It’s been a sad week in Tehama County. Chip Thompson, my editor at the Red Bluff Daily News, passed away at much too young an age. Seriously, 57 is not ok. I have t-shirts older than that. They don’t fit anymore, but still.
I only met Chip in person a handful of times, but we were pretty good electronic pen pals. When I submitted a column that detailed this or that hike, he would often write back with his memories of that place. He loved nature and getting out in it.
When he passed, many mutual friends reached out to tell me how he had impacted their lives in a positive way – without fanfare or taking credit. He certainly did that for me. I had been a fairly frequent letter-to-the-editor writer over the years, starting during the Bill Goodyear reign, then Michael Griffin, and finally Chip. (Hope I didn’t leave anyone out – was that all of them?)
When the late great Joe Harrop passed two and a half years ago, I asked Chip if I could try a weekly column. He preferred local columns to syndicated ones – that’s what gives any small paper its flavor. He was kind enough to try me out in Joe’s space and here we are. He gave me advice when I asked, but was never pushy or controlling.
I went back and read some of his editorials – he was a great writer. He called out Jim Nielsen for pretending to live in Gerber and charging taxpayers a stipend for “visiting” his actual home in Woodland when working in Sacramento. Remember that whole brouhaha with Don Bird? Nielsen called him a stalker and got a restraining order. Hah. Simpler times. Nielsen allegedly lives in Red Bluff now. I don’t see him around much, but we don’t socialize in the same circles, so I’m not saying a word.
Chip was good to me and I appreciate him taking a chance on a has-been comedian by elevating her to the lofty uncompensated title of columnist. He was fair, compassionate, and adored Tehama County. Safe journey into Light, Chip. You are and will be missed.
So what happened during the past two weeks? Plenty. The board of supervisors approved raises for most county employees in response to the Comp Study which they are now implementing.
Most salaries on the county payroll were found to be well below corresponding positions in surrounding counties, so those employees and elected officials are getting nice raises. This is a good thing – let’s pay everybody what they’re worth. Maybe some of the staffing issues will improve as higher salaries are offered to prospective recruits.
But some of the raises are shockingly large. District Attorney Matt Rogers will go from $151,048 to $210,712. Almost $60,000 and a 40% raise. The raise alone is more than twice the median income for a Tehama County individual and $12,000 more than the median household income. And that’s just one employee. There are hundreds.
The question is – where will the money come from? We are already working with deficits every year. I requested the total amount of raises countywide and received an in-depth spreadsheet. If every allocated position were filled at the highest step in the range, the raises would come to $6.7 million a year. Of course, that won’t happen, but is it reasonable to think half that number might be possible? Let’s take it down further to a nice round $3 million. How will we sustain this?
Cutting costs and increasing revenue is the only way. Will the county try to float another sales tax increase? If they asked for a Special Tax to be used for public safety, it might pass this time. Either way, the current board has created quite a mess for the incoming board to clean up. It will be interesting to see the ideas and vision the newbies bring to the table. I, for one, am looking forward to it.
There was also a preview of the Byrons’ hearing before the supes. That hearing finally happened Tuesday and it was the first time the Byrons were allowed to submit evidence. They were not allowed at their original abatement hearing nor when they sued in Superior Court. Due process, anyone?
The big-city-hired-gun-lawyer representing the county, David Norton, actually showed up in person this time, but could not answer the question asked repeatedly by Supervisor Bill Moule. I’m paraphrasing, but this was the general point. “Where are the cannabis plants in the photos taken by Code Enforcement? I’m looking at these photos and there are no plants in them.” Norton said one needed to hear the testimony of the officer to understand. As if that would improve our eyesight.
Norton didn’t speak for long, and he reminded the board that they were not ruling on the guilt or innocence of the Byrons. They were voting to accept the Hearing Officer’s recommendation to place a lien on the Byrons’ property. Then it was the Byrons’ turn to speak.
Bill Byron spoke for a long time, because he was finally given the chance to share evidence of the monumental fustercluck the county created. I won’t go into all of it here, but the most damning to the county was the fact – which the county doesn’t deny – that no cannabis plants were on the property when the abatement notice was served, nor were there any after that. There were two scraggly volunteer plants in a burn pile left by the previous owner, which Bill pulled out when he saw them.
How can this be? It is a long, scary tale of lies, bias and targeting of citizens by their government. The Byrons are not the first people to whom this has happened. They are merely the first to have put up a real fight. It has taken a toll on their health and sense of well being. The board voted to stay their decision until after the Appeals case is over. I’ll keep you posted.