Yesterday it was like a North State version of “Lord of the Flies” inside the Shasta County Board of Supervisors chambers, a room officially closed to in-person meetings since last month.
There was no board chair presiding over this unsanctioned meeting. No gavel. No clear-headed grown-up in charge to ensure a modicum of civility or decorum, both of which would have come in handy when renowned anti-masker and supreme trouble-maker Vladislav Davidzon verbally eviscerated veteran KRCR reporter Mike Mangas.
Davidzon directed his personal tirade at Mangas while the senior KRCR professional held his camera mere feet from the lectern where Davidzon stood, yelling accusations at Mangas about his son, Jake Mangas, CEO of the Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce. As Mangas left the room, members of the audience jeered and shouted at him.
Times like that a gavel would have been nice.
If not a gavel, then perhaps supervisors Patrick Jones or Les Baugh could have intervened, since they were the only county representatives and elected leaders present. But no. They sat there and didn’t say a word.
Here in the Shasta County Twilight Zone, more and more mandatory rules seem optional, with no consequences. Since spring, Baugh has gleefully defied the rules, and along the way, by word and deed he’s encouraged his followers to do the same. Most recently, he didn’t just look the other way when the public came into the closed chambers yesterday, but he opened the damn doors for them. He set up the stunt by posting his plan on Facebook days earlier, and his intentions to be in the board chambers. That information was shared and re-shared, such as in this post by “Rally Sally” Rapoza.
Expecting fireworks? Good grief.
It’s mind-boggling to see these blatant actions of defiance from Baugh, an elected official, a county supervisor, who was on the board that voted last month to close the chambers because of a spike in COVID numbers. Where are the repercussions for an elected leader who breaks the very rule his own board voted to implement?
Is it OK for other board members or county staff to only choose to comply with their favorite rules? May I please ignore the stupid rule about drinking and driving? How about letting my 10-year-old grandson sit in the front seat, rather than in the back?
Jones’ actions on his first day as a supervisor delivered a preview of the kind of supervisor he’ll be, and it’s not a pretty picture. And Baugh, the moment he went against the wishes of his fellow board members and defied a vote they’d taken a few weeks ago, well, it just showed us more of who this man is, someone who professes to be a man of God, a pastor.
Both men’s actions set into motion a meeting with rhetoric as charged as ever, with open hostility for county staff, especially public health officials. Some threats contained words about bullets and ropes, captured vividly in a KRCR video by Mike Mangas.
“When the bullet box is gone, there is only the cartridge box,” said one man in a green plaid shirt. “You have made bullets expensive, but luckily for you, ropes are reusable.”
One elderly man referred to county leaders as snakes, whose heads should be removed. Here in Shasta County, that level of discourse has become standard fare during board of supervisor meetings.
For the first two hours, it was primarily a live public comment period that featured the usual cast of motley characters who lined up to shout, scold, shame and lecture the supervisors.
There were the regular ‘patriots’, the anti-maskers, religious zealots, science-deniers, strict Constitutionalists, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, militia members and State of Jefferson believers.
There were also earnest parents, veterans, grandparents, business people and even a few kids. Nearly every person who spoke, most bending down to talk into a cell phone, hurled insults and criticism to not just select supervisors, but media, the governor, the county’s health officer, Anthony Fauci and county leadership.
The prevailing message was to demand supervisors open the board chambers and the county.
Meanwhile, the official supervisors’ meeting was in progress, broadcast via Zoom to county staff and supervisors’ respective homes and offices. During this time, the general public had their usual access options. They could either see the meeting via live streaming video, or watch a recorded version later at their leisure. Likewise, myriad opportunities existed for citizens to communicate with the elected representatives and staff by way of email, live phone calls and/or recorded messages.
Perhaps I missed them in the large unmasked crowd, but I failed to see any law-enforcement presence in the room, which seemed a potential liability of sorts for the county, considering this was not an authorized event, and considering the meeting was actually being held elsewhere. I feel silly now to recall my conversation with two deputies I’d encountered earlier in the lobby, a pair I recognized as the same deputies who’d escorted a man from a board meeting after his failed attempt to perform a citizen’s arrest on all the supervisors and county staff. I asked a few questions of the deputies: Had they heard some people planned to go into the chambers, despite it being closed: Yes. What was their plan, in the event that one of the supervisors opened the doors? No plan. They walked away, and that was the last I saw of them.
