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Shasta County’s rejection of a $20 million grant to build a 64-bed jail became a focal point during Tuesday’s District 1 supervisorial candidates’ forum at the Sheraton Hotel in Redding.
Sponsored by the Redding Chamber of Commerce, the forum featured incumbent District 1 Supervisor David Kehoe and challengers Missy McArthur and Joe Chimenti.
The Shasta County Board of Supervisors voted to cancel the jail expansion in January 2017, a mere three months before the scheduled groundbreaking, when Sheriff Tom Bosenko informed supervisors that the new jail would cost nearly $4 million a year to operate, a huge jump from the $1.2 million estimate he had given them earlier.
Kehoe defended the board’s action, telling the ballroom audience that as a custodian of the public’s money, “you can’t make frivolous decisions. The money wasn’t there.” Kehoe added that the county will soon be adding 60 more jail beds and even more once the new courthouse is completed.
Turning away the state grant “was not a good business decision,” said Chimenti, the executive director of the Shasta Builders Exchange. Noting the incessant demand for more jail space, Chimenti said it appears “that the county is more interested in protecting its budget than protecting the community.” His comment prompted an enthusiastic round of applause.
“I was heartbroken when the supervisors sent that money back,” said McArthur, who served on the Redding City Council for two terms. “There’s no money to staff it? You build it and figure it out.” Not unlike when Redding built and opened a library, “you roll up your sleeves and make it happen,” McArthur said.
During introductory comments, Chimenti said he grew up in a law enforcement-oriented family in New York and began his career as a cop in Colorado. The father of four said he spent 25 years in business development, working with entrepreneurs throughout the country, and has held his current position for the past four years.
A native of Redding, McArthur said she is motivated to continue her public service as Redding’s representative on the county board out of a love for her community. She said she wants to work toward revitalizing downtown Redding, fix the jail, deal with homelessness, reduce drug addiction and return the community to the safe one she enjoyed as a child.
Kehoe, who has served on the Board of Supervisors for the past 20 years, also professed a deep-seated love of Redding, where his family has been for the past 80 years. He said he’s seeking re-election to “continue a pattern of excellence in county government” highlighted by sound judgment, accountability and a track record of increasing public participation in government.
Forum moderator Jake Mangas, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer, gave each candidate two minutes to answer a series of five questions, along with time for rebuttals and closing statements.
Vision for the community and downtown Redding?
McArthur said she supports the recently approved Downtown Specific Plan and was proud to have been a part of the effort to raze the Dicker’s department store building and have it replaced with a four-story mixed-use building. “We need to work collaboratively to make things happen, and they’re already starting to happen so let’s keep it going.”
Kehoe said a safe community is essential. “I believe in a strong educational system and a diverse and thriving business environment,” he said, while emphasizing the need to take risks and be tolerant of new ideas. “We need to think of ourselves as winners,” Kehoe said before adding, in an apparent rejoinder to McArthur, that “the city and county have been cooperating for years.”
“Public safety is a must,” Chimenti said, “and entrepreneurism is the key.” When that attitude is instilled in the younger generation, others will want to come to Redding “and that’s where the economic base comes from.”
The county’s role in economic development?
Kehoe noted with pride that the board on Tuesday voted to move forward with revamping the Resource Management Department with the goal of “refreshing our leadership with a pro-development attitude.” As part of that process, Kehoe said he will form an ad hoc committee of building and development expert to provide advice and counsel.
Chimenti said it’s important for county planning staff to serve as facilitators and guide the business community through the process. California’s labyrinth of rules and regulations can’t be ignored, but they can be worked around, he said. Chimenti said he’d like to no longer hear developers talk of “dreading” the prospect of obtaining permits from the county.
McArthur said supervisors need to engage more with the Shasta Economic Development Corporation. She also expressed her support for the changes proposed for the Resource Management Department.
How to re-establish trust with the public?
McArthur said transparency is paramount, along with listening to the public and exploring options like Facebook live sessions and moving board meetings to the evening so more working people can attend.
McArthur then addressed what she called “the elephant in the room.” Specifically, the much-maligned raises she spearheaded for two managers a mere two weeks after voters soundly defeated a half-cent sales tax measure to bolster public safety.
The raises for two female department heads were two of McArthur’s last actions as mayor. They were approved in November 2016 on a 3-2 vote. McArthur said she wanted to avoid a possible lawsuit based on gender-based wage disparity. “You have to look at the big picture as a leader … it was a hard choice but it was the right thing to do.” Those raises have often been cited as the main reason voters lost confidence in local officials to properly spend the tax proceeds.
Kehoe said there’s a “crisis of confidence in government across the United States.” As an elected official, he promised to continue upholding high ethical standards and providing “a welcome and hospitable environment” for people interested in learning how their tax dollars are spent.
Chimenti said it’s hard for people to trust local government when they’re contending day and night with property theft, vandalism and other public safety threats. “We need to recognize those issues and respond to them,” Chimenti said. “If we want trust, we have to do trustworthy things.”
You can watch a video of the forum here.