If you’re a Shasta County citizen, perhaps you felt the sea change Tuesday morning; that moment when Shasta County’s ship turned around and headed full tilt toward turbulent, uncharted waters.
The precise course-change happened during the Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting before a vocal, standing-room only crowd.
Many significant events happened during the nearly 8-hour-long meeting. Some events were expected. Others were not.
First, as expected, Happy Valley School Board president Tim Garman officially assumed the seat previously held by District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty, a rational, articulate, educated conservative; a former Redding police chief and Notre Dame graduate.
The recall election was based upon a series of baseless accusations, misinformation and flat out lies, all of which were methodically fact-checked, debunked and discredited. In the end, the truth lost and the recall won. Moty was tossed to the sharks.
Musical board chairs
Cathy Darling Allen, Shasta County Clerk/ Registrar of Voters, presented the election results to the board for certification, and to declare the winner elected.
Darling-Allen pointed out that in addition to the usual legally required audit of ballots, her department hand-counted 9,016 ballot cards. She said there were zero variances.
District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti made the motion to accept the election results. Baugh seconded the motion. The vote was unanimous.
“This is a good day,” Baugh said.
Garman approached the lectern, read his sworn oath, signed some papers, and took his seat on the dais between Chimenti and Rickert.
The public comment period began with Recall Shasta leader, Elissa McEuen.
She spoke stridently and described Tuesday as the “end of a tremendously successful citizen-led recall,” and said that Moty’s recall would bring “better representation” to Shasta County.
She said the recall marked the restoration of local government, and an end to years’ of 2-3 votes that favored state policies while being “against local citizenry, continually denying our local interests.”
McEuen, sometimes referred to as the bullhorn lady, credited the recall’s success to “200 organized, educated God-fearing men and women”.
The new board
He also joined supervisors Joe Chimenti of District 1, and Mary Rickert of District 3. Mocked as “RINOs” by recallers, Chimenti and Rickert were initially also targeted with recall, but spared after recallers failed to gather enough petition signatures. That’s when the recallers focused all their energy and resources into taking out Moty.
An expected nomination, but from an unexpected man
Following the public comment period, Just as everyone was settled in, and still-vice-chair Mary Rickert announced they’d move on to R-2, Chimenti interrupted.
In a swift, unexpected move, Chimenti made a motion to nominate Dist. 5 Supervisor Les Baugh as the new board chair. His motion was immediately followed by Rickert’s second. The unanimous vote happened just as quickly.
The prevailing expectation was that Jones would motion for Baugh’s nomination, seconded by Baugh, which the two had tried before, but always failed in a 3-2 no vote. Now, with Garman on board, 3-2 votes will go in Jones and Baugh’s favor.
Supervisors shuffled chairs for the second time so Rickert could exit the acting chair’s seat (which she’d held as vice chair since Chair Moty’s absence) and so Baugh would take control as the board leader.
At first, Baugh’s promotion to board chair was met with silence from the audience, except for a smattering of applause, an anemic hoot and more booing.
“That’s a bunch of bull,” said one woman in the audience.
“Well, you’re next,” said another, looking toward the dais.
The audience’s unfavorable reaction to Baugh was unexpected. When did Baugh become persona non grata? Were those boos because Baugh, who was pro-recall and even even appeared in early Red, White and Blueprint episodes, endorsed the apparently rational Republican Baron Browning for Baugh’s Dist. 5 seat in the June 2022 election, rather than a Red, White and Blueprint favorite, like Colt Roberts or Chris Kelstrom?
Chimenti complimented Baugh. He recalled Baugh’s previous years as board chair and supervisor, during which Chimenti observed how Baugh governed with fair, level leadership. Chimeti’s “ask” (a recurring Chimenti term) was for Baugh to please repeat that kind behavior in his position as the new chair.
Baugh thanked Chimenti.
Rickert also addressed Baugh in a similar, flattering manner, but with a message.
“I think it’s important, now more than ever, that we try to bring our community together and unify us,” Rickert said.
