MENDOCINO Co., 10/7/21 — No action was taken during a recent budget workshop presented to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning, but elected officials voiced support for increasing funding in the sheriff’s budget to hire more deputies and keep up with rising costs imposed by natural disasters. Sheriff Matt Kendall said there are “lateral hires” of officers from other police agencies in progress, spurred in part by competitive salaries and new incentives to help compete with neighboring counties. There’s a shortage of deputies but recruiting efforts appear to be having some impact, according to Kendall.
‘We will continue on this positive trend of hiring, it’s just we’ve got to stay in the trenches and make sure we get the absolutely best people that we can hire hired,” Kendall told the board, toward the end of a presentation from his staff. “We’re not going to lower our standards, that never works for anyone.”
The workshop was placed on the agenda for Tuesday’s special meeting at the request of District 1 Supervisor Glenn McGourty, to help the board better understand which parts of the sheriff’s budget are and are not predictable — a big-picture question raised in the ongoing fight over Kendall’s attempt to pay the sheriff’s Information Technology staff salaries with emergency funds, when the county passed a budget moving those positions out of the MCSO and into a unified IT department. Much of the presentation, however, dealt with funding for overtime costs associated with natural disasters like wildfires. In the last few years those have had major impacts on the sheriff’s budget — which Kendall has called “structurally underfunded” in court filings.
“I see the sheriff’s budget growing at a greater rate than our county revenue,” District 5 Supervisor Ted Williams remarked. “If we’re not providing adequate service today, what more do you need, when do you need it, what’s the cost? And then there’s a followup for the board to see how that fits in with our future budgets. It may be that we have to make hard decisions.”
McGourty pointed out that budgeting for manpower appears to be a challenge, particularly around overtime expenses. The sheriff’s office has spent more money on overtime than they had budgeted for it in each of the last three years, due in part to staffing shortages. Unfilled positions mean that when crises occur, deputies have to work more overtime than they might elsewhere at a fully staffed agency.
“We all care about an effective response when someone is in trouble,” McGourty said. “Our emergencies are varied but people are depending on us.”
This was the latest episode in an ongoing clash over control of the sheriff’s Information Technology department. Kendall took the board to court this summer, asking Judge Ann Moorman to appoint attorney and longtime personal friend Duncan James to represent the MCSO in litigation with the county over whether the sheriff could spend emergency funds on IT salaries. That was Kendall’s bid to sidestep efforts to streamline the county’s information technology by unifying IT staff across county agencies into a single IT department. Kendall argued in court that IT personnel outside the MCSO had not been properly vetted and could not be trusted with access to sensitive information related to investigations, informants and federal partners like the FBI.
Moorman found that a conflict of interest exists, meaning Kendall cannot be adequately represented by attorneys from the office of the County Counsel, but did not appoint a specific attorney to do the job during a hearing Sept. 13. A subsequent hearing took place Sept. 15, but minutes state that the court ordered the transcript of that 36-minute proceeding to be sealed. No ruling was issued, but no additional hearings appear to be scheduled in the case file, leaving the final disposition of the sheriff’s case unclear for now.
Meanwhile, the board seems to be pursuing a different solution: ending the impasse by reworking the sheriff’s budget with room for IT staffing, and possibly other concessions. No action was taken by the board during Tuesday’s informational budget workshop, but Williams asked Kendall and his staff to come back with a model budget.
“What I would be hoping to learn is what you need,” Williams said. “I imagine you could use our entire budget and that wouldn’t be enough.”
“We can come up with a realistic number of what it would cost to be fully staffed, but there are some other things that are attached to that including, ‘is Mendocino County going to have enough housing so that people we hire actually have a place to be?’ There’s little things like that that constantly come up when we look at hiring,” Kendall said.
This matter will likely go before the board again, but a date has not been set. The next Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19. An agenda for that meeting will be posted on the county’s website when it becomes available.