County Health Officer’s Stay of Execution, or Inevitable Termination?

District 5 Supervisor chair Les Baugh.

Les Baugh, Shasta County Board of Supervisors chair, missed the memo that yesterday marked the one-week anniversary of International Women’s Day.

Instead, as per Baugh’s decree at the last meeting, the agenda targeted two exemplary, dedicated, highly respected female county leaders for removal of one kind or another.

The first woman on Baugh’s chopping block was vice chair District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert. Baugh wanted Rickert booted from the vice-chair position she’d held for just two months into her year-long appointment.

Supervisor Mary Rickert presides over the Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting last month as acting chair.

In short order, Rickert was summarily dismissed Tuesday as vice chair in a 3-2 vote, thanks to Baugh and his obedient sidekicks District 2 Supervisor Tim Garman, and District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones.

Now, Jones is the new vice chair, a frightening prospect should Baugh not finish his term, since Jones has already proven to be a one-trick impotent pony on Baugh’s demented merry-go-round. In that capacity, Jones’ greatest skill is the ability to trot along behind Baugh and vote as Baugh votes. The same is true of Garman, Baugh’s ventriloquist dummy.

During Tuesday’s meeting, more people spoke in favor of both Ramstrom and Rickert than against. Rickert was described as the hardest-working supervisor, and also beloved, which is why last year’s attempts to recall her failed.

All those positive words fell on Baugh, Jones and Garman’s deaf ears.

During the public comment period, it wasn’t all sweetness and light from speakers, but a mix of people against and for Rickert.

One woman blasted Rickert, followed by Terry Rapoza, Recall Shasta proponent/State of Jefferson devotee, who spoke in favor of Jones as vice chair.

The most disingenuous part of Rapoza’s speech came when he ranted  about this being a new day and there’s nobody attacking anyone here.

This is the same guy, who on a recent podcast, described people on “the other side” not as opponents, but his “enemies”.

(Scroll to the end to watch the video of some public speakers, including Rickert’s response just after the 30-minute mark.)

County health officer targeted for termination

The second woman on Baugh’s chopping block was Dr. Karen Ramstrom, the county’s chief health officer.

She’s been under fire for two years, but most intensely since the March 1 meeting. That was a momentous day; Baugh’s first meeting as board chair. He delivered an ambitious agenda wish-list for the next meeting that included Ramstrom’s closed-session performance evaluation by board members.

Dr. Karen Ramstrom, Shasta County Health Officer.

Tuesday, Baugh told the audience, many of whom were there specifically to support Ramstrom, that the closed-session meeting probably wouldn’t take place until at least after 3 p.m.

Some people brought signs of support for Dr. Karen Ramstrom.

There was a short lunch break, after which the meeting resumed at 1:15 p.m. By then, less than two dozen spectators returned for the balance of the meeting. Some watched the meeting virtually.

The closed-session meeting didn’t begin until nearly 4:30.

Ramstrom’s closed-session meeting

Finally, just after 7 p.m., nearly 10 hours after the meeting’s start, all five supervisors, along with county counsel Rubin Cruse, and CEO Matt Pontes, re-entered the chambers. Baugh pronounced the meeting back in session.

Supervisors Rickert and Jones, and County Counsel Cruse hadn’t yet taken their seats when Baugh spoke into his microphone and asked Cruse to announce the outcome. Before an audience of four, Cruse said “no reportable action was taken”.

To some, that might seem cause for celebration; the assumption that surely, “no reportable action” meant Ramstrom was spared from termination.

However, knowing the board majority’s single-mindedness, that decision seems less of a victory, and more of a temporary stay of execution.

Let’s hope I’m wrong.

But it appears that Baugh, Jones and Garman want Ramstrom gone, and they won’t stop until that happens.

Baugh’s idea for the board to evaluate Ramstrom’s job performance is lunacy. It makes about as much sense as a football team evaluating a rocket scientist’s job performance (no offense to football players).

It’s no secret that Baugh’s demand for Ramstrom’s evaluation was the first step for the ultra-conservative, unstable new board majority to remove the county’s health officer from her post. Baugh and his extremist followers have been gunning for Ramstrom for two years. Her ostensible crime? Doing her duty as a physician and health officer to keep the public safe during a pandemic.

Those who spoke on Ramstrom’s behalf included peers, colleagues, county volunteers, medical professionals and Redding’s city manager.

Each offered examples of Ramstrom’s stellar work ethic and her compassion and passion for the community, its people and her commitment to ensuring health and safety for all.

(Scroll to the story’s end for a video of public statements for and against Karen Ramstrom.)

The United States Surgeon General could have endorsed Ramstrom Tuesday, and it still wouldn’t have changed the firmly closed majority-voting minds.

Supervisor Rickert in the crosshairs

It appears that the board majority is turning up the heat on Rickert now, too. She, like Ramstrom, was lauded Tuesday by several speakers. They touted her heart for children, vulnerable populations, agriculture and her passion for serving not just District 3 residents, but all Shasta County citizens.

