Departing Shasta County CEO Matthew Pontes Gets the Last Word

Old World painting. Source: Christian Publishing House.com

Judas came to mind Tuesday during the Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting.

With stunningly duplicitous performances from the dais, supervisors Les Baugh, Tim Garman and Patrick Jones delivered phony-baloney farewells to CEO Matt Pontes, the very man whose life they made miserable for months on end.

Tuesday was Pontes’ last day as Shasta County’s leader. He resigned last month after being publicly hounded, mocked, disrespected, humiliated, devalued and belittled.

During the Tuesday meeting, District 5 Supervisor/Chair Baugh was the first to address the fact that Tuesday was Pontes’ last day, in the Cheshire-grin way that Baugh has perfected. Baugh thanked Pontes for his service, and wished him well. So did Jones, who prefaced his artificial niceties with the understatement that they’d not “always seen eye to eye” – but said he knew Pontes’ future “would be bright”, and congratulated Pontes on his new job.

The thing is, Pontes would not have had to consider a brighter future, or look for a new job, if Jones, Baugh and Garman had not made Pontes’ county leadership position so unbearable that Pontes fled his post like a sane man fleeing a burning building set ablaze by a trio of liquored-up pyromaniacs.

No. 3 traitor — Me-Too Garman — piped up and bizarrely added, “Maybe we’ll meet at the fishing hole.”

Seriously, Tim?

District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti apologized to Pontes for the “unjust, unkind, and unfair” treatment Pontes had received at the county, and said he wished Pontes the best.

District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert had the most to say to Pontes. For more than two years, she’s steadfastly defended not just Pontes against attacks leveled by her slash-and-burn colleagues, but she also fought valiantly (and ultimately, unsuccessfully) for former Supervisor Leonard Moty, former Health Officer Karen Ramstrom and former Health and Human Services Director Donnell Ewart.

None of those outstanding employees work for Shasta County, thanks to efforts of Baugh, Jones and friends who made it their so-called “swamp draining” mission to remove leaders who didn’t goose step to their ultra-conservative, anti-government, anti-establishment playbook. Their tools? Recalls, ultimatums, pink slips, wrongful termination, blackmail, and intimidation, to name a few.

With a smile, Rickert recalled when the supervisors first interviewed Pontes, who progressed easily to the second round of interviews.

District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert.

“We came up with this wonderful young man to take the helm of Shasta County,” Rickert said.

“I just want to say from the bottom of my heart it has been a pleasure and honor to work with you, Mr. Matt Pontes. You have done an exemplary job, and Shasta County was blessed to have you. As the years continue, we will be seeing some of the consequences and results of your decisions.”

Rickert, like Chimenti, apologized for what Pontes endured during his time as CEO.

“I am so sorry Shasta County was not more hospitable to you,” Rickert said. “It’s not who I wanted to believe we were, but what’s happened has happened. You exhibited exemplary leadership skills during an extraordinarily difficult time in the history of this county. I will be forever grateful to you and your service to Shasta County.”

With that, CEO Matthew Pontes continued to preside over his final Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The meeting included the supervisors’ unanimous vote to hire recently retired Public Works Director Pat Minturn as Pontes’ replacement while the supervisors search for another CEO. Minturn, who has expressed no interest in applying for the permanent county CEO job, will remain in that position June 19, 2022, through Jan. 31, 2023.

Patrick Minturn, interim Shasta County CEO.

There’s so much that Pontes will no longer experience as the county’s CEO. No more board meetings that could last as long as eight hours.

No more being “taken to the wood shed” for recurring, harassing evaluations.

No more maintaining the appearance of civility while being publicly attacked by citizens, egged on by back-stabbing colleagues.

Right up until the bitter end, Tuesday’s meeting featured some unforgettable moments for Pontes.

Matt Pontes, former Shasta County Executive Officer.

For example, Pontes, who routinely closes his eyes and bows his head during the pre-meeting invocations, will probably never encounter Tuesday’s pastor who, rather than present a customary simple prayer over the supervisors, delivered a bible-thumping sermon about sin and darkness and criticism of young gay people and all kinds of other matters that had zero to do with supervisors.

Dr. David Nicholas of Shasta Bible College lost his way during what was supposed to be a non-controversial invocation.

Pontes will no longer encounter the meetings’ regular, colorful cast of characters and commenters.

Some are civilized, articulate, and have pressing county matters to address, while others appear dangerously detached from reality.

Speaking of which, Pontes will never again be seated on the Shasta County dais like a sitting duck in a suit to be subjected to citizens’ screams, curses, threats of hanging, or orders to succumb to a crazed citizen’s arrest.

Richard Gallardo is escorted away from the lectern by Shasta County Sheriff’s deputies (Greg Walker and Will Garner) after threating to arrest the board of supervisors, CEO and County Counsel.

