Editor’s note: New information has been added re Baron Browning, below.
Transparency. The word has been on almost every candidate’s lips this midterm campaign season; a valorous but vague pledge to get to the bottom of things and root out corruption if so-and-so should happen to get elected.
Each of the six rightwing candidates supported by Liberty Committee — the PAC funded by Connecticut son-of-a-billionaire Reverge Anselmo — promised to restore transparency to the respective office for which they were running during the runup to the June primary election.
For example, District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones, de facto head of Shasta County’s ultraconservative rebellion, assured voters that his schoolboy chum, District 5 supervisor candidate Chris Kelstrom, will restore transparency to county government if he’s elected.
Kelstrom finished second to Anderson City Councilman Baron Browning in the June primary. The pair will face off in November for the District 5 supervisor seat. In the race for the District 1 county supervisor seat, Ninja Coalition HQ gym owner Kevin Crye finished second to Dutch Bros co-owner and Redding City Councilwoman Erin Resner. They’re also headed for a fall showdown.
As ANC has previously reported, Liberty Committee’s four fledgling rightwing candidates running for county clerk/registrar, schools superintendent, district attorney and sheriff were defeated handily by vastly more experienced incumbent opponents in the June primary.
Transparency will undoubtedly remain an issue in the November election, a point made epically clear last week when the Redding Record Searchlight sued Shasta County after county officials stonewalled the newspaper for more than a year, refusing to release records pertaining to Eric Magrini’s tumultuous two years as sheriff and his sudden resignation and subsequent promotion to assistant county executive in 2021.
So far, no candidate has elaborated on just how he or she would restore transparency to county government. But thanks to the California Political Reform Act of 1974, the voter-approved initiative that created the Fair Political Practices Commission, it’s possible to gauge the transparency of current members of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, as well as the four candidates vying for two open supervisor seats in November.
The act requires candidates to disclose all campaign donations and expenditures. It also requires some state and local officials, including county supervisors, to file statements of economic interest, called a Form 700, designed to ferret out conflicts of interest. The FPPC’s history of the act states:
“With the advent of the new law, the campaign activities and the personal financial affairs of state and local officials were subjected to greater public scrutiny than at any other time in California’s history.”
In a word, public officials are now subjected to more transparency than they were in the past. Candidates are required to list the names of their campaign donors and the amounts they receive above $100, providing voters with a window on how a candidate might vote on a particular issue. County supervisor candidates must state their economic interests on Form 700, including personal income, investments and other financial holdings that might create a conflict of interest with issues that come before the board.
Some candidates and campaigns are less transparent than others. Since donating $110,000 to Jones’ 2020 supervisor campaign, Anselmo has contributed a total of $744,900 to local far right causes. Nearly half a million dollars was spent to recall former District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty and replace him with the inexperienced Tim Garman in February. Yet Anselmo has failed to register with the FPPC as a major donor as required by law for the past three years.
Shasta Forward, the political action committee formed last fall to defend the three supervisors originally targeted for recall (Moty, District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti and District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert) filed a complaint against Anselmo with the FPPC in early May. On May 31, the FPPC informed Anselmo, who has been fined for similar violations in the past, that he was under investigation again.
“This letter is to notify you that the Enforcement Division of the Fair Political Practices Commission has commenced a commission-initiated investigation regarding your potential violations of the campaign finance provisions of the Political Reform Act,” warned Angela Brereton, chief of the enforcement division.
The new case against Anselmo joins three ongoing FPPC investigations into potential campaign finance violations by the Recall Shasta County PAC, the Red, White and Blueprint docuseries and the Shasta General Purpose Committee. All four investigations are active and remain open.
It’s no surprise that Jones is the least transparent of the current sitting supervisors when it comes to his Form 700 filings. The District 4 supervisor has filed three Form 700s since announcing his candidacy in 2019; he failed to list the income he receives from managing Jones Fort, the family gun store, on all three occasions.
During the 2020 campaign, Jones’ status at the gun store became an issue when then-incumbent District 4 Supervisor Steve Morgan complained that Jones was just the manager of Jones Fort, not the owner as implied in his campaign bio. In response, Jones said he was the founder and owner of the Redding Gun Show, a biannual event formerly held at the Holiday Inn.
When asked by telephone why the Redding Gun Show wasn’t listed on any of the three Form 700s he’s filed so far, Jones said he had staged the event six or seven times and it just wasn’t a moneymaker. The last event was cancelled due to the start of the pandemic. If the event made less than $500, it doesn’t necessarily have to be listed according to FPPC rules.
On the second Form 700 Jones filed after assuming office in January 2021, he attached a Schedule B and listed his interest in an undeveloped 156-acre property on the Millville plains east of Redding. According to county assessor records, Jones purchased the land for $178,500 in 2010. The purchase was financed by two $65,000 promissory notes, one of which Jones paid off with $50,000 in February 2021, shortly after he took office.
