Congratulations are in order for District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh. Tuesday he received his “badge of honor” (commonly known as censure) by his colleagues in a 3-2 vote.
District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones, Baugh’s shenanigans buddy, also received the censure “badge of honor”.
Of course, Baugh and Jones were the only board members who saw any humor in the looming dubious distinction of a censure vote. To any other (sane) elected official, it would be a shameful thing to be censured by one’s fellow supervisors; a black mark on their public-service report card.
Make no mistake, Supervisors Leonard Moty, Mary Rickert and Chair Joe Chimenti, each of whom voted with the utmost of seriousness in favor of Baugh and Jones’ censure, were not laughing while they cast their votes.
Cruse defined censure as an official reprimand or condemnation, an authoritative expression of disapproval, or blame, or reproach. He said the board had the legal authority to issue a censure against any of its members, and that the censure was the expression of an opinion by the majority of the legislative body. Cruse said that a censure would not prevent the official subject of the censure from performing his/her official duties or restrict opportunities to speak, such as his right to vote as a county supervisor, or speaking before the board, or speaking to the public.
“The person retains the full range of rights and prerogatives which come with having been publicly elected,” he said.
In short, aside from the possibility of public shaming, censure has no real teeth or repercussions. No fines or loss of income. No removal from office. No legal ramifications. Most of all, contrary to what many public speakers believed, censure and censor are not the same thing. More about that in a moment.
Censure “menu options” clarified
Speaking of mistaken beliefs, when I last wrote about the then-upcoming censure vote, I quoted Cruse, who had offered a series of five censure options to board members, something I compared to a menu of censure choices, like you’d find in a Chinese restaurant. No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5.
Apparently the five items that Cruse outlined were not levels per se, but options that board members had before a motion was made. In reality, Cruse had indicated in his memo for the Jan. 26 meeting that censure was one of five options, not different categories of censure.
My mistake. I apologize for the confusion.
Therefore, that’s why yesterday the censure vote was for nothing fancy. No removal from committees. No referring a complaint to the Grand Jury (though any private citizen is welcome to do that). Rather, Tuesday’s vote was a garden-variety censure.
But still, the act of censure has meaning. It means that a majority of Baugh and Jones’ peers believed their actions were so egregious that they required a consequence of public disapproval. The fact that neither man feels any sense of embarrassment at such a proclamation tells us even more about them than we knew before.
The censure vote happened after three weeks of waiting and wondering whether Baugh and Jones’ actions last month warranted such a serious expression of formal chastisement.
Tuesday, during the Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting, the answer was yes, Baugh and Jones’ actions on Jan. 4 and 5 did warrant such action.
But first, the public comments
As has become the new normal for Shasta County Board of Supervisors meetings, the public comment period can last for many hours, well into the afternoon. Yesterday was no exception. Supervisors were inundated with more than 100 emails, and dozens upon dozens of recorded voice mail messages, in-person comments, and live telephone comments.
Censure for sure!
On one side of the issue were those who beseeched the supervisors to please censure Baugh and Jones. They spoke of the rule of law, and said Baugh and Jones’ antics had turned the board meetings into a “circus sideshow” run by a couple of tantrum-throwing little boys who believed rules didn’t apply to them, elected leaders who’ve incited a “dangerous” political atmosphere. They said the supervisors should be censured to prove that Shasta County believes in and follows laws, and to vote otherwise would set a precedent that allows county supervisors and staff alike to choose which rules they wish to follow, and which ones they don’t.
“Bring on the Grand Jury,” said one man. “Give them everything they deserve.”
Some from this group expressed dismay over those who attended in-person supervisor meetings without masks and without social distancing, which in effect eliminates the board chambers for anyone except those who don’t take the pandemic seriously.
Lately, I look at the collection of unmasked pandemic-deniers inside the board chambers as akin to a leper-colony field trip.
No censor, or censure … whatever
On the other side of the issue were many who were present inside the board chambers, as well as those who called in their opinions with live and recorded messages.
