On Aug. 11, Planning Director Peter Maurer recommended that the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors hire the consulting firm of Mintier-Harnish to work as sub-consultants on the Zoning Ordinance Update despite the fact that Mintier-Harnish was released from its contract to update the Calaveras County General Plan in November 2012. The current board voted unanimously to approve a contract not to exceed $169,798 with the lead consulting firm, Miller Planning Associates, and its sub-consultant, Mintier-Harnish.

According to the staff report, the services to be provided by Mintier-Harnish “under this agreement include public outreach, technical analysis, and legal consistency review.” Miller Planning Associates was the sole respondent to the Zoning Ordinance Update request for proposals, and the zoning update is one of the supervisors’ designated implementation priorities for the General Plan.

On the recommendation of then-Planning Director Rebecca Willis, the 2012 board fired Mintier-Harnish after five years and compared them to “bad mechanics.” Willis and the supervisors described the General Plan Update under Mintier-Harnish as a “death march” and a “shipwreck.” The public was told we need to remember the “lessons learned” from the Mintier-Harnish experience and, moving forward, the county would have to “fix the problems” inherited from that experience. It was alleged that Mintier-Harnish did not listen to the people during 20 public workshops or reflect the values and philosophy of Calaveras residents.

It is impossible to determine if the public would have agreed with the allegations made by Willis and the 2012 board. As the Calaveras Enterprise reported in a Feb. 5, 2016, article on attempts to make the Mintier-Harnish plan available, “Calaveras County officials have denied at least two Public Records Act requests – one from the Calaveras Planning Coalition and one from the Calaveras Enterprise – to access the draft general plan produced between 2006 and 2011 by the Mintier-Harnish planning consultant firm at a cost of more than $900,000.”

A staff attorney with the California Newspaper Publishers Association was quoted in the article as saying, “… you’re probably not going to get this document unless you sue.” Though the county maintained the draft plan no longer existed in its original form, Mintier-Harnish had retained a copy of the document and offered to produce it.

Willis further alleged that Mintier-Harnish produced a background report that was so inaccurate that she had to hire Raney Planning & Management to redo it at a cost of $50,000. As well as firing Mintier-Harnish during their November 2012 meeting, the board awarded Raney a $300,000 contract to finish the General Plan Update, but Augustine Planning Associates was later added to the mix and paid $114,000. When they were fired, Mintier-Harnish had been paid $909,236.

Willis also alleged Mintier-Harnish wanted more than the $144,000 left on their contract to finish the General Plan, which Mintier-Harnish denied in a letter to the board of supervisors after watching a videotape of the Nov. 13, 2012, board of supervisors meeting during which they were maligned. It should be noted that in that letter dated Dec. 11, 2012, Larry Mintier and Jim Harnish denied all of the county’s allegations and wrote, “We feel compelled to set the record straight in defense of our professional reputation and as a service to the current, past and future decision makers, and the people of Calaveras County.” Mintier-Harnish maintained their nearly completed draft General Plan could have been adopted “as early as Spring 2012.” Ultimately, a new plan was not adopted until Nov. 12, 2019.

The 2012 board, which included two current supervisors, Gary Tofanelli and Merita Callaway, disagreed on whether the incoming board or they should decide the fate of Mintier-Harnish. The vote to fire them was 3-2, but not one member of the 2012 board defended Mintier-Harnish. The current planning director is reported in the Enterprise article previously referenced to have also criticized the Mintier-Harnish draft plan, “Maurer said the version of the Mintier-Harnish draft he read had a lot of extraneous language, duplication of policies, and unsubstantive, feel-good statements with no real application.” 

During last month’s meeting Supervisor Callaway asked to address the subject of hiring Mintier-Harnish again, which she referred to as “the tiger in the room.” Director Maurer acknowledged there is “some history,” but he didn’t know “all the details.” However, he is “quite confident” that Mintier-Harnish “has the capabilities to perform properly.”

Supervisor Tofanelli provided more detailed remarks at the recent meeting and said, “The general plan they (Mintier-Harnish) put together didn’t even come close to the direction they were given … And then there were change orders that totaled an astronomical amount of money.” He’s hoping that doesn’t happen this time and that Mintier-Harnish will follow the direction of the board and that we don’t “end up with a product that we paid a lot of money for but cannot use,” nor, I would add, a product the public is not allowed to see. Tofanelli concluded, “So just a warning going forward.”

Thus, we are governed.

Muriel Zeller is a poet and grant writer. She is a member of the Calaveras Community Action Project Governing Committee which administers the Calaveras Planning Coalition. Contact her at murielzeller52@gmail.com.

Muriel Zeller is a poet, writer, and Valley Springs resident. Contact her at murielzeller52@gmail.com.

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