A few strange things happened Tuesday at the Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting.
But before we examine the meeting’s most bizarre parts, I’d be guilty of burying the lead if I didn’t share one of the most stunning developments.
You may recall two occasions last week when Shasta County Supervisors Les Baugh and Patrick Jones unlawfully opened board chambers and allowed the public inside an off-limits space that had been shuttered by supervisors in a Dec. 15 vote after a surge in COVID cases.
The pair’s first act of shared defiance was Tuesday.
The second was Wednesday, when Jones repeated the previous day’s performance during what was supposed to be a virtual special board meeting.
Ironically, the Wednesday meeting was scheduled specifically for a vote to decide whether to repeal the previous board resolution against in-person meetings. This was a strange move on Jones’ part, because clearly, he’d gained entry into the chambers precisely so he could participate a call, arranged just for this vote, submitted while he was breaking a rule to be inside that room. Both actions were in violation of last month’s board-approved resolution.
He’d only been a supervisor for one day for his first infraction, and two days for his second. Way to make a first impression, Mr. Jones.
The unauthorized chamber openings were planned, and widely promoted via social media.
After the misbehaving duo’s dirty deeds were done, it seemed as if there would be no consequences whatsoever for Baugh and Jones’ behavior. That’s status quo for Shasta County during this pandemic, so most people weren’t surprised.
However, in an unexpected move Tuesday, Supervisor Leonard Moty said he’d like to place an item on the next board agenda regarding those very actions, with possible censure, or other options. Without referring to either Baugh or Jones by name, Moty asked how it was possible that two board members were able to overrule a board resolution. Moty said that if the board were to allow two supervisors to overrule the board, then why bother having a board.
The matter of putting that item on the agenda was put to a vote. No surprise, Jones voted no, and supervisors Moty and Rickert voted yes. Chimenti also — eventually — voted yes, but not before explaining that he was supportive of any board member who wants to put something on the agenda, whether it’s relevant or not, or whether Chimenti personally agrees with it or not. But yes, Chimenti voted yes.
At first, it seemed puzzling when Baugh also voted in favor of placing Moty’s item on the next board agenda. But perhaps it’s because the topic offered Baugh a superb grandstanding opportunity in which he defended his actions, and described himself as God-fearing. Baugh said he welcomed the conversation, and snarkily told Moty he didn’t work for him, but those who elected him into office.
Moty explained to Chimenti that the real issue wasn’t whether Jones and Baugh had gone into the closed chambers, but that the board had previously voted to close those chambers. Moty spoke of the rule of law, and hypothetically asked why have board meetings, if supervisors just do whatever they want.
More good questions.
Supervisor Rickert asked county counsel Rubin Cruse Jr. to clarify the resolution in question, to which Cruse responded that yes, the board had voted on Dec. 15, 2020, to pass the resolution to cease in-person meetings. Cruse confirmed that the resolution had been fully in effect until it was repealed on Jan. 6.
Something that wasn’t mentioned was the fact that Baugh and Chimenti had voted against that Dec. 15 resolution, but Jones wasn’t yet a board member when that vote took place. Rather, at the time, former board member Steve Morgan had joined the affirmative votes for the resolution with Moty and Rickert. Chimenti only revisited the topic after Morgan lost his seat to Jones in the November election. Clever.
There’s no telling what will happen with regard to this item during the next board meeting. But to play it safe, perhaps somebody should take away Jones’ and Baugh’s access to not just the board chambers, but any county spaces. They’ve proven themselves to be about as trustworthy with those high-security areas as a couple of drunken frat boys with keys to their daddies’ liquor cabinets.
Back to the matter of the previously closed board chambers. Afterward, there was a great hue and cry from an angry segment of the public who complained bitterly about interruption to in-person meetings, pandemic be damned.
During the Jan. 6 board meeting, supervisors Moty and Rickert remained true to their previous Dec. 15 votes, and voted not to repeal the resolution that banned in-person board meetings. The day of that repeal vote was especially noteworthy considering it was the very day when Shasta County delivered the sad news about a record-breaking 10 deaths, the highest number of reported deaths in one day since the pandemic began.
Seemingly oblivious to the increasing number of people sick, hospitalized and dying from the coronairus in Shasta County, supervisors Baugh, Jones and Chimenti threw COVID-19 caution to the wind with their 3-2 vote to re-open the chambers.
But before Wednesday’s special-meeting decision whether to re-open the chambers, after Chimenti claimed to take the pandemic seriously, he soberly outlined his expectations for the newly opened board chambers. For example, Chimenti expected reduced room occupancy, with just 24 seats available for audience members. Likewise, he expected those people outside the chambers inside the foyer to maintain proper social distancing. Finally, he expected everyone who entered the board chambers to wear masks; public health rules that have been posted inside and outside the board chambers for months.
Of course, here in this county, where law enforcement leaders refuse to actually enforce public health mandates, inquiring minds wondered who would enforce Chimenti’s expectations. I supposed it was within the realm of possibility that Chimenti, who’s spoken with pride – before, during and after his campaign – about the number of police officers in his family, would take charge as board chair, call out rule-breaking members of the audience, and insist they comply with the rules, or leave.