Among those who praised Rickert was her colleague District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti.

From left, Shasta County supervisors Joe Chimenti, Mary Rickert, Les Baugh, Patrick Jones and Tim Garman.

However, once again, Chimenti demonstrated his talent as a double-jointed performer, able to initially speak passionately in favor of something or someone, only to suddenly flip like an indecisive acrobat to vote against the very person he’d just endorsed.

Such was the case when Chimenti, always up for a speech, delivered what seemed words of heartfelt support for Rickert that had some audience members nearly moved to tears. In addition to naming Rickert’s positive attributes, Chimenti recounted the horrific abuse Rickert had endured from the public. Chimenti even said that as a former police officer, he felt protective of Rickert.

Hold those tears, and prepare yourself for whiplash. First, when the motion was made to remove Rickert from her vice-chair seat, Chimenti joined Rickert in a vote against that motion.

However, just moments later, Chimenti backflipped and joined Baugh, Jones and Garman in a 4-1 vote in favor of Jones as vice chair.

District 4 Shasta County Supervisor Patrick Jones at Jones Fort, as seen in Red, White and Blueprint, Episode 5.

What was particularly crazy about Chimenti’s vote in favor of Jones as vice chair was that it was completely superfluous, because the vote was a done deal. It was obvious to everyone how Baugh, Jones and Garman would vote. Therefore, Chimenti’s vote was just one more nail in Rickert’s vice-chair coffin, for no good reason.

With colleagues like Chimenti, who needs enemies?

Rickert receives rudeness

Throughout the meeting, Baugh often interrupted Rickert, talking over her and not allowing her to speak.

Such was the case during the supervisors’ reports, when Rickert started to mention a committee that Jones was supposed to be part of, but his performance was so poor that someone on the committee specifically asked if Rickert could represent the board instead of Jones.

Multiple times, as Rickert tried to explain why she was on that committee, Baugh did not allow Rickert to finish her sentences. He chided her. He told her to be positive.

Jones was no better in his treatment of Rickert. During Jones’ board report, he expounded at length about his new-found interest in the same California Fire-Safe Council that has been one of Rickert’s ongoing projects for years. In fact, it’s a rare board report that doesn’t include Rickert’s mention of the Fire-Safe Council. So when Rickert attempted to explain her history of involvement with the organization, including relationships and information about upcoming grants for the council that Rickert had helped facilitate, Jones dismissed Rickert, as if she didn’t know what she was talking about.

Baugh and Jones’ disrespectful treatment of Rickert makes sense. It confirms information from several sources about a new movement afoot to remove Rickert from the board, either via another recall attempt or by intimidation.

It’s a diabolical strategy: prevent Rickert from speaking, cast doubt upon her accomplishments, take credit for work she’s done, treat her with disrespect, and finally, patronize and bully her until she becomes exasperated and protests in self-defense. If the merciless majority has its way, she’ll quit in frustration.

The tragedy is that Rickert is the board’s primary grown-up. To lose her would plunge the county into uncertainty and disrepair for decades to come.

Baugh’s other granted wishes

Many of the demands on Baugh’s March 1 list were granted yesterday. As per Baugh’s order, staff had moved the public-speakers lectern front and center in the board chambers, at the end of the aisle.

Regarding the lectern’s relocation, some speakers were overheard expressing their dislike for the new setup. They said the position of the public-speaking area left them feeling uneasy with their backs to the audience.

Additional Baugh wishes came to pass Tuesday, inching him closer to his goal to return Shasta County to a pre-COVID way of living. For example:

• The board voted 3-2 to abolish the county’s COVID-related state of emergency that coincided with California’s state of emergency at the start of the pandemic. There was much discussion about this, and when asked to list the benefits that accompanied dropping the state of emergency, Garman responded, “hope”.

Even so, it appears this vote did nothing tangible for the county, but rather, it was a mostly symbolic resistance against the state’s “tyrannical” governor.

• A similar dubious-benefit situation occurred with Baugh’s motion for a resolution to oppose California Department of Public Health ordinances that require vaccines, boosters and mandatory testing for county employees. In addition, the resolution sought to rescind formal county policies and procedures related to employees’ COVID-19 non-compliance. Despite information from County Counsel Cruse who assured supervisors that this resolution would not stop state requirements, the board voted 4-1 in favor of Baugh’s resolution. Rickert was the lone no vote.

• Once again, Chimenti joined the majority threesome in a vote that insisted all meetings be held in person, and that the board chambers remain open, even in the face of COVID spikes. Another aspect of this vote removed the option of virtual board meetings for staff, supervisors and the public.

Before the item went to a vote, Rickert vehemently disagreed. Rickert, whose home is 80 miles from Redding at an elevation that sees frequent snowfall, pointed out that there may be times when a supervisor is unable to attend a meeting, for one reason or another, such in the case of an illness. Rickert said there are times when a supervisor cannot be there in person, and she requested that in those rare instances supervisors have the opportunity to participate virtually, if willing and able.

