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Board Chair Kevin Crye Strong-Arms Votes for His DA-Rival ROV Pick. Qualified Assistant ROV Rejected.

Shasta County Board majority supervisors, from left, Patrick Jones, Kevin Crye and Chris Kelstrom. Photo source: A News Cafe file photo by Richard DuPertuis.

Mark this somber date in Shasta County’s history books: June 19, 2024 – Juneteenth, as a matter of fact — not that Shasta County recognizes anything as progressive as Juneteenth. June 19, 2024 is the date when the hard-right majority of  Shasta County Board of Supervisors concluded their farce of a public interview process and inexplicably selected former deputy district attorney Thomas Toller as the new Registrar of Voters/County Clerk.

June 19, 2024, is also the date when the board majority – District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones, District 1 Supervisor Kevin Crye and District 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom – collectively rejected Assistant ROV Joanna Francescut, the most informed, experienced, dedicated, knowledgeable, beloved-by-staff applicant.

Toller was Crye’s pick, someone Crye claims he didn’t know until he appointed Toller to the county’s law library committee, a position previously held by former Shasta County Public Defender Jeff Gorder, a position Gorder enjoyed. Gorder was one of the leaders of the Recall Kevin Crye committee, and for that, Crye holds a grudge.

Crye, who has openly disparaged and criticized Gorder on his radio show, knew Gorder liked the law library committee work. That’s why Crye booted Gorder from the position, and replaced him with Toller.

This is a good time to mention that Toller is a former Shasta County District Attorney who doesn’t hide the fact that he dislikes District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett. In fact, Toller dislikes Bridgett so much that he helped former 2022 District Attorney candidate Erik Jensen with his failed campaign against Bridgett.

Connect the dots. Guess who despises Bridgett probably even more than Toller? Chair Crye, that’s who. Crye has been relentless in his attacks upon Bridgett.

Supervisors Mary Rickert and Tim Garman voted for Francescut, someone who’s been with the ROV’s office for 16 years, and is working on her fourth presidential election. But as usual, their two votes were outnumbered by Jones, Crye and Kelstrom’s.

Joanna Francescut

The selection of Toller on Wednesday came after Chair Crye created and conducted what now appears to have been a two-day dog-and-pony show to give the impression that the supervisors were sincerely pondering their options to seek the best applicant to fill the position currently held by Francescut.

In fact, ultimately, the interviews proved a waste of everyone’s time, hopes and anticipations, because it appears that Crye figured out a way to game the interview system and deftly shoehorn Toller into the ROV’s office, even if other supervisors disagreed; even if exactly zero community members were clamoring for his appointment.

Yet, here we are, stuck with Toller as the ROV, following what’s now a recurring pattern where the board majority selects the least-qualified people for some of its most crucial, weighty positions, from the county’s health officer, to a mosquito and vector control board member, and even county counsel. In each case, the people chosen by the board majority had inferior skill sets, education, training and experience.

Quite the trick, indeed.

On Day 1, the supervisors interviewed eight candidates.

Eight ROV applicants were interviewed by the Shasta County Board of Supervisor Tuesday. From left: Thomas Toller, Clint Curtis, Jennifer Waltman, Assistant ROV/County Clerk Joanna Francescut, John Gaglione, Debbie Burkett, Ken Michaud and Dan Sloan.

By the end of Tuesday’s special ROV interview meeting, the five supervisors had whittled the list of eight applicants down to four who could proceed onto Wednesday’s interviews: Thomas Toller, Joanna Francescut, Clint Curtis, and John Gaglione.

From left, ROV candidates Thomas Toller, Joanna Francescut, Clint Curtis and John Gaglioni await the drawing to determine the order in which they’d be interviewed.

But by Wednesday afternoon, it was apparent that the process was just another competition for Crye. When it was all over, Crye emerged as the true winner, because he’d succeeded. He’d won what he wanted. As District 1 Supervisor Cyre has repeatedly demonstrated since he took office in January 2023, what Kevin Crye wants, Kevin Crye gets. Even if lying and cheating provides the means to the end.

To get there, Crye led the supervisors through the motions of the interview process of all four applicants.

