Candidates Melissa Bishop and Greg Hagwood met Thursday night, Jan. 30, at the Quincy Library to alternate taking questions from a capacity crowd at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Plumas County.
The candidates are vying for a District 4 seat on the county’s board of supervisors that will be vacated by Supervisor Lori Simpson who is not seeking re-election.
District 4 includes much of Quincy along with Meadow Valley and Bucks Lake.
In their statements and in subsequent questions about their backgrounds and qualifications, the candidates thanked the League for hosting the forum and community members for attending in support. Each one discussed his/her experience and readiness for the board of supervisors post.
Bishop spoke first, saying she arrived in Quincy in 1989 and worked 22 years as a county employee and animal control officer who interacted with other departments, employees, the public and the supervisors.
She said she’s always been honest with the board of supervisors and spoken her mind, and they know this about her, and “it doesn’t make it difficult to get along with people,” so yes, she can be objective in her dealings with them.
Currently a Certified Nurse Assistant, she talked about the importance of volunteering and sharing a commitment to public service because she grew up with a mother who worked in government.
Bishop also mentioned her personal quality of compassion for others and wanting to repair the “foundation” of Plumas County to serve all citizens, improve public access to information, and represent those whom she believes do not have a say in the community.
“I can fight for what’s right for people,” Bishop said. “Your best interests will be my top priority. I intend to be everyone’s voice.”
Hagwood noted he had been raised in Quincy after moving to the area when he was 10, and served 31 years with the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO), the last 10 of which were as sheriff. He retired from the PCSO at the end of last year and cited several personal characteristics that suit him to the supervisorial job: professionalism, tenacity, commitment, achieving successful outcomes and accessibility.
“I have a proven track record of accomplishment and success,” he explained.
In addition, he talked about accountability and his focus on efficiency when he managed the PCSO’s multi-million-dollar budget. When, after previous attempts, his department succeeded in securing $25 million to fund a new correctional facility, Hagwood said it took collaboration, persistence and interaction with the board of supervisors.
He further cited his experiences “collaborating and engaging with just about every agency and department of Plumas County government,” saying he still sees the need for more efficiencies and that he can be objective.
“We are facing serious issues, daunting and challenging issues, but I’m optimistic we can address them,” Hagwood said.
Next, the questions began in earnest.
Do you feel there is a place for commercial marijuana grows in Plumas County? Why or why not?
Hagwood said he had seen the failures (of approval policies) at both county and state levels, including promises of economic relief that never materialized.
“I’m an opponent of commercial marijuana activities in this county and I’ll never waiver from that position,” he said. “I will never change from that position, ever.”
Bishop responded that she does not use marijuana herself and quoted a series of statistics relative to major causes of death in California.
However, she added, “I’ve read that you would have to smoke a 1,500 pound joint in 15 minutes to die of marijuana. It’s not going to kill you and I think California is going that way anyhow.”
She mentioned the need for farmers and agriculture to succeed and stopped short of endorsing commercial cannabis activities.
What are the most pressing issues facing our county and what do you plan to do about them?
Hagwood immediately cited the growing crisis of fire insurance cancellations for homeowners and said it has the ability to impact our region more strongly than even the severe economic downturn (of the Great Recession from 2008 to 2016). He listed his four-point plan to tackle the crisis.
– Federal partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service to include structure protection in their plans for adjacent properties impacted by the 70 percent of forested land that presents the greatest danger to our communities.
– State partnerships to work with CalFire on a dedicated fire station that needs to be established in the county.
– County partnerships to consolidate fire districts for increased efficiencies and improved funding and updates to facilities.
– Private sector partnerships to improve fire insurance availability and help for property owners who need to maintain defensible space.
Bishop agreed completely that the fire insurance issue is at the top of anyone’s list. She cited financial hardships and challenges of being required to keep properties clear but being “charged $1,000 for a permit to do it,” she said. “That makes no sense.”
Bishop said one solution is to keep taking the issue to officials and “higher ups” who have the power and authority to make changes happen. “Plus, CalFire taxes us for a service our community doesn’t even get,” she added. “Yes, we need a CalFire fire station here.”
How can you help those who have trees that need to be removed?
Bishop was offered the first opportunity to respond and she reiterated, “This is a real issue in our county and I hope CalFire will step up to the plate.”
Hagwood acknowledged this is a problem, especially for elderly and disabled property owners. He cited community resources such as chipping services that are available and county services to dispose of greenwaste.
“We can all do more to reach out as good neighbors,” he said. “There are lists for services, get on them.”
In addition, Hagwood suggested the county could potentially contact the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to contract for inmate labor “to help us with these services. It’s something that needs to be fortified and improved.”
There’s a big issue of tree growth on nonresident owners’ properties. Would you consider liens?
Hagwood said anyone who is a property owner in Plumas County has a duty to their neighbors and their community to manage their property responsibly. He added he is not a fan of penalties and fines, but “we can’t allow absentee owners and occasional visitors to endanger our communities or (lack of) mitigation to be an issue. You can’t subject the rest of the neighborhood to unnecessary and irresponsible risks.”
Bishop concurred and said, “I do believe in fines. Yes, we need to go after them, so go for it. Usually, one fine or a citation does it.”
What can be done to alleviate the county’s perennial budget problems?