Several audience members booed their disapproval of Rickert’s statement. Baugh shushed the crowd and asked them to let Rickert finish.
Undaunted, Rickert continued. She said that in the six years she’d worked with Baugh, Rickert had appreciated his commitment to the community.
“I expect we will continue in that manner,” Rickert said.
Baugh’s laundry list
Baugh then turned his attention to a list of requests, which took several minutes to read. All the items were met with everything from light clapping, cheers and yells, to hoots, whoops, loud applause and a few standing ovations.
Jones and Garman occasionally joined in the merriment with applause as Baugh read his intentions, seen below:
• Those who address the board may say whatever they wish, without interruption, argument or conversation from board members.
• Staff should immediately disable the microphone’s mute function. (The mute feature was adopted in response to raucous meetings when several speakers exceeded their time limit, resulting in board meetings that lasted from morning until night.)
• Shasta County CEO Matt Pontes should initiate a new meeting schedule that includes some night meetings (something several citizens have continually requested).
• Related to the upcoming night meetings, one night will be designated for a public-health forum inside the chambers, something voted down before by supervisors Chimenti, Rickert and Moty, who’d repeated their rationale that the health-care forums were not board business as supervisors have no jurisdiction over state health mandates.
• Staff should arrange for a vice-chair election at the next meeting.
• Staff should eliminate the board’s previous 45-minute open-comment period at the beginning of the meeting, which was followed by board business and more comments. Moty had put this system in place after comment sessions sometimes dragged on for so long that staff members and guests invited to make presentations often waited from morning until night for their turn to address board business.
• Staff should center the podium directly in front of the dais, so the speakers can see all the supervisors’ faces.
“You won’t have to worry about whether we’re listening or looking at you,” Baugh assured the crowd with a chuckle, an obvious dig at Moty, who sometimes looked away as speakers verbally assailed him and other board members.
• Eliminate the governor’s Brown Act COVID variances, and return to in-person county meetings.
• 3 minutes would still be the guide, although speakers won’t necessarily be cut off at the 3-minute mark.
“If there are 400 people who want to speak during open comment, we’ll be here until midnight,” Baugh said to the increasingly thawed audience.
(Little did Baugh know when he spoke those words that that day’s board meeting would last nearly eight hours.)
• Board chambers will remain open, period. Nobody, aside from a board majority or the sheriff during an emergency, will have the authority to close the chambers again, even in response to COVID surges.
This was an unabashed reference to the virtual Jan. 18 meeting, when Jones and Baugh were outraged to discover their key cards were deactivated, an event referred to Jones, Baugh and friends as “key-card gate”.
But Baugh saved his most explosive request for last.
• A closed-session employee evaluation shall be conducted of Dr. Karen Ramstrom, the county’s chief medical officer; someone who’s also a board appointee.
Screams and shouts of approval erupted from the audience.
“Thank you! Thank you,” shouted one woman from the audience.
“Power to the people!” yelled a man.
Baugh wasn’t finished.
• A complete evaluation shall be conducted of the entire Shasta County Health and Human Services department.
When the cheering died down, Baugh clarified that unlike what some people have suggested, he was not in favor of completely eliminating the public health department.
“That would be the most foolish thing in the world,” Baugh said. “However, can we gain greater efficiencies?”
Baugh said all those items would be up for discussion in a majority board vote.
The doctors, pro and con
The next segment of the meeting featured a long line of doctors, health-care providers and one former hospital administrator who spoke passionately about a resolution submitted by some physicians at the last meeting. The resolution was pitched as Shasta County’s new COVID-19 roadmap.
Some doctors wanted the board to approve the resolution. Others were against it. One doctor pointed out that the physicians and healthcare workers who signed the resolution represented just one tenth of all North State physicians and health-care providers.
Some parts of the resolution are in direct opposition to state and federal public health guidelines. As with many Shasta County resolutions, once again, this one is more symbolic than transformative.
Despite that, when the resolution went to a vote, it passed 3-2. Dissenting votes were cast by Chimenti and Rickert.
The public comment period continued. Like a scene from Groundhog Day, some of the same speakers returned to the podium multiple times throughout the day to address a variety of items.