When it was Francescut’s turn to be interviewed by the supervisors, Supervisor Jones treated her as if she were on trial for a crime. A few times Jones didn’t even ask her a question, but just scolded Francescut and expounded upon all the reasons why he didn’t trust her and didn’t want her as the ROV.

As has become customary with Jones and Crye in particular, rudeness and conduct unbecoming is business as usual.

When it was Crye’s chance to grill Francescut, he seemed intent upon goading Francescut into speaking badly about her mentor, Darling Allen. “I need this, Joanna,” Crye coaxed.

And at last, when Francescut acknowledged that she and Darling Allen are different people with different personalities and different management styles, Crye drilled down harder to pressure Francescut into providing details that would publicly criticize Darling Allen. Crye, who’s big on touting his leadership acumen, seems partial to the divide-and-conquer management style.

Eventually, after several minutes of repeating the same answers in different ways, Francescut’s voice cracked as she recounted the moment in late 2023 when she assumed Darling Allen’s duties, from a hospital room where Darling Allen was suffering a medical emergency, where Darling Allen handed off work supplies to Joanna.

Francescut explained her passion for her job, the sacrifices she’s made, and her successful career advancements year after year as she assumed increased responsibilities, which she accepted with pleasure. She told of her dedication to her job, her staff and her county. She told of the year her son was born on one Election Day, and how Darling Allen was helping time Francescut’s contractions as the women continued to work on the election until Francescut’s husband arrived and took her home so they could turn their attention to welcoming their new baby into their family.

She gave specifics about the monumental tasks she’d undertaken, the public pressure and scrutiny she’d endured, and how, eventually, with Darling Allen out on leave, Francescut was doing the work of three people. She admitted she’s a human being who sometimes makes mistakes, but owns those mistakes and learns from them. She said she’s curious by nature, and welcomes being told she’s wrong, so she can course-correct and make improvements.

All the while, as she spoke, lined along the back wall of the board chambers her loyal staff stood in solidarity for Francescut, the woman who’d led them through some of the darkest, rockiest times in their careers.

Employees from the Shasta County elections office line the back wall in support of their boss, Assistant ROV/County Clerk Joanna Francescut. Photo courtesy of Nathan Pinkney.

One might ask how any sane interviewer could reject Francescut –highly experienced in elections — and accept Toller, profoundly inexperienced in anything related to elections, or running a county clerk’s office.

Credit for this mystery hiring belongs to Crye, who slickly coerced supervisors Jones and Kelstrom into selecting Thomas Toller, Crye’s pick.

It’s noteworthy that of the many people who approached the lectern to speak their allotted three minutes each, in general, the speakers fell into one of two camps: those who wanted Clint Curtis, and those who wanted the county to retain Joanna Francescut. Both groups were enthusiast in their reasons for wanting Curtis or Francescut.

With that in mind, consider the fact that not a single speaker spoke in favor of Toller. Consider that of the five supervisors, Crye was the only one who pushed for Toller, at least until Crye strong-armed Jones and Kelstrom into voting for Toller.

Imagine: Crye was the only person in the entire board chambers who wanted Toller for the new ROV. Gosh, why not Curtis, especially since Crye boasted on Tuesday that he was the one who invited Curtis to Redding in the first place?

Inquiring minds wonder if one reason why Crye rejected Curtis is because in the world of election denial, Curtis is a big fish who might cause Crye to feel like an inferior guppy. That would never do. Now, on the other hand, Toller, who expressed some surprise later over his new job, he might be more inclined to be grateful to Crye, and pliable. That’s just speculation.

At one point, Supervisor Rickert said that she wanted what the people wanted, and shared that her emails were overwhelmingly in support of Francescut as the ROV. In response, Crye pulled out an old saw he’d used in his campaign debates. He said if Rickert is so intent upon granting what the people want, he guessed she’d be in favor of slavery, if that’s what the people wanted. Low blows. Cheap shots. Sarcasm and snark. Welcome to King Crye’s communication kingdom.

All along, Supervisors Rickert and Garman have been consistent in their support of Francescut. And clearly, Jones was all in with Curtis, although the previous day Crye reminded the audience that he was the one who invited Curtis to Redding. Kelstrom, on the other hand, had expressed interest in voting for Gaglione.

