3 Supervisors Defy Common Sense, Public Safety, in Vote to Re-open Chambers

Wednesday afternoon Patrick Jones faces his crowd of supporters inside Board of Supervisor chambers that have been closed for in-person meetings since last month’s board resolution.

The same day that a mob of American insurgents invaded the nation’s Capitol, here in Redding newly elected Supervisor Patrick Jones overtook county chambers as his unauthorized personal gathering space for himself and his followers to drink beverages, shoot the breeze and hang out before, during and after the virtual meeting.

This was despite the board’s December resolution to shutter the chambers after a spike in COVID cases.

He was there for the Shasta County Board of Supervisors Wednesday-afternoon special meeting via Zoom.

Jones has said he doesn’t do online meetings, just as he refuses to cross the Sundial Bridge. But Wednesday he was forced to rely upon his computer if he wished to cast a vote during Wednesday’s special board meeting in favor of re-opening the board chambers. He was the lone county representative in the room. He was bundled up in a thick jacket, the Shasta County seal looming behind him.

For the second time in two days, Supervisor Patrick Jones helped himself to the officially closed board chambers, despite a board resolution that closed it last month because of a spike in COVID numbers.

Meanwhile, his four fellow colleagues attended the Wednesday virtual meeting from their respective homes or offices.

This was Jones’ second day in his new job as newly elected District 4 Supervisor. During the previous day’s regular board meeting, he made a memorable start when he  joined forces with Les Baugh, his fellow non-compliant colleague, to defy the closed-chambers resolution. On Tuesday Baugh used his official staff access to enter to the space. He then opened the doors for a mob of unmasked citizens, many of whom have been aggressive, vocal critics of the supervisors since the first pandemic mandates in the spring.

Photo by Doni Chamberlain.

The fact is, Baugh, nor Jones nor anyone else was supposed to be in the chambers Tuesday, or Wednesday, for that matter. But nobody stopped them, challenged them or even questioned them.

On Tuesday supervisors Patrick Jones, left, and Les Baugh were the only county representatives in the board chambers. Photo by Steve DuBois.

Baugh and Jones didn’t just willfully disobey an official resolution, but they invited and incited an amped-up group of citizens to join them.

Dozens of people flooded the previously closed chambers after Supervisor Les Baugh opened the doors for them. Photo by Steve DuBois.

Even the pair of Shasta County Sheriff deputies regularly seen roaming the halls of the county building seemed nonplussed regarding the occurrence of two unauthorized gatherings that happened on their watch; two consecutive days this week in chambers that were supposed to be off limits, in the very building they’re paid to monitor.

Shasta County Sheriff deputies escort Richard Gallardo from the supervisor chambers in October after his failed attempt at a citizen’s arrest of supervisors and county staff.

It’s pretty simple: Baugh and Jones wanted to hold their exclusive meetings in the closed chambers, so that’s what they did. No repercussions. No consequences.

What else is new? That’s typical of Shasta County lately, a place where many citizens thumb their unmasked noses at COVID mandates and curfews, where law enforcement leaders vow they’ll never enforce state public health mandates, and yes, where some non-compliant elected officials stoke the fire, ignore laws and do exactly as they please. All to the delight of the unmasked masses who cheer their leaders on as patriots, warriors and heroes.

This post with a picture of Patrick Jones and the words “Tornado WARNING” appeared on Facebook prior to this week’s Shasta County Board of Supervisor meetings in chambers that were supposed to be closed for in-person meetings.

Wednesday’s BOS vote to re-open board chambers

During Tuesday’s crazy-ass Shasta County BOS simultaneous dual meeting(s), supervisors Chimenti, Baugh and Jones pushed for a special meeting asap to reopen board chambers, something for which nearly every citizen in the room clamored, with some speakers shouting and demanding, and others threatening staff and county employees with words of violence that ranged from talk of bullets and ropes to cutting off the heads of snakes (the snakes being county employees and some supervisors).