Some commenters from this group seemed under the mistaken impression that the vote to “censure” Baugh and Jones was actually about censoring the pair, as in keeping them from speaking freely.
Many others spoke earnestly in favor of having the board chambers open, which was bizarre because the chambers have been open since the board’s 3-2 vote on Jan. 6 that repealed the previous Dec. 15 resolution that closed the chambers to public meetings due to increasing COVID-19 cases. What made these statements even more perplexing is some people spoke of opening the chambers, while they were inside the chambers.
There was the usual mocking of those who believe the virus is no worse than a common cold, prompting one woman who said she was “elderly” to describe how she doesn’t wear masks, she goes everywhere, dances and has fun, and if she were to get COVID-19, she’d stay home and die alone before she’d set foot in a hospital.
Houston, we have a problem.
A few speakers implored the supervisors to please open the county, and spoke on behalf of their children, the elderly and small businesses. Others ridiculed the waste of money for the chamber’s new $9,000 “sneeze screens”.
Yet other speakers repeated the mounting threats and plans to recall “all four” supervisors – yes, even Baugh – except Jones, who’s been identified by his supporters as the only “true patriot” on the board.
“You’re giving us more reasons for a recall,” one man said.
“Whoever votes affirmative for censure will be recalled,” said another.
“How dare you threaten to censure them!” a man yelled. “You should resign immediately. You will be recalled. Resign immediately!”
But of the pro-Baugh/pro-Jones speakers who were against the censure, and understood both its definition and intention, many quoted the Constitution, the Bible, and read excerpts from both. Many of the anti-censure speakers claimed it was ridiculous to censure Baugh and Jones, who did nothing wrong.
At last, the vote
It was common knowledge that District 1 Supervisor Chair Joe Chimenti was the unknown vote that would decide the censure outcome. After all, it was District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty who made the original Jan. 12 censure motion in the first place, seconded by District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert, so those two yes votes were in the bag. Next, although Baugh and Jones would be allowed to vote on their own censure, even they wouldn’t be so foolhardy to do so, which guaranteed the pair’s no vote. Right?
Chimenti was in an unenviable position. He was damned if he did vote to censure; surely demonized by angry, maskless citizens who’ve had him in their recall crosshairs for months if he didn’t toe the line. But he was also damned if he didn’t vote to censure; certainly criticized by outraged, science-believing citizens who’ve implored Chimenti to not give in to bullies’ intimidation.
Chimenti stood alone as the swing vote. And when the time came to vote, Chimenti sided with colleagues Moty and Rickert in a vote to censure Baugh and Jones. But first, all the supervisors offered their statements.
Supervisor Moty, the man behind the motion
Moty began by disputing Jones’ ongoing accusation that Moty’s censure motion was done in spite, a personal vendetta against Jones. Moty recalled that it’s been about 14 years since he and Jones had one meeting, back when Jones first joined the Redding City Council with Moty. He said Jones’ claims are baseless.
Moty said that as a former police officer (and, btw, also former RPD chief) he learned to deal with facts. He then laid out the historical facts related to the whole messy story behind the open/closed/reopened chamber votes, and how Baugh and Jones violated a board resolution and invited the public to trespass inside the chambers not just once, but twice, on Jan. 4 and 5, respectively. He said that while personally, he believed Baugh and Jones’ actions were nothing more than grandstanding to make a political statement, those opinions were irrelevant.
“We have a proper procedure to change the rules if you don’t like them,” Moty said. “My only concern is if we don’t follow the will of the majority without chaos, it will be very difficult for us to conduct county business at our board meetings, or any other functions that we provide for the public.”
Supervisor Rickert reiterates support for censure
Supervisor Rickert classified Baugh and Jones’ behavior as “reckless and irresponsible”. She mentioned the widespread negative media coverage that’s portrayed Shasta County for months as a lawless place. Rickert said she’s humiliated that her peers see Shasta County as out of control.
“I’ve had several supervisors from neighboring counties ask me, “What the heck is going on in Shasta County?”
