Draft Scaramella For County Supervisor!


If you’ve been reading Mark Scaramella’s insightful weekly reports on the County Board of Supervisors for the past few years in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, or gone to any of their meetings, you realize how utterly ineffective the Supervisors and CEO have become. With county budget deficits growing by the day, it is now alarming. Isn’t there somebody around in the 5th District who has the history, experience, smarts and toughness to ask hard questions, demand real answers, and help make reasonable decisions?

How about Mark?

Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry/Enology from Fresno State University. Ten years as USAF officer in aircraft maintenance management, defense acquisition and contract management, and logistics engineering. 15 years in defense and commercial contract engineering management, computer programming and consulting, technical writing, and part-time community college instructor.

Nephew (and political student) of the late former 5th District Supervisor Joe Scaramella, the best and most popular supervisor Mendocino County has ever had. Almost 20 years at the Anderson Valley Advertiser following county issues and politics in depth. 15 years as public rep on the Anderson Valley Fire Department Budget committee.

I asked him if he were a candidate for Supervisor in the 5th District what he would do about our looming problems…

Basic platform: Until basic management reporting and information systems are implemented and dealt with — such as monthly departmental budget reports developing a basis for follow-up, tracking and accountability over time, identifying cross-department cost-drivers, staffing, outside contracting and current problems, projects and priorities, there’s no point trying to address the so-called “issues.”

The only real county issue at this point given the badly declining revenues and state gridlock is how to introduce staff and contracting efficiencies, particularly in general fund departments. Revenue increases can be considered, but they won’t help in the short term.

If I were supervisor I would spend half my salary on outside specialists, auditors and attorneys to develop proposals for cost savings, workload decreases, and reasonable new revenues. I would also organize “tiger team” audits for larger departments enlisting local retirees and volunteers to scrutinize each departmental budget and provide clear information and recommendations, instead of (or in addition to) the governmental mush now referred to as a “budget.”

With these long-overdue decent management reporting and information system upgrades, the Supervisors and in turn the various county departments, can get a handle on what drives county costs and what can be done to prevent them.

The financial situation is grim, but unless the Supervisors and top managers get clear information, all they can do is flail away in the dark. As with any organization in financial difficulty, all top management positions and salaries would have to be cut as a major first step toward balancing the budget and retaining line workers. If and when the budget situation improves, those salaries and positions can be re-evaluated at that time.

If the other Supervisors on the board are unwilling to consider the necessary management reporting system improvements and management cost reductions, then they will be personally responsible for the predictable financial and organizational meltdown that looms.

Blunt talk about the County’s problems and organizational needs is in very short supply. The current crop of supervisorial candidates offer nothing in the way of managerial experience or ability. And whichever of them is elected, they will only produce more of what we’re (not) doing now.

If you would like to see an innovative and responsive Supervisor, impolite enough to demand an effective, efficient, and workable county, let Mark know that you want something done about our woeful county leadership.

Mark Scaramella eMail: themaj@pacific.net


I like Mark’s ideas a lot and would like to steal many of them (even if he does run). His observations make one wonder, though, if county government is truly as totally incompetent as he portrays. For example, Sonoma County is looking at a $30 million deficit over the same period of time (18 months) that Mendocino is facing a $7 million deficit. Are Sonoma County officials also totally incompetent? A comparison to nearly all other jurisdictions (city, county, state and federal) would yield the same result; ie, the entire country is awash in red ink.

I don’t know why “monthly departmental reports” aren’t part of the Board’s agenda but I assume (maybe mistakenly) that the CEO is getting such reports. I’d think that these reports “identify cross-department cost-drivers, staffing, outside contracting, etc.” If not, they certainly should. I’d like to see the Board more involved and wonder whether reverting back to old CAO system might not help in this regard.

In any case, there needs to be a formal system for keeping track of priority items. If the CEO is failing to do this, as Mark charges each week in his column, he should be replaced.

Enlisting local retirees and volunteers to scrutinize each departmental budget might be a good idea. It would depend on who the “local retirees” and “volunteers” were, their skills levels, and whether they had political axes to grind.

Of course, one of the main things that drives county costs is mandates from the state and federal government (which provides 53% of county revenues) and the demand for services from an increasingly impoverished population.

I agree with Mark that salary cuts are coming. The Board realizes it too. They are making some cuts and more will come in the near future.

