A private investigator’s report proved inconclusive as to whether city of Redding employees attempted to threaten a local business with boycotts based on how its owners vote in Tuesday’s election.
The report, made public today, does not name the city employee alleged to have made threatening comments on two separate occasions in front of two other city employees, nor does it name the three business owners involved. However, Industrial Welding co-owner Rocky Largent said he has publicly confirmed that his business was the target of the alleged threats because believes it’s important to “step forward and tell the truth.”
The private investigator’s report concludes that “likely some political discussions were held,” and that it is “likely that no malice was intended by (the city employee).” The report states its findings are based on interviews and the long relationship described by both the city employee and a business owner central to the conflict.
The city launched the investigation after Shasta Builders’ Exchange CEO Kent Dagg brought a grievance to the attention of Redding City Manager Kurt Starman two weeks ago. That complaint identified two city employees and three business owners.
Because of the seriousness of the grievance, the city hired a private investigator, Shawn Watts, to conduct an investigation, Starman said.
“We were asked to investigate allegations two Sundays ago, and for the city they were very serious allegations,” Starman told anewscafe.com today. “We dealt with the issue as quickly as possible.”
The business named in the complaint against the city employees was Industrial Welding, which is owned by Rocky and Kerrie Largent and their daughter Kristin and which has long had a contract with the city. The Largents told Dagg that city workers on two separate occasions in September had mentioned that they would take city business elsewhere if the Largents voted for City Council incumbents Patrick Jones and Rick Bosetti.
The picture becomes political and confusing in a hurry.
Dagg is an outspoken supporter of both Jones and Bosetti, two City Council members up for re-election who advocate cuts to benefits and pensions paid to city employees.
The Record Searchlight reported on Oct. 22 that Industrial Metals, a sister firm to Industrial Welding, contributed $200 to Jones’ campaign and that Kerrie Largent shoots skeet with Jones at the Redding Gun Club and considers him a friend. However, the Largents don’t live within the city limits and can’t vote on the Redding City Council race.
Rocky Largent, reached by phone today, denied that he’s a political operative for Dagg or anyone else.
“I came forward not to make a court case out of it, but because it’s happening,” Largent said. “I thought it was important because there was a lot of denying that anything was going on. I thought it was important that someone step forward and tell the truth.”
Largent said he doesn’t know Jones or Bosetti and has never spoken with either of them. He added that he doesn’t wish that the city employees named in the complaint lose their jobs or suffer, but said their conduct was “stepping over the line.”
“I think it’s important that since we’re a community, we come out and air this stuff and get beyond it,” Largent said. “I don’t have a vendetta against this city employee. I’m not trying to hurt anyone, but I wish the city would have come out and let the citizens of Redding know that they’ve received a few complaints from people (about intimidation).”
Starman refused to comment as to whether any of the city employees named in the complaint had been disciplined in any manner, calling it a personnel matter.
As for the timing of the complaint, investigation and report, Starman said: “From my perspective, we try not to let the election cycle dictate how we do business. We try not to let politics influence anything. For me as city manager, it’s essential that I remain apolitical. We received the complaint and I believe we dealt with it in a straightforward, businesslike way.”
Dagg had initially offered to complain to the city on behalf of the Shasta Builders’ Exchange and keep the Largents anonymous, the Searchlight reported. But the word soon got out about their identity among Industrial Welding customers, and the Largents decided to go public with the complaint to clear the air before the investigation was complete.
That’s a point Rocky Largent confirmed to anewscafe.com.
“It’s important to step forward,” Largent said. “If I said it to Kent Dagg, I’ll say it out loud (publicly). Being a small-business employer, if you have one employee who does something that’s out of line, then you talk to the employee and ask their side. When you’ve got both sides, you say ‘let’s work this out.’ If something was wrong, you say, ‘look, this is going to stop right now.”
In the complaint allegation, the three business owners allege that a city employee made statements such as “Where are your Jones and Bosetti signs?” and “How would the business owners around town like it if the city stopped doing business with them if they vote for the two?” The complaint also indicated that the employee said that the fire department was sending people to Tea Party meetings to see who was supporting conservative candidates.
Under the heading of “findings,” the private investigator’s report summarized that the city employee in question had a long relationship with the business owners and may have meant the comments “to be a joke rather than a threat.”
But Rocky Largent said it’s hard to interpret anything as a joke, considering how awful the recession has been and how intense the current political season has been.
“We’ve had more than two years of a terrible business environment,” Largent said of the economic situation. “I don’t believe there are any jokes being told out here.
“That said, I weld for a living and I’m not trying to hurt anyone. Let’s take a good look at our community. We’re all going to have to slow down after Tuesday and live with the results of this. No matter who gets elected, there’s a huge public sector deficit and it’s not going anywhere. Whoever gets in there is going to have to deal with it.”
Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com