County Leaders’ Jobs Hang in the Balance as Terminating Board Trio Wreaks Havoc, Fear, Destruction

More than eight hours after the Shasta County Board of Supervisors began its Tuesday meeting – which included nearly three hours of closed-session deliberations regarding at least two high-ranking county employees – citizens were no closer to knowing the employment fates of a growing number of crucial key leaders than they were at the meeting’s start.

During the public comment period earlier that morning, the lectern was visited by many of the same people who’d carried placards outside the board chambers before the meeting.

Hand-lettered signs expressed support for Dr. Karen Ramstrom, the county’s chief medical officer, whose job is in jeopardy for no rational, justifiable reason.

Ramstrom, a highly respected physician and veteran, is one of several top-tier Shasta County employees on the brink of unemployment if the newly formed board majority follows through with their promises to “drain the swamp”.

As prominent recall leader Carlos Zapata put it, “We’re the sons of bitches in charge.”

The power-drunk majority members in question are District 5 Supervisor/pastor Les Baugh, District 4 Supervisor/gun shop manager Patrick Jones and District 2 Supervisor/Happy Valley School Board member Tim Garman.

By “drain” they mean getting rid of quality, top-ranking employees whose biggest violation is that they don’t goose-step to Baugh, Jones and Garman’s extremist ways of thinking.

By “swamp” they’re referring to some of the best, most functional parts of Shasta County government.

Despite the consensus that no amount of heart-felt letters or impassioned speakers will sway the board majority to change their minds and allow Ramstrom to stay, Tuesday, one earnest speaker after another implored the supervisors to not fire Ramstrom.

They cited Ramstrom’s intellect, compassion, educational background, dedication, experience, integrity and impressive work ethic. They offered numerous examples of how Ramstrom’s keen problem-solving skills and sincere desire to keep the community safe took her to school districts, health-care facilities and businesses as she walked a precarious professional tightrope with a largely non-COVID-compliant county on one side, and state mandates on the other.

One speaker, Marge Beck, who has nearly 44 years of experience as an insurance broker who works closely with HR departments, skipped an appeal to human kindness as she addressed the board. Instead, she appealed to supervisors’ possible fiscal fears. She suggested that firing Ramstrom could put the county at risk of costly litigation.

Con-Ramstrom speakers were often rude, dismissive and disrespectful of Ramstrom, such as when Richard Gallardo – self-identified “citizen journalist” – concluded his statement with a loud, “Bye Karen!” which got a hearty laugh from the crowd.

Other anti-Ramstrom speakers blamed her for not “standing up” to the governor during the pandemic. They also criticized her for ceasing to attend board meetings, which was laughably ironic since many of the same people who spoke against Ramstrom Tuesday were regulars who showed up at the board meetings early on in the pandemic to regularly verbally assault Ramstrom, someone who’d received death threats, along with some fellow Shasta County Health and Human Services staff members.

Gallardo’s “citizen journalist” sidekick, Lori Bridgeford, mocked Ramstrom for perpetuating the “planned-demic”. Bridgeford approached the lectern with a battered, grimy cardboard box full of what looked like something from a hoarder’s basement. Then Bridgeford launched into the same spiel she’s spewed for two years about the “jab” – coupled with a heavy dose of government conspiracy theories.

Which reminds me, as one woman observed during Tuesday’s break, if anyone ever doubts that Shasta County is in dire need of more robust mental health services, they need only stick around for the Shasta County Board of Supervisors public comment period.


Upon returning to the board chambers following the closed session, Baugh rapped the gavel twice and quickly passed along the chore of delivering the non-news hot potato to Shasta County CEO Matt Pontes.

“So we’re back from closed session, with the following report. Mr. Pontes?”

A subdued Pontes spoke.

“Mr. Chair, on items R-14 and R-15, we have no reportable actions today.”

