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DA, supervisors address letters between board and Sheriff

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

It’s a tale of dueling letters. First, Plumas County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dwight Ceresola read a letter May 2 which was described as the board’s response to the sheriff, who had been consistently asking for better pay for his staff. Then Sheriff Todd Johns read his own letter May 9 in response to the board’s letter.

District Attorney David Hollister weighed in on the situation during the May 9 meeting and voiced his support for the Sheriff. In doing so, he said that the supervisors might have violated the Brown Act if they approved the letter that was read on their behalf May 2.

“How did the board unanimously approve that letter without serial meetings? It wasn’t on the agenda,” he said. The board letter included data gathered by a third-party investigator, which the Sheriff challenged in his response. In addressing the board, Hollister said he was “taken aback” when the board letter was read and found it to be “unprecedented.”

He wasn’t the only one who was taken aback. District 5 Supervisor Jeff Engel was not present for either the May 2 or May 9 meeting due to medical reasons. When reached for comment today, May 10, Engel said “I’m not happy about the letter and I didn’t sign off on it.” He added, “If I had been there, I would have stopped it.”

Engel said that he ran for office because of the Sheriff’s Office — saying public safety is his primary duty as a supervisor. Engel said that he has been researching ways to increase county funding and has talked to Treasurer/Tax Collector about the revenue that could be raised by increasing the sales tax.

When asked for comment, District 3 Supervisor Tom McGowan likewise said he did not read the letter before it was read aloud in the board’s chambers. He said he was told when he arrived at the board meeting May 2, a response would be read, but he didn’t know its specific content. “I’m supportive of the board making a statement as to what we are doing,” he said, “but it may not have been done perfectly.”

McGowan said he knows that county employees should be paid more, but “the Sheriff is demanding money from us that we don’t have.”

So, who did read it?

During an interview today, Board Chairman Dwight Ceresola said that he read the letter when he arrived at the courthouse prior to the board meeting, along with District 4 Supervisor Greg Hagwood. “Greg and I sat down before the meeting,” he said and added “we all talked about it.” He thought District 2 Supervisor Kevin Goss came in as well, but Goss said today that he did not read the letter before it was read aloud in board chambers.

Ceresola said that he wanted to make it clear that there wasn’t an investigation of the sheriff; the board wanted to have someone neutral look at what was causing employees to leave the sheriff’s office. Was it simply pay or were there other factors?

Sheriff Greg Hagwood said today that he saw the letter the morning that it was read, and he shared McGowan’s concerns about the wording. “It was not an investigation, it was a survey,” he said of the third-party investigator contacting employees who left the sheriff’s office to determine why. “The word ‘investigation’ brings to mind wrongdoing,” he said. “Given the circumstances — when there is conflicting information — a survey is not out of line.”

Hagwood said that staff countywide are not being compensated the way that they should, and the county is trying to address it.

It appears that the supervisors supported the concept of providing a response to public demands for more compensation, but some didn’t like the verbiage. So, who wrote it? According to the Board Chairman, the letter came from the county administrative officer. CAO Debra Lucero was not at the May 9 board meeting when the sheriff read his response letter; Ceresola said she was attending to family issues.

In addition to Brown Act concerns, Hollister addressed the independence of the county’s six elected officials; lack of precedent in relation to the board’s approval of pay raises for appointed department heads; and the impact of staffing at the sheriff’s office on the county.

“I have legal concerns about the investigations into his office,” Hollister said. “I will tell you from my experience, the numbers presented by the independent investigator are not accurate. He described the numbers as “loaded” and “incredibly unfair to the sheriff, his administration and staff.”

Hollister said that elected officials must be independent and are required to respond directly to the public according to government code. “We don’t need obstruction, we need support,” he said.