Hagwood said there is a lot that can be done to address this issue and it needs to happen on multiple fronts to address economic viability and establish a sustainable, independent “economic engine” to support industry, small business, tourism and more.
He expressed concern that Plumas County relies heavily on the availability of state and federal funds, putting the region at risk.
Bishop stated a desire for a resurgence of the timber industry in Plumas County.
“We have so many trees,” she said. “I’m hoping with California constantly burning down, the timber industry comes back like it used to be or it’s going to burn.”
Bishop added there is much that can be done to prevent wildfires and with a revived timber economy, “we would be less dependent on the feds.”
Where do you stand on development in the county?
Hagwood said he favored a two-pronged approach that embraces industry, timber and business in a responsible way, and works in a timely, effective fashion that is also decisive.
“Don’t give up on industry,” he said. “Continue to support them, support small businesses and tourism and things that make people want to move here. We can do a much better job of promoting this area” and creating opportunities for new residents to live in Plumas County.
Bishop went to the heart of the matter, agreeing that development leads to economic growth.
“You can’t have tourism if our county is dying,” she said. “We have to let businesses develop (and flourish). You won’t get that many tourists coming to a ghost town.”
Are you a member of the Constitutional Sheriff’s Association? Will it influence your decisions?
This question was directed to Hagwood who said absolutely no, he is not a member. He attended one meeting and realized the group “was being radicalized,” so he told them they could never use his name, likeness or position for any reason.
“I am not in support of any radicalized or sovereign citizens’ groups,” he added. “However, I am an outspoken advocate for access to public lands” and he opposes Forest Service actions to prevent access to them.
What have you supervised successfully?
This inquiry was directed to Bishop who said she successfully ran the county’s animal control service and shelter for 22 years. Beyond her regular duties, she did many things to promote the adoption of shelter animals, including driving them to events and even out of state to be adopted. “I did a good job,” she said.
Did you resign with a plan to run for the board of supervisors, or was it a spur-of-the-moment decision?
This question was also directed only to former Plumas County Sheriff Hagwood who countered that he did not resign from the PCSO, he retired.
When current District 4 Supervisor Lori Simpson announced she was stepping down, Hagwood said he did what he has always done with any major decision.
“I evaluated my obligations to my family, my department and the people who worked for me,” Hagwood said. “I felt this might be an opportunity to continue helping to improve the community and this county.”
District 4 supervisorial candidates forum
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Plumas County
Further inquiries included:
What do we need to do get Caltrans to keep at least one Highway 70 rest stop open in winter?
Both candidates said this is a real need and suggested a conversation and working with Caltrans. Hagwood agreed it’s a public safety issue, possibly more so in bad weather when motorists need a safe place to get off of the road. He said the conversation needs to happen between the CHP, Caltrans, Plumas County and the Sheriff’s Office.
It’s been many years since the county’s tourism board was closed. How could the supervisors promote tourism?
Bishop said nothing is going to happen without more business here, we need to do more to promote tourism and industry. Hagwood agreed, saying he appreciated the few websites that are trying to address this, but we are not promoting the county nearly “as aggressively as we should be” and a TV commercial on Sacramento stations would be helpful as would hosting more events at the fairgrounds like the Americana, High Sierra and Joshua music festivals.
Any plans for implementing a tourism district and ways the Transient Occupancy Tax can help the county?
Neither candidate had experience in this area, but they concurred that recruiting the necessary talent was a first step. Hosting a display in the county showcase area of the California State Fair was something Bishop wants to see; she said she only saw an empty table where the Plumas County display should have been last time she visited that exhibit.
What will you do to address the issues of climate change?
“Everyone needs to listen to Greta (Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist),” Bishop said, eliciting smiles and nods in the audience. “Mother Earth is dying, it’s real and we’ve got to stop it. We can’t even recycle in this county anymore.” Hagwood said he is not a climate denier, far from it. “I recycle everything I possibly can,” he said. “Each of us has a responsibility to one another, to our communities and to the generations coming up behind us.” He spoke of the need to engage people on both sides of the issue and arrive at a consensus to conserve and protect the environment. “Think globally, act locally,” he said. “That’s what I subscribe to and I encourage everybody else to.”
What about charging-station infrastructure for electric vehicles?
Both candidates supported the increasing use of EVs in the county. While Bishop felt building charging facilities is not a high priority right now because so few people have EVs, Hagwood saw future economic opportunities to address this emerging need with grant applications for government funding to install charging facilities at gas stations, in parking lots and other locations.
How could, or would, 5G technology affect the county?
The whole audience broke up laughing when Hagwood joked that people who know him know he’s “very technological, in fact I’ve just left the tin cans and strings era!” He said he supported improved capabilities in the region and “it needs to be done in such a manner that we are not recklessly rushing off into uncharted territory.” Bishop acknowledged people’s frustrations with sporadic web access in the mountains, saying, “At home, at work — everyone is challenged because the Internet is down. We need it, yes 5G is a good idea.”
Views on the County Administrative Officer’s (CAO) role with no reflection on the current CAO, whom they agreed is doing well with a challenging post. Each candidate said they’d had prior experience with situations where CAOs had too much power and control in a county and they don’t support that situation. Hagwood clarified that CAOs need specific duties, specific instructions and clear expectations aligned with county priorities and a strategic plan.