I’d pay to watch that.
Regarding law enforcement, am I the only one who finds it crazy that the county pays a private security company to be on guard outside the board meetings, when the county has Shasta County Sheriff deputies? Looking on the bright side, the good news is these guys wear face coverings, a rarity among local law enforcement.
Moving along …
Following last week’s vote where Baugh, Jones and Chimenti moved to repeal the resolution that shuttered the chambers, and in anticipation of Tuesday’s maiden re-opening of the board chambers, there were rumors and rumblings on social media of how the previously angry public would react to their newly opened chambers and Chimenti’s explicit expectations.
Judging by the new signs on the chamber doors Tuesday that said no outside seating could be brought into the board chambers, no doubt one rumor had reached county staff about those who might arrive with folding chairs in defiance of the limited seating.
Granted, in most communities, those signs might seem an unorthodox presence inside an average county board chamber, but here in Shasta County, where news of the weird seems to breed faster than stray cats in Caldwell Park, anything is possible during supervisor meetings. Failed attempts at citizens’ arrest of county staff and board members? Check. Bullhorns and waving American flags? Check. A tall guy dressed like Captain America? Check? Threats of violence to county staff and elected officials? Check. An attempt to ignite a face covering? Check.
And just think, those are just things that happened inside the chambers. We have neither the time nor space to expound on other Shasta County cringe-worthy pandemic-era shindigs, such as Les Baugh’s haircut stunt, a Mother’s Day rodeo, a plague-rat Christian super-spreader concert, and other memorable events.
Oh, Shasta County!
The rumors about chairs never panned out, and nobody brought chairs from the outside. But even if someone had, extra chairs would have been unnecessary. As it turned out Tuesday, only about a dozen people showed up to the board meeting, scattered among the available chairs, with seating to spare. There was no overflow crowd in the foyer, either.
The skimpy audience begged the question: Where were all the livid people who’d complained so vociferously for weeks on end about the injustice of the lack of in-person access to board members?
Suddenly, like a cat who enjoys the thrill of the hunt, but loses interest in the mouse once it’s dead and lifeless, once the chambers were finally opened, just a smattering of people showed up to experience the thrill of their hard-fought success.
But skimpy audiences or not, if Tuesday’s meeting is any indication of future board meetings, we can expect chamber seats filled with unmasked people, inside a room where those who do take the virus seriously would not dare set foot. Consequently, these meetings now cater to those who ignore the public health mandates. The remaining citizens have no choice but to watch online.
All the peaceful people
Another Tuesday surprise was that during the public comment period the majority of speakers were mostly civilized, with nary a single threat, or even so much as a thinly veiled reference to lynchings or shootings. Sure, there were the meetings’ usual mentions of government fakery, toxic vaccines, face diapers, Socialism, Marxism, etc., etc., etc., but all in all, by Shasta County standards, things were fairly tame.
Perhaps the recent Los Angeles Times story embarrassed some folks into taking things down a notch and minding their p’s and q’s.
Either way, the majority of Tuesday’s in-person speakers expressed satisfaction about the reopened chambers, followed by requests to focus on opening the entire county to pre-COVID times, sans any restrictions. One mother asked that the supervisors offer night meetings, so she could attend. Another woman said the virtual board meetings weren’t an option for people like her, who live in rural areas with spotty wireless service. Two women quibbled over Chimenti’s use of scripture with regard to the Golden Rule. Some people voiced approval for Chimenti’s previous mention of a town-hall Q&A-style meetings, where the public could pose questions to staff and officials. A child spoke against “muzzling” kids, and asked for the chance to play sports again. Many people thanked supervisors Baugh, Jones and Chimenti for making it possible to meet in person again. One man said he refused to thank supervisors, because they were doing their job.
Everyone wasn’t a fan of the re-opening. In a comment phoned in Tuesday morning, one man pointed out that Baugh, Jones and Chimenti were all maskless during the meeting. This was true, despite Chimenti’s earlier expectations of face coverings worn inside the chambers; despite the fact that signs that require face coverings are posted liberally throughout the county administrative building. Oh, and for what it’s worth, the county building has been the site of its own virus outbreak among staff.
On a related note, someone shared an email she sent to Chimenti regarding this very subject, along with his reply.
To Joe Chimenti: “Allowing the spectators to be in the chamber today without masks was a betrayal to all of the community that you were elected to protect. You should resign now.
From Chimenti: “People are required to wear masks unless exempted by State Mandate. Exemptions include medical. Hope this is helpful.”
While I cannot speak for this person, let me say this: No, Joe, this is not helpful.
What made Tuesday’s meeting even more bizarre was that it was divided between in-person and virtual participants. So while Baugh, Chimenti and Jones had the entire dais to themselves, every other county representative participated virtually.