The discussion ended with a 3-2 vote to hold a special meeting to see about re-opening the chambers for in-person meetings. Supervisors Rickert and Moty voted no. Baugh, Jones and Chimenti voted yes, and the motion passed. The special meeting was scheduled for the next day, allowing the legally required 24-hour public-notice period.

Then came Wednesday, and it was pretty much a slam-bam, get-‘er-done deal where it was obvious that all board members had their minds set. Supervisors Chimenti, Jones and Baugh were firmly on the side of re-opening the board chambers, while supervisors Rickert and Moty were not. The callers’ messages seemed almost a formality.

Open, open, open!

The public comment period featured 15 calls in favor of opening the chambers, with many callers providing such reasons as they needed access to the board, and they needed a place to air their grievances, and they had a right to free speech. One woman schooled the supervisors on the wonders of home delivery. She offered her solution: Healthy people and those unafraid of the virus should move freely throughout the community without masks, and those who are unwell or fearful of COVID should just stay home and order everything online. Problem solved.

The majority of the open-chambers callers seemed unaware of the irony that they were contacting supervisors during a public Zoom call … so they could complain about the lack of free-speech access to supervisors and meetings. As Supervisor Moty pointed out Wednesday, since the pandemic mandates began, supervisors had implemented yet more ways for the public to have access to the supervisors and board meetings than ever, and more ways to participate, such as email, snail mail, phone calls, recorded messages, recorded meetings and live-streaming meetings.

What a head-scratcher to listen to those messages claiming lack of access that were clearly, successfully reaching not just the supervisors, but the public, via phone call, despite the chambers not being open.

Two particularly jarring callers were loyal Jones fans, at least one of whom said he was right there in the chambers that moment with Jones. One said that by not opening the chambers, the supervisors were “derelicting” their duties. Another referred to the rest of the supervisors as cowards, traitors, criminals and scum.

“Patrick Jones is the only leader in Shasta County,” one said. “The rest of you are chicken shit.”

Do the right thing for everyone, not just the ‘unmasked minions’

While the Wednesday special meeting had 15 calls in favor of in-person board meetings, 24 callers begged the supervisors to not open the chambers for in-person meetings. They appealed to the supervisors to take the virus seriously. They reminded the supervisors of how deadly the virus is, and said the public has sufficient access to meetings and supervisors, and that opening the chambers would needlessly put lives at risk. They, too, used strong words to describe how they felt – shocked, dismayed, disgusted – about re-opening the chambers and said it would be foolhardy, preposterous, dangerous and irresponsible to do so. They implored the supervisors to “hold the line” and not give in to the “unmasked minions” and “unmasked mob”.

Something Supervisor Rickert brought up, also mentioned by a few callers, was that because the majority of people who’ve attended the board meetings since the pandemic began are those who don’t wear masks, and who do not take the virus seriously, it disenfranchises those who do take the virus seriously.

“Are we being fair to all citizens, or just to a select few?” asked Rickert. After all, she said, those who want to remain safe have the right to be inside the chambers, too.

“They want to come down and have their say,” Rickert said.

Supervisors’ rationales behind their votes

After the special meeting’s public comment period, even before the vote, it was apparent where everyone stood, and that the outcome was fait accompli. Because of that, before the vote, supervisors began discussing how – if – the resolution was indeed repealed, how things would be in the board chambers from now now.

It was as if 102-year-old granny’s on her deathbed and the family’s standing around whispering the usual after-death issues – burial, funeral, getting rid of her stuff – I mean, if she’s going to die.

Poor old vote. With Supervisor Steve Morgan gone, and Jones in Morgan’s former seat, that special little vote didn’t have a prayer of being anything except 3-2.

The supervisors hashed out the details. They agreed that if the vote passed to repeal the resolution, they’d reduce the room’s seating capacity have just 24 seats available inside the chambers. Board chair Chimenti said masks would be expected to be worn, unless of course, people had a medical reason not to wear masks.

