Some got what they wanted and others didn’t at Tuesday’s meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.
After years of often contentious exchanges with her fellow county officials, Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez was given board approval to hire more employees — specifically, two full-time accountants — to alleviate what she has described as chronic understaffing in her office.
Things didn’t go quite so smoothly for First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, who wound up withdrawing a controversial COVID-19-related resolution he’d placed on the agenda. He also faced accusations that he has conflicts of interest — or at least the appearance of them — in his bid to be appointed to the California Cannabis Authority.
The meeting began with Board Chair and Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass reading a prepared statement regarding the violent mob of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday. Calling the attack a “horrific” and “abhorrent” assault on democracy, Bass condemned the group’s actions on behalf of the board. She also commended “the courageous law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol” and led a moment of silence for the two who died.
Sheriff William Honsal also condemned the attack as “unsettling and horrific” and offered assurances that local law enforcement is committed to ensuring community safety from extremists.
The Healthy Communities Resolution
If Bohn ever felt truly committed to passing the Healthy Communities Resolution, a statement of opposition to California’s COVID-19 restrictions in favor of more local control, his enthusiasm had diminished some by Tuesday morning. Having received loads of negative feedback online and, according to at least one fellow supervisor, via email, Bohn said he merely “brought it forward for discussion” in hopes of giving the Public Health Branch and local school districts more latitude to set their own regulations.
It should be pointed out that the resolution would carry no legal weight or usurp the state’s authority. And local school districts already have the power to determine when and how to resume in-person instruction.
“This is a simple resolution,” Bohn said almost apologetically. He suggested it could be “wordsmithed” or shortened, “or I can just ask to have it removed.”
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson said he was “wholeheartedly against” the resolution, in part because it would contribute to the lack of cohesion that has characterized the national response to the pandemic. He also tied the resolution to last week’s events at the Capitol, saying it reeked of “toxic individuality.”
Bohn apologized for the timing of the resolution, explaining that he brought it to staff week before last with “no premonition that D.C. would blow up like it did.”
Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell said that while she thinks the timing and the resolution itself are probably bad, “I do want to show my support for the idea of local control when our numbers are sufficiently lowering.”
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone said school boards already enjoy local control, and he doesn’t support the resolution. “When you’re in a really good place, that’s not the time to loosen things up,” he said.
Bohn, who took the criticism in stride, pulled the item off the agenda without putting it to a vote.
California Cannabis Authority
Who knew that a seat on this agency would be so coveted?
The CCA is a Joint Powers Authority among counties, sponsored by the California State Association of Counties (CSAC). Its purpose, according to a staff report, is to collect and analyze data, help local governments comply with state regulations and provide information to financial institutions that want to work with the industry.
Previously, former Supervisor Estelle Fennell held the county’s seat, with Treasurer-Tax Collector John Bartholomew serving as the alternate. Fennell’s November election loss left a seat open, and at the Jan. 5 Board of Supervisors meeting several board members expressed interest — especially Bohn and Madrone.
On Tuesday, Madrone made an aggressive case for himself, largely by suggesting (without naming him directly) that Bohn’s familial connections to the industry should disqualify him. (The First District Supervisor’s adult son, Trevor, has active business interests in the cannabis industry.)
“Neither I nor any member of my family is involved in commercial cannabis,” Madrone said, adding, “The public’s trust turns on whether they perceive our actions to be promoting the public’s interests as opposed to our own.” He touted his training on conflict-of-interest policy and read aloud some provisions for public employees.
Clerk of the Board Kathy Hayes interjected to say she’d received an email from the CCA executive director/attorney, Greg Turner, which said that while the agency is currently revising and updating its own conflict-of-interest policy, industry connections are by no means disqualifying.
“I don’t want to discourage a [Board of Supervisors] member from participating who is engaged in or connected to cannabis businesses,” Turner’s email states. “We want them.”
Bohn pushed back against the conflict-of-interest allegations, saying he just won reelection by a healthy margin, so his constituents clearly aren’t worried about that issue.
“To try to disparage my family and myself continuously is quite unnerving,” Bohn said. Nevertheless, he grudgingly acquiesced, saying, “Steve, you can do this,” though he added a parting shot: “Kick and scream and throw me under the bus every chance you get; I’m all for it.”
The vote to appoint Madrone and Bartholomew was unanimous.
Auditor-Controller’s Office Staffing
For the past few months, the county’s Human Resources Department, led by Director Linda Le, has been researching the fine print of job requirements, staffing levels and classifications for positions in the Auditor-Controller’s Office. This work was necessary, according to HR staff, to give the Board of Supervisors the information necessary to consider Paz Dominguez’s requests for additional staff.
At today’s meeting, Le said the work has been completed, and she recommended giving Paz Dominguez some help in the form of a full-time supervising accountant-auditor and a full-time senior accountant-auditor.
Her staff report suggested that these positions should be approved only for an unspecified but “limited” duration. That’s because the county should really undertake a comprehensive, countywide staffing study — a “realignment endeavor” aimed at making the whole county run more efficiently, Le said.
But in the meantime, Le said she believes the extra staff would “stabilize operations” in the Auditor-Controller’s Office.
Bohn bitterly noted that the county has already added staff to the office since Paz Dominguez took the helm, but he said, “Let’s give her more.” There’s work that desperately needs to be finished, he said, including a cost allocation plan and closing the books on previous fiscal years. “We’ve got to get this stuff done or we are in financial disaster,” Bohn said. “No ifs, ands or buts.”
Paz Dominguez expressed gratitude for Le’s efforts, and she challenged Bohn’s accounting of her office’s staffing woes, saying two positions allocated to her office remain unfilled while the one accountant who’s been assigned to her was immediately reassigned to the Emergency Operations Center amid the county’s COVID response.
Madrone said he was excited by the opportunity to “start turning a corner” on this divisive issue, and he suggested making the two accountant positions permanent rather than temporary.
There was some discussion among the board members about whether that would be appropriate, and despite a particularly critical and anonymous public comment accusing Paz Dominguez of being under-qualified, inflexible and obstructionist, the board would up unanimously approving the staffing request.