I also agree that supervisors would be “responsible for the predictable financial and organizational meltdown that looms.” But they would share that responsibility with jurisdictions at higher levels that have beggared local government. Unfortunately counties and cities are at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to allocation of funds in this country.

Every government budget in the state of California continues to be affected by the misbegotten Proposition 13. An initiative is currently afoot to change the requirement for a 2/3s majority for taxation and budget approval to a simple majority. This initiative would strike a huge blow for democratic decision-making. As long as Proposition 13 remains in its current form, revenues will never match the needs of Californians, including the citizens of Mendocino County.

I really enjoy Mark’s blunt talk. I eagerly read his column each week. However, I do want to point out that the county has other problems besides its budget. Water shortages, spent forests and fisheries, keeping the coast clear of federal and corporate interference, and poverty are among them.

    Let’s deal with these remarks one by one (more or less):
    I’m not saying anyone is “totally incompetent.” I’m saying there needs to be basic management and reporting. I’ve tried describing it but obviously it doesn’t sink in.
    If it’s being done, why haven’t the Supervisors asked for it? Why didn’t Mitchell use it during budget discussions?
    Likely answer: There isn’t any.
    I don’t care if the rest of the country is “awash in red ink.” Obviously that was a banking system theft and we’re all stuck with it. I’m talking about Mendo. Now.
    A statement like “I wonder whether reverting back to the CAO system might not help in this regard,” is a demonstration that Hamburg has no idea what management systems I’m talking about. Colfax and the rest of the liberals “wonder” a lot. Look where it’s got us. The CEO/CAO model has nothing to do with it.
    Pinches mentioned in passing a few months ago that the Board was tracking CEO action items and that the CEO’s office was too. If so, why doesn’t the public get to see that? What items are on the list? What items are gone? What’s the status? What’s complete? Was it really “complete”? What’s the exact hold up? Etc. Why don’t the Supes put it on each month’s agenda? The public needs to be able to review these things and it only takes one supervisor (not three like the liberals like to say) for a lot of this to at least be brought up.
    Last fall during budget discussions Sheriff Allman said he’d welcome an audit of his department. The Supes agreed. But of course nothing was done because there’s no money for an audit of that variety. I immediately emailed the Sheriff and offered to assemble a tiger team to audit the Sheriff’s budget for him. I proposed (these are just representative members, I haven’t asked anyone yet) myself, Kevin Broin, Ron Caudillo, Norm Thurston, Dennis Huey, and Lt. Don Miller, or some similar combo. The sheriff said he liked the idea. But so far that’s all. The offer still stands. Comparable teams could be developed for other departments. Ana Mahoney comes to mind.
    Hamburg’s reference to mandates as a cost driver, also demonstrates complete lack of understanding of the concept. Cost drivers are things like arrests and arrest rates by category. Number of clients and number of clients no longer on the rolls. Number of permits filed and approved. Number of inmates. Number of probationers. Etc. All with running totals and tracked against staffing month by month. If a department says it’s too much work, bring in another tiger team. Let’s dig in.
    In any decent sized organization that’s in financial difficulty the first to be cut is white collar. Staff and pay. Simple, really. So far Mendo has barely scratched the white collar budget bloat. preferring to blather about one custodian, two essential resident deputies, etc. We do not want to begin, as Hamburg implies, with generic salary cuts across the board.
    On the one hand Hamburg says there’s a lot the Supervisors have no authority over and that includes both the financial squeeze as well as his list of Good Things that would be nice to do but which the Supes have minimal authority over. But the Supes have direct, implementable authority over the way the County is managed. They avoid the subject like the plague.
    Hamburg sounds way too much like incumbent David Colfax here. Colfax had very few constituent meetings and when he did he spent most of the time, like Hamburg does, telling his constituents why nothing can be done.
    Guess what happens when you take that attitude from the outset?
    Mark Scaramella, Boonville

Brandon Wolfe-Hunnicutt January 23, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Dan’s comments are right on. Moreover, I don’t think someone with a background in “defense acquisition” has the right values to represent Mendocino County on the Board of Supervisors. As a country we spend more than a trillion dollars a year on a bloated military-industrial complex that wreaks havoc throughout the world and subverts our very democracy at home. In the meantime, more than 30 million Americans lack adequate employment, millions more lack access to health care, our public education system is in shambles, and our infrastructure is crumbling. Do we really need someone on the BOS that sees things from the Pentagon’s perspective? All of this talk of “managerial efficiency” and “cost reductions” sounds to me like code for cuts in government services – and this at a time when unmet social need is at an all time high.

