On Tuesday the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors opted not to formally chastise one of their own, Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell, who was recently found to have mistreated a member of county planning staff during a closed-door meeting late last year.

Bushnell’s colleagues concluded, in essence, that the incident has already been sufficiently dealt with. An independent investigator sustained the mistreatment allegation against her while dismissing a number of other claims.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone said Bushnell subsequently “took full responsibility for her actions.” 

Nonetheless, the discussion included some eyebrow-raising moments, including remarks from one county employee who called in to say Bushnell has a history of bullying and hostility toward staff and who suggested that Supervisor Rex Bohn should refrain from dropping the word “cocksucker” around staffers.

There was also some confusion about the word “censure,” which both supervisors and members of the public seemed mixed up with the more-common and similar-sounding “censor.”

Bohn, to his credit, said he looked “censure” up in a dictionary, and while he still pronounced it like “censor” or “sensor,” he also found a definition saying “censure” can mean “a way to embarrass/humiliate” a board member for actions taken, which struck him as overkill in the current situation.

“There’s really no there there,” he said in reference to the sustained finding against Bushnell. “I think most of the issue has been addressed.”

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson offered a few alternative dictionary definitions, including “an official reprimand, as by a legislative body of one of its members” and “to criticize [or] reproach in a harsh or vehement manner.” But he agreed with Bohn’s underlying point, saying he, too, felt the matter has been sufficiently adjudicated.

Madrone said censure may be necessary when the person in question has not recognized his or her culpability, but “that just simply is not the case here,” he said, adding, “I don’t feel there’s a need to do any kind of censureship.”

The employee who called in didn’t identify themself, but they said they personally witnessed Bushnell acting hostile toward staff, including yelling and demanding to see Planning and Building Director John Ford while pursuing action on her own cannabis cultivation permit. 

The caller went on to say that while the item under discussion didn’t directly involve Bohn, “I’d like to request that he not use language like ‘cocksucker’ in the company of county staff.”

Another speaker, who addressed the board in person, said she is the cannabis applicant whose meeting led to the heated conflict between Bushnell and a planning staffer. Though she didn’t identify herself, she defended Bushnell, saying the supervisor has been “professional and level-headed” while the county planner with whom she clashed “definitely lacked professionalism herself, and she was agitated and dismissive.”

When the matter went back to the board for discussion, Bushnell asked staff to confirm that while multiple allegations had been made against her, including those referenced by the caller, only the one was sustained. 

“That is correct,” Human Resources Director Zach O’Hanen said.

Bohn also asked O’Hanen to confirm that the allegations discussed today — presumably including his own potty-mouth — had already been investigated. O’Hanen confirmed that as well.

In the end, the board voted to simply receive and file the staff report. Bushnell abstained from the vote.