County Budget Hearings Start on a Sour Note; Crowd Berates Board Chair

Most audience members stood with backs to Chair Patrick Jones at the meeting’s start Tuesday. Copyrighted photo by Mike Chapman for A News Cafe.

A standing-room only crowd — many wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “No Room for Racism” or “Recall Kevin Crye” — filled to overflowing the Shasta County Board of Supervisors chambers in downtown Redding Tuesday even before Chair Patrick Jones gaveled the meeting to order just before 9 a.m.

This was not the usual crowd fawning for recognition and the attention of supervisors Kevin Crye, Chris Kelstrom or Jones. Instead, they waited in stony silence with cardboard protest signs held high overhead until Jones invited Pastor Brian Cummins of Trinity Lutheran Church to the rostrum for an invocation.

Then, when Jones led the Pledge of Allegiance, the crowd joined in with full voice, especially at the end when they almost shouted the final phrase, “and justice for ALL!”

Most of the audience took to their seats as Jones segued into a soliloquy about an ugly display of racist language spewed May 30 by Alex Bielecki while looking directly at spectator Nathan “Blaze” Pinkney, who loudly took umbrage at the epithet hurled during a public comment period at the board’s previous meeting.

Public speaker Alex Bielecki shows Nathan Blaze Pinkney his middle finger after Blaze-Pinkney protested Bielecki’s use of a racial slur at the May 30 supervisors meeting. Copyrighted photo by Mike Chapman for A News Cafe.

Instead of chastising Bielecki, Jones ordered a private security guard to escort Pinkney, a United States Air Force veteran and the only African American in the room, out of the board chambers.

“It was unprovoked and caught many of us off guard,” Jones stated.

“No. No. No,” the crowd chanted as they rose out of their seats only to quickly turn their backs on Jones. “Please give me the respect I deserve,” Jones pleaded from the podium.

“No,” a thunderous chorus rose from more than 100 throats in unison even as Jones continued to beg.

“I am bound to protect the rights of all of you,” Jones made another feeble attempt at restoring decorum.

“Then apologize!” the crowd roared back.

“Here is what I am willing to do. Mr. Blaze, if you are willing to meet me, I will apologize,”
Jones said solemnly.

“Give him a chance, Nathan,” several members of the audience suggested, at which Pinkney turned and walked toward Jones who left the dais and walked into the photo-op bay as the crowd turned to watch what might transpire.

An expectant silence hushed the crowd as both men took their places side by side and Jones reached out his right hand toward Pinkney.

“On behalf of the entire board, I apologize for the actions of Mr. Bielecki,” Jones stated.
The crowd erupted in derisive laughter toward Jones for failing to apologize for ordering
Pinkney’s ejection from a public meeting, and then allowing Bielecki to continue his poisonous rant at the podium.

For the next three hours, citizen after citizen took turns in three-minute spurts to chastise Jones and other board members for silently allowing hate-filled racist speech while doing nothing to prevent eviction of the very person victimized by such ire.

The majority of those who attended Tuesday’s Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting were in opposition to Chair Jones’ handling of the May 30 meeting that included a hate-speech incident. Copyrighted photo by Mike Chapman for A News Cafe.

It was quite an eye-opening welcome for Shasta County’s newly hired Chief Executive Officer David Rickert, who sat mostly silent during the public display of no confidence in Jones’ leadership as many repeatedly called for Jones to be removed as board chair.

From left, Shasta County Counsel Jim Ross confers with new CEO David Rickert during Tuesday’s contentious board meeting. Photo by Mike Chapman for A News Cafe.

A native of Illinois, Mr. Rickert is not related to District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert.

Fiscal year 2023-24 Budget Presentation

All this drama proved merely a sour prelude to a four-hour sometimes contentious fiscal year 2023-24 budget hearing started at 1 p.m. By then, the audience dwindled to a dozen or more department officials waiting to make their respective presentations to board members, a handful of hardy citizens and several journalists sprinkled throughout the room.

Deputy County Executive Officer Erin Bertain started off the afternoon session with a brief
overview of the proposed $658,905,327 spending plan, a 4.8 percent or $40 million jump from the county’s 2022-23 adopted budget.

Included in the total are the following:
$222,459,091 — General Fund
$329,621,049 — Special Revenue Funds
$ 20,138,120 — Capital Project Funds
$ 3,185,439 — Debt Service Funds
for a total of $575,403,699
$ 42,799,964 — Internal Service Funds
$ 29,035,558 — Enterprise Funds
$ 11,666,106 — Special Districts and Other Agencies
for a total of $ 83,591,628

The source of Shasta County’s discretionary revenue derives primarily from tax revenues, which increased by 5.87 percent or an estimated $4,979,735 in the fiscal year ending June  30, 2023, Bertain noted.

“The recent pandemic and severe inflation have caused significant increases to general revenue, which is largely tax based,” she read from a prepared summary.

In addition to our discretionary sales tax revenues, sales taxes dedicated to public health, mental health, social services and public safety have continued to recover and increased in a similar manner to general revenue, Bertain said.

“It’s difficult to predict whether these increases will continue or if the recent (federal) attempts to reduce inflation and other changes in the economy will cause a recession in the coming months and years,” she noted.

California’s own budget issues also play a part, Bertain added.

For example, state legislators in 1991 ordered a realignment of funding for Health and Human Services which is funded primarily through state sales taxes and vehicle licensing fees.

For Shasta County, these state funds provide the majority of matching funds for numerous state and federal funding programs.

Revenues not otherwise earmarked for specific uses, are pooled in the General Fund,
recommended for Fiscal Year 2023-24 at $222,459,091.

This fund supports various program categories including:
General Government
Board of Supervisors
Public Safety
District Attorney
Public Protection
Trial Courts
Public Defender
Public Assistance
County Indigent Cases
Vetrans Services
Community Action Agency
Farm Advisor

The growth in some expense categories is heavily impacted by state legislative action, Bertain noted.

For example, Shasta County’s rural firefighting efforts are contracted with CAL FIRE, the state’s wild-land firefighting service as well as the Reserve Volunteer Firefighter Program. Shasta County was able to use litigation revenues from the Dixie Fire to build a new fire station.

However, those funds were mostly overshadowed by a CAL FIRE employee contract that
increased costs by $707,771 or 9 percent as a result of union negotiations at the state level.

The state can also dictate staffing levels that increase personnel costs, which when coupled with the rising difficulty of recruiting volunteers to fight fires results in a funding gap of $2,203,690 that must be filled from the county’s other revenue sources.

Election costs

One of the largest unknown cost factors is the result of Board of Supervisors decision on a 3-2 vote to discontinue to a ballot counting contract with Dominion Voting Systems and instead do a hand-count tally.

Any vote tally system, whether mechanical or manual, must be approved by California’s
Secretary of State, who only recently — and largely as a result of Shasta County’s decision  –is formulating guidelines for just such a scenario. The suggested guidelines should be finalized in early August, but that leaves Shasta County with not much time to get its plans aligned to the state’s requirements that include having a machine counting system as a way to verify the hand-count tallies for each precinct or, when needed, to speed up the count to meet state and federal reporting deadlines.

When Cathy Darling Allen, Shasta County’s elected Clerk and Registrar of Voters, attempted to present her proposed budget, she was met with some very derisive questioning by board chair Jones and District 1 Supervisor Kevin Crye, two of the most vocal advocates of hand-counting.

“Several of our public commenters raised questions about your travel expenses. Can you explain whether these trips were paid for by the county or who paid for your trips to Arizona, Chicago and Washington, DC?” Jones asked almost immediately.

Due to the specialized requirements for the secure printing of ballots for voting, Darling Allen and many other county election officials use a printing company in the Phoenix, Arizona, area that is licensed and certified by California election officials.

She also made trips to Chicago in February and again in May as part of her duties as a national election official and expert.

“Are you asking this question of all of your other department heads, or am I being singled out for this treatment?” Darling Allen responded to Jones’ enquiry.

Later, District 1 Supervisor Kevin Crye, who earlier this year made a trip to Minnesota at county expense to ostensibly discuss voting fraud conspiracies with MyPillow entrepreneur Mike Lindell, then launched a series of highly contentious questions pertaining to Darling Allen’s plan to hire up to 1,300 persons to hand-count ballots during presidential primary and presidential elections when voter turnout is generally highest.

“I’m wondering why you think you will need 1,300 vote counters?” Crye asked at one point.

“I anticipate needing 500 or more counters per shift to count as many as 90,000 ballots in a 36-hour period that beings as soon as polling closes at 8 p.m. on an Election Day Tuesday and the deadline for reporting the results by 8 a.m. Thursday,” Darling Allen answered.

After six or eight hours, Darling Allen anticipates the first counting shift will grow tired and another 500+ hand-counters would continue the count non-stop, as would a potential third shift of another 500+ hand-counters, which would easily exceed the 1,300 estimate, if needed.

The exchange drew a frustrated response from District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert.

“Where are you going to find all of these people? Are we going to be liable if we cannot meet the reporting deadlines? Will we be sued? You have been put into an impossible position by the reckless way in which this decision was made by the other members of this board who did so without having an alternative plan in mind,” Rickert said, holding her arms around her head as if to feign off an attack.

At this, District 2 Supervisor Tim Garman chastised Crye and Jones for their lines of

“The way you are treating this person is despicable,” Garman stated in Darling Allen’s defense as he pointed his chin across the dais at first Crye and then Jones.

In an attempt to soothe ruffled feathers, Darling Allen calmly continued.

“We will make it work in November when it is a small election. But I am worried that our
success will set us up for unrealistic expectations when we have a much larger number of voters and a much more complicated ballot in March for the presidential primary race, and even larger turnouts and ballot complexity on November for the presidential election.”

By 5 p.m., questioning was halted to reboot the county’s computer system and the public budget hearing was recessed until 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Budget hearings will continue for up to 14 business days so that the final budget can be adopted by the June 30 deadline, Bertain stated.

George Winship

George Winship is a long-time Shasta County resident with a wide range of professional and community experience. After earning a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, he joined the Redding Record Searchlight as an award-winning reporter, and was the paper’s first business editor. He worked as a district field representative for Senator Maurice Johannessen, and later became editor of the Anderson Valley Post. Winship is a former Shasta County Grand Jury member. He owns and operates The Village Wordsmith, where he edits and rewrites clients’ book manuscripts, and works as a researcher and freelance feature writer. He can be reached at gwinship@shasta.com.

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