Let us pause here for a laugh over that one. Cue the printing of a few hundred “medical exemption” cards. Ha ha. Cough cough. What a joke.

The supervisors said the overflow crowd could be in the foyer, but they should maintain proper social distancing. Plexiglass could be installed for the supervisors and county staff. County employees could also participate and watch the meetings virtually.

Chimenti’s comments about his expectations regarding masks and social distancing seemed baffling. Why would the same crowds at BOS meetings who’ve refused to wear masks and refuse to practice social distancing for the last 10 months be suddenly on board now?

(NOTE: Click here for a video of Tuesday’s Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting inside the closed chambers. It was filmed and narrated by State of Jefferson Redding rabble-rouser “Rally Sally” Rapoza. Source: Facebook.)

There’s a huge disconnect between Chimenti’s wishful thinking and the reality of the unmasked crowd’s open disregard for COVID and public health precautions.

I fear Chimenti is in for a rude awakening when he realizes the crowd will not comply with his expectations. I really hope I’m wrong.

Even so, Chimenti, as he’d said the previous day, reiterated that he takes the virus very seriously. He said he knew fatherless children who’d lost a parent to COVID. He quoted a scripture about loving your neighbor as yourself. Chimenti said that even if someone doesn’t take the virus seriously, they should consider the feelings of those who do, and they should consider how frightened that person might feel.

Chimenti said all that, but then flipped and gave all the reasons why he wanted the board chambers open for in-person meetings anyway. He listed stores such as Target and Home Depot that are open. He said board supervisors are essential workers, and the public should have access to them in person.

Supervisor Rickert delivered the sobering news that Shasta County’s Administrative building is a current COVID outbreak site. She said that opening the chambers during this time is inconsiderate to all county employees. She said unmasked people are asking for their right to speak in person at board meetings, but can we also remember Shasta County’s dead, 89 in less than one year due to COVID. What about them? (Actually, as of yesterday’s report of six more lives lost to COVID, make that 95 deaths.)

Supervisor Moty suggested that if the board voted to re-open the chambers, that the county follows the example of Redding and Anderson, where speakers are allowed in one at a time, and not allowed to linger inside in large groups.

Moty wryly told Jones he was glad to see Jones adopt and voice Moty’s earlier idea of allowing employees to opt out of the in-person meetings, and attend virtually instead. At that, Jones looked up to the side, as if hearing a small, tinny bell ring off in the distance. Just a hunch, but I’m guessing being a team player, or sharing credit and/or attribution, are not among Jones’ strong suits.

Moty said it was the supervisors’ job to protect the health and safety of the public and employees. He was concerned that those who comply with COVID precautions would feel it’s too risky to attend the public meetings, so they wouldn’t attend.

“People feel they’ll be excluded because they feel the others won’t respect their rights,” Moty said.

Jones said he liked the idea of having the foyer open, and said he recalled his days before he was a supervisor when the foyer wasn’t open, and he had to stand outside, which he didn’t appreciate.

He suggested that people who didn’t feel comfortable with in-person meetings, or who were at high risk, could stay home and watch the meetings remotely.

“For those people at risk, they can call in,” Jones said. “Mary, it sounds like you’re at risk.”

This comment came off as a thinly veiled personal jab to single out Rickert; a continuation from the previous day’s board meeting – Jones’ first – during which he said that supervisors who couldn’t do their jobs should step down.

Supervisor Baugh said that for him, in-person meetings were imperative because he needed to see people and talk in person.

“Eye contact to me and personal conversation is my entire world,” he said. “Without it I don’t think we serve well.”

Eventually, the discussions were done and it was time for the vote. As the clerk asked for each supervisor’s vote, when it came to Chimenti’s turn, he paused to say one more thing.

“Before I answer the vote count, I want to reiterate my expectation that all individuals will act maturely and responsibly as concerned citizens, that we’ll all do everything we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Chimenti said.