John Gaglioni

Speaking of Gaglione, he hails from the same Illinois region as CEO David Rickert. If it’s true that Rickert alerted Gaglione to this ROV job opening, and invited him to apply, this speaks volumes about Rickert’s loyalty — or lack thereof — to Francescut. After all, if the CEO was happy with Francescut, and hoped she’d stay as the ROV, then why would in the world would he encourage anyone else to apply against Francescut?

Either way, it’s a moot point because Kelstrom’s interest in Gaglione was short-lived, dashed when Jones made a motion to appoint Curtis as ROV. When there was no immediate response from any supervisors, Jones’ neck became flushed as he turned his head and stared intently in Kelstrom’s direction.

::Blink …. Blink:: 

Kelstrom saw the look and said, “for the sake of argument” he’d second Jones’ motion in favor of Curtis. Jones nodded slightly.

For the sake of argument? If anyone needs proof that Jones has Kelstrom under his thumb, Kelstrom’s switch from his pick — Gaglioni — to  Clint Curtis — Jone’s pick is all the evidence.

But wait. Kelstrom wasn’t finished flipping. Bizarrely, a few minutes later Kelstrom buckled under the weight of Crye’s Toller scheme.

Kelstrom is the tallest spineless man you’ll ever meet.

Back to the sliver of time when Kelstrom was part of team Curtis, he spoke of his excitement that Curtis could bring changes to Shasta County’s ROV office that could “go national”. And Jones said one of the good things about Curtis is he has “coast to coast” experience.

Supervisor Rickert said she was tired of the world viewing Shasta County the country’s “political guinea pig” – and she didn’t care what anyone in Georgia thought about Shasta County. What mattered most to Rickert is the county’s people.

Her words were ignored by the board majority, a trio of guys who take pride in having Shasta County in the spotlight as one of the most extremist counties in California, and perhaps the country.

Crye’s plan was finally executed when Crye showed his hand, and slow-walked his statement forward about his ROV choice, in the most convoluted, disjointed way.

“Mr. Curtis, I think you did — everyone here — did phenomenal,” Crye said. “Everyone came out and had a great second try today …”

Eventually, after Crye had droned on without giving a straight statement, suddenly, for a moment, Crye spoke words that sounded as if he might choose Francescut.

“I will be supporting Joanna …” Crye began, which elicited some brief gasps from the audience.

Hold on. Not so fast.

“…If we don’t go with Tom,” Crye concluded.

Mic drop.

For Jones and Kelstrom, Crye’s statement produced a lose-lose situation. If they followed through with Jones’ original motion and Kelstrom’s second to choose Curtis, then Crye would punish them by voting for Joanna.

If that happened, it would be a 2-2 tie, with Garman and Rickert voting for Francescut, and Jones and Kelstrom voting for Curtis. That would leave Crye voting for Toller. They’d be deadlocked.

Nowhere in Crye’s plan was there consideration for Francescut the human. Instead, for Crye, Francescut was amounted to nothing more than a miniature metal race car on Crye’s Monopoly game of life.

Crye told Francescut that she was “phenomenal” and that she was the right person for the ROV’s job.

“I just don’t think you’re the right person, yet,” Crye said.

Crye’s gut may have doomed Shasta County elections

When it was time for Crye to expound upon why he backed Toller over Francescut, he was woefully short on specifics, beyond, “to bring the things he spoke about.”

Crye explained that his decision to select Toller boiled down to Crye’s reliance upon one thing: his “gut” feelings.

“Again, all you can do is go with your gut,” he said.

Then, without elaborating about why Toller was his ROV selection, Crye pontificated around the verbal mulberry bush and waxed philosophical about his years as a coach, and working with thousands of kids, so with all that experience, he couldn’t not go with his gut.

Supervisor Rickert asked if the applicants would be allowed to respond and answer additional questions or address points that had been made about them, since all four were sitting there, listening. Crye said no.

Ultimatum: Crye’s way, or the Cryeway

District 5 Supervisor Garman calls out Crye for manipulating the votes.

The board discussions took a tense turn when Supervisor Garman delivered some harsh words to Crye.