Judging by all the hype on social media the last few days about the shit-show and “fireworks” that would surely ensue at the board chambers Tuesday, I’d envisioned citizens storming the room, forcing their way in. This proved to be unnecessary, as when I arrived at the front of the building about 8:45 a.m., the chamber doors were already wide open, and most of the available seats were taken. (By available I mean that months ago many of the chairs were removed to ensure social distancing.) So while the majority of the people inside didn’t sit, they did stand, shoulder to shoulder.
Aside from five media members who wore masks, you could count the remaining mask-wearers on less than one hand among the dozens of people crowded in the back of the room.
Ironically, the room that had been closed to protect the public had inadvertently become a poster child for a potential super-spreader event as unmasked, openly non-compliant people crammed into a space for hours among other unmasked people, talking, shouting and laughing. The perfect potential COVID playground.
There was no need for anything as dramatic as storming of doors Tuesday, because District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh, one of the two ‘no’ votes last month against closing the chambers, used his secure staff access to the room and opened the doors wide from the inside, much to the delight of his adoring fans and supporters.
It was a surreal situation – similar to the sensation of being inside an empty school on the weekend. Only two supervisors were at the huge curved dais: Jones and Baugh.
For a few minutes Jones moved from chair to chair, Goldilocks style, seemingly on the hunt for the just-right spot for wireless reception for his laptop, going from Chair Mary Rickert’s seat, to Supervisor Leonard Moty’s seat to former Supervisor Steve Morgan’s seat. Jones finally settled upon sitting next to Baugh and sharing Baugh’s computer, which served as the only amplified device for the entire room for the rest of the meeting.
After the live public comment portion of the meeting finally came to a close after nearly two hours, most everyone left, except a few stragglers, as soon as the recorded public comment calls were played – many in support of maintaining the county closure. Hoots of laughter and shouts were heard from the departing audience.
“Here come the calls from San Francisco and Sacramento!”
And with that, the majority of the people gathered outside in the winter sunshine to chat.
Jones’ wife returned to the almost empty chambers with a tray of Starbuck’s drinks for herself, Jones and Baugh. What an interesting alliance, since Baugh openly endorsed Steve Morgan in the last election, not Jones.
Forget the election. That’s over. It became quickly apparent that with Jones as the new supervisor, a cosmic shift has occurred and the former days of so many 4-1 rational votes – with Baugh being the lone wolf no vote – were over. There’s a new supervisor on the board, and Jones has a reputation for going rogue, swimming upstream and ruffling feathers. During this first meeting, he asserted himself early on as not one to accept status quo, even during the consent calendar portion of the meeting when he dissented with a laundry list of items on the calendar, about which Jones said he would either recuse himself or vote against.
A random guy from the audience sat in the chair usually occupied by county counsel. None of the requisite sound or recording systems were in place, either, because there was no real meeting there. But what felt most strange was the human absence of the supervisors and county staff.
Soon after the meeting’s start, it dawned upon the group’s leaders that minus the county’s usual tech support, there was no way for those inside the board chambers to hear what was happening during the Zoom meeting, and no way in place for citizens to speak to the board, since the lectern’s microphone was disabled. For a few minutes there was a chorus of cell phone screeches, static and feedback as various people tried to cue up the live streaming meeting on their phones. In the end, Baugh’s computer served as the sound source, and someone’s cell phone allowed live speakers to reach the online meeting.
Elissa McEuen, best known as the “bullhorn lady” from one of her earlier star performances outside the supervisor chambers during the early shutdowns, served as the de facto leader and directed people where to stand, when to speak, and which phone to use.
For months her supporters and followers have urged her to run for office, and clearly, she was in her element as the chief defiance hostess; The One in Charge.
Even the Pledge of Allegiance was weird, starting with the fact that there were two in a row because of a technical issue that arose when some people on the Zoom call couldn’t hear the first pledge. Both times the crowd yelled out the Pledge, with one man punching the air with his fist as he recited the words.