The payment came roughly six months after Anselmo donated $100,000 to Jones’ supervisor campaign. According to his campaign’s finance records, Jones raised a total of $148,747 in 2020. The campaign paid Media Plus $57,000 for radio and TV time and $57,000 to Go To Print for mailers. The campaign spent a total $154,398, about $5000 more than it took in, and closed with a balance of $13.27, so Jones apparently didn’t find the funds there.
“I own all of the property outright,” Jones said. “Both [promissory notes] are paid, I wrote them a check because I had enough money.” Jones said he paid off one promissory note before he sought the supervisor seat. He was able to pay off the second promissory note because the lender lowered the amount and his wife pitched in. “My wife helped me out on that,” he said.
A News Café was unable to find at the Shasta County assessor’s office any record of both promissory notes being paid off. According to FPPC regulations, Jones probably should have reported the 2021 loan repayment on his annual Form 700 Schedule C in 2022.
Jones’ apparent flouting of FPPC regulations undermines the transparency he claims to support. Jones said he’d reply to A News Café’s questions about his gun store income but so far, he has not responded.
While FPPC regulations don’t require Jones to report his $50,000 supervisor salary, he is required to list his gross income from the family gun store. It should have been listed on Schedule C in 2019, 2021 and 2022. If his wife has an income, 50 percent of the gross should have been reported all three years as well.
Whether Jones’ $50,000 loan payoff should have been recorded is an open question, according to FPPC communications director Jay Wierenga.
“Generally speaking, any outside income, loans, property, etc. may be subject to reporting and often is,” Wierenga said. “But again, it all depends on the specific facts of each situation, things like whether it is in the jurisdiction or not, and many other factors. So, one cannot give a blanket ‘this has to be reported’ statement. It may have to be, it may not, it all depends.”
“What I can say is Form 700s have to be filled out to the best of the person’s knowledge and ability and are signed under oath.”
Wierenga said the FPPC encourages candidates and Form 700 filers “to over-report rather than under-report (or not list something). It’s better to have something on the form that doesn’t need to be there than not having something on the form that is supposed to be there.”
That’s the strategy pursued by District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert. Her annual Form 700 with attached A-1, A-2, B and C schedules spans 35 pages. District 1 candidate Resner, the Dutch Bros co-owner, comes in a distant second place with a 9-page disclosure.
District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh comes in third with six pages. Supervisors Chimenti and Garman, and candidates Crye and Kelstrom filed three or less pages.
“I’m a Catholic, I have to tell the truth,” Rickert said only half-jokingly when asked about her voluminous filing. “It’s just the way I was born and raised. Besides, it says on the form you’re expected to fill it out to the best of your ability.”
Rickert and her husband Jim are perhaps best known for Prather Ranch, located in Macdoel in Siskiyou County. It’s the first cattle ranch to be certified organic and humane by California Certified Organic Farmers.
But their base of operations is their ranch in McArthur in eastern Shasta County, where under the rubric of Western Agricultural Services they oversee a multimillion-dollar mini empire they’ve built over the past four decades that includes farms, ranches, real estate holdings, farm and ranch management services, consulting and appraisal services, land leasing and business rentals.
Rickert’s income from these various businesses and trusts exceeds $300,000 annually as reported on multiple Schedule A-2 forms. The Rickerts are millionaires, but they don’t necessarily present themselves as rich. Husband Jim likes to joke that they engage in all of these other economic activities just so they can donate to their favorite charity: ranching. Both of them cringe when talking about the ongoing drought and its effect on local agriculture.
The bulk of Rickert’s filing, two-thirds of its 35 pages, is comprised of Schedule A-1 forms that offer an exploded view of her 401K retirement program, featuring a who’s who of blue-chip stocks and bonds, from Alphabet Inc. to Glaxo Smith Kline to United Airlines. Candidates don’t necessarily have to reveal retirement investments, but Rickert prefers to err on the side of transparency.
Similarly, Rickert discloses her supervisor salary and both Rickerts’ Social Security income, even though candidates and office holders aren’t required to report income from local, state and federal government sources.
Because Rickert has more skin in the game than any other county supervisor, she more often has to recuse herself from voting on certain issues that come before the board of supervisors.
For example, the Rickerts participate in the statewide Carl Moyer Rural Assistance Program, which “provides monetary incentives to individuals, private companies and public organizations that clean up heavy-duty engines more than required by California air quality regulations.” When issues pertaining to local administration of the program come before the board of supervisors, Rickert recuses herself.
The same thing goes for Williamson Act issues that come before the board. The Rickerts participate in the program, which offers property tax incentives to land holders who agree to restrict land to agricultural or related open space use. When Williamson Act issues come before the board, Rickert generally recuses herself.
Because Jim Rickert inherited a small family ranch in the vicinity of the proposed Tierra Robles project, she consulted with Shasta County Counsel Rubin Cruse before approval of the project came before the board last week, to ensure there was no conflict of interest preventing her from voting. There wasn’t, and Rickert joined the board’s 5-0 rejection of Tierra Robles.
“Water is a huge issue in Shasta County,” Rickert said at the meeting. “And we don’t know how long our weather conditions are going to remain like this. This could go on for another five or 10 years.”
She’s not kidding.
Outgoing District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh’s 6-page Form 700 includes a Schedule A-2 that lists him and wife Susie as the mortgage holders for Patrick and Andy Wallner, president and vice-president of Wallner Plumbing at 1556 Hartnell Ave. The Baughs receive $10,001 to $100,000 annually from mortgage payments.
Baugh’s Schedule B lists the building at 1556 Hartnell, valued at $100,001 to $1,000,000, and a vacant lot located at 20242 Chalone Pl. in Anderson, valued at $10,001 to $100,000.
Baugh’s Schedule C again lists the mortgage income he and his wife receive from the Wallners, $10,001 to $100,000. No other sources of income are listed.
Recall replacement candidate and District 2 Supervisor Tim Garman’s 4-page Form 700 filing includes two Schedule Cs. On the first he lists the $500 to $1000 he earned at Happy Valley Union Elementary School District and the $10,000 to $100,000 he earned as a salesman for Idaho-based Croc Coatings, a concrete specialty company with virtually no presence in northern California.
On Garman’s second Schedule C, he lists Croc Coatings again, but his income has been reduced to $1001 to $10,000. Garman also claimed he earned $10,001 to $100,000 from Teamwork Human Resources, a local temporary employment agency.
Outgoing District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti’s spartan 3-page filing lists his supervisor salary, $10,001 to $100,000, and his wife’s $10,001 to $100,000 salary from United Way of Northern California on Schedule C.
Baugh, Garman and Chimenti did not return requests for clarifications on their Form 700 filings.
Like Rickert, District 1 supervisor candidate Erin Resner has more skin in the game than most of her contemporaries, including her opponent in November’s runoff election, Ninja Coalition HQ gym owner Kevin Crye.
Resner and her husband Chris are co-owners of the Dutch Bros franchise in Shasta County, featuring nine drive-thru beverage stores in Redding, Anderson and Palo Cedro that employee up to a total of 200 people. She currently sits on the Redding City Council, where she’s grown accustomed to filling out annual Form 700 disclosure reports.
“I’ve been completing a 700 form for well over 5 years now,” Resner said via email. “At first it felt very intrusive as I’m typically private about our investments or holdings or where we live, but when you sign up to serve in this capacity you agree to sharing most of your private life.
“I also feel it’s important for the public to trust that we do not make decisions based on any sort of personal financial interest; the public needs to be able to see our decisions are community focused,” she added.
Resner’s current Form 700 runs nine pages and lists three major investments on Schedule A-1. She’s a 50 percent shareholder in the Dutch Bros franchise, represented by Churn Creek Investments and North Market Investments on paper, with market values greater than $1 million each. She also listed her IRA with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney valued $10,001 to $100,000.
The Resner’s real property holdings are disclosed on five Schedule A-2 forms under the business names Klez LLC, the Resner Family Trust, and La Vida Investments. Their holdings in Redding and Palo Cedro are valued above $1 million; their holdings in Anderson are valued at $10,001 to $100,000.
According to her filing, Resner earns more than $100,000 annually from La Vida Investments, income originating from Churn Creek Investments and North Market Investments, both of which are doing business as Dutch Bros. The $100,000-plus income is divided equally between Churn Creek Investments and North Market Investments on her Schedule C.
Like Rickert, Resner sometimes has to recuse herself from issues that come before the Redding City Council because of potential conflicts of interest.
“I recuse myself maybe twice per year,” she said. “Although the regulations for recusal are clear in most cases, I always consult with the city attorney.”
Resner, along with fellow city councilmembers Adam McElvain, Kristin Schreder and Julie Winter, have come under fire recently for their role in fast-tracking the sale of a city-owned half-acre parcel at the end of Bechelli Lane to a private party in May 2020, blocking access to Strawberry Fields, where the Redding Rancheria plans to move and expand the Win-River Resort and Casino.
The Redding Rancheria tribe filed a lawsuit against the city of Redding and prevailed in May when the judge declared the city’s sale of the land violated the law. As the Tribe awaits potential remedies, including the voiding of the sale and reimbursement for attorney fees, Resner and the board members have been accused of a lack of transparency because elements of the sale were discussed behind closed doors.
