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Destructive Board Majority Wins Again: Shasta County Loses Distinguished, Embattled CEO

Matt Pontes, Shasta County Executive Officer

District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones got his wish. Tragically, Jones’ granted wish puts Shasta County in even greater peril.

Matt Pontes, Shasta County’s CEO for just 26 months, disclosed to staff Wednesday that he will leave his position as the county’s leader in a few weeks. A source revealed that Pontes has accepted an opportunity to work at a yet-undisclosed new position.

It’s unknown when Pontes will make a formal announcement of his departure, where he’ll go, or who will replace him.

What is known to anyone paying attention to the hostile take-over of Shasta County government by a fringe group of ultra-conservative radicals, is why Pontes would leave.

No mystery there. Pontes, the captain of Shasta County’s ship that’s been under fire by renegade alt-right political bullies since Pontes’ first day as CEO at the start of the pandemic, received the latest act of forced plank-walking almost exactly a month ago as part of what the Jones and his fellow political thugs gleefully refer to as “draining the swamp”.

This shameful public indignity came after many months of criticism and open intentions voiced by the majority supervisors to hold repeated sham performance evaluations. Their unabashed goal was to remove an entire slate of some of the county’s most respected senior leaders, including Shasta County Counsel Rubin Cruse, and Shasta County Chief Health Officer Karen Ramstrom. So far, of those three, only Cruse has evaded removal.

A loss for Shasta County equals a win for depraved board majority

Jones, who won his Dist. 4 board seat thanks to a millionaire’s $100,000 campaign donation — the largest in Shasta County history — led the charge to remove Pontes from power. He was enabled by his destructive, lawless sidekick District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh, and their fledging, obedient District 2 Supervisor-newbie, Tim Garman.

Garman replaced long-time distinguished supervisor Leonard Moty in a dirty recall based upon lies.

Although Pontes’ position was eventually spared after lengthy closed-door sessions, the damage was already done. Jones had broadcast information from Pontes’ distant past, a legal offense committed in his youth that had been expunged, something that Pontes had been transparent about when he was hired in January of 2020. Since then, frequent public commenters, like State of Jefferson devotee Terry Rapoza have taken to referring to Pontes as a criminal during the public board meetings.

Sometimes, the sky really is falling

District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert, an ardent supporter of Pontes, knows firsthand what Pontes has endured, because she’s experienced it herself. She has received death threats, public mocking and vile statements during the public comment period. She was targeted for recall by the same group who’s now driven Pontes from his job.

That explains why, although Rickert is devastated by the news, she’s not surprised. For nearly two years she’s been sounding the alarm about the rising undercurrent of an increasingly angry, lawless mob whose tools include threats, bullying, intimidation, incivility and misinformation campaigns.

This group and their goals have been largely funded by a Connecticut millionaire who has an ax to grind with Shasta County.

Pontes never had a chance

This morning Rickert had much to say about Pontes, the county, and what can be done to save Shasta County from further damage and loss.

Dist. 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert

“I am deeply saddened and troubled by the resignation of an amazing CEO, Matt Pontes,” Rickert said in a written statement.

“Mr. Pontes has accomplished much for the county during these tumultuous political times in this county. The toxic and hostile environment limited his ability to be effective as a CEO, and his decision to leave is most understandable. He is a man of ethics and integrity, and is a perfect fit for Shasta County with his skill set. We will never find a replacement of his caliber. The power is in the hands of the people, and only they can correct the course of this county. It’s time to step up and call for responsible leadership.”

Adios, Wagon Wheel of Justice

The timing of Pontes’ departure and the mob’s overthrow of him is especially interesting since one of the reasons Pontes was brought to Shasta County was because he was hailed for his success in bringing Santa Barbara County a state-of-the art detention center and jail facility.

Pontes, Shasta County Sheriff Mike Johnson and Shasta County Assistant CEO Eric Magrini recently presented a lengthy description of a similar multi-faceted facility for Shasta County, referred to affectionately by Johnson as “the wagon wheel of justice”. Johnson summarized the concept during an interview with KRCR reporter Mike Mangas.

Bizarrely, during Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, Baugh, Jones, Garman and District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti pushed hard to use the majority of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds for a new jail. This was despite results from a public survey that disagreed with the men’s wishes. As Supervisor Rickert pointed out repeatedly, the jail was not at the top of the citizens’ list, and why ask for community input and then ignore it.

So now Pontes, a leader with expertise in jail-construction projects, was so badly mistreated by a majority of supervisors that he really had no dignified choice but to leave.

Congratulations Jones, Baugh and Garman. Mission accomplished.

It’s as if someone agreed to undergo a rare, open-heart surgery, then turned around and killed the surgeon who specialized in that procedure.

Wait to be pushed, or jump?

So Pontes is leaving on his own terms. He knew the board majority’s goal was to get rid of him. I’m happy for Pontes, to move on to a place where he’s appreciated, a place where he can work without threats. But I’m terrified for Shasta County. In just a few months, Pontes joined the growing list of key exemplary leaders who are no longer with the county. Moty lost his seat in February. Chief Health Officer Karen Ramstrom was fired earlier this month. Health and Human Services Director Donnell Ewert announced in February that he’d take his retirement sooner than he’d planned, and he’s no longer with Shasta County.

Shasta County Director of Public Works, Pat Minturn is also leaving.

Minturn, who’s had an exemplary record with the county for nearly three decades, received a standing ovation at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting before he said a few words from the board chamber lectern about his career.

It’s only just begun

Jones, Baugh and Gaman are just warming up. They’re not finished. Their county demolition plan is on course. The trio are at the helm of Shasta County’s ship, and they’re running it into the ground. They don’t care about Shasta County. They don’t care about Shasta County citizens. They care about making good on their vow to clear the deck of anyone in Shasta County leadership positions who aren’t on board with their new “anti-government, anti-establishment” ways of doing things.

Who can blame Pontes for leaving? What sane person would stay and endure the verbal and emotional abuse, disrespect and disregard? In fact, why would any of Shasta County’s best and brightest employees choose to stay in an increasingly toxic, threatening and insecure work situation? When Pontes leaves, what motivation will remaining county staff have to stay and risk being targeted for termination? If this tragedy could befall the county’s CEO, then no county employee’s job is safe.

Shasta County is in an unprecedented precarious situation where the rational leaders are being thrown overboard by those who seek to control the county in ways that only benefit themselves and their followers. The pirates are in change now. Man the lifeboats.

Editor’s note: Click here for a statement from Leonard Moty, former Shasta County District 2 Supervisor.

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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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