Editor’s note: Please join me in an enthusiastic welcome of journalist George Winship, and his first story on A News Cafe.
When does a drizzle become a downpour?
Even casual observers of Shasta County government are increasingly alarmed by the number of key administrators and analysts vacating their positions of employment and leaving their respective departments without strong and proven leaders.
The county’s Facebook page lists, in addition to a search for a new County Executive Officer, at least 38 full-time job vacancies, four Extra Help hourly positions and at least one volunteer position — everything from Deputy Sheriffs and Road Maintenance Workers to a Veterans Services Officer, a Forensic Pathologist and an Information Technology Programmer/Analyst I, II and III.
Salaries commensurate with training and experience range from $257,196 annually for the forensic pathologist position to $18.53 per hour for one of the extra help listings.
The latest departure happened during the lull between Christmas and New Years when Jaclyn Disney, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Action Programs since August 2020, submitted her letter of resignation on Dec. 29.
Disney’s boss, Acting County Executive Officer Patrick J. Minturn, responded days later to A News Cafe enquiry regarding Disney’s unexpected departure by saying he placed the at-will employee on administrative leave just prior to Christmas. However, citing an unspecified personnel matter, Minturn declined to explain why.
“I was never accused of anything,” Disney later told A News Cafe.
Unless elected by voters, most department administrators in Shasta County are appointed by the County Executive Officer as at-will employees.
The National Conference of State Legislatures website defines the term:
“At-will means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability. Likewise, an employee is free to leave a job at any time for any or no reason with no adverse legal consequences.”
Employment relationships are presumed to be at-will in all U.S. states except Montana, the same website further explains.
Disney also provided A News Cafe with a copy of her resignation letter, written responses to 15 questions, a recent photograph and an unscripted statement regarding her departure.
“I have been excused from my role as director . . . as of yesterday (Dec. 28),” she wrote in a letter addressed generally to Shasta County and Members of the Board (of Supervisors).
Before joining Shasta County, Disney worked more than 13 years for the City of Redding as a management analyst and joined the Water Treatment and Distribution Department as a water conservation specialist where she earned up to $84,000 per year.
Several prominent individuals who know and worked with Disney through the years were shocked and surprised by her dismissal.
Recently retired as District 5’s elected representative with 16 years on the county’s Board of Supervisors, departing Chairman Les Baugh of Anderson said, “We (supervisors) were obviously all made aware of the administrative leave. We did get verbal notification from our executive administrator,” (Pat Minturn) Baugh added.
“However, I really don’t know the situation regarding her departure. It would be my guess that Patrick (Jones), as incoming chair, would have had a meeting with the county administrator.”
When asked about the increasingly frequent departures of other employees, Baugh responded, “I think the people who represent the county well will remain.”
Then Baugh quickly added, “I’m sure the people who willingly lie to the board will depart. The new leadership will, I hope, follow my push to make county employees more responsible to the frustration of county residents. This is, in part, a response to the lapses in leadership during COVID.”
Baugh ended the interview curtly with a lengthy diatribe against A News Cafe, which he accused of conducting a “personal vendetta” against him, Patrick Jones and the board’s three newly-elected supervisors: Tim Garman, Kevin Crye and Chris Kelstrom.
More positive about Disney was the shocked reaction given by Kristen Schreder, a former Redding mayor and city council member.
“When I first heard about Jaclyn’s departure, my first reaction was, ‘There is something wrong here.’ She did nothing to deserve this,” Schreder said.
Schreder worked closely with Jaclyn Disney for two years and continues to serve on the NorCal Continuum of Care Consortium, a group of non-profit and non-government agencies Disney led in her official capacity.
“She did a great job. She was always thoroughly prepared, respectful to all her constituent agency members and presented us with the answers and information we needed to make wise decisions,” Schreder said, adding, “I haven’t heard anyone say anything to the contrary regarding her work or demeanor.”
According to Schreder, Disney inherited a department in disarray after a quick succession of four interim directors.
“Jaclyn inherited a mess,” Schreder noted, adding, “Homeless issues in Shasta County were long neglected or mismanaged for years.”
Disney initially also needed to train and organize a group of employees new to the department resulting from a “massive turnover of staff” even as Disney learned the complex and sometimes conflicting rules and regulations coming from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State of California.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about Jaclyn,” Schreder said.
Equally effusive was Susan Morris Wilson of Redding, a member of the League of Women Voters and Executive Director of Youth Options Shasta, a non-profit agency pledged to find housing for homeless youths through the NorCal Continuum of Care Consortium.
“It was a total surprise when I received that letter” (from Jaclyn) Wilson said.
“In all of the time I’ve seen her in meetings, she has always treated everyone with respect and a professional demeanor. Working with Jaclyn has always been smooth, easy and relaxed,” Wilson continued.
“Jaclyn (Disney) built a very strong board and did a lot of training on the Community Action Board. I just think she was super. She always showed a lot of respect for everyone,” Wilson said.
Disney earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from California State University, Chico, in 2004, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of La Verne, California. She is a graduate of the Leadership Redding program and also served for a year on the program’s Steering Committee helping to train future non-profit and business leaders about many aspects of Shasta County’s history, culture, economy and inner workings.
Disney, who was earning more than $125,000 annually as a county department head responsible for studying and documenting the homeless population in Shasta County, also led a consortium of seven Northern California counties — Del Norte, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra and Siskiyou — as director of the Shasta County Housing and Community Action Agency administering and applying for federal allocations and state grants to provide the NorCal Continuum of Care with nearly $4 million in funding.
Shasta County, with half of the estimated 1,300 homeless people currently in those seven counties, will receive $1,155,246 in allocated funds for specific programs designed to provide housing and care. Additionally, non-profit agencies in Shasta County can compete for a share of another $2,019,037 in unallocated funds available through an application process.
Schreder noted regrettably, Disney’s organizational and leadership skills in Shasta County will be sorely missed on January 25 when more than 100 volunteers throughout the county fan out to conduct a coordinated Point in Time Count of all homeless persons, a documentation exercise required of all 58 of California’s counties intent on receiving continued state and federal funding for combatting homelessness, mental health treatment and reducing drug addiction.
“It is the accuracy of the count that determines future funding that this year exceeded $3 million in our seven northern California counties,” she said.
Meanwhile, Shasta County government-watchers await the next atmospheric river of resignations to begin.
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