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Thumbs Down: One too many ‘acting’ chiefs at consumer bureau

So who is really at the helm of the all-important Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? It’s still unclear. But consumers can be forgiven if they’re hoping it’s not the president’s top pick, a man who once called the agency a “sick, sad” joke. Nonetheless, that individual, budget director Mick Mulvaney, showed up at the bureau on Monday carting a bag of donuts and ready to take over. At the same time, Leandra English, a career staffer whom Richard Cordray, the agency’s previous director, had appointed as his successor, sent a memo greeting agency employees and signing it “acting director.”

The U.S. Senate eventually will confirm an appointee. The question is who will serve as an interim director until then. English has a good argument for herself. The agency was created after the financial crisis of a decade ago when Congress agreed on the importance of having a strong, independent agency looking out for the interests of consumers and independent markets. Given that, Dodd-Frank clearly states that the bureau’s deputy director shall serve as acting director in the director’s “absence or unavailability.” But the Trump administration claims that under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, the president makes all appointments.

It looks like the courts will decide. Either way, the long-term prospects for the agency do not look good. This is an agency that so far has helped some 30 million consumers collect nearly $12 billion in refunds and canceled debts. But Republicans have argued that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was an overreach of constitutional authority. One of the leaders in Congress who pushed for dismantling the organization was none other than Mike Mulvaney. Thumbs down on having him in charge.

Thumbs Up: Pursuit of vacation rentals continues in Petaluma

The problem is not hard to find. You can look it up. Airbnb has 220 active listings in Petaluma. But after two years of work by city officials, how many short-term vacation rentals have secured permits with the city itself? Just 23. As a result, Petaluma is getting serious about bringing vacation rentals into compliance and has hired an outside agency to help. The city has contracted with Host Compliance based in San Francisco to help bring more of these rentals out of the shadows.

Under rules that took effect nearly two years ago, owners of vacation rentals must purchase an annual $349 permit in addition to paying a 10 percent bed tax to do business. Host Compliance, which provides similar service in some 75 cities, says it expects to bring 75 to 85 percent on short-term rentals into compliance. Thumbs up.

Thumbs Down: From an uncrackable code to an incomprehensible comment

President Donald Trump welcomed three of 13 surviving veterans of the “code talker” program to the White House on Monday to honor their service. These Navajo men used their native languages during World War II to transmit secret messages. But then Trump resorted to his own code in making the most tasteless of remarks about Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “You were here long before any of us were here,” Trump told his guests. “Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.” That’s just offensive in any language — and on so many levels.

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