Patty Plumb is a frequent commenter. She and her husband speak at churches and on various Christian programs and podcasts.
Plumb’s messages are consistent, such as when she sweetly says that if the First Amendment doesn’t work, then there’s always the Second Amendment.
Plumb has been vocal in her belief that mail-in ballots are illegal. In fact, the Plumbs picketed the elections office on Election Day with that very message scrawled on a poster.
“I believe we are on the verge of something heroic and historic, that we are moving mountains county by county,” Plumb said during Tuesday’s public comment period.
Plumb said that the work has just begun on the body of Shasta County. She said Moty represented just a big toe with an infected toenail that was all cleaned out.
“That’s all we’ve done,” Plumb said as she smiled. “We have an opportunity to get healing for the whole body, and that’s why we’re stepping forward.”
Eventually, after a short lunch break, the board was in session again. By then, the board chambers were mostly empty of spectators. Audience or no audience, many hours’ worth of county business remained unfinished, including presentations, board discussion, and more public comments in between agenda items.
When Baugh invited the fledgling supervisor to present his board report, Garman talked about how he’d met with various folks about various things, including at the Paso (sic) Robles planned development project, and a place called Exodus Farms.
Garman said he was just getting up to speed about what’s going on around here.
Then Garman spoke in a somber tone, and said he had a few other things to discuss, with a preface that maybe this meeting wasn’t the right place, to which Baugh responded that Garman could make any requests he wanted. Options, lots of options.
“Well,” Garman said, “I’d like to make a motion to have this added to the agenda next month — for tribal relocation? For discussion?”
Baugh, who’d appeared buoyant and jolly throughout the meeting, took on a more serious tone as he peppered Garman with questions.
Did Garman have a specific date in mind, or was it yet to be determined? Could Garman tell the board more about what exactly he was looking for?
Garman appeared caught flatfooted and said, “Just some discussion on the relocations; maybe we can choose to do either.”
For the next few grueling minutes the interaction between Garman and Baugh was like a game of conversational ping-pong-ball. Baugh slammed down the conversational ball, and Garman rushed to keep up and keep the ball in play.
As Garman spoke haltingly in his attempt to describe what he meant to say, Baugh continued to drill deep on his quest for clarification and specifics. Did Garman want discussion, or a presentation from the tribe, or what?
Garman fumbled his words under Baugh’s inquiries. Yes, Garman said, maybe a presentation, or yes, a statement from the board about a relocation.
Baugh pressed on and said, “Just to be clear, discussion would mean that there’s information to discuss, and so we need the source of that information.”
Chimenti interrupted and put everyone out of their misery when he said he’d second Garman’s motion for discussion, because he, too, would like to hear more information about recent developments, such as the timeline, board expectations, etc.
With Garman’s first motion and Chimenti’s second, the motion passed for a possible discussion and maybe a presentation, in the future, at some yet-to-be determined date.
A repeat performance occurred minutes later when Baugh asked Garman what else he’d wanted to request: he wanted to make a motion about conducting a forensic audit.
Backstory: “Forensic audit” is a favorite term tossed freely among the North State pro-recall side, including Red, White and Blueprint videos and podcasts. It turns out that the very people who spoke so fondly of a “forensic audit” — how it would allow patriot supervisors to drain the county swap, start with a blank slate, and tally every penny — had no clue what they were talking about.
Nevertheless, back when Garman was asked during the Red, White and Blueprint debate if he’d hold the county’s financial feet to the fire and demand a forensic audit as a supervisor, Garman said yes, he sure would.
Back to Tuesday, when Baugh asked Garman, “And what do you mean by a forensic audit?”
Garman said what he meant was to just “dig into” the county’s finances, and just have an outside source come in and do a complete audit on the county’s finances.
Chair Baugh informed Garman that the county has already finances two audits.
“Have you gone through those audits? I’m just asking the question.” Baugh said.
Garman said, no, but he did meet with Mr. Pontes once, but they didn’t have time to go through “all that”.
