Public Pushes Supervisors on Wind Farm, Hand-Count Election Controversy, Exodus of County Employees

The Shasta Administration Center holds the Board of Supervisors meetings. Photo by Doni Chamberlain

A 90-minute gripe session that led Shasta County’s Board of Supervisors 9 a.m. meeting Tuesday seemed to signal growing public dissatisfaction with an apparent lack of progress on various substantive issues.

Following a brief lesson on historical disenfranchisement of citizens convicted of crimes during the early 1900s, Steve Woodrum observed that some laws that support voter disenfranchisement still exist.

Woodrum noted that present voting systems are under challenge from such conspiracy theorists and election deniers as former President Donald Trump, MyPillow magnate Mike Lindell and others who are helping counties and states across the country pass regulations designed, in effect, to create further voter suppression.

Woodrum concluded his comments by pointedly asking board members exactly where they stood on the subject.

Next up to the public podium was District 3 Planning Commissioner Steve Kearns, who led a short parade of other east county residents concerned with the looming re-emergence of a proposed Fountain Wind Project that includes a plan to install 48 large three-bladed turbines to harvest wind from the ridges between Shingletown and Burney and turn it into electricity.

“I encourage you today to file information with the CEC (California Energy Commission) on the county’s findings and its ban on wind turbines since our ban is in compliance with state law,” Kearns urged, referring to previous efforts made by east county residents who oppose the project.

Kearns was followed by Lauren Osa and her husband Joseph, who helped organize and lead the grass-roots opposition.

“Nothing from (Shasta County) has been docketed with the CEC. Shasta County will be the first county to challenge the state’s overreach of (Assembly Bill) AB 205. You cannot win this battle by being silent on this third attempt to consider the Fountain Wind Project,” Lauren Osa said.

Passed in 2021, AB 205 allows the California Energy Commission to take the lead in siting alternative energy projects of a sufficient size even though local jurisdictions and residents might oppose such a project.

Lauren Osa suggested District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert should “lead the county’s effort” to protest the Fountain Wind Project as it is located in her area of jurisdiction.

“To not even ask a question this project or send a letter of opposition to the CEC is to tacitly accept the project,” urged Joseph Osa, who was next to the podium microphone. “Please, take some sort of action!”

To this, Rickert responded.

“I have been working with (Senior Deputy County Counsel) Matthew McOmber and other department heads. There is a strategy on the county’s part,” Rickert said.

“Can we put this on the agenda for a future closed session discussion?” Rickert then asked County Counsel James Ross.

“I would offer this advice,” Ross responded.

“I suggest board chair Patrick Jones and Supervisor Rickert should arrange a meeting with Deputy Counsel Matt McOmber and Planning Director Paul Hellman to discuss the county’s strategy.”

Current County Counsel James Ross intends to leave his county position soon. Photo by Mike Chapman for A News Cafe.

As an aside, adding to the growing exodus of key county leaders, Ross, who’s been County Counsel for four months following former County Counsel Rubin Cruse’s departure, recently confirmed his intention to resign from his new county position. The county’s website still lists Cruse as County Counsel.

The public speakers then moved on to other pressing issues.

“The fact that more than half of our county’s leaders are leaving is due to poor leadership, which leads to a toxic work environment. We need to get back to what is important to all of us. Fix the jail and pay our county employees a living wage,” advised Tim Hill.

“I would urge you to move to become a Charter County and strongly oppose AB 969,” Laura Hobbs offered, referring to a state legislative proposal that, in its latest form, would prohibit any county or election jurisdiction to hand-count election results if there were more than 1,000 eligible voters registered and able to vote on an issue.

In late January, a majority of Shasta County supervisors voted to early termination of the county’s lease with Dominion Voting Systems for mechanical ballot counting equipment and move to a hand-counting system.

AB 969 is currently sitting in the California Senate’s Government and Finance Committee awaiting revision or referral to the full Senate for a vote.

Although the bill is designated an urgency matter, state legislative breaks and turmoil over the state’s budget are apparently taking precedence and delaying action on AB 969.

By 10:38 a.m., the number of public commenters finally dissipated, allowing chair Jones to open with discussion of Consent Agenda matters, which were passed unanimously without further discussion by board members or the public except for one matter withdrawn by District 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom.

“I pulled this item because there is a developer interested in building some houses in Shingletown is a bit overwhelmed by the county’s process,” Kelstrom explained.

The developer received an invoice for $28,000 from Shasta County’s Public Works Department to fix from public roads that have not yet been built, he noted.

Jones suggested the matter might be quickly resolved if the developer could meet with Al Cathey, Director of Public Works, who could explain the process whereby developers provide funds for Permanent Road Division projects once the homes start selling.

With that, the matter was unanimously accepted and the board turned to its regular agenda at 10:42 a.m. with reports from each supervisor on the meetings and projects they are working on.

Acceptance of Shasta County’s proposed 2023-2024 spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, almost seemed anti-climactic.

The budget revisions were introduced by Chief Executive Officer David J. Rickert — no relation to District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert — and further explanations provided by Erin Bertain, Deputy County Executive Officer.

“Various technical corrections to the recommended budget were proposed by the Auditor/Controller and approved by CEO Rickert,” Bertain explained.

For example, the budget includes a workforce of 2,240 full-time employees, a net increase of 17 full-time positions, she said.

Additionally, as of May 4, there were 332 vacant job positions or 14.98 percent of the county’s workforce.

The budget was also adjusted to take into consideration once each department was able to compare its actual expenditures against last year’s budget plan, which in many cases resulted in some reserves being carried forward to the new fiscal year, Bertain said.

Once all of the changes were made, the 2023-2024 fiscal year spending plan totaled $663.9 million, a savings of approximately $1.1 million from the proposed spending plan approved June 7, she said.

“The total funding requirement for the General Fund, which includes a subsidy to non-general fund departments, is $227.4 million. This will be offset by $184.7 million in revenues, leaving a structural imbalance of $42.7 million, which will be offset by use of fund balance carryovers and our General Fund General Purpose fund balance,” she said.

The actual budget total will be calculated by the Auditor/Controller’s Office after processing all adjustments and making a final determination of all year-end fund balances, she added.

The budget resolution was approved unanimously and the business meeting concluded at 11:45 a.m. before the board went in to closed session.

The next Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting is at 9 a.m. on Tues., July 11.


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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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