Pontes was referring to a pair of April 5 agenda items identified as “public employee discipline/dismissal/release” that drew many people to the board chambers that day.

Murmurs of disbelief erupted among the remaining audience members.

No reportable action? What does that mean?

Baugh followed Pontes’ announcement with a last “point” on the subject that’s caused so much community angst, outrage and disbelief.

“We were gone for an awful long time, and I just want to say to you that we gave great thought to each of the items that we agendized for,” Baugh said.

“And I think that’s what you’re all asking for; that we give thoughtful consideration to everything we do as a county. And while there’s no reportable action, we have performed our job well with lots of conversation.”

District 5 Supervisor/Chair Les Baugh

Raise your hand if you can identify at least three board members who did not perform well that day, and whose destructive actions demonstrate abject disregard for the county and its people.

Keep that hand raised if you take exception to Baugh’s claim that he gave “thoughtful consideration to everything we do as a county”.

This is the second closed session that toyed with Ramstrom’s future, pushing the threat of her termination to the cliff’s edge, where it now sits suspended in limbo, without a definitive outcome.

The first closed session initiated by the new board regarding Ramstrom was on March 15. As with Tuesday, following the lengthy closed session, Baugh delegated the non-announcement to someone else; County Counsel Rubin Cruse, who summarized the news in five words:

“No reportable action was taken.”

Those words – no reportable action – hold different meanings for different people.

That’s why on Tuesday evening some celebratory Ramstrom supporters, including those who’d beseeched supervisors to spare Ramstrom’s job, expressed victory on Facebook following the proclamation.

“We did it!”

However, there are others for whom “no reportable action” lands them firmly in the cynics’ camp. Sad to say, I’m in that camp. From what I’ve observed of the current board majority, I see “no reportable action” as Ramstrom’s temporary stay of execution.

Although I have no clue what happened during this most recent closed session, the expressions upon the faces of Cruse, Pontes and Dist. 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert as they re-entered the board chambers spoke volumes. Their eyes were downcast. Their faces were flushed. Their mouths were set in a straight line. For a few minutes, Cruse didn’t take his seat, prompting someone during A News Cafe’s Facebook Live feed to write, “Where’s Cruse?”

Eventually, Cruse appeared and took his place at the dais.

I will not celebrate until it’s announced that Ramstrom’s job is safe from the chopping block. Likewise, I will not celebrate until it’s clear that County Counsel Rubin Cruse and CEO Pontes’ jobs are safe from the stooges’ rusty guillotine.

I mention Cruse and Pontes because Chair Baugh & Co. have used the same language about their sudden desire to hold closed-session “performance evaluations” regarding Cruse and Pontes, despite the fact both men were evaluated barely four months ago.

Master sleight-of-hand performer Baugh laid all his cards on the table the first day he assumed control as board chair (after he and Jones led the charge to remove interim chair Rickert from that spot).

Among Baugh’s demented wish list was his agenda-item intention to “evaluate” Ramstrom, first, followed by Cruse. Upon hearing that, the audience went wild with cheers, whoops and applause by people who’ve demanded Ramstrom’s dismissal ever since the start of the pandemic. They may be rude, but they’re not all stupid. They pick up on Baugh’s code words like a Doberman hears a dog whistle. In Baugh’s vernacular, a publicly announced out-of-the-blue “evaluation” is synonymous with “terminate”.

These sham evaluations are the first steps by three rabidly power-hungry supervisors to “take back” Shasta County, first by gutting it. What comes second? Who knows. Their post-destruction “restoration” remains a mystery.

The slippery-slope evaluations are mere formalities for the majority trio, because they’ve already made up their minds about which county employees they want kicked to the curb.

The Pope himself could implore the trouble-making trio to please not fire Ramstrom, and for the love of God, please stop this nonsense of sudden evaluations upon outstanding employees. There’s no doubt that the unreachable Baugh would flash his Cheshire-grin at the Pope and tell him no.

That’s pretty much what happened toward the end of the five-hour March 29 board meeting – the first night meeting of the year – when District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti presented one his “asks”. He made a motion to agendize discussion of a two-part request that was clearly in reference to the board majority’s recent evaluation frenzy, the precursor to terminating key county leaders.

District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti

Part 1 of Chimenti’s motion asked for a “moratorium” on board-initiated closed-session staff reviews or similar procedures through December 31, 2022.

Part 2 of Chimenti’s motion asked that the board leaves Pontes’ staff intact, and allow them to focus on their projects and plans through the end of the year, without interference from the board, and without instilling fear of reprisals or job loss.

Chimenti’s motion was quickly seconded by Supervisor Rickert. Then came discussion, starting with Jones, who scoffed at Chimenti’s motion, declared it “ridiculous” and said he’d never seen anything quite like it in his nine years as an elected official.

Perhaps if Jones didn’t spend so much time nodding off during board meetings, his eyes would be open to seeing all kinds of things, never seen before.

Baugh said with a chuckle and wide smile that he would never give up his “right and responsibility” to conduct legally required evaluations. Baugh’s pandering proclamation earned him a smattering of applause and shouts of approval from the remaining audience members still in the chambers for the meeting that ended shortly before 11 p.m.

Baugh argued with Chimenti. He justified the slew of evaluations as part of the job, a point countered by Chimenti who said he wasn’t talking about “regular” evaluations, but the recent spate of unscheduled evaluations triggered by the board majority before the normal evaluation period.

Finally, me-too-also Garman spoke, and before parroting Baugh and Jones’ positions, Garman turned his attention to county counsel Cruse with a bizarre line of questions, none of which Cruse was given time to reply.

District 2 Supervisor Tim Garman.

“Mr. Cruse, I’d like to ask you about this, and what supervisor Chimeti has proposed, legality wise,” Garman said.

“I’m under the impression that we do closed sessions on evaluations. Where does it stand that we have to do closed session evaluations, or can they be open session?”

Again, without waiting for Cruse’s reply, Garman abruptly turned his question to Chimenti, almost as an eager-to-please child might ask favorite teacher.

“Is that what you’re asking, Joe?”

Chimenti said no, that what he was saying was that he’d prefer to not have board members conduct staff evaluations that strayed from the standard evaluation schedule.

“That said, I would also disagree with your statement there,” Garman said to Chimenti. “Because – I’m new, I want to know where things are. And I want the evaluations,” Garman said.

Garman leaned back in his chair and gazed out to the audience to the sounds of a few hands clapping, and a shouted “whoo!”

With that, a vote was taken. No surprise, the motion failed 3-2. Of course, Rickert and Chimenti were the defeated yes votes.

Les and Patrick Bickerson

That’s one example of the way most of the votes have gone since Garman joined the board and Baugh became chair.

Even so, although thus far, the onslaught of 3-2 vote results has been predictable, the last two board meetings’ votes have produced a glimmer of evidence that even with the locked-step dissension caused by the three amigos, there are rare times when the supervisors may agree with a big picture, but are sharply divided about the details.

Case in point, during the March 29 meeting that featured a lengthy presentation by Shasta County Assistant CEO Eric Magrini, Shasta County Sheriff Mike Johnson, and CEO Pontes, the men pitched a preliminary concept for an elaborate jail/detention center complex that’s literally shaped like a wagon wheel with “spokes” that represent a variety of services to meet myriad needs of the facility’s inmates, from mental health assistance and substance abuse treatment to everything in between.

Johnson elaborated on the concept during an interview with Mike Mangus from KRCR TV.

Jones complained that what he wanted most was a basic jail to house lots of criminals, something that could be built and filled quickly. He said he was disappointed in Magrini, Johnson and Pontes for not keeping the community informed about the project sooner.

Chimenti expressed enthusiasm and support for the plan, and urged patience. He said it would take time, and likened naysayers who complained about how long it would take to build the facility to an overweight person who doesn’t want to go on a diet because it would take too long to lose weight.

Rickert focused less on the project, and more on the man she believed could lead the way to the facility’s completion. Rickert said that one of the reasons why the board chose Pontes over all the other candidates was because of his experience and success in seeing through the creation of a jail complex in Santa Barbara. Rickert’s comments addressed two topics: her support of the proposed detention facility, and her unflagging belief in Pontes. Her fervent endorsement of Pontes was especially significant in the face of rampant rumors that claim that if Baugh and his cohorts have their way, Pontes’ future as Shasta County’s CEO hangs in the balance, because he’ll either be fired by the board majority or pressured to resign.

Do you recall when Pontes arrived in Redding? January 2020. Within two months the pandemic hit. From then on Shasta County has been overtaken by — as reporter R.V. Schiede calls it — a shitnado.

Rickert directed her words at Baugh.

“Mr. Baugh, you were there, and if I remember, you were highly, highly highly supportive of Mr. Pontes when we hired him,” Rickert said, as a stone-faced Baugh stared back.

District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert.

“I would do it in a heartbeat again,” Rickert said. “And the number one reason we hired him was because he had successfully gotten a detention facility built in Santa Barbara County. And that is no easy undertaking. He is the right guy to get this done, and I am behind him 100 percent. He knows what he’s doing.”

Matt Pontes, Shasta County Executive Officer

Rickert admitted that the process would not be easy, and, like Chimenti, she said it would take time.

Baugh said the purpose of the presentation was to see if the board had the will to proceed with a plan to build a jail. He said that like Jones, he was anxious to get a jail built quickly. Although Baugh said he was in support of “a jail” he did not refer to the specific, ambitious plan presented by Pontes, Magrini and Johnson. Baugh said he wanted more information, but ideally he’d like to sign off on a jail plan before his term ends in nine months.

A Facebook Live video showed the supervisors’ conversations about the jail.

In the end, the board unanimously agreed to proceed with the decision to gather more information about the jail facility/detention center.

Regarding the presentation, a few audience members expressed frustration that some back-to-back presentations meant that the public had to wait about three hours before they could speak during the public comment period. And since that March 29 meeting was a 5-hour night meeting, it meant that many people left before speaking, rather than stay late into the evening.

Casino-relocation plan reveals more division

A more recent example of supervisors at odds occurred Tuesday during a presentation by key Redding Rancheria representatives.  The Redding Rancheria tribal members had accepted an invitation after Garman requested during his first board meeting that tribal members present updates about its casino-relocation plan.

Once again, an unmistakable difference of opinion erupted between Jones and Baugh with regard to the casino-relocation project.

“It is essential that governments work together, so we’re thankful to have the opportunity to stand before you today to present the project that is very important to the Redding Rancheria and our ability to serve future generations,” Rancheria CEO Tracy Edwards said.

Immediately following the Rancheria’s official presentation, Baugh asked Garman if he’d like to start the discussion, since he was the one who requested the Rancheria presentation in the first place.

But rather than commenting one way or another, Garman jumped the gun with a motion for the meeting’s next agenda to “discuss and vote on this issue”.

This motion was amended by county staff and board minutes later so  Garman’s request could occur at later date. Poor Garman is in far, far over his head. Clearly, he’s no Leonard Moty. Garman makes quirky, knee-jerk motions like gullible kids make wishes to Santa Claus; without a single thought about staff time, or the guests’ time, or anything except the fact that Garman thought it and Garman said it and Garman wanted it and that was that.

After a pregnant pause, Baugh asked if the motion had a second, which was quickly claimed by Jones.

Jones, a recipient of a $20,000 campaign contribution from the Rancheria during his run for supervisor, expressed unbridled interest in partnering with the Rancheria on its quest to construct a new casino on south-Redding property off Interstate 5.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Jones proudly took credit for the Rancheria’s eventual purchase of the property. He said he was a Redding City Council member in 2010 when he’d reached out and informed the Rancheria about a particular sliver of available, surplus city-of-Redding land that appeared to have no use.

Consequently, the Rancheria paid the city of Redding $1.575 million for the 82-acre Stratte property. Tribal members have worked on a casino-relocation plan ever since.

Jones effusively expressed his intention to help the Rancheria however possible.

Baugh, on the other hand, started his comments to the Rancheria representatives with an adversarial tone, and said yes, he had joined the other previous board’s unanimous decision to oppose an agreement between the county and Rancheria with regard to the casino-relocation plan.

Baugh, who’s renowned for saying that he’s not doing something, precisely while he’s doing it, assured tribal members that he wasn’t being critical of the plan. But of course, that’s exactly how he came across, as he treated the tribal guests like hostile witnesses.

Tracy Edwards, Redding Rancheria tribal member and CEO.

Baugh peppered CEO Edwards with questions, as well as the Rancheria’s board chair, and a Rancheria attorney, and yet an additional tribal member in the chambers Tuesday. Baugh’s inquiries mainly revolved around money, and how much the county could get from the Rancheria. Baugh circled back a few times to re-assert that the Rancheria was to blame for past communication breakdowns between the county and tribal members.

Rancheria CEO Edwards pushed back, and reminded Baugh that the board’s previous opposition to the arrangement was the conversation-stopper, not tribal members.

Edwards expressed an interest in sitting down with county representatives some time to discuss Baugh’s questions.

“The project’s going to move forward,” Edwards said. “It seems it would be in the best interest of the county and the constituents of the county to work with the tribe.”

Despite Edwards’ previously stated willingness to return later with more information, Baugh continued to drill down with specific questions.

Jones jumped in with examples of the Rancheria’s generosity, and his opinion that the board should sit down and make an agreement with the Rancheria.

“That train’s gonna leave whether we’re on it or not,” Jones said.

So the banter went; back and forth between Jones and Baugh.

At one point, later in the meeting, the men even disagreed about whether the chambers should or should not have an overhead projector available for speakers and commenters. Baugh was firmly against it, because of the risk that anyone could put any awful image for all to see – such as an aborted fetus.

Jones was for the projector, and said that in all his years as a Redding City Council member, there wasn’t a single instance when someone placed something verboten on the projector.

The supervisors agreed to try the projector anyway, with the caveat that they could always change their minds and return to projector-less meetings if something awful happened.

Rickert under fire by gaslighting pyromaniacs

Other disconcerting themes have reared their ugly heads on the Baugh-led board, such as Baugh’s rude and disrespectful demeanor toward Rickert, the board’s only female supervisor.

With each meeting, there are more instances where an exasperated-looking Rickert interrupts Baugh to firmly assert herself as she clearly informs Chair Baugh that her light was on, yet Baugh hadn’t acknowledged her with permission for her to proceed. The result is that when Rickert is ignored by Baugh, she is bypassed for opportunities to speak. And if she takes matters into her own hands, and speaks without being permitted by Baugh, then a grinning Baugh interrupts and tells Rickert to wait her turn.

Oh, how Baugh loves his power!

On a related note, there’s a recurring pattern where Rickert will be the first supervisor on a motion, but Baugh will not recognize Rickert’s first on a motion, and choose another supervisor – like Jones – for that distinction. If Rickert protests, Baugh claims he hadn’t heard Rickert, but golly, what’s the big deal, since Richert’s welcome to second the motion if she wants. When Rickert publicly addresses these slights, Baugh chuckles and claims everything was unintentional.

Funny, but Baugh rarely has difficulty seeing the male supervisors’ lights, or hearing which male supervisor called first on a motion.

There’s also Jones’ on-going gas-lighted pissing contest with Rickert over the Fire-Safe Council, one of Rickert’s most beloved projects; an organization she’s worked with and contributed thousands of dollars to for years. Over the course of many meetings, Jones has intensified his condescending mansplaining to Rickert with inconsequential details about the Fire-Safe Council, about which she could literally write a book on the subject. These kinds of exchanges result in Rickert’s ongoing attempts to set the record straight, which Jones, like Baugh, brushes off with a laugh. Jones’ verbal digs and jabs against Rickert are so subtle that they may be nearly imperceptible to those unfamiliar with Jones’ ways. But once you see it, you’ll never miss it again.

The revolving chopping block

While Shasta County has been an international laughing stock for two years, the last few months have seen increasingly alarming damage to the county and its stable of quality employees.

District 2 Supervisor Moty was recalled in early February following a dirty recall campaign based upon blatant lies. Later that month, Donnell Ewart, Shasta County Health and Human Services director, announced his early resignation, rather than suffer the indignity of being pushed from his post of 23 years.

Tuesday, the board appointed Ewert’s interim replacement, Laura Burch– former Shasta County Child Support director. Ewert’s official last day is tomorrow, April 8.

Like a plot from an Alfred Hitchcock movie, county employees continue to disappear, one by one, as they’re “evaluated” over a trap door, where Baugh and friends are poised to pull the lever.

Shasta County government has been profoundly destabilized and is being terrorized by not just the board majority, but the men’s supporters, including leaders of what I call the ShasTaliban, a motley mix of everyone from Christian Nationalists and State of Jefferson die-hards to militia members and unhinged conspiracy theorists.

Cartoon illustration by Ren. Copyright 2022 A News Cafe

And oh yeah, don’t forget son-of-a-billionaire Reverge Anselmo, who’s stuck his Connecticut nose in Shasta County politics and continues to throw mad money as freely as creepy clowns toss Dum Dum suckers to clamoring children at Redding’s rodeo parade.

What’s a county to do?

As dire as things look at the moment for Shasta County, all’s not lost. Elections will happen in June and November. Then, voters get another shot at carefully choosing sane, rational leaders. We learned a horrible lesson in February when low voter turn out in District 2 cost Moty his career.

Come Election Day, we can choose bridge-builders over bridge-burners; candidates capable of following the rule of law over rude, crude people with Drain the Swamp T-shirts.

A dreamy proposition

Regarding those beleaguered county leaders targeted by the three stooges, in my dreams they accept their fate before the buffoons’ firing squad. Once removed from employment, they can accept their employment buyout, fly to Hawaii for a well-deserved vacation and celebrate freedom from Shasta County’s stress pool. They can bask under the sun upon warm sand, and feel the relief of separation from such a dysfunctional county.

Once rested, they can return to Shasta County, hire a lawyer and sue the pants off the county for wrongful termination, or perhaps hostile working environment, or any number of violations.

Because the terminated county leaders are such exemplary employees, their reputations will precede them, and they’ll be hailed as bright, brave individuals who performed their their jobs so well that the were fired by a bunch of insecure, rootin’ tootin’ wanna-be cowboys.

If anything, it would be a badge of honor to be fired by that group.

If the county goes bankrupt, maybe then the public will wake up and realize that those claiming to “restore” or “take back” Shasta County are nothing more than ego-driven imposters who are great at breaking things, but haven’t a clue how to put the pieces together again.

They’ve had their fun, and nearly destroyed the county in the process.

The majority of North State residents are good, rational, ethical, middle-of-the road people who care about one another; who truly want what’s best for our region.

This is our time to inform the “sons of bitches” who erroneously believe they’re in charge that their faux Western dog-and-pony show is over.

It’s time we take back Shasta County.


Editor’s note: This story was revised for clarification at 7:45 p.m. on 4/9/22.


If you appreciate A News Cafe journalist Doni Chamberlain’s reporting and commentary, please consider a contribution or subscription. Thank you.

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.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments