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Plumas County responds to statements and charges made by Sheriff, others

Editor’s note: County Administrative Officer Debra Lucero provided the following updates to the letter: It was recently discovered that there were two errors in the statement read by Chair Ceresola on May 2, 2023.  To correct the record, 51 employees have left since Sheriff Johns took office in January 2020.  The statement erroneously stated July 2022, this was an error. Second, the additional cost to the County for the 85/15 insurance split for all County insurance plans, not just CalPERS, was $710,452.08.

Editor’s note: During today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Chairman Dwight Ceresola read a statement on behalf of the board and the county administrative officer responding to various statements made by the Sheriff, other department heads and county employees over the past several months — most having to do with employee attrition due to lack of pay. The comments were leveled at the board of supervisors, and in some cases, the county’s Human Resources department. Following is the statement shared by the board today, May 2:

In response to criticism of the Board of Supervisors:

For months, going back to at least October of 2022, we have listened to employees come before this board talking about low wages, working conditions and the unresponsiveness of our Board, our administration, Human Resources and more. And because these comments have come primarily during public comment, the board does not get into a back and forth with those who have a right to practice their freedom of speech.

Not only have we seen headlines like this one in the Plumas News on January 17, 2023:

 …. Beginning Sunday just one vehicle to patrol the entire county due to staffing crisis

Or the Letter to the Editor April 30, 2023 from a Plumas County employee:

Where I Stand: Public safety on the verge of collapse in Plumas

There have been more than a dozen articles, letters to the editor and numerous employees including the sheriff – in person – at our meetings to air grievances. As the Board of Supervisors, we are expected to get things right, spend the public’s money wisely, and make sure what we say is based in fact, so please listen very carefully because we’ve been doing our homework.

Our county has a growth rate of about 3% annually or $600,000 a year, according to our Auditor-Controller consultant Craig Goodman who took a quick look 10 years back to today. We are looking at cost of living increases of 8% or 9% and pay increases that may amount to much, much more than the 3% we have in growth. Having said that, we recognize the need for employees to receive raises and we want to accommodate this as the county’s finances allow. We are looking for ways. For instance, earlier this year, for those who have CalPers Health Insurance, the county has picked up 85% to their 15% for CalPers insurance premiums –costing the County and its taxpayers $740,000 annually.

But, to address why people are leaving, we’ve been looking at our entire organization and we want to share what we know so far, starting with the Sheriff’s Department since that alarm has been sounded.

51 people have left the Sheriff’s Department since July of 2022. We actually worked with a third party investigator to interview those who had left because it had been brought up on several occasions by the sheriff that people left due to low wages. It was also stated to the Board that exit interviews had been done and the primary reason employees left was due to low wages. After at least two attempts to get those exit interviews from the Sheriff or Undersheriff with no response, we decided to ask the question through a third-party unbiased investigator: “Why did you leave the Sheriff’s Department?”

Any well-run organization knows that it needs to understand why its employees are leaving. We knew that if we want to be successful in recruiting people to work in the Sheriff’s Department, we need to understand why people are leaving.

The investigator could not reach all 51 individuals who had left the Sheriff’s Department but he did speak to 30. Out of 30 people interviewed, 16 were critical of management, 7 cited pay and/or benefits as the reason with one of those 7 also criticizing management; 4 retired, 2 moved out of state, one went part-time and one cited changes to OES. UPDATE: The following information was provided by the county later in the day as an update: 37 interviewed — 16 cited leadership exclusively, 8 cited pay exclusively, 5 cited both, 4 retired, 2 moved out of state, 1 went part time and 1 went to OES.

In terms of recruitment, there was a meeting in December of 2022 with Sheriff Johns, Undersheriff Hermann, HR Director Nancy Selvage and CAO Debra Lucero about recruitment and retention. When the Sheriff was asked about the 24 applicants who applied for the various open positions in their department since August of 2022, the response was the applicants had not passed background. When asked for an example of why they are not passing background, the response from the Undersheriff was that one said they smoked marijuana.

Of the 24 applicants since August of 22, there were 6 applicants for dispatch, 9 for correctional officer, and 9 for deputy sheriff positions. If there are 24 qualified applicants and not one hire in this time span from August 2022 to December 2022, this would indicate an issue with background checking and/or investigations. The board would recommend a third party should be conducting the background investigations other than the Sheriff’s department to help with this process.