“And I just want to make that statement because I think it’s really important we embrace that. And with that, I’m going to say yes.”

And that was that. The vote was taken. Yes, said Chimenti, Baugh and Jones. No, said Moty and Rickert. The vote passed. The meeting was over.

Jones clapped his hands together once.

“Ta da!” he said with a laugh. “We are done.”

And yes, it looks like we are done, here in Shasta County. It boggles the mind to consider that three of five supervisors could see the merit in voting to repeal a resolution that was designed to keep the public safe by ceasing in-person supervisor meetings.

And just think, that was last month, before the surge in COVID cases and deaths that we’re seeing now. Consider that this vote was taken Wednesday, when Shasta County announced a record number of COVID deaths in one day: 10.

It’s no surprise that Baugh and Jones would vote the way they did, because they’ve openly defied COVID mandates from the get-go.

And of course, the men’s supporters are taking credit for successfully pressuring the supervisors to vote the way they did. “WE GOT THE CHAMBER OPEN AGAIN!”

Source: Facebook

And what a big baby Baugh is, to whine that his “whole world” is about eye contact, and his ability to see people and his desire to talk in person. Sure, I get it. In-person is nicer than virtually for us all. But but as the saying goes, people in Hell want ice water, Les. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we’ve not seen the worst of it. What about the loved ones of the 16 people over two days this week who died? What if their whole world was who they lost to COVID, some without ever getting to say goodbye?

Life’s about trade-offs, Les. In this case, we’re sacrificing our personal preference for in-person contact in order to keep more people alive. Seems a good trade.

And Jones, his campaign promised he’d work to open up the entire county, so opening the chambers was a no-brainer for him. He’s the guy who within his first two days of being a supervisor pulled off two lawless stunts by holding court inside closed chambers. Clearly, rules don’t apply to him, even for the tiny rules, like only drinking water in city council or county chambers (rather than Starbuck’s), or wearing masks inside the board chambers because that’s what the request says right there on the chamber doors. And if this is how he acts the first week of his supervisorial stint, hang onto your hats, my friends, because it’s going to be a rocky four years.

But Chimenti, he’s the one who continues to surprise and disappoint me. He seems so earnest when he speaks of his heart for people who’ve lost someone to COVID, and his belief that the virus is real. He quoted scripture, for Pete’s sake. He’s been a supervisor through all these months of public meetings where he’s been the recipient of some horrific threats, disrespect and name-calling. He’s well aware that the majority of people who fill the board chambers for supervisor meetings refuse to wear masks, and many mock those who do. Why is making those people happy so important? And how many are we talking – 50, 100, tops? How does pandering to the demands of that relatively small, vocal number of people compare to the tens of thousands of other citizens, scattered throughout the entire county? I just don’t get it.

Finally, as Rickert said, the county building has a current COVID outbreak. Was it worth the risk of re-opening county chambers now and increasing potential exposure for county employees who work there? Why? So less than 100 unmasked people can show up in person to yell, scream, bully, use bull horns, compare supervisors to snakes and threaten to cut their heads off?

As an aside, many of those unmasked COVID-deniers who stampede the board chambers gleefully claim there hasn’t been a problem with COVID with their group members. How would they know? You’d have to hogtie them and force a COVID test on them before they’d ever get one. And if they were sick, you can bet they’d turn blue before they’d seek medical attention.

I’d feel differently about this vote if all the people who entered the chambers complied with public health mandates, wore face coverings and maintained social distancing. But with few exceptions, they don’t. Because of that, you may have noticed that the regular folks stopped attending those meetings a long time ago. Now, the meetings have been dominated by extremists and fringe folks, not that they don’t deserve to be heard, because they do. But it’s unfair to cater to them only, while disregarding the quiet people, the lawful people, the COVID-believers, many of whom may want to address the board in person about their concerns, too.

What’s left to say, except that the majority of supervisors won that vote. It’s a sad day, because the rest of us lost.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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