Baugh disagreed with Rickert, who once again, pushed back.

“It’s been proven that I can participate virtually and be a full member of the board and vote on various issues that the people duly elected me to represent them to do,” Rickert said.

“Well nobody’s arguing that,” Baugh said with a laugh. “That’s absolutely true.”

Rickert went on to say that by not allowing supervisors the option to participate virtually, when circumstances prevented them from attending in person, that it disenfranchised her, and other supervisors.

Baugh disagreed, and took an authoritative, condescending tone with Rickert.

“If this passes, you, Supervisor Rickert, you Supervisor Jones, myself, you Supervisor Garman, and you Supervisor Chimenti will not be able to participate via calling or teleconference,” Baugh said.

“You are not being singled out … if passed, by a vote of the majority of the board, you will have no special rights or different treatment than any other board member, period.”

Of course, Baugh knew very well that it was not a matter of “if passed by a vote of the majority of the board” but “when“.

District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti

Momentarily, Chimenti seemed to side with Rickert. He pitched a compromise that would make virtual attendance the exception for a supervisor if need be, not the rule.

“If a supervisor can show good reason why he or she cannot make the meeting, but would like to be involved in the meeting why wouldn’t we just extend that courtesy to one of us?” Chimenti asked.

Baugh, Jones and Garman weren’t buying it.

Jones said that in-person meetings have been the way meetings have been done for decades, so that’s the way they should be now.

“And if you want to make sure that you represent your district, make sure you do not miss any meetings. That’s the way it’s always been in the past,” Jones said.

“And you work hard, you keep yourself healthy and you make every single meeting. And that’s the way they’ve always been. And again, let’s get back to where we were. We don’t have to do it any differently.”

Garman, who gained his board seat because of a dirty recall election, hitched his rickety wagon to Jones’ rationale, offering insight into the extent of his deductive reasoning.

New Dist. 2 Supervisor Tim Garman.

“Yeah, I’m going to kind of echo what Patrick just said because it was kind of my thought, is this is the way it’s been done forever,” Garman said.

“And from time to time there will be a board member who will be sick. That’s natural. It’s been that way forever. Hopefully none of us get real sick where it becomes an issue where two or three are off because then you may have to revisit this, but just as time has gone on, it needs to go back to obeying the Brown Act. And if one of us misses the meeting, including myself, then that’s the way life is. Hopefully that will not happen.”

Rickert asked to make her own motion.

“I’d like to make a motion that we amend this, that gives us the option or the availability to participate virtually as a board member, if we’re ill,” Rickert said.

Eventually, after more debate during which Rickert fought for a virtual-meeting option and lost, the in-person-only vote passed, 4-1. Rickert was the lone no vote, despite Chimenti’s previous request that some exceptions be made for supervisors in special circumstances.

• To Baugh’s March 1 request for night meetings, the board was unanimous in its vote to approve a new 2022 calendar that offered three evening meetings. In addition, the calendar would include at least two “special” night meetings at a yet-to-be-determined time, one of which would be a COVID-19 forum. The night meetings are scheduled for March 29, May 31 and Aug. 31.

In between these various agenda items and motions were many speakers. As the hours dragged on, some speakers held court at the lectern multiple times, such as self-described “citizen journalists” Lori Bridgeford and Richard Gallardo.

Shortly before the lunch break, Jonees made a motion for yet another high-ranking performance evaluation, this time, the employee with a target on his back is Shasta County Counsel Rubin Cruse. (Note, an earlier version incorrectly reported which supervisor made that motion.)

Perhaps the majority trio are taking turns announcing the next targeted county employees. Baugh made the motion for Ramstrom’s evaluation at the March 1 meeting. Yesterday was Jones’ turn, and he made a motion to evaluate Cruse. We can only wonder if Garman will be granted the honor at the next meeting to announce the newest targeted county leader.

Patrick’s motion for Cruse’s evaluation passed with a 3-2 vote. Chimenti and Rickert voted no.

And so it goes.

As long as Baugh is the board chair, and as long as Jones is the board’s vice chair, and as long as Garman dutifully follows their lead, together, that board majority will methodically eradicate some of the county’s best and brightest public servants and departments.

There’s a growing list of county employee casualties, and intended casualties: District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty. Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency head Donnell Ewert. Shasta County Health Officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom. District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert. Shasta County Counsel Rubin Cruse.

Chair Les Baugh’s circus is in town. He’s the maniacal, duplicitous clown who laughs as he sets fire to Shasta County, while he watches it burn.

11:10 a.m. Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Baugh made the motion that requested a future performance evaluation of County Counsel Rubin Cruse. Jones was the supervisor who made that motion. This story has been corrected and revised to reflect that information. 


This video features a sample of public speakers, for and against Rickert, including Rickert’s response, shortly after the 30-minute mark.


The following video features public speakers, for and against Karen Ramstrom. 

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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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