Kevin Crye, Resner’s opponent in the November runoff election for the District 1 supervisor seat, beat the transparency drum as loud as any candidate on Anselmo’s Liberty Committee slate during the runup to the June primary. Crye and others have seized upon Resner’s vote in favor of the land sale as evidence of an alleged lack of transparency.
However, when it comes to his own transparency, first-time candidate Crye is a work in progress. His single-page Form 700 statement of economic interests simply states, “no reportable interests on any schedule.”
That’s fairly astonishing, given the skill set Crye says he’ll bring to office has been honed training kids and adults at Ninja Coalition HQ, his obstacle gym in the Shasta Mall, promoting live Ninja Coalition events across the country and serving as a talent agent for Ninja Warrior champions, Olympic athletes and other celebrities.
All of that, but there’s no economic interests to disclose?
Crye’s lack of transparency is compounded by a personal financial history that includes a home foreclosure in 2009 and subsequent bankruptcy in 2012, as first reported by A News Café. Such economic hardship was by no means unusual during the Great Recession, but combined with his lack of disclosure now, Crye’s entire enterprise comes into question.
“I’m all about transparency,” Crye insisted via telephone. Crye called after being emailed a list of questions about his failure to disclose any income or investments and whether he’s moved his family into District 1 ahead of the general election. Crye rented an apartment in District 1 last November when he decided to run; the family home is in District 4.
Crye admitted that initially he’d been deluged by paperwork after declaring his candidacy and acknowledged that his current Form 700 filing is deficient, especially for a candidate who’s made transparency a cornerstone of his campaign. He’s working on a new filing that he’ll be submitting in the coming weeks, but he did divulge some economic details.
Crye estimates that Ninja Coalition HQ (the gym) and Ninja Coalition live events promotion each have a market value of more than $1 million. He estimates his income from each is in the $10,001 to $100,000 range. Because of business reasons, Crye declined to provide more information until his amended form is complete and he submits it to the Registrar of Voters.
“The 700 form can be tricky for someone who doesn’t have much business or finance experience,” Resner said. “I’ve asked a lot of questions over the years to make sure my forms are completed accurately because transparency, honesty, and integrity matter.”
FPPC communications director Jay Wierenga encourages candidates to amend filings as soon as possible on their own, without having to be prompted by a warning or an investigation.
“We encourage people to file amendments any time they discover they’ve made a mistake or an omission,” he said. “Those who do so before being contacted, who do so on their own, generally speaking, it will be seen as a mitigating factor, in that a penalty may be waived or any penalty imposed would be lessened. Again, that’s all generally speaking.”
Anderson City Councilman and present Mayor Baron Browning faces former grocery store manager and State of Jefferson pitchman Chris Kelstrom in the runoff election for the District 5 supervisor seat in November.
In his 3-page Form 700 filing, Browning lists himself as both an owner and a partner in Ardent Security, a security guard company in Anderson with a fair market value ranging from $10,001 to $100,000. Browning’s income from Arden is less than $500 annually.
Listed on Schedule C is Browning’s primary gig, branch manager for Spherion Staffing in Anderson, where his gross income annually is $10,001 to $100,000.
When asked why his income from Ardent Security was minimal, Browning said. “I have only been a partner for a little over a year and we put all the monies back into the company for equipment needed to grow the business.”
When asked why is wife’s income isn’t disclosed, Browning said, “My wife is non-reportable income as she is a local government salaried employee.”
Kelstrom, who has made more of an issue out of transparency than his opponent, is out of the grocery store management business and is now a salesman for Cintas, the nationwide company that provides uniforms, cleaning supplies, first aid and safety products to businesses according to his two-page filing. He earns $10,001 to $100,000 annually.
Kelstrom did not respond to A News Cafe’s request for clarification.
With slightly more than three months to go before the general election and unresolved issues like Magrini’s controversial turn as sheriff and the city of Redding’s ham-fisted attempt to stop the relocation and expansion of the Win-River Resort Casino still in the air, voters will undoubtedly be hearing more from candidates about transparency in the coming days.
How seriously should voters take such claims? It depends on who’s making them. One way to determine whether a claim is valid is to take a look at the candidate’s approach to his or her own transparency, as this ANC reporting has done.
With four ongoing investigations now pending with the FPPC, Shasta County’s anti-establishment rebellion has exhibited a cavalier approach to following the political rules of the road. Supervisor candidates Crye and Kelstrom have furnished just the bare minimum in their economic disclosure statements, even as they rant about the lack of transparency in local government.
For her part, Resner has already called for a review of the closed-session decision process that led to the Win-River Casino fiasco. The timing of the court’s decision couldn’t be worse for a city councilwoman running for a county supervisor’s seat.
Meanwhile, Crye has yet to reveal if he’s permanently moved his family to District 1.
Standby for fireworks.