Balancing the County’s Budget Deficitson the Backs of Children
By Ray A. March
From April 2, 2002 through Oct. 24, 2002
A Consolidation of Maneuvers
Three months after Donna Michelson was fired the state of California encouraged all local Children and Families Commissions to be fully independent of their county treasuries. Although Prop. 10 law mandated there would be no co-mingling of funds at the county level, local records do not show what prompted the state to take this position.
Even with the order Modoc County Supt. of Schools Carol Harbaugh was in disagreement with the state, and reluctantly supportive of the commission establishing a separate checking account from which it could make nominal draws.
Wearing the appearance of a compromise, Harbaugh wrote in an April 2 memo to her fellow commissioners that Auditor Judi Stevens told her the same day the memo was written that a separate checking account -- not a complete removal of Prop. 10 Trust Funds from the treasury -- could be established at a local bank.
“While I may have helped the commission set up the separate checking account for commission business, I want to remind members that I personally do not approve of the use of a separate checking account and the commission ‘removing’ itself from the services and resources of local public agencies and/or already established private nonprofit organizations,” Harbaugh wrote in the memo, taking credit for the partial removal of Prop. 10 funds from the county.
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On April 21 Commissioner Phillip Smith renewed the commission’s intentions of going after Rosemary Nelson with an accusation that she had a conflict of interest stemming from an application for unemployment insurance payments filed by Donna Michelson that according to Smith, was sent to Nelson’s office instead of the commission’s.
“This suggests that there exists a personal relationship between you and our former executive director that may interfere with your unbiased participation in business dealings with her,” Smith charged.
Without the suggestion of a meeting to resolve the alleged conflict of interest, Smith essentially told Nelson in the letter that she should admit her guilt.
“We ask that you acknowledge your dereliction of duty in failing to notify the other commissioners of pending action through the Employment Development Department,” Smith wrote, “and we ask that you declare your allegiance to the stated goals of the entire commission, that being the development of programs that meet the needs of our county’s children above all else.”
In effect, Smith and the commissioners were asking for a loyalty oath in complete disregard for Nelson’s fundamental rights to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
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On July 1 Nelson fired back with a two-page single-spaced letter addressed to now chair Mike Dunn, sitting on the commission as a representative of the Modoc County Board of Supervisors. She sent copies to State Sen. Rico Oller, Assemblyman Sam Aanestad, state Children and Families Commission chair Rob Reiner and Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
“It is with sincere regret that I am tendering my resignation effective immediately,” she wrote. “I have given this decision a great deal of thought and believe it would be going against the principles of my conscience to remain as a commissioner.”
As for Smith’s accusations of conflict of interest and assumption of guilt, Nelson was outraged.
“I feel my integrity and principles have been impugned by the assumption of my guilt without even talking with me,” she responded. “This is a violation of my constitutional rights,” she continued. “It sounds like the Wild West when my family had their language beat out of them for no honorable reason, but their survival insures that I have a voice that cannot be arbitrarily taken without proof of guilt.”
She then went on to blast the commission for continuing to keep the majority of Prop. 10 Trust Funds in the county treasury.
“Balancing the county’s budget deficits on the backs of children is not within my realm of principles,” she wrote in answer to the commission’s unwillingness to move Prop. 10 funds.
“We adults have responsibilities that we are woefully failing and I cannot participate in using Children’s Prop. 10 monies to balance budgets. Children do not have a vote nor do they have a voice at the table of business. They depend on our integrity.”
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On July 25, following her resignation from the Modoc County Children and Families Commission, Nelson wrote a personal letter to Attorney General Bill Lockyer reminding him of the Prop. 10 law that “no money’s in the California Children and Families First Trust Fund shall be used to supplant state or local general fund money for any purpose.”
Nelson, as it has already been shown, had copied her July 1 letter to Mike Dunn to Lockyer. The letter in which she went into specific detail exposing Modoc County’s alleged violation of Prop. 10 law.
On Aug. 2 Lockyer’s senior assistant attorney general James M. Humes responded to Nelson with a classic, innocuous and non-committal letter in which he wrote thanking Nelson for her letter.
“Please be assured that the commission and its attorneys in this office are aware of the requirements that commission funds are to be used only to supplement existing levels of services and are not to be used to supplant state or local funds,” he replied.
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The Modoc County Children and Families Commission was not finished with Donna Michelson.
On Oct. 10 Supervisor Mike Dunn, still commission chair, somehow sent her a letter with no address on it demanding repayment of $1,256.75 for work she had done that should have been paid -- not to her -- but to the commission.
Michelson replied two weeks later disagreeing with Dunn and referred him to tapes of commission meetings in which it was discussed that she and not the commission was to be compensated for the work she did.
In fact, Michelson added, “I do believe the commission owes me money,” and not the other way around.
Next: Part 30
It’s now 2009 and 2010 and the warnings keeping coming.