Supervisors reject state mandate regarding public health employee vaccinations

Editor’s Note: In the original version of this story, comments attributed to County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr were actually made by Deputy County Counsel Sara James. Second, it referenced  an “ordinance” in several instances rather than a policy. An ordinance becomes a part of the Plumas County Code, but a policy would not.

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors was asked to approve a COVID-19 vaccination status policy during a special meeting today, Sept. 28, but said “no.”

The policy would require county employees working in the healthcare realm (such as the behavioral and public health departments) to be vaccinated or provide a medical or religious exemption, as well as submit to weekly testing.

Nancy Selvage, the county’s human resources director, presented the policy but made it clear that it was her job responsibility not a personal preference. The policy would bring the county in line with the state order laid down Aug. 5 to be implemented by Sept. 30.

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“I agree with a lot that has been said, but my job is to protect the county,” she said referring to remarks made by several speakers during public comment against the mandate. She said she worked with county counsel and the public health director in providing this policy and would “keep my opinions to myself. I have no choice but to bring it today for your consideration and vote.” She said the county could lose funds, face fines, and perhaps misdemeanor charges.

Deputy County Counsel Sara James told the board that she worked closely with Selvage on the policy and reiterated the other’s concerns, and added that it could mean possible jail time and jeopardize licensing.

District 4 Supervisor Greg Hagwood was the first supervisor to address the issue and when he did, referenced the “Godfather” and ultimatums.

“Basically we are being threatened,” he said, “I don’t necessarily respond well to threats.”

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He didn’t think it was the role of the supervisors to mandate vaccinations. “None of us have any measure of medical expertise to base employment opportunities on going through a medical procedure,” he said. He noted he would feel the same if it prohibited people from getting a vaccine. “I don’t see it as this board’s role to demand or prohibit … Not our job to dictate that you can’t work here unless you have this medical procedure.”

Selvage said that the county has already been mandated under CalOSHA to wear masks and social distance.

Hagwood said that in his estimation neither reached the “degree of having something stuck in your arm.”

Selvage responded that those who don’t want the vaccination have two ways to avoid it — religious or medical exemptions. “We are going into budget,” she said and asked if the board wanted to forfeit funding “that goes to the people we serve?”

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Hagwood clarified that he’s not opposed to the vaccine and has been vaccinated himself. He acknowledged the available exemptions, but said “to the degree that there is any real sincerity in that is laughable.”

County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick said that he was in a position similar to Selvage, that he was simply doing his job, and then discussed public policy and asked “Are individual rights for sale?” referring to the threat of revenue loss if the county didn’t comply with the state mandate.

Deputy County Counsel James reminded the supervisors that this policy is applying to the county as an employer and just applies to particular employees, not everyone in the county. “This is not a broad order.”

“They are still individuals; they still have rights,” Hydrick said.

Hagