
Until those issues are resolved, if even possible, retention and
recruitment will remain unsolvable, likely to get worse as time goes by.

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