Never in my 45 years of covering public meetings at every level — from tiny school boards in Shasta County up to the California State Legislature — have I ever witnessed democracy devolve into such total anarchy and chaos as it did Tuesday morning at the Shasta County Board of Supervisors.
Thankfully, no punches were thrown and no weapons were drawn.
No one was even physically injured.
Yet, the lack of decorum from obviously angry and divided citizens forced board chair Patrick Jones to address blatant infringements by numerous public speakers who failed to follow the board’s guidelines of limiting their remarks to three minutes, discussing topics only within the board’s purview and addressing their comments to the board and not to any person or group in the audience.
Steve Woodrum started the public comment session with a history lesson by recounting how since 1890, the racially motivated Jim Crow laws of the previously Confederate states were used to disenfranchise voters, especially the poor and minority populations.
“Jim Crow” was a pejorative term for an African American. Such laws remained in force until 1965.
Eventually, Woodrum circled back to compare those laws to actions taken by three of the five supervisors who prematurely canceled in June a 10-year contract with Dominion Voting Systems based solely on unproven conspiracy theories and debunked claims of tabulating machine manipulation fraud, he said.
Woodrum said that the board’s decision to cancel the Dominion contract threatened to disenfranchise most of Shasta County’s 115,000 eligible voters if a hand-count of ballots favored by supervisors Jones, Kevin Crye, and Chris Kelstrom fails to meet state and federal reporting deadlines.
Other topics brought up by subsequent speakers included the late-Monday night announcement from the state of Georgia involving a fourth set of indictments against former president Donald Trump and 18 of his associates, including several filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a federal law providing extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.
“Maybe you three will be RICOed next!” one person shouted at Jones, Crye, and Kelstrom.
The verbal lobbing of hard- and soft-ball comments and complaints drew more and more cheers and jeers as the meeting that began at 9 a.m. approached the end of its first hour.
Finally, amidst a room of nearly 150 people — dozens of whom shouted out comments, applauded speakers they agreed with, or booed those they disliked — the obviously rattled and frustrated Jones exacerbated the problem when he selectively singled out one person — Nathan Pinkney, a community activist and frequent critic of Jones — for removal and gaveled the meeting into recess shortly after 10:30 a.m. when Pinkney refused to leave the board room under security-guard escort.
“I know my rights and this is discrimination,” Pinkney declared loudly as two private security guards approached his third-row seat just left of the center aisle.
This was the second time in three months that Jones ordered Pinkney ejected from a supervisors meeting.
Jones previously ordered Pinkney removed from the board’s chambers on May 30 after Pinkney, who is Black, complained when Alex Bielecki, who is White, used a racial epithet.
This time, however, several members of the public, including one person in a wheelchair, quickly surrounded Pinkney and prevented the guards from any physical contact. Pandemonium ensued throughout the board chambers with a cacophony of shouting.
“Don’t touch me or I will contact the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and file a discrimination lawsuit,” Pinkney continued to proclaim from his seat immediately behind my own.
Notably, two Shasta County Sheriff’s Deputies remained alert at their respective stations along the board chamber’s south and north walls.
Due to the standoff happening just yards from the dais, Jones announced the meeting was in recess after a hurried conference with Chief Executive Officer David J. Rickert.
Security personnel cleared the room, sending the agitated crowd out into an adjoining foyer.
Outside, other audience members gathered on the county administration complex steps, sidewalk, and lawn areas where people stood in knots and discussed various aspects of the meeting. Some people shouted at one another, while others attempted to de-escalate heated confrontations.
Eventually, Pinkney would leave the building after being buttonholed and talked to for several minutes by a number of Shasta County Sheriff’s personnel who mentioned possible trespassing citations should Pinkney return to the chambers, since Chair Jones had previously ordered Pinkney from the chambers.
However, within minutes of Nathan’s departure from the county building a message was relayed to him from Jones that Pinkney could attend the meeting after all. Consequently, Pinkney did return to the board chambers, this time taking a seat in the front row.
I’ve witnessed the slow spiral of decorum and politeness, coupled with rising tempers and discordant language, since Jones was elected to represent Supervisor District 4, an area that includes northern Redding, the City of Shasta Lake, and areas north to Shasta-Siskiyou County line.
When I served on the Shasta County Grand Jury, I sometimes attended county board meetings because of all the rancor and vitriol spewed around an attempted recall of three supervisors that eventually was successful in unseating former District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty.
During that time, I was shocked when speaker after speaker, most of whom identified with then-president Donald Trump and the State of Jefferson secessionists, used foul language and hurled accusation after accusation upon various elected public officials and recall targets.
Only one of these accusations against Moty was found worthy of investigation by the 2021-22 Shasta County Grand Jury, and was duly reported on in our final report.
Moty was accused of misfeasance for using Sheriff’s personnel to escort him into the Carr Fire evacuation area in 2018 to check on his undamaged home, as well as some neighbors’ homes, and refill a fuel tank on a generator so his refrigerator could continue to operate.
I predicted then that something akin to Tuesday’s meeting would eventually happen unless more mature and civic-minded people with experience in California’s open meetings law — the Ralph M. Brown Act — and Roberts Rules of Order to conduct public meetings were not elected.
Tuesday’s meeting proved my worst fears to be correct.