Rickert said that in addition to being in “complete favor” of Baugh and Jones’ censure, she was also in favor of referring the men’s actions to the Grand Jury.
Rickert said: “How do we expect to promote economic development and attract people to this county when we can’t even function effectively at our local government level? …How do we even have any credibility with the state, so we could promote positive change for us locally?”
She expressed hope that after the censure vote, the board could work together for the good of their respective districts.
“Let’s do our jobs, and let’s not spend our time with these antics,” Rickert said. “Our constituents deserve so much better.”
Supervisor Jones, wanted by attorneys coast to coast
Without once saying the word “censure”, Jones started with a story. He described a case lost by the city of Redding that he said cost the city more than $325,000 in legal fees, and he compared that Redding City Council story to the Supervisors’ vote to close the board chambers.
He said the Shasta County Board of Supervisors’ closed-chamber resolution was a Constitutional violation, and supervisors who voted for it violated their oath of office. He bragged that attorneys from coast to coast were contacting him, wanting to take “this case”. He said the Constitution was at stake. He said board members had an obligation to God to do what’s right, “no matter what illegal resolution happens.”
He wrapped up his comments with what could be taken as the most thinly veiled threat to Chair Chimenti.
“It’s in Joe’s hands,” Jones said. “That he’ll be the swing vote is clear, but there may be a higher cost.”
Supervisor Baugh cut right to the chase, and in an almost jovial manner “willingly admitted” what he and Jones had done. With a chuckle, he managed a classic Baugh two-step where he waltzed through justification for his actions, and sidestepped any mention of violating a resolution voted in by the board. Instead he focused on Baugh, the self-righteous, Baugh, the innocent hero.
“I opened the doors to these chambers to let the community come into the place that they own,” Baugh said. “And if that deserves a slap on the wrist from supervisors that don’t agree with me, then I’m OK with that; I’m OK with that. As I mentioned in the last meeting, it’s a badge that I will gladly wear.”
Baugh dragged God and scripture into his comments, and then turned his attention to deflection, flipping the tables and leveling accusations against Supervisor Moty that Baugh believed were grave enough that they should be forwarded to the Grand Jury, items that Baugh said he didn’t think should be discussed in board chambers; right after he’d already discussed them in board chambers.
“So, if someone comes up and says, ‘I think you should censure Supervisor Moty,’ I’m not going to agree with that either, because it’s a tremendous waste of time.”
He then shared his wife’s favorite scripture that recommended embracing trials because they’re future blessings. If anything, Baugh seemed to relish the idea of being censured, and he suggested that the process would only embolden him.
“This will cause me to double down and serve even more passionately,” he said.
Chimenti casts the swing vote
Finally, it was Chair Chimenti’s turn to speak. And when he did, he appeared exasperated and peeved by the entire ordeal.
Chimenti put the blame of the censure vote squarely at Baugh and Jones’ feet. He said he felt “sideswiped” because the issue of keeping the chambers open or closed boiled down to a simple “math problem”. All anyone had to do was look at the past vote that closed the chambers (which, once again, he did not vote for) back in early December when former Supervisor Steve Morgan was on the board, and then all you have to do is look ahead to potential future voting opportunities available after Jones won Morgan’s seat in the November election.
Sure enough. Do the math. Figure it out. It’s about votes, and who’s voting for or against what, when. No shenanigans were required. Any rational supervisor could follow the dots and see that with a little forethought and patience, that previous 3-2 December vote to close the board chambers could flip 3-2 to open chambers soon after Morgan left the board.
Chimenti addressed his remarks directly to Baugh and Jones, who shared the spacious dais with him, while the rest of the supervisors and county staff participated virtually.
“So as onerous as all of this is, in my opinion, when you opened the doors knowingly and willfully against a mandate – whatever you want to call it from this board – you made a decision, and we just need to put this right here, right now,” Chimenti said.
He said he wanted to end the division that exists on the board, and said there were so many things he’d run for office to accomplish that he’d like to do, and there was a finite amount of time in which to do those things.
Chimenti said he had a “real issue” with the supervisors’ “willful premeditated disregard” for how hard supervisors had worked to become elected so they could contribute to the community.
“I don’t quite understand it,” he said of Baugh and Jones’ actions. And with that, he asked for a motion to vote on the censure.
The vote was taken. Chimenti, Moty and Rickert, yes. Jones and Baugh, no.
“Motion passes three to two,” Chimenti said. “My sincere hope is that we can move on now and start addressing all the work that we have.
A light at the end of the pandemic tunnel?
Chimenti said that his summary comments segued nicely to the next agenda item, “And that is how we, as a governing board, can open this county up wisely, safely, intelligently and effectively.”
With that, the board voted 3-2 to send a letter to the state, with Moty and Rickert as the dissenting votes. The purpose of the letter was to address ways in which Shasta County could develop a path forward to co-exist with the reality of COVID-19, while also promoting the county’s economic health.
Moty and Rickert both emphasized that although they liked the idea of the letter in general, there was one portion for which they requested a revision: No. 2, regarding the department of public health and board of supervisor having authority over lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders. Moty had made an earlier motion to vote to revise that portion of the letter, which Rickert seconded, but the vote failed 3-2.
Public Q&A access to public health briefings
Beginning today – Wed. Feb. 3 – Shasta County Health and Human Services’ 11 a.m. weekly Media Briefings will be followed by a special time set aside just for public questions, and county staff and local experts will be on hand to answer those questions.
The concept is something discussed a while back between Chimenti and County CEO Matt Pontes. Chimenti wants these Q&A sessions to succeed. He’s implored the public to use the time wisely and respectfully, to not use this time as a bully pulpit or a soap box upon which to lecture about whether someone does or does not believe in masks or the coronavirus. It’s a time to ask questions that will take no more than a minute to ask.
Here’s more information, from Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency:
On February 3 and 24, HHSA’s regular online media briefing will take place from 11 to 11:30 a.m., with an opportunity for public Q&A from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
You can watch the briefing in real time on Shasta County HHSA’s Facebook page. To ask a question, submit it via email to COVID19@co.shasta.ca.us with the subject line, “Question for Town Hall Meeting.”
Written questions will be asked aloud and answered by health officials. Additionally, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors Chambers will be open for individuals who wish to voice their question via teleconference. Capacity in the chambers is limited and face coverings are required except when exempted by state order. Briefings are recorded and posted on www.ShastaReady.org.
Should be interesting. Stay tuned. Literally.
* The best news of all
In the middle of all the stress and the angst of Tuesday’s board meeting and censure vote, there was a single nugget of very good news presented by Robin Schurig, Public Health Branch Director.
She said that Shasta County’s COVID-19 data hints that if all goes well in the next few weeks with regard to Shasta County’s coronavirus numbers, we could be back down to the red level soon. Could.
Here’s how it was explained in a recent public health press release:
Shasta County remains in the purple (“widespread”) tier, but both measures improved this week. Our adjusted case rate decreased from 36.5 to 25.0 daily cases per 100,000 residents.
The unadjusted case rate is 22.4, but was adjusted up because the county’s per capita testing volume is lower than the state average. Our positivity rate decreased from 5.5% to 4.9%.
If our positivity rate and equity metric both remain in the orange tier for two more weeks and our case rate continues to decline, we could move into the red tier two weeks from now, even if the case rate is not yet down to the red tier. Please continue to wear masks and physically distance!
Imagine what being in the red tier would mean for small businesses, especially COVID-compliant restaurants that are hanging on by a thread of survival. Imagine what that would mean for the collective peace of mind and mental health of every man, woman and child.
Two or three weeks, people. That’s all. A couple of weeks of total compliance. Wear face coverings. Maintain social distancing. Stay home as much as possible to avoid exposure to those who don’t give a crap.
We can do it. I think we can, I think we can, I think we can.
I see a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a beautiful reddish orange, with a wash of yellow. It’s not a train. It’s a sliver of life as we used to know it.