Baugh turned toward the CEO, and suggested perhaps Matt Pontes could help explain things to Garman.
What seemed an eternity later, Baugh returned to the topic of Garman’s motion. Jones seconded Garman’s motion for a discussion to learn more about fiscal audits at a future meeting.
Before it went to a vote, Pontes said he’d be happy to sit down with Garman and the county auditor and help explain line-item details.
Miracle of miracles, Nolda Short, the county’s award-winning auditor/controller, was in the board chambers for her board presentation.
At Baugh’s request, Short approached the lectern and cleared up a few things. (5:45:05 in the meeting video.)
After a thorough explanation of county audits, Short addressed the “forensic audit” misnomer. Short said forensic audits are targeted, and refer to specific situations, such as investigating some kind of wrong-doing, like fraud, or embezzlement.
“Sometimes when I hear people talk about forensic audits, I think they’re maybe talking a little bit more about program audits, like the way we’re spending the money,” Short said.
Many minutes later, Garman’s motion to discuss county finances passed unanimously.
Some of the most tense moments that occurred during Garman’s first board meeting arose over the topic of so-called “key-cardgate”. That’s a local term many pro-recallers use to describe when Jones and Baugh discovered that their key cards were deactivated for six days, starting on the Thursday prior to the Tues., Jan. 18 virtual board meeting.
Before launching into his issues with key-card, Jones disclosed that his board work was cut short by COVID, which he treated with Ivermectin, and the virus was no worse than a cold.
His Ivermectin pitch over, Jones said he had questions about key-cardgate for CEO Pontes and County Counsel Rubin Cruse. Jones wanted the names of those who called for the virtual meeting, and the names of those who disabled the electric key-card access.
Jones blamed his inability to enter the board chambers as his excuse for why he rented a big-screen TV and held his own in-person public meeting outside mere feet from the locked board chambers. What’s more, Jones said it was only after the Jan. 18 meeting that he learned of a law enforcement drone, plain-clothed officers, and a van behind the building that contained more officers, all at the ready.
Pontes explained that there were many factors that led to the decision to close the board chambers, including concerns expressed by county employees and citizens who felt that an in-person meeting on Jan. 18 was unsafe, due to a COVID spike, and threats of violence against some board members.
Pontes said electronic access to the board chambers was disabled for all staff, including maintenance workers and custodians.
Pontes said he hoped it didn’t sound as if he was putting all the blame on the board chair (actually, it did), but the chair (Moty) was who Pontes and others looked to for guidance regarding holding a virtual meeting and deactivating electronic keys.
About those drones and extra law enforcement, Pontes said that was a decision made by the sheriff, who called in his law enforcement resources.
Jones asked why county administration didn’t send an email to staff to alert them that their keycards were disabled. Pontes said that in retrospect, he should have done that.
Next Baugh turned to Cruse and asked for a legal justification for anyone to lock an elected official from the chambers, which, said Baugh, is basically his office.
Cruse read aloud some government codes related to special safety conditions in place during COVID and a state of emergency. Like Pontes, Cruse said that disabling the electronic access was authorized by the chair, plus the CEO. In Cruse’s opinion, those decisions were lawful.
Baugh wasn’t buying it. He said Cruse was misinterpreting the legal codes, which Baugh said he’d read, and shown to people who had legal knowledge. Baugh said their collective conclusion was that Cruse’s justification was “pure bunk”.
Baugh said he should have the right as an elected official to enter the board chambers whenever he wished, including during virtual board meetings that ban the public from entering the chambers.
Jones said he’d like to schedule a meeting to discuss how to change the language and policies so this key card/board chamber access situation doesn’t happen again.
Will Shasta County end its state of emergency?
Jones wasn’t finished. He made a motion to put on the next agenda a vote to end the county’s state of emergency with regard to COVID. Garman seconded Jones’ motion.
Rickert questioned whether ending the state of emergency might put the county at financial risk.
Chimenti responded with a similar thought and wondered if eliminating the county’s state of emergency would do nothing positive for the county, but it could come with a risk, specifically with regard to potential state money needed in the event of an emergency.
“Technically, the governor could come back to us and say, ‘Well, wait a second, you canceled your state of emergency, so obviously you don’t have an emergency, so why are you asking for these additional funds?” Chimenti said.
To Chimenti’s question about any potential value in eliminating the county’s state of emergency, Garman cited an example of one possible value; that ending the county’s state of emergency would return power to the board, which would have prevented the key-card situation, since that state of emergency was used as partial justification for county admin to close chambers and disable key cards.
Rickert looked like she’d had enough, and said she was curious about something. She asked Baugh if he comes to the board chambers on weekends, and if he just hangs out there.
“I come here whenever I want,” Baugh replied.
“Do you? Really?” asked an incredulous Rickert. “I can honestly say I never remember coming in here by myself. I can’t even imagine. What’s the point? I mean, what’s the reason?”
Baugh replied that Rickert could do her job however she wanted.
Rickert pressed on. “What do you do; come here and look at the ceiling, or what? I’m just trying to figure this out.”
With that, Baugh laughed and said Rickert’s attempt to chide him would have no impact on him.
Rickert wasn’t dissuaded.
“It just makes no sense to me that the last 20-minute conversation took place,” she said. “It just seems completely like a waste of time. I have a lot more important things to talk about.”
Baugh, with a fixed grin, told Rickert they’d get to her in a minute, but in the meantime they had a vote, and a motion, and a second.
Once again, stuck in limbo between a seconded motion and the pending vote, Garman interrupted the process to announce he had something else to say with regard to the “money part”. He addressed his statement to Supervisor Chimenti.
“Our freedom’s not for sale,” Garman proclaimed with the most confidence he’d expressed all day. “And, I’m sorry, but I just, just …”
Chimenti snapped back before Garman finished.
“I appreciate the cliché,” Chimenti said. “We’re not talking about our freedoms here. We’re talking about money that helps support individuals in our community who desperately need those funds. I get the slogan, I get the bumper sticker. I get the T-shirt. That’s all cool, but we’re not a wealthy county, and we need the money we get, and that’s my opinion, sir.”
End of discussion. Baugh returned to the vote, approved 4-1 by Baugh, Jones, Garman and Chimenti. Rickert was the lone no vote. Then Chimenti waved his hand, as if shooing a fly, and said he was willing to have the conversation later.
Behold, classic Chimenti: Climb on a soapbox, pontificate at length against something, later vote in favor of putting it on the agenda for discussion and a subsequent vote, but then probably vote against it. It’s crazy-making.
And what about Garman? Is he for real? Or is he playing the part of a simple, pliable man who’s in deep, way over his head; innocently accepting assistance and direction from calculating men playing their parts, too; one motion, one vote at a time.
Players and pirates
The meeting slogged on into late afternoon. Few people were in the audience. The supervisors each gave their board reports of what they’d done and where they’d gone since the last meeting.
Rickert, as usual, spent the most time of any supervisor on her board report, a reflection of her robust community involvement and concerns about everything from mental illness and agriculture to water and the drought. One interesting piece of information Rickert gleaned from a meeting was that Shasta County had the distinction of being the only California county that saw a 3-percent economic growth last year.
The reason? Many Shasta County businesses ignored state mandates and remained open to customers, which is why, across the state, other COVID-compliant counties saw no economic growth. The good news? Shasta County’s economy was up. The bad news? The economy was up because Shasta County’s COVID-compliance was down.
When it was Chimenti’s turn, before he spoke of his meetings and engagements, he presented his “ask” to Supervisor Jones.
“Should for any reason this board chambers gets closed again … I ask that you not just open it and let everybody in,” Chimenti said. “And that’s just an ask; just a favor from supervisor to supervisor.”
Jones did not reply, but continued looking straight ahead.
After more than seven hours, the meeting was finally over.
Yes, Shasta County’s ship is turning around, but it appears headed in the wrong direction. Where are we going? How many more pirates will breach this vessel and throw decent leaders overboard before our ship is completely invaded, and we’re all sunk?
This story was revised for clarity at 6:50 p.m.