Like a mongrel cross of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and Gioachino Rossini’s opera buffa “The Barber of Seville,” Patrick Henry Jones led his merry troupe of political players — better known as the Shasta County Board of Supervisors — on an 8-hour romp through a repertoire of old favorites cleverly coupled with some new agenda items to keep audience members guessing whether “The Gunsmith of Shasta” might be a hit or a miss.
Parts of the meeting were a farce as acts, cleverly designed as agenda items, were moved willy-nilly out of order while others were postponed to another yet-to-be-announced show date.
The performance — er, meeting — started six minutes late to a nearly capacity audience at the supervisors’ chambers. However, as time dragged on toward a 12:30 p.m. intermission, the crowd noticeably diminished, leaving just a handful of rows half-filled on either side of the political aisle.
A popular item, discussion of a possible 64.9 percent salary increase for county supervisors — the first one considered since 2002, according to Monica Fugitt, Director of Support Services for Shasta County — stretched from Act 1 into Act 2 and was interrupted by a show-stopping 11:30 a.m. WWE-style verbal smackdown between board chair Patrick Jones and his arch nemesis Registrar of Votes Cathy Darling Allen.
Allen stood her ground as Jones accused Allen, an elected official, of lying to the board on April 23 as to the tabulation capabilities of a Hart InterCivic ballot preparation, optical scanning, and counting system she ordered to replace a Dominion Voting System after Jones and two other supervisors prematurely canceled Dominion’s lease for supplying and servicing voting equipment nearly three years before the county’s contract was due to expire on Dec. 31, 2025.
“After the Board’s decision to cancel the County’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems, my staff and I took the necessary steps to follow the Board of Supervisors’ April 6 decision to enter into a contract with Hart InterCivic,” Darling Allen responded, amplifying her statement with more detail following the meeting, a copy of which is posted separately on A News Cafe.
“During (the April 6) meeting, the Board authorized me to execute an agreement with Hart InterCivic, not to exceed $950,000 of county funds, for the purchase of equipment, associated hardware, and software to use their certified Verity voting system,” Allen continued.
“Contrary to claims made by certain members of the Board, I and my staff fully disclosed the nature and terms of the Hart InterCivic contract and its system, including the ability of Hart scanners to tabulate voter ballots and the associated budgetary requirements.
“My disclosures of these facts to the board is easily confirmed by reviewing the live stream recording of the April 6 meeting, the accompanying board report, and the legal minutes from the board’s special meeting,” Darling Allen concluded.
“I am deeply disappointed by the chaos and division created by the actions of this board. I will continue to serve our voters in a nonpartisan manner, but I reject efforts by members of this board to berate me and my staff, who work tirelessly to facilitate effective democratic processes in this county,” Darling Allen continued, while visibly fighting back her emotions.
“I have been clear and transparent in all of my communications. At no point in my career as a public servant and elected official can I recall being treated as poorly and unprofessionally as I have been over the last year. It must stop,” she concluded emphatically.
In fact, audience member Steven Kohn pointed out during public comment that the staff report Darling Allen prepared for the April 23 meeting included 11 references to “vote tabulation” capabilities.
“If you guys didn’t read the staff report or the agenda item, which states right on page 9 that the Hart equipment can tally votes, then you certainly aren’t doing your jobs and you certainly don’t deserve a 64.9 percent pay raise,” Kohn said.
Retired Shasta County Public Defender Jeff Gorder also rose from the audience in defense of County Clerk Darling Allen.
“Mr. Jones, your head must be spinning, because I know you are not a fool. The staff report prepared by Ms. Allen states clearly that the Hart equipment will tally votes,” Gorder said.
“Don’t dig any more holes, Patrick. You are just getting in deeper and deeper and making all of us in Shasta County look stupid and foolish,” Gorder added.
However, we are getting ahead of our story.
Remember the proposed nearly 65 percent pay raise?
Shasta County’s five elected Supervisors each currently receive $4,459 per month in base pay, Fugitt said when introducing a proposed ordinance to establish new compensation levels for supervisors and other management positions.
In the ordinance, effective Jan. 7, 2024, the monthly salary for each member of the Board of Supervisors would be $7,353, or an increase per month of $2,894, or 64.9 percent. Then, on Dec. 15, 2024, the salary would jump again to $7,500 per month with a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) beginning on January 1, 2025, based on the same COLA received by elected department heads and management employees not otherwise represented by a union contract, Fugitt elaborated.
Supervisors would also receive a $5,000 per year vehicle allowance effective Jan. 7, 2024. under the proposed resolution, she added.
To arrive at the proposed base salary amount, county management staff surveyed 10 “similar or contiguous counties” in California, including the counties of Kings, El Dorado, Yolo, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Napa, Madera, Butte, Tehama, and Shasta” and selected the median amount from a wide range of salaries, Fugitt explained.
Not only was all that money on the table for discussion, but a dustup nearly ensued trying to figure out which member of the board requested the item be placed on the agenda, with quite a few fingers pointing at District 2 Supervisor Tim Garman.