When our Sheriff is quoted in the local newspaper as saying as a result of low staffing “We will be responding to emergency calls first, and anything that’s not an emergency — vandalism, petty thefts — people will have to wait.” And even emergency situations could be affected as the number of deputies out on patrol are reduced. This frightens people and lessens belief in what the county does for its citizens. We are all in this together.

And … we need to correct the record. Plumas County isn’t the only county facing law enforcement staffing issues — it’s a statewide as well as national issue — but the sheriff has repeatedly said that his staff isn’t leaving because they don’t like the work; it’s mainly because of the pay. Now, you know the truth. More than 50% of those interviewed left because they were critical of management while 23% cited pay and benefits. Those are facts.

Now, I want to read some statistics from recruitment efforts by the HR Department on behalf of the Sheriff’s Department. I’ve also attached pay schedules which do not include benefits like the 15 holidays received in addition to vacation and sick pay. Pay schedules are here: https://www.plumascounty.us/2729/Pay-Schedules

If you want to see what each of the 9 employee units has bargained, please go here:

 County Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs):

Sheriff’s Department

Recruitment activities since July 1, 2022 to the present (as of April 20, 2023).

Correctional Officers: 16 applications, 10 applicants were provided as qualified applicants, and 1 is working and 3 are in the background awaiting results.

Deputy Sheriff: 12 applications, 12 applicants were provided as qualified applicants, and I was hired and attending the academy.

Dispatchers:  13 applications, 8 applicants were provided as qualified applicants, and 2 were hired and of the 2, one has quit after 2 months of employment.

To summarize the recruitment from July 1, 2022, 44 applications, 32 qualified applicants provided to the Sheriff’s department and a total of 8 hired, with 2 of the 8 pending completion of background investigations and one of the new hires has quit.

We have reports also on Public Works, Public Health, Social Services, Behavioral Health, and Probation for those who would like to learn more. We also have links to all the pay schedules.

Public Works:

Public Works has decided to only recruit for Maintenance Worker II’s due to the DMV Class A license requirement.  They may want to decide to open their recruitment to Maintenance Worker I in order to create promotional opportunities and future Class A training opportunities.

Exhibit B is a breakdown of the recruitment activities from July 1, 2022 to the present (as of April 20, 2023).

Mechanic Shop Technician:  5 applications, 4 qualified applicants, no hires.

Maintenance Workers II:  23 applications, 13 applicants were provided as qualified applicants, 5 hired.

Equipment Service Worker or Power Equipment Mechanic:  6 applications, 1 qualified and hired.

Public Health Department:

Public Health has been recruiting for limited term positions related to COVID contact tracers.  They were allocated 4 additional positions for a Community Outreach Coordinator, Heath Education Specialist, or Health Education Coordinator I/II.  These positions are no longer needed so are removed from the position allocation and from current recruitment.

Exhibit C is a breakdown of the recruitment activities from July 1, 2022 to the present (as of April 20, 2023).

Department Fiscal Officer I/II or Management Analyst I/II:  7 applications, 3, qualified applicants, no hires

Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant: zero

Senior Services (Nutrition/Transportation)

Driver – Senior Nutrition/transportation Portola:  2 applications, no hires (.625 FTE vacant position)

Senior Services Extra Help Recruitments:

 Extra Help Driver – Portola

Extra Help Driver – Chester

Extra Help Assistant Cook  – Chester

Social Services Department:

 All allocated positions are recruited through the State of California’s Merits Systems and through Human Resources.  It is reported Merit’s recruitment process has changed and

The County’s current position allocation indicates the following positions are unfilled:

Exhibit D

1.0 FTE Welfare Fraud Investigator

1.0 FTE Social Services Supervisor I/II

FTE Senior Social Worker A/B

2.0 FTE Employment and Training Worker I/II/III

4.0 FTE Eligibility Specialist

2.0 Social Services Aide

2.0 FTE Office Assistant I/II/III

Behavioral Health Department:

Exhibit E is a breakdown of the recruitment activities from July 1, 2022 to the present (as of April 20, 2023).