“With liberty! And justice! For ALL!”
What made this meeting even more noteworthy is it was an inauspicious first day on the job as supervisor for newly elected District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones. Jones is well-known in Shasta County for a variety of reasons. He manages Jones’ Fort Gun Shop, and served two terms on the Redding City Council. Jones is also renowned for his refusal to walk across the then newly constructed Sundial Bridge, because he didn’t like the project. What’s more, Jones’ latest campaign to replace incumbent Steve Morgan was impressively funded to the tune of $100,000 by controversial former land developer Reverge Anselmo. Now, he’s falling on his sword again, but this time it’s as a county supervisor who says he doesn’t do online meetings. His supervisor campaign platform assured voters he would do everything in his power to fully open Shasta County, despite the pandemic.
Here’s what Baugh said about Jones in a recent Facebook post:
“Supervisor Jones won his seat with the backing of a very vocal MAJORITY. A huge majority vote? You don’t get elected by minorities. Do you have any idea what it takes to unseat a sitting supervisor? It takes a community issue that clearly unites the electorate. Mr. Jones ran on one primary issue, “Open our county.” The electorate responded by casting an overwhelming majority of votes in favor of Supervisor Jones and his platform. #TheMajorityHasSpoken
During the meeting, Jones went for the jugular and drove into the heart of the matter regarding his belief that the supervisor meetings should be held in-person, despite the pandemic, despite staff and county representatives who may have health issues. Without naming names, he gunned for supervisors who were too afraid of the virus to hold in-person meetings, and said therefore, those supervisors were not doing their jobs, and should step down. Supervisor Moty took Jones to task over the comment, and said it was inappropriate.
Chair, chair, who wants the chair?
To add to the craziness of the morning, this was the day when Mary Rickert’s one-year term as chair expired, and the chair title would rotate to a new supervisor. Were it not for the election results, the chair position would have fallen to former Supervisor Steve Morgan, but he lost his seat to Jones, who presently lacks the seniority to hold that position yet. After Morgan, Baugh was next in the rotation line-up, but when the topic arose that it was his turn to be chair, Baugh inexplicably declined to accept the title. At some point Jones joked that if nobody wanted to be chair, he’d take it. Eventually it was agreed that District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti, the vice-chair, would assume the chair position, which is exactly what happened, and Chimenti chaired the remainder of the meeting, which lasted nearly six hours.
It’s puzzling that Baugh, a confirmed extrovert, a guy who basks in the limelight and rarely misses an opportunity to toot his own horn and boast about his good works and awesomeness, declined an opportunity as board chair, which carries with it a fair amount of prestige. However, the job also comes with a considerable degree of pressure, demands and added responsibility. There are speculations that Baugh’s health issues that began a few months ago, which he’s chronicled on social media, have left him too depleted to assume the added burden of a board chair position. That’s one plausible explanation for why he’d pass the chair baton to someone else. However, if that does end up being the case, will Jones then step in and suggest Baugh step down, if he’s unable to do his job? Just wondering.
What do you know, Joe?
For a few months now, Vladislav Davidzon has openly singled out and taunted Supervisor Joe Chimenti, repeatedly warning the supervisor that if he doesn’t get with the program and buck the county’s current state-mandated COVID compliance, Davidzon will not just lead Chimenti’s recall, but would take Chimenti’s seat.
Chimenti is more finessed and measured than Jones and Baugh, yet as each month progresses he’s showing himself as a man adept at walking precarious tightropes and fine lines that sometimes leave people on both sides scratching their heads and wondering exactly which side he’s on.
For example, although Chimenti participated in the meeting via Zoom on Tuesday with supervisors Rickert and Moty, and although he did not join Jones and Baugh in the unauthorized chamber meeting, he volunteered on the Zoom call that he wanted to reopen the chamber for in-person meetings again.
Walking that fine line, he emphasized that he believes the virus is real, and that it’s important to keep people safe, but he also believed it was possible to reopen the meetings safely by requiring masks for those who attend meetings, and ask for them to adhere to social distancing. He added that Plexiglass could be installed in front of staff and supervisor seats for added protection.