“Well, there you have it, folks,” Garman said. “Supervisor Crye has laid it out for you guys. He gave us an ultimatum: Tom Toller, or it’s Joanna. And he did this so you two — Supervisor Kelstrom and Supervisor Jones — you guys are being played.”

Garman said he’d disclosed to KRCR TV anchor Mike Mangas the previous day Garman’s guess that the board would choose Tom Toller, because Crye would “play his card.”

Crye tried to interrupt Garman, but Garman continued.

“I think it’s wrong, it’s a disgrace to this county, and it’s going to be a sad day for this county, if it goes down this way,” Garman said.

He then urged supervisors Jones and Kelstrom to step up and not allow Crye to run over them.

Crye shot back with intense indignation against Garman for daring to call Crye’s character into question. Crye, who literally wagged his finger at Garman, then leveled accusations against Garman and “other people” (looking quickly at Rickert) for making “deals behind closed doors”.

I was the one who led it like this, who wanted it to be in public, and wanted it to be transparent,” Crye insisted.

Crye said he was simply making his deals “up front” and in public. A red-faced Crye quickly flipped the script to simultaneously defend and congratulate himself for holding open ROV interviews, as he slammed Garman for “insulting” Crye’s character. As Crye continued his vociferous protests, he strayed further and further from Garman’s original accusation that Crye had manipulated the outcome of the pending vote by forcing Jones and Kelstrom to abandon their wishes for Curtis as the ROV, and join Crye in supporting Toller.

Garman was correct. Crye had delivered an ultimatum to supervisors Jones and Kelstrom: either they joined Crye in voting for Toller, or else Crye would vote for Francescut. This was an effective threat, because it’s common knowledge that one of Jones’ feral pigs would fly over the supervisor chambers before Jones would ever vote for Francescut.

Much like Crye’s intense hatred of Bridgett, Jones has displayed lingering similar negative feelings for former ROV Cathy Darling Allen, and by association, her protégé Francescut, the acting ROV since Darling Allen took a medical leave of absence.

Finally, Crye’s rant was derailed by Jones, who caved in and addressed Crye’s deal.

“It is a bit of arm-twisting, but that comes with the job,” Jones said. “And if you can’t take it, then you shouldn’t run for a position like this. There’s lots of choices, and you have to make a decision, and Tom is a good guy. I’ve known him. I like his thinking. And so, you don’t have to twist my arm too hard for a really very good individual.”

Jones then suggested Chair Crye “call for some votes”.

Crye quickly made a motion to appoint Toller as the ROV, pending background checks. Garman voted no, Jones voted yes, and Crye voted yes. When it came to Kelstrom, he also said yes, which resulted in groans and expressions of dismay from the audience, a reaction of disappointment after weeks of speculation that perhaps Kelstrom would “do the right thing” and select Joanna. Much hinged on Kelstrom’s vote, and his vote for Toller slammed the door shut on the possibility of the board majority appointing Francescut as the ROV.

Supervisor Rickert voted no, and then lowered her head.

Someone from the chambers yelled, “You just fucked our county!”

During board discussions, District 3 Supervisor warned her board majority colleagues of the grave error they were committing by not selecting Francescut, someone who was clearly the best ROV applicant. Rickert predicted that the board majority’s mistake would be their legacy, one the public would not forget.

Jones steps in another legal quagmire

Dolores Lucero is a frequent speaker at public meetings. A News Cafe file photo by Doni Chamberlain.

Frequent public speaker Dolores Lucero pointed out that Jones shouldn’t be involved in the interview process to hire an ROV in the first place, since Jones recently testified against the ROV’s office in the Hobbs v. Long et al lawsuit.

There are California government codes that might confirm Lucero’s observations that it’s against the law for a board member to participate in an appointment vote for someone they testified against.

Several possible codes that outline potential violations include Government Code Section 87100 (Political Reform Act), Government Code Section 1090, Common Law Doctrine of Incompatible Offices, due process violations, and Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) Regulations. For example, the FPPC could find a conflict of interest if Jones’ impartiality could reasonably be questioned due to his prior adversarial relationship with Francescut, which was clearly demonstrated when Jones testified against Francescut in court.