Vacant Positions:

BH Director

4.0 FTE BH Therapist I/II or Senior:  No applicants

2.0 FTE BH Case Management Specialist I/II/ Senior:  Not recruiting.

3.0 Site Coordinator:  7 applications, 2 hired (both no longer working)

1.0 Support Services Technician:  7 applications, 7 qualified applications, 1 hired and 1 vacant

1.0 BH Administrative Assistant:  1 applicant, 1 qualified, no hires

Probation Department

Exhibit F is a breakdown of the recruitment activities from July 1, 2022 to the present (as of April 20, 2023).

Supervising Deputy Probation Officer (DPO): 2 applications, 1 qualified applicant, no hires

2.0 FTE Deputy Probation Officer (DPO): 6 applicants, 4 qualified applicants, (2 from Corrections), 2 hired.

1.0 FTE Pretrial DPO:  not recruiting for this position

3.0 FTE Probation Assistant:  1 application, 1 qualified applicant, 1 hired and has resigned since hire.

Administrative Assistant:  2 applications, 2 qualified applicants, no hires at this time

23 thoughts on “Plumas County responds to statements and charges made by Sheriff, others

  • Thank you for explaining this very complicated situation to the public. Glad to hear that you are working on this—

  • Thank you Board for all this relevant information, tho somewhat late in coming

  • Very much appreciate the BOS response–county residents need to know how the Board is addressing a challenging situation that affects all of us, and the background information provided by Supervisor Ceresola is helpful in better understanding what’s happening behind the scenes.

  • Who was the third party investigator and how did they get ex-employees’ personal information? HR should have copies of exit interviews. It is generally completed by HR isn’t it? If you were a community member paying attention you would know that a number of staff threatened to quit if the voters didn’t vote for their candidate for sheriff (basically holding voter’s hostage.) How is this new news? Frankly, it’s probably best that these people are gone if that was their attitude. It seems this is a defensive response by BOS They could have focused on what they are doing to support department heads and employees rather than point fingers unnecessarily, and possibly spending tax payers money on this unknown third party. Thank you for working on what you can by raising wages and expanding recruitment, but can you do it without the toxicity? It brings doubt to the BOS’s intentions and professionalism.

    • 100% in agreement with your comment KW. I felt embarrassed for our county reading this and left wondering about the BOS’s motivations. I am also curious how the investigator got the former employees’ personal information.

    • I couldn’t agree more with you! Very well said! Why is the BOS spending money to find issues, when we have issues already that need to be addressed. Who is representing our county? Spending money on third party investigators? Wasting time, wasting money, wasting energy, work on getting money for higher wages for our county employees so we as a county can feel safe.

      I’d also like to know who wrote this article? The BOS? You wait till now to try to uphold yourself when the public has been coming to you since October 2022, which I believe it was before then. Does bashing others take the spot light off of you as a whole?

  • Recruitment, retention and compensation issues have been with Plumas County for a number of safety and non safety positions for a long time and will continue to plague small counties for a long time. However, Undersheriff Herrmann better come up with a better reason to disqualify a otherwise qualified candidate than “they smoked marijuana”. Many agencies did away with that disqualifing reason long ago. Remember, under California law personal use of marijuana is legal, as is drinking alcoholic beverages.

    • This scummy political hit piece is leaving a few things out in respect to context. I have no clue the specifics of the exclusion decision because of marijuana, but the Sheriff’s Department is partly funded through the feds, so if anyone is, let’s say, “legally” able to smoke, even with a prescription in California, it’s still illegal federally, which would automatically disqualify an applicant. May be a little more to the story here.

  • “They may want to decide to open their recruitment to Maintenance Worker I in order to create promotional opportunities and future Class A training opportunities.”

    I respectfully suggest BOS look into what is now required to get a Class A license. The days of on the job training or learning how to drive from peers or family are gone. Makes me wonder what else they’ve erred on here. https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/driver-licenses-identification-cards/commercial-driver-licenses-cdl/

    • I applied, told i had the job and would have to start at step 1, look up that wage and you will see why i am not there. I have a valid class A and also applied as extra help for plowing snow of which i did this winter to help get the roads cleared, i worked weekends when needed and used vacation for other days when needed. There are some dedicated Road Dept employees out there that are seriously under paid and its only because they care about keeping the roads cleared that they are still there.