Plexiglass aside, the rest of what Chimenti said about public safety measures during the BOS meetings was an almost laughable consolation, since, for the most part, the masses who’ve attended the supervisor meetings since spring have largely ignored and even mocked all public safety recommendations. Chimenti knows that. He’s seen it with his own eyes. He’s heard them with his own ears.
There’s a little alcove at of the back of the board chambers that contains agendas, pens and a box of face coverings. Judging by the number of people who attended the meeting without wearing a mask, it appears that here in Shasta County, despite all the education and resources, the sad truth is you can lead a person to a mask, but you can’t make them wear one.
But back to Chimenti. At another point, much later in the meeting, there was a rather complex and tense discussion regarding COVID money that went to securing housing for an especially vulnerable population comprised of homeless, elderly citizens. In the end, five houses were identified, bought, remodeled and inhabited in Shasta Lake City and Anderson for three residents per home. As successful as that sounds, both Shasta Lake and Anderson city leaders cried foul and said they were left out of the loop, and were displeased that they were not consulted earlier in the process about the project, rather than after it was a done deal. Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency was the lead department, which pitched the project to the board in the summer, with unanimous board approval.
Donnell Ewert, HHSA director, apologized for the lapses in communication, and explained what led to the mistakes.
But that wasn’t good enough for Baugh, who has made no secret about his great disdain for Ewert and his department. Baugh publicly chastised Ewert at great length during the meeting, putting all the blame at Ewert’s feet, despite the fact he voted his approval for the project. Baugh then went on to list other ways in which Baugh believed Ewert was a problem. It was nearly as hard to watch as when Davidzon dressed down Mangas.
Supervisor Rickert came to Ewert’s defense, said he had a good heart, and had done a lot of good for the county, especially during such trying times. She said we all make mistakes, and the last perfect person had been crucified. Supervisor Moty agreed with Rickert, and praised Ewert’s work.
Chair Chimenti, on the other hand, did not join Moty and Rickert in defense of Ewert. He took a more passive position, saying that lessons were learned from the experience.
Regarding the issue of re-opening the supervisor chambers for in-person meetings, not only did Chimenti say he wanted the chambers open, despite the pandemic, but hinted that he had some upcoming ideas regarding the county closures, too.
For what it’s worth, sources have reported that Chimenti has met with Elissa McEuen on a few occasions, which begs a couple of questions: What new information could Chimenti possibly learn from McEuen in private that he – everybody, really – doesn’t already know from months’ worth of her verbose speeches delivered at nearly every single board meeting since spring, and on regular social media videos? Does Chimenti also meet with other prominent dissenters, such as Carlos Zapata, Davidzon, State of Jefferson expert Terry Rapoza and his wife “Rally Sally” Rapoza? Perhaps the answer is yes, he does. If not, why not?
Special meeting today decides fate of in-person board meetings
Finally, the biggest demand from the dissatisfied members of the public Tuesday was to open the chambers, and, of course, the county, immediately. With that in mind, during Tuesday’s meeting Baugh, Chimenti and Jones discussed the fastest way to consider reopening the chambers to in-person meetings, something the three wanted done sooner than later. The idea of a special meeting was put to a vote that passed. Baugh, Jones and Chimenti voted yes. Rickert and Moty said no.
Of course, members of the public can choose to not attend any in-person meetings -authorized or not – if they believe it’s too risky to be surrounded by maskless citizens who defy public health mandates, people like those at Tuesday’s meeting who called the pandemic a hoax, a “plandemic” or a “damndemic”.
But where does that leave county staff and supervisors who share those same concerns, if their jobs require them to attend those meetings, or to work inside a building where they may encounter those who don’t follow public safety protocols? Is it fair that they risk exposure to the virus by individuals who refer to masks as face diapers, people who hold mask-burning events, and who have vowed to never be tested or vaccinated?
Today at 3:30 p.m. the board member will hold their special board meeting to decide whether to allow in-person meetings again. As with the other BOS meetings since last month, this meeting will be held via Zoom.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Jones and Baugh will once again open the chamber doors and allow the people in as they did Tuesday, or if they’ll join Moty and Rickert online.
I don’t know about you, but I won’t take that bet. More and more in Shasta County, living here feels like a gamble. The stakes are high, but the risks are higher.