Technical difficulties galore
If you’re familiar with the 1969 film, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” then you’ll have a feel of what Tuesday’s meeting felt like, not because of the speakers, or even the meeting’s length (which lasted more than six hours, once again). Rather, what made the meeting nearly insufferable was the fact that it had numerous technical difficulties. There were portions of the audio feed coming from supervisors Baugh, Jones and Chimenti that were so garbled that they were nearly impossible to decipher. At one point supervisor Moty asked for a break to repair to the glitches because it would be inappropriate to vote on matters when the supervisors were unable to communicate.
So unnecessary! Clearly, the only county folks who felt comfortable in the board chambers were the three amigos (Baugh, Jones and Climenti), while a host of the other staff and supervisors were meeting just fine online. All the special hoop-jumping and technical maturations to accommodate that trio, for in-person meetings that draw mask-mocking citizens, which in turn repels everyone else.
Throughout the meeting there were technical fits and starts and stops and reboots. But in the end, county business did prevail. (Whatever the board clerk is paid, it’s not enough.)
Before I get to the other board business, riddle me this: Remember how Chimenti revisited the topic of re-opening board chambers not even one month after the board’s resolution? If these open meetings prove a disaster, and if Chimenti can’t charm the audience into complying with his expectations, then why can’t the board revisit a vote to undo the resolution’s repeal, and vote again for the original closed-chambers resolution? Does that make sense? Just a thought.
What else happened Tuesday?
• The board voted 4-1 to purchase the former Black Bear Diner headquarters to use as additional office space for Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency. Jones cast the lone no vote, saying he’d prefer the money went to jail space.
• The board voted 3-2 to add Shasta County’s name to a list of other counties signing onto a Healthy Communities Resolution that chafes at what the authors refer to as the state’s “one-size-fits-all” COVID mandates. Supervisor Rickert strongly encouraged the board to proceed slowly, and avoid putting Shasta County at risk of negative repercussions from the state.
“I think it’s imperative we table it,” Rickert said, adding that she’d just spoken that morning with Sen. Brian Dahle, one of the resolution’s creators, who’d said that few counties had responded.
“It doesn’t hurt us to wait a week or so … I really think we need to tread carefully and do more research,” Rickert said. “I’m adamant.”
Supervisor Moty agreed with Rickert. The other three supervisors did not. The resolution passed.
• Chair Chimenti had mentioned at a previous board meeting an idea he and Shasta County CEO Matt Pontes had talked about regarding town-hall-style meetings for the public to have access to county staff and supervisors with questions, much in the same format as Shasta County HHSA’s weekly Media Briefings. Board members chatted about it, and concluded that proceeding with this idea didn’t require a board vote, but rather, it was something similar to public events Supervisor Rickert has held in her district after fires. Just offer the meetings when needed.
Even so, Supervisor Rickert asked about the wisdom and appropriate timing of suggesting these public in-person meetings now, considering the current public health mandates that ban large gatherings during the pandemic.
Chimenti said the meetings could require the same public health practices requested for board meetings.
Forgive me for being Doni Downer, but unless a miracle occurs and all of Shasta County becomes born-again mask-believers, we already know how successful that will be.
What struck me as odd is that Chimenti used the HHSA Media Briefings as an example of the model he envisioned, except instead of media asking questions, the public could ask panelists questions. The thing is, those HHSA meetings are not in person. They’re all online. Why couldn’t the same virtual format be implemented with Chimenti’s town hall meetings? What’s the magic in having them in person during a pandemic?
• During what should have been a bright spot in the meeting arose the agenda item about a Housing and Community Action Program’s “No Place Like Home” program for the development of permanent supportive housing for the seriously mentally ill who are homeless, the chronically homeless or those at risk of chronic homelessness. HHSA director Donnell Ewert provided the presentation, which included mention of project partners Hill Country Community Clinic, ADK Properties and the McConnell Foundation.
Baugh praised the project. Rickert said it was near and dear to her heart.
Jones didn’t like the project, for a few reasons, including the location (near the RABA station), and because the public wasn’t informed, a point contradicted by Ewert, who said there had been many meetings about the project.
Eventually, Jones, on his one-week anniversary as a Shasta County Supervisor, weighed in with, “McConnell is a corrupt organization,” adding that because of that, he would not vote for any project that involved the McConnell Foundation.
To that, Moty countered, “Supervisor Jones, if you’re going to be making claims about people being corrupt, I suggest you bring some evidence.”
At that, a 4-1 vote was taken for the project, something that had no general fund impact. Jones was the sole vote against the project.
• Finally, the board voted on Chimenti’s other idea of holding some evening meetings. After some discussion, supervisors clarified that this proposal wasn’t for all board meetings, but rather, some select meetings, such as those that involve hot topics, whether it’s about wind-power projects, or hemp.
Judging by the morning’s public comment period, there were many people under the impression that this subject offered the promise of moving all board of supervisor meetings to the evening, something that was especially popular for those who work during the day.
Details about the specifics, such as which meetings, which nights, what time, and for what topics, are all still up in the air, and supervisors will decide on those finer points later, assuming they can hear each other during future meetings.
At last, the concept went to a vote. It passed unanimously, a first for this particular board. Hopefully, it won’t be the last time.