Garman was a key vote in a 3-1 rezoning decision Oct. 25 allowing Jones (the applicant) to transform his 151-acre parcel on the Millville Plains into a commercial recreation zone so Jones can build a sports shooting range in the middle of a residential-only zoned region.
One audience member even went so far as to opine publicly at the podium that Garman was “rewarded with placement of the salary increase on the agenda” as payback for supporting Jones’ shooting range, only to have several board members “throw you under the bus” when debating the pay raise ordinance.
District 1 Supervisor Kevin Crye even went so far as to go public with a letter on Monday decrying the proposed pay increase.
“As a member of the (Shasta) County Board of Supervisors, I want to emphasize that I cannot support a pay raise for Supervisors at this time, especially as lavish as a near 40% (sic) hike. While I understand the importance of adequately compensating our public servants, I believe it is fiscally irresponsible to prioritize a pay raise for supervisors over our dedicated county employees,” Crye’s letter states in part.
Other members of the public urged supervisors to place the pay raise issue on an election ballot so citizens, not board members, would have a say so.
“I am stunned and appalled at what we just watched among members of this dais,” stated Suzanne Baremore, a frequent critic of the board’s actions or lack thereof.
“Many counties put this kind of item on the ballot and let the public decide,” Baremore said.
Judy Salter joined the chorus of dissenters.
“I’m from the South and I think your mothers are just turning in their graves,” Salter told board members.
“Your proposal is misguided and ludicrous at the same time. The public is asking you to deal with the fentanyl crisis, homelessness, drug addiction and reopening the third floor of our county jail,” she continued.
“Your timing is off, guys and madam,” Salter said.
Christian Gardinier contrasted the board’s proposed 65 percent raise to the 2.5 percent pay increase offered most county employees represented by collective bargaining.
“When your employees only get a 2.5 percent raise, then you should get the same. This is not a good look. Until you are willing to respect your employees, you don’t deserve a 60 percent raise. There’s nothing like a little money to show the difference between a political grifter and those who know what public service means,” Gardinier said.
When it came time to vote on a motion to adopt the resolution as written made by Tim Garman — who moments later pitched the idea of reducing the proposed raise by almost half — only crickets could be heard in the room.
Garman’s motion died for lack of a second and board chair Jones quickly moved on to the next act — er, agenda item: consideration of an ordinance establishing Shasta County as a California Charter County and calling for a ballot item as part of the Presidential Primary election scheduled for March 5.
The matter was sponsored by Crye, who said such a move would give the county board more local control.
California has 58 counties, all but 14 of which are General Law counties governed by the California Government Code, as is Shasta County.
California’s 14 Charter Counties include Alameda, Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Placer, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Tehama.
Included with a bare-bones listing of Findings, Declarations and a Charter Preamble, the proposed ordinance includes a section titled “Vacancies on the Board of Supervisors.”
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, whenever a vacancy occurs in the office of supervisor on the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors (Board) may fill the vacancy by appointment or call a special election. If the Board appoints the replacement, the appointee shall be from among the qualified electors of the Supervisorial District in which such vacancy exists and shall hold office until the election and qualification of his or her successor,” the ordinance states.
Jeff Gorder, among the leaders of the Recall Kevin Crye committee, took exception with the proposed wording, stating he would not want the board, for example, to be able to reappoint Crye if the recall by a majority of District 1 voters is successful.
“I would like to suggest we add language to the effect that when an election recall takes place, the board would be prohibited from appointing the subject of a recall as his or her own replacement,” Gorder said.
“This all boils down to a matter of trust,” said Jenny Nowain, who suggested the board should select a committee to draft a proper County Charter “so you cannot be accused of manipulating things to your advantage” since a Charter County, by definition, grants more power to the board.
Judy Salter said she has lived in Charter Counties, most of which are predominantly populated by liberal and Democrats.
“It strikes me as odd that the only thing you specify is the replacement of a supervisor. This whole Charter County issue seems like a very veiled attempt to replace our duly elected Registrar of Voters/County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen,” Salter added.
When public discussion abated, Crye made the motion to place the California Charter County ordinance on the March 5 ballot.
Crye’s motion was seconded by District 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom and the motion passed on a 3-2 vote with District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert and Garman (District 2) voting against, and chair Jones voting in favor along with Crye and Kelstrom.
In other business
• The board unanimously adopted a resolution naming Robert Jonathan Ingram as the county’s new Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights and Measures with a four-year term effective Dec. 16.
Ingram’s salary is initially pegged at $58.626 per hour, or $10,162 per month. He will replace Rick Gurrola, who is retiring from the position.
Ingram has worked under Gurrola since July 5, 2020, and previously served as Modoc County’s Agriculture Commissioner under an agreement between Modoc and Shasta County.
• Heard a live video presentation on trends in homeowners insurance rates from Janet Ruiz, representing the Insurance Information Institute.
The board’s next performance of “The Gunsmith of Shasta” (aka the Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting) will appear live at 9 a.m. on Nov. 7 at 1450 Court Street in Redding.