By Linda Sutter – September 28, 2022
The board of supervisors meeting held on September 27, did not go without constant battles. The first battle was between Chair Gerry Hemmingsen and a Del Norte County resident, Brandon Bieber. There were several items on the consent agenda which had 22 items listed. Some that had not been brought up to the public before. One of those items required a ⅘ vote and there was no discussion of it whatsoever. Several items required spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Consent agenda item #2 was to use $200,000 dollars for a pilot grant money for non-profits. Never been talked about, never been brought up but was rubber stamped.
- Consent agenda Item #3 authorize chair to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between county of Del Norte and the City of Crescent City for Axon video software. Never been discussed or talked about.
- Consent Agenda Item # 4 was to purchase the equipment for $215,17.96 cents. The amount was incorrect and corrected at the meeting. No notice of correction and never been talked about.
- Consent Agenda Item # 5 to place one interpretative sign at Wavecrest Drive public access never talked about at previous meetings.
- Consent Agenda Item# 7 approve and authorize CAO Neal Lopez to sign an agreement between County of Del Norte and Junior Giants league for operation of a 2023 Junior Giants league for Del Norte Youth. Never discussed in open forum, and I am sure there would have been much support regarding this matter, but the fact of the matter is, the public has the right for their 3 minute input.
- Consent Agenda Item # 19 approve and authorize the chair to sign a three year agreement with Genasy’s for Zonehaven Evacuation Management Plan software, hundreds of thousands of dollars; no public input allowed, nor discussion.
- Consent Agenda Item # 20 approve the chair to sign an agreement for placement of a juvenile court ward at Shasta County Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility for $75,000. No discussion or public input. And, finally…
- Consent Agenda Item # 22 approve and authorize staff to process an application requesting Title 111 funds for planning efforts for the Bar-O-Ranch. This required a ⅘ vote and was rubber stamped without public input.
The Board of Supervisors constantly place items on a consent agenda to avoid public input, as well as avoid informing the public. According to Brown Act Government Code 54954.3 the body should have a public comment period for consent calendar items before the body acts on the consent calendar, unless it permits members of the audience to “pull” items from the calendar. The Brown Act allows a body to preclude public comments on an agenda item in one situation, where the item was considered by a committee of the body which held a meeting where public comments on that item were previously allowed.
Mr. Bieber was in his right to make comments on each consent agenda item that had not been previously discussed at other meetings. Chair Gerry Hemmingsen took his right away, and the County counsel allowed It. Not a good look for the Board of Supervisors to violate public civil rights concerning freedom of expression.
The next set of fireworks began with Chris Howard using accusatory language towards Supervisor Valerie Starkey regarding how the “Budget Process” works in his eyes. Keep in mind Chris Howard is very controlling, and although his abusive traits are sometimes subtle, they were demonstrated just the same. After Howard made this big announcement he brought up the County Auditor Clint Schaad to the dias to speak in regards to the budget.
County Auditor Schaad gave information supporting that any public member is allowed to come visit him in his office to inquire about the public budget. Auditor Schaad then reported that the department heads get together in a meeting with him to report on their budgets prior to the end of the fiscal year so as to figure out what the next fiscal year will entail.
Valerie Starkey asked the question, “Is the public allowed to attend these meetings?” Valery Starkey wants the public to be able to participate anytime in the process. Mr. Schaad was not sure whether or not staff meetings are public meetings.
Supervisor Starkey mentioned there were several issues that would not have been made aware of until the workshop budget meetings occurred. Computer systems needed to be updated, equipment for departments that the County did not provide, space for offices, etc.
Ms. Starkey has made a request for the Ag department, and was told it could be gotten from the contingency fund, however believed the contingency funds are to be utilized for emergencies.
Chris Howard whined about how he had not had a chance to talk yet and how he was accused that the budget meeting was not a transparent process. Quite frankly, three of the supervisors fought hard against Sue Masten and Valerie Starkey at the last meeting to provide a workshop for the public. Had there not been a room of people at the last meeting, the public would not have been afforded a budget workshop.
Howard goes on to say, “The point of having auditor Schaad up here is to talk about the budget process which takes about 6 months. But what happened these last two weeks was a process that was not on track.” (meaning Chris Howard was not able to rubber stamp the budget process) Howard goes on to state, “I’m not saying don’t sit down with the CAO, the Auditor, the Department Heads, or the public, just do it sooner.”
Well Mr. Howard, the problem is this; if the budget hearing does not come out on the agenda on time why are you blaming Valerie Starkey for that? She doesn’t have control over what Mr. Hemmingsen decides what will be on an agenda and what will not be on an agenda. The budget was received in June. It is supposed to be voted on before July 1, 2022. It is now September and the County is still talking about it. Is that Valerie Starkey’s fault? No!
Howard goes on to say, “ We have the dog pound, we have the Ag, the VFW and we have ball fields that need to be repaired and we have Measure R.” Howard states, “Measure R is a capital improvement fund.” Since when? Keep in mind Valerie Starkey was asking for what? Capital improvement projects to be considered in the budget.
Measure R has already been spent in its entirety by hiring new employees, and giving raises. There is no more Measure R. period. Who is Howard trying to fool? Basically, Howard was literally gaslighting Valerie Starkey and Sue Masten, and ended his ignorant explanation by saying, “That is how I see the budget as working, it has been working for me for years.”
The public can see how it has been working for Chris Howard for years and that is why this county is in grave disrepair in all departments, in our roads, and in our inability to provide simple services. Chris Howard began to get impatient when Sue Masten began to speak, and tried to interrupt her several times. She reminded Chris Howard how the public stepped in to get the budget workshop, in Chris Howard’s eyes, transparency during the budget workshop was, “micro-managing.”
Darrin Short chimed in and it was surprising that he too thought having an open budget workshops were appropriate and would in the future consider they take place. He stated he watched the budget workshop meetings and learned a lot
Gerry Hemmingsen gets the last say, “This budget workshop and transparency and how we do our government, apparently I do it a different way. I’ve got a lot of trust in administration as well as the department heads. I’m transparent because I am open to the public, meaning the public can come talk to me at any time. It’s not up to me to throw up anything to the department head unless there is public outrage. I think we should get requests from department heads and then we analyze that if it looks reasonable then we are good to go with it. I get insulted when people tell me I am not transparent because I’m as transparent as you get.”
He forgot about not letting Branden Bieber speak just minutes ago. Was that transparent? NOPE!
Mr. Hemmingsen says, “Throwing spaghetti on the wall by giving $50,000 dollars here and there without a plan is not alright. This $50,000 move is a grandstanding, ‘look what I can do,’ kind of thing and I’m not going to have it.”
Apparently, the Department heads are afraid to ask for anything because if they were not afraid, our county would be in better condition than it is.