Note: On the budget for the military-industrial complex see Chalmers Johnson: “Defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history” (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174884).

On 30 million out of work see “The Decline: The Geography of a Recession” (http://latoyaegwuekwe.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/the-decline-the-geography-of-a-recession/).

I hesitate to get into my experience with defense acquisition. It’s pretty shallow criticism. If those two words are all you care about, Mr. Wolfe-Hunnicutt, you are perfectly free to reject me on that basis. Suffice it to say, however, that my military-related experience showed me that the Defense department and its contractors form what is easily the biggest, most unproductive waste in the country and I can cite chapter and verse for a long time on that subject. In that way, the first-hand experience is a good thing. I didn’t get into the military because I agreed with it. I got into it because in 1967 when I signed up right out of college, it was either that or the infantry in Vietnam. The rest of it is hind-sight.
In fact, for several years while in the Air Force, I worked with Barry Commoner’s St. Louis Based Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, one of the earliest and best environmental organizations in the US. This seeming contradiction confused both my fellow Air Force members as well as many of the environmentalists at the Center — as it seems to have confused Mr. Wolfe-Hunnicutt. But I saw them as related, specifically in the systems sense. Management and systems concepts apply to both and both can learn from the other. As a member of Center’s speakers bureau, I regularly met with skepticism from the groups I spoke to: some thought I was too liberal and too much of an enviro-true believer; anti-job and anti-work since I favored much tighter regulations of industry. Others thought I was too conservative since I worked in the defense industry. An independent outsider, just like now.
Currently, my national politics are much the same as Dan Hamburg’s. Like him, I’ve given up on the Democrats and have supported Ralph Nader in every election he’s run in — another political negative to the Obama-ite liberals in Mendocino County.
However, I don’t particularly want to be Supervisor. This was Dave Smith’s idea, not mine. Who would in this current financial and political climate? Most fifth district residents think like Mr. Wolfe-Hunnnicutt or have various other similarly irrelevant complaints. I’m only in this discussion because I think Mendocino County needs much better management. I’m the only one in the County with anything close to the kind of management experience I’m talking about.
It would be better if we argued about whether Mendocino County was well managed, poorly managed or managed at all.
I never said anything about advocating “cost reductions” (except perhaps in the white collar positions). I said that the current financial situation is forcing cost reductions on local governments and the only effective way to deal with them is to get on top of the way the county is run.
If you want Mendocino County to continue to be non-managed, you have plenty of candidates to choose from, including the incumbents. But don’t expect them to change the downhill slide the County is currently going in unless they are willing to do something about County management. Even the Good Things that many people in the County seem to want, cannot be done without somebody on top of them, making sure they happen, following up, holding bureaucrats accountable, especially when funds are short.
PS. Chalmers Johnson is indeed very good on the military-industrial complex. So are Winslow Wheeler, Ernie Fitzgerald, the former military officers at the Center for Defense Information, Ralph Nader, Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, Tim Weiner, Bill Blum and many others whose books I’m quite familiar with and with whom I generally agree.
But my opinion of the defense industry and its obvious waste and corruption has very little to do with Mendocino County.
PPS. If you don’t want Mendocino County to be managed efficiently, Mr. Wolfe-Hunnicutt, how do you want it to be managed?

Brandon Wolfe-Hunnicutt January 25, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Mr. Scaramella,

Despite my instinctive reaction to Mr. Smith’s presentation of your credentials in the defense industry, I have nonetheless been looking through some of your pieces in Counterpunch and agree with much of what you have to say, and can recognize that like C. Johnson, and Chuck Spinney, among others, you obviously learned some important things from working inside the “national security” complex. I’m sure that you know where quite a few bodies are buried.

The problem of managerial efficiency may, as you suggest, be the biggest issue facing the county today. I won’t pretend to have your managerial expertise, or your intricate knowledge of the budget process. But as a student of history and politics, I’ll say that I think there’s more to government than mere technical efficiency (as an aside I think this was one of the big problems of the early 1960s – the assumption that all the big questions were settled and it was simply a matter of putting the “best and the brightest” systems analysts in the right position to implement consensus. That turned into a disaster.). Government is about more than technical solutions – it’s about leadership, vision and philosophy, direction and dynamism, and yes, even values and culture.

To answer your final question directly, I would like to see the county managed humanely. All conceptions of “efficiency” flow from there.

Brandon Wolfe-Hunnicutt