  • Goldman Sachs forecasts that “Office and Administrative Support” and “Legal” are the professions most likely to be replaced by AI and IBM is going to replace nearly 8,000 with automation.


    ChatGPT (an AI program) also has managed to pass the bar, the Wharton Business School test and US medical licensing exam.


    Of note are the highest paid people in Plumas County the Chief Administrative Officer and the County Counsel followed by many others which could quite possibly be candidates for replacement by AI such as ChatGPT.

    If large companies like IBM are replacing thousands of such roles with automation, why isn’t the county considering such and then using the savings to pay for other essential roles such as deputies and snow plow operators which cannot be replaced by AI?

    If ChatGPT can pass the bar and a medical licensing exam how long do you think it would take such a program to come up with a general plan or even something as simple as a reasonable lease? Seconds?

    Perhaps it’s time to use technologies like AI to replace department heads and managers instead of workers as they cost a lot more, would result in far greater savings, and do next to nothing when it comes to things like handling calls for service or getting snow plowed or roads fixed.

    Maybe we should try it? Radical? Yes. But these times call for thinking outside the box. What are we waiting for?

  • The starting pay for Maintenance Worker II is $17.33 per hour. For a difficult, dangerous job that requires a Class A License. I start my office workers at $18 per hour. No wonder you can’t find any one to drive the snow plows!!
    Methinks the County doth protest too much.

  • The fact that the BOS felt the need to share such a ridiculous document and information rather than agenized an item that can have action taken or allow for public comment, speaks volumes about the lack of knowledge, and level of defensiveness they harbor. The audacity to hire a private investigator when they are telling employees they don’t know much money they have and that they cannot discuss pay is a slap in the face, not to mention the blatant inability to manage their staff and get the information that is already supposed to be available and managed by the HR department. IT IS CLEAR the issue is with the BOS, HR, County Counsel and the CAO! The management issues lie at the TOP, the inability to take accountability and then blame employees who are managed and at the mercy of this governing board is not only embarrassing it is criminal! The people of Plumas County and the employees deserve better!

  • There will always be two sides to every story and your documentation and evidence provided is helpful in gaining a fuller perspective of the situation. That said, however, that isn’t the job of any member of the Board of Supervisors. Providing information and data is the job of County Staff (the CAO, County Counsel, department heads, etc.) and offering recommendations to the Board on taking action. The job of the Board, and quite literally what each of you was elected to do, is to receive that information from staff and make decisions on how to take action. This is where your statement, your efforts in this matter, and the woeful staffing levels throughout the County as a whole, fall abundantly flat.

    Nowhere do you provide a single actionable step to combat the problem. Nowhere do you show even one shred of critical thinking that would give your constituents even the slightest inkling that you’ve identified that what you’re trying isn’t working so you’re going to pivot and try this instead. You’re already in office, so stop having snarky back and forths with members of the public and your own staff that is crying out for help, and actually devise a plan to move forward. Or, better yet as you all are clearly way out of your depth on this matter, stop dragging your heels and hire a consultant who can tell you how to fix this. This way you can actually do something and, should those suggested actions fail, you’ll have a neutral 3rd party to blame so that nobody can point the finger at you as that’s apparently all you’re really concerned about.

  • Third party is probably cronyism. I once saw a ledger from the special district in Greenhorn that stated they spent $20k on a lawyer to recover $2K of overdue water payments (over a dispute). The lawyer was a friend of a HOA board member…who was a nonresident. Happens all the time in this country, if you pay attention.

    Growth rate can be misleading. It’s does not represent the majority nor states numbers about non-resident individuals with interests in the county.

    People are leaving the Sheriffs department because of ethics, not pay. And good for them for doing so.

    We probably need to focus our resources on become self-reliant… Globalization, Urbanization, Climate Wars will eventually doom the country in the long run if we do not start now.

    But, hey, new court house!!! Am I right? Lol… Plumas County is like the Florida of California. Priorities of our government is focused on the wrong agendas.

  • There are numerous issues with this response from the BOS. First, the public does not know who wrote this piece. If you are in public office, you are expected to be accountable for your words. Second, the public has been pleading for answers, action, and transparency. Instead, this article is littered with defensive speech and deflection. Condescending and childish words such as “so please listen very carefully because we’ve been doing our homework”, “starting with the Sheriff’s Department since that alarm has been sounded”, “and … we need to correct the record” are a waste of effort and insulting to the community. If your feelings are hurt because the public is unhappy with your performance, then you need either a different job or an attitude adjustment.

    I think the public has been asking the BOS this: what is stopping our government from paying county employees livable wages? There is most likely not a simple answer, but a clear, transparent, and useful answer can indeed be found. Offering links to existing pay schedules (an informational resource that has already been quoted by several county employees prior to the BOS posting this unhelpful article) does not offer a solution.

    BOS, you each ran for office. You offered your time and energy to this county willingly. Consider the Letters to the Editor and the Public Comment period at BOS meetings as your performance review and begin to change your work habits.

  • This is a misleading and defensive response to the public outcry that people are not being paid a living wage and leaving. Out of 51 who left the Sheriff’s Dept., it is 31% who claim the reason is management. We remember the last contentious election for Sheriff and the winner should be supported by the BOS. Before our current Sheriff, the Sheriff’s Dept. were harassing residents and visitors for no good reason. The current Sheriff listened to complaints and took action, and the bad behavior has stopped. I commend him for doing so. Perhaps those that left were disgruntled with that change, or maybe some other reason, but a more harmonious relationship between the BOS and all departments would be welcome by their constituents. Spending money on a PI to prove your point was vindictive and a waste of tax payer money. You can do better.

  • The 85/15% split that the county offers is based on the Affordable Care Act mandate that states large employers can not charge their employees more that 9.12% of their gross income that went into effect this year.
    CalPERS health insurance is only offered to mid management and upper management. It is not offered to non management employees.

  • The tone of this article mirrors the behavior that occurs at the board meetings. The board members are rarely paying attention as they are too occupied by the electronic devices and the CAO and County Counsel seem to lack basic respect for others. This is shown by their argumentative demeanors, interrupting, eye rolling and waving their arms around. It’s no wonder this county is in the shape it’s in.
    The only comments I’ve heard about the head of HR have been very negative, it begs to wonder how she recently received a very hefty pay increase.
    The people that work for the County simply aren’t being heard and neither are those who reside here and speak up during public comment. This is all very disheartening.

  • Well it seems that the Board of Supervisors are doomed if you do and doomed if you don’t. I have never written a response or comment to Plumas News but have seen for months several departments, employees, and citizens expressing concern or opinions all over social media, and to this news outlet, that they are outraged that the Board hasn’t responded to them or they have not done anything. It appears that this letter or response, possibly was presented to the Board, as in my limited knowledge I do know that any board, or governing body cannot comment during public comment period at meetings. So now there is a response to hopefully shed some light and the criticism is still there. I understand you may not like the response but perhaps it was needed at this time. The Board Meetings are taped and can be viewed at your convenience which is what I did and I urge the citizens to watch.

  • According to interesting and well-maintained website “Know Your Police”, currently no police department in the US is accepting applicants who have smoked marijuana in the previous 1-3 years, regardless of whether recreational smoking is permitted by their state. A few communities have reduced the marijuana-free period to 1 year due to difficulty in finding qualified applicants. So Plumas County disqualifying an applicant for recent marijuana use is standard procedure.

  • Imagine being the BOS and telling county employees they don’t have the funds to give raises but then they hire a PI to find out why employees are leaving. where did that money come from?? imagine working SO hard to not give a fair wage to your employees. What about the employees who stayed and are loyal and working through these very difficult understaffed days? Not a care in the world. if you live in plumas county you should be WORRIED. These people are in control of our county and it’s going downhill fast. And nobody can truly say they are impressed by the new CAO. On her cell phone while people are speaking? the arrogance is loud and proud with her. She has alternative motives with her job and it’s pretty clear she didn’t come to plumas county to help us out.

  • About 2 years ago I was informed by a reliable source that some 10 years back or so, the board of supervisors voted in an annual COLA for each supervisor . This increase in their annual salaries, I was told, happens automatically and without discussion or vote. I’d be very interested to see where this decision is codified and also to know how much the annual increase is.

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