Likewise, Pontes will never have the weighty responsibility to spend months upon months overseeing a county budget, as was presented yesterday over the course of many hours and many pages of in-depth reports.

This was the last board of supervisors meeting during which he’d have to maintain a poker face.

Of course, he’ll miss good things, too, such as when Supervisor Rickert was honored Tuesday by the American Association of University Women as AAUW’s 2022 Woman of Achievement, when he joined others in a standing ovation for Rickert.

On Pontes’ last day, A News Cafe offered him the last word, and he was kind enough to answer some questions.

Q: Can you describe what was it like to be Shasta County’s CEO for the last two years? What are your proudest accomplishments? 

I was honored in late 2019 to be selected for Shasta’s new CEO. I had worked hard over two decades to learn everything I could, from multiple positions about local government and how to focus on the important services we provide our customers and community. Shasta County CEO was the perfect opportunity to return back to beautiful Shasta with some very relevant experience.

I preformed a triage of the top county initiatives that I wanted to tackle months before my first day; reviewing budgets, departments, leadership, and community partners. These top initiatives were based on my assessment of the highest community needs for Shasta County and included:

  • Ensuring we had financial and operational resiliency as an organization.
  • Ensuring minimum level of financial Reserves in case of emergencies / future recessions.
  • Understanding how to employ tools that attract and retain key public safety positions.\
  • Ensuring public safety staff had professional equipment and facilities for life safety missions.
  • Ensuring Shasta County is prepared for and can recover from disasters and emergencies in a professional and efficient manner.
  • Ensuring adequate jail and rehabilitation facilities
    Most importantly making sure we build, develop and mentor the next generation of leaders to be innovative and focused on customer service.

COVID 19, an unknown international pandemic, became the highest priority for the County over the past two-and-a-half years. It was a priority to educate and protect our community, while respecting individual rights to support individual, family and business decisions. I am very proud of Shasta County’s unwaivered response to COVID. As an organization, we learned how to think differently about safe county-service delivery.

After two-and-a-half years, we finally find ourselves on the other side of COVID, and although COVID took a lot of bandwidth for the organization, we were able to be very effective during that time:

  • Ensuring a professional response to COVID.
  • More than doubling our financial reserves of the County to meet minimum industry standards.
  • Employing incentives and addressing pay inequities for key public safety professionals.
  • Ensuring we have adequate equipment and facilities for emergency response; such as a new SWAT rescue vehicle, a state of the art emergency operations facility, a new south county patrol office, a new south county fire station, adding permanent fire engine and staffing to Shingletown, investing in public safety radio communication capabilities, and employing more emergency alerting and evacuation tools.
  • Ensured we have preliminary finances, a conceptual plan and staff in place to evaluate, design and construct a modern and efficient Correction and Rehabilitation Public Safety Campus (jail) that addresses our local needs.
  • Assembled a team of professional leaders who understand the community’s needs and can adjust county services and levels to meet those needs. I believe wholeheartedly that we accomplished that.

Q: You outdid yourself with that detailed response. Mr. Pontes, do you mind if I ask how it felt yesterday on your last day as CEO? 

On my last board hearing (which I timed with my departure so that I could recommend to the Board a balanced, strategically focused budget) I felt incredibly proud of the hard work and professionalism I witnessed as my CAO team and our county departments shared with the Board their missions, challenges and important programs. We have some incredible innovations, projects, initiatives, hard work, and successes that occur every day across the county. The Board’s 5-0 support of the recommended budget yesterday is proof that we have the right professionals in place, and that we are on the right track for our community.

Q: Are you at liberty to speak about your next job? 

Thursday my new employer is announcing publicly my new position and assignment. I am extremely excited for this new opportunity to work on a statewide level on wildfire issues facing our forests, counties, state and communities.

Q: OK, I won’t push it, and will look forward to that press release. On another topic, how do you plan to spend your time between now and your next job?

With wildfire season already upon us, I will be going directly to my new position. I will look forward to enjoying some needed time with family and friends at every opportunity possible between assignments.

Q: One final question, Mr. Pontes. What advice do you have for Shasta County’s next CEO (aside from run, don’t walk away from the application)?

My advice for Shasta County’s next CEO would be to develop relationships with Board members – understanding their highest priorities while in office. Listen to the community, spend time developing relationships with community leaders and partners. Understand and stay connected with other CAOs across the state, and always appreciate our talented team who works hard every day for our communities in Shasta County.

Thank you, Matthew Pontes, for taking the time to answer these questions. Most of all, thank you for your dedication and service to Shasta County during some of the most unimaginable circumstances possible. If you could handle that, you can handle anything. I genuinely mean it when I say I wish you well. This one time I may agree with Supervisor Patrick Jones and say that I know your future will be bright. You’ve earned it.

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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