Then Hollister turned his attention back to May 24, 2022, when Human Resources Director Nancy Selvage “came forward requesting increased pay for appointed department heads.”  He said there were attachments purporting a 10-county comparison, but when one reviews the backup material, it was an eight-county comparison —Del Norte and Lassen were dropped – the two that paid HR the least, he said. The request, which was approved by the supervisors, represented a 43 percent pay raise for the HR director. He said it was suggested that these raises wouldn’t impact anyone’s budget, but the HR budget increased $69,693. “I bring this forward,” he said, because those raises took general fund monies that could be paid to sheriff employees. He said the HR director set priority for the board and it wasn’t public safety.

Hollister also questioned the hiring of the investigator. “I took the letter as a political attack on our sheriff,” adding that taxpayer money for political purposes is unlawful.

Hollister also addressed the critical staffing levels in the sheriff’s office, and said he is concerned that it is not staffed adequately to respond to a critical incident.

“The Sheriff’s Office needs attention,” he said, adding that dispatchers and corrections officers are paid less than a McDonald’s worker in Truckee. (A corrections officer starts at $18.98; and a dispatcher starts at $18.98, while McDonald’s is advertising starting pay of $19.)

Hollister, who sent the text of his remarks to each of the supervisors prior to the meeting, said that though the conversation is uncomfortable, he hopes that everyone can come together to solve the issue.

The public hopes so as well. Quincy resident and businessman John Breaux addressed the board and said he represented a group of like-minded citizens who are concerned about the developments in public safety and called on the board to act.

Board Chairman Dwight Ceresola said that the board and staff are working on some things that will be brought forward when the full board is back. There is one more board meeting this month — May 16 — but not all of the supervisors will be there. The next meeting when all supervisors are expected to be available is June 6.

6 thoughts on “DA, supervisors address letters between board and Sheriff

  • Hope we never lose David Hollister as voices of reason seem to be missing.

    Did the county ever figure out just how much money we have?

    Last I heard that was in dispute.

  • The three time elected supervisor Engels solution is to raise sales tax. Great, another tax that disproportionally affects the working class and poor, also know as the bailout class. Engel brags he’s never written a grant because it’s your tax dollars returned to you. So let’s just get our taxes raised and not have them returned to us. Well played Jeff, well played.

  • Mr Hagwood. Did the Board hire an independent surveyor? Or an independent investigator? You can play semantics all you want with the work dog but it is what it is- it was wrong for the Board to use tax payer money for a witch hunt. Aren’t we all tired of seeing that play out on the grand stage of politics as it is? This BS needs to stop in Plumas County.

  • Amazing!! In what is referred to as the “Good Old Days” the Board Of Supervisors was an elected part time position. The board was paid per meeting. There was no HR department or County Administrator. The board members got a mileage allowance to check roads in their supervisory areas and report any problems to the road department. Each department handled its own hiring. As far as The Sheriffs Department goes there was no jail when I started. The office was in the courthouse & there was a holding cell. The Fire Marshall had shut down the jail due to safety concerns. Prisoners were transported daily to & from the Butte County Jail. During my tenure there was always an issue with pay but, it did get better over time. With todays climate regarding law enforcement and outrageous demands for extreme pay for workers at McDonalds for example It makes for a hard field to play on. The County is going to have to look long and hard at retaining Deputies, Jailers, Dispatchers, & support staff before they get a long hard look from the Attorneys General Office in Sacramento. There has always been turnover. Very few have ever retired from the Sheriffs Office.

    • The Supervisors used to get a mileage allowance for checking the roads but Robert Meacher ended that when he was putting in for miles he never checked trying to get every penny he could.

  • Dave Hollister is a much needed voice in our community. His comment “though the conversation is uncomfortable, he hopes that everyone can come together to solve the issue” is right on. We all know the county is hurting for money, so my question is, why isn’t the board going after the massive amounts of money that have been available because of the Covid Pandemic and the massive fires? Grant writing anyone? I know our Sheriff has done that for years. So the Board needs get some outside funding and set priorities. The Plumas County Sheriff’s Office should be at the top of the list.

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