Wanted: Shasta County Employees. Must Ignore Pirates, Gangplanks; Expect Sharks, Shipwrecks

Original artwork by Glenn Holbrook.

From a distance the ship known as Shasta County Government looks attractive enough. It’s big. It’s strong. It’s also the county’s largest employer, with more than 1880 souls paid to serve and protect Shasta County citizens. The Shasta County Government ship is moored in ultra-conservative northern California, surrounded by natural beauty galore: mountains, trails, a river, lakes and forests.

But bring your little rowboat closer for a truer look at Shasta County Government’s shiny vessel. You’ll see bodies floating in the turbulent waters. Those bodies were dedicated leaders booted from the ship by a trio of careless pirates – Shasta County Board of Supervisors’ majority – who threw some of the county’s best and brightest employees overboard. Next, you’ll see key county workers jumping into the churning abyss, rather than wait to be pushed from the gangplank. With each month since the trio of destructive pirates took the helm, more and employees continue to leave their Shasta County employer. Who could blame them? They’ve seen how badly their colleagues were abused by the pirates.

Meet the pirates

Goodness, where are my manners? Allow me to introduce to you the Shasta County Board of Supervisor pirates: First, there’s the leader, board chair, Les Baugh, District 5. He has a knack for maintaining a wide, maniacal grin while simultaneously destroying people’s careers. Don’t laugh, but believe it or not, he’s also a pastor.

District 5 Supervisor chair Les Baugh.

Baugh’s pal is Patrick Jones, gun-store manager and fellow Red, White and Blueprint devotee, who represents District 4.  Renowned by many as a serial fibber, Jones’ 2020 winning election campaign was successfully funded by a son-of-a-billionaire who’s deeply invested in Shasta County politics; an outsider who forked over to Jones $100,000, the largest single campaign contribution in Shasta County history.

Last — and yes, least — is often dazed-and-confused hand-puppet yes-man Tim Garman. Garman’s girth landed in the District 2 chair because of a lie-based recall that removed Leonard Moty – an educated, articulate, former police chief, Notre Dame graduate and lifelong public servant – and replaced him with stumblin’, mumblin’ Garman, who’s so far over his head as a supervisor that it would be funny, if the stakes weren’t so high.

When the lie-based Leonard-Moty recall succeeded, Tim Garman claimed Moty’s District 2 supervisor seat.

The politically motivated patriot pirates executed a three-prong approach to make good on their vow to “drain the swamp”. First, they tossed good people overboard, starting with the county’s health officer, Dr. Karen Ramstrom. Her crime? Following her sworn oath to adhere to the rule of law. During the pandemic, that meant trying to balance public health-and-safety concerns with public resistance to COVID-19 mandates.

Former Shasta County Health Officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom

Second, they pressured targeted employees to leave, such as former Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency director Donnell Ewert.

Former Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency director Donnell Ewert.

In one especially horrific case, it was alleged that blackmail was used to force the county’s then-top leader, Matt Pontes, to jump ship. A News Cafe gave Pontes the last word, before he promptly accepted a fantastic job as director of wildfire and fuels management for Sierra Pacific Industries. It’s Sierra Pacific’s incredible gain, and Shasta County’s absolutely unnecessary loss.

Just as Pontes was driven from office for no rational reason, and just as former Supervisor Leonard Moty was recalled in a lie-based election, Ramstrom was also fired without true cause. In fact, hundreds of citizens, including high-ranking health-care professionals, sent scores of emails begging the supervisors to keep Ramstrom. Citizens brought “We Support Ramstrom” placards.

Many people spoke passionately at supervisor meetings about why Ramstrom should be lauded for her dedication and hard work during a pandemic, not fired.

But pirates are allergic to logic. So they fired Ramstrom, literally without cause. Her unwarranted dismissal was a textbook example of wrongful termination on steroids.

[Cue lawsuits.]

Finally, the pirates’ last, and perhaps most effective extermination technique is a passive one, and it’s still very much in play. Without lifting a finger or saying another word, the pirates can now kick back and watch as demoralized, unappreciated employees flee their posts, rather than remain in a hostile, toxic work environment where they’ve seen first-hand their colleagues’ humiliating demise. They know that if those appalling atrocities could happen to their colleagues, they could also happen to them. Exit, stage left.

In addition to the beleaguered county staff already mentioned, a mere sample of other stellar county employees who’ve recently fled their county careers include Director of Adult Services Paige Greene, Deputy Director of Adult Services Robin Bowman, and Shasta County Health and Human Services Branch Director Kerri Schuette.

Schuette has the dubious distinction of being one of the only employees in Shasta County history whose flattering, well-deserved recognition during an employee-of-the month ceremony was inexplicably voted against by a supervisor. Traditionally, the county’s employee-of-the-month events are brief, symbolic, joyful times that always receive unanimous supervisor votes. That changed for Schuette’s special moment, attended by the public, as well as family, friends, county staff and co-workers. To the sound of gasps in the board chambers, Supervisor Jones voted against Schuette’s employee-of-the-month appointment. Why did Jones vote against her? Because Schuette was a leader in a department dedicated to public health and safety; a department especially tested during a pandemic. To Jones, the coronavirus was an exaggeration and state mandates were unnecessary.

And now, Schuette has moved on to another job. Good for her to escape Shasta County’s dysfunctional cesspool. Bad for the county.

So many county employees like Schuette have abandoned ship that hundreds of Shasta County positions remain unfilled; more than 200 in the Health and Human Services Agency alone. The Shasta County Sheriff’s Department is in similar dire straits as deputies buckle under inhumane, unsustainable work conditions with forced overtime, often from daybreak to sunset, with little time left over to have a life and see their families.

County departments with the greatest number of employee losses are staffed by remaining workers who not only do their work, but they are now expected to pick up the slack and do the work of the departed colleagues whose positions remain unfilled. It’s a vicious cycle. The harder the remaining employees work, the more unhappy and over-burdened they become, and the more unhappy and despondent they feel, the more inclined they are to leave the county the instant it’s possible, often accepting lower-paying positions. At some point, it’s not about the money, but quality of life.

Consequently, as Shasta County Government lists to the far, far right because of the exodus of downtrodden employees, pirate supervisors Baugh, Jones and Garman must join their rational supervisors – Joe Chimenti, District 1, and Mary Rickert, District 3 – to fill key vacant positions.

Pirates in a pickle

Now, all five supervisors find themselves playing a crazy game of musical chairs as temporary county replacements fill those empty chairs; place-holders until the county can hire permanent employees. This manic shuffle means that someone must then fill the positions vacated by those employees serving as temporary replacements to fill unexpectedly empty positions.

As an example, after former-CEO Pontes left, then-Public Works Director Pat Minturn, who was planning to retire soon, accepted the role as the county’s temporary CEO; a job that’s supposed to last until January. But then that move left the Shasta County Public Works department without a director.

Interim CEO Pat Minturn was the county’s former Public Works Director.

No worries. With Minturn leaving his post, Albert Cathey, the county’s former Deputy Director of Engineering, accepted the supervisors’ offer to hire Cathey as the new Public Works Director.

It’s been nearly four months since Ramstrom lost her job. At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, the supervisors went into closed session to discuss hiring a new health officer to replace Ramstrom.

Earlier this month board chair Baugh mentioned during a supervisors meeting that the county’s 60-day national search had yielded four applicants, and of those four, just one was qualified. The hiring panel consisted of supervisors Jones and Rickert, and three Shasta County physicians, whose names were not disclosed.

What a depressing day for Shasta County to realize that a national health-officer recruitment campaign flushed out only four measly candidates, and of those four, just one was viable.

During Tuesday’s public comment period, prior to the closed session, Redding resident Suzanne Baremore, a frequent speaker at the supervisors meeting, asked — as she has many times before — about the health officer position. Once again, she implored the county to make the health-officer hiring process more publicly transparent.

She pointed out that the county has been without a health officer for 118 days. Baremore followed that observation with a “word on the street” bombshell statement: Baremore said she’d heard that in fact, the county had no health-officer candidates.

“Clearly, we need to rethink collectively why we can’t get qualified help here,” Baremore said. “We need to do that soon because this is a very key position.”

At the conclusion of Baremore’s comment, Supervisor Baugh took exception to her statement and repeated what he’s said before. He said the county is not without a public health officer, because someone’s been “subbing in that position since the beginning.”

With that, the supervisors went into closed session to discuss the appointment of a health officer. If Baremore’s disclosed rumor was correct — that the county had exactly zero candidates — then the supervisors were already privy to this information. At that point, their closed session was a going-through-the-motions exercise, like a kid sent to the bathroom to brush her teeth, but who instead sits on the edge of the tub and counts to 200 until it feels like the right time to come out.

When the supervisors returned from their closed session, County Counsel Rubin Cruse reported the session’s outcome. He said that the candidate had declined the county’s job offer, therefore, the supervisors would begin a new recruitment process.

It didn’t take long after yesterday’s board of supervisors meeting before accusations arose that perhaps someone had gotten to that precious single job applicant and encouraged the applicant to not accept the health officer position. What a load of malarkey. If there’s anyone to blame for tattling about Shasta County’s dirty laundry, dark underbelly and its abysmal treatment of its top-tier employees, look no further than a 10-minute date with blabbermouth Mr. Google. It’s all there in black and white, thousands and thousands of column inches.

So Shasta County is back to square one, but no matter how creative the recruitment, it’s a lost cause. Only a masochist would accept Shasta County’s health officer position. Anyone bright enough to qualify for the health officer position is also smart enough to imagine that should they accept the job offer, they’d be just one monkey-pox, measles, or COVID-22 outbreak away from being tarred, feathered, threatened, humiliated and discarded, just like Ramstrom.

The same will prove true with regard to a national search for Shasta County’s next CEO. Prospective candidates need only Google “Matt Pontes” and the first page will spill the whole awful story of how a talented, respected man who actually chose to leave Santa Barbara for Shasta County was pushed to the brink of a ledge that left him no other option than to jump.

The logical candidate

It’s a pity that Shasta County supervisors have invested so much time and effort in such a fruitless search for a health officer. The best-qualified candidate already lives right here in Shasta County. This person has an impeccable resume; someone who’s ethical, honest, tenacious and dedicated; a highly respected physician and Army veteran.

God only knows why, but this candidate still loves Shasta County; warts, pirates and all. This health-care professional would like to stay here. The candidate I have in mind is Karen Ramstrom. Her application would blow all others out of the water.

It’s a lost cause and a colossal waste of time and money for the supervisors to embark upon another recruitment campaign that’s doomed to fail.  Instead, there’s the obvious, logical solution: The supervisors should rehire Ramstrom. And if the prideful pirates throw a tantrum, dig in their heels and refuse to acknowledge that they threw away the nation’s best possible candidate for Shasta County’s health officer position, then fine. Be that way. Ramstrom can continue her extended vacation. Time’s on her side.

Come November there’s an election. With any luck, Shasta County voters who are weary of all the political nonsense will choose a pair of rational supervisors who’ll yank the board’s power balance away from the pirates, and back into the hands of sane leaders. Should the clear-headed, trustworthy supervisors be elected, then the enlightened board could do the right thing: Welcome Ramstrom back in January, after the new supervisors are sworn into office.

Of course, nobody would blame Ramstrom if she declined the offer. After all, Shasta County has put her through hell. One good thing about hell is there’s nowhere left to go from there except up.

This time, wiser, stronger and unfazed by pirates.


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

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