But not only did Jones testify against Francescut and the entire ROV office at a recent hearing, but without any explanation to the public, that day he simply left the dais during a supervisors meeting, abandoning his paid duties as a supervisor to walk across the street to the courthouse to participate as a witness against the very county that pays him for being a supervisor. That same meeting, Crye took a call and abruptly left the meeting, which meant Kelstrom, as vice chair, was in charge.

Supervisor Patrick Jones left the board of supervisors meeting in progress across the street in favor of testifying against the county in the Hobbs v. Long et al hearing.

Wednesday, Francescut’s family, including her young daughter, sat in the audience to watch the interviews. They exited the chambers after the board majority selected Toller as the new ROV.

Although technically, Francescut was Wednesday’s loser — because she was robbed of a position that by any rational, intelligent matrix was rightfully, practically and logically hers — in reality, Shasta County citizens were the biggest losers.

Community advocate Judy Salter expressed what many Francescut supporters felt following the Toller vote.

Once again, Shasta County has done the seemingly unthinkable: This time, five months before arguably one of the most significant elections of our lifetime, the board majority kicked Francescut – the functioning, experienced ROV — to the curb. They welcomed aboard the leaky Shasta County circus ship a man who’s never worked in an elections office, doesn’t know elections law, has never observed the election process, and hasn’t the first clue how to operate the day-to-day business of running not just the elections office, but the county clerk’s office, either.

Toller talk

After Wednesday’s meeting adjourned, Toller answered a few reporters’ questions, including A News Cafe’s. Below is a Facebook Live video that features Toller and Curtis, and random footage after the meeting.

Supervisor Rickert: Disappointed

Supervisor Rickert.

A News Cafe reached out to all four supervisors for comments regarding the board’s decision to hire Toller. Supervisor Rickert responded with this statement:

“I’m very disappointed that the board majority would not look past their own political agendas and select Joanna Francescut as our new ROV. Joanna brings 16 years of experience and strong leadership skills to the position.

It’s difficult for me to understand how the board majority could reject her as a candidate. I do believe that our November 5th election will now face many challenges with an inexperienced ROV.

The board majority will have to answer to the people of Shasta County as this election rolls out.”

Joanna Francescut gets the last word

Shortly after Toller was appointed and the meeting ended, A News Cafe caught up with Francescut, who’d returned to her office.

Doni: How are you doing, Joanna?

Joanna: I’m OK. I really am. My vision is to be the county clerk and registrar of voters for Shasta County. That’s been my goal since I started working in this office shortly after 2008. I’m looking forward to helping Shasta County voters understand what they deserve, and why they deserve me as the county clerk.

Congratulations to Mr. Toller.

Doni: Really? “Congratulations”?

Joanna: Yes. He’s going to be my boss, I guess.

Just know that this will all work out. This will all be fine. I have confidence in the ability of my team to rally, and assure voters of Shasta County, don’t miss a beat with this election.

Doni: You’re taking the high road, aren’t you?

Joanna: I’m taking the road I always take, which is with high integrity. It’s who I am as a person. I want to be the best person possible, and have the world know that I am confident in my abilities. Being confident, that doesn’t mean I’m arrogant. No, being confident means that I am the right woman for this job. And I am the right person at this time to do this job.

Doni: OK. Right.

Joanna: Be patient with this process.

Doni: OK. I should be the one saying that to you.

You’ve spoken before about what you do at the elections office, and what it entails. Frankly, I think everyone would agree that at this point, Mr. Toller doesn’t knows what the job entails.

Joanna: Yes. That’s true. This job is about more than just reading the laws and allowing people to watch us do our work. There’s a complexity to it, there’s an administration roll. It takes a great knowledge and experience to ensure this work is accurately done. As you can see, we’re dealing with that right now. We have a very, very public issue from a clerical error. You can see how that impacts the trust in elections. My goal is  always to build trust in elections in Shasta County.

I always support the person in charge of this office, if I’m the assistant county clerk/registrar of voters. As a reminder, I’m an at-will employee. If Mr. Toller decides he doesn’t want me in that role, then all he has to do is fire me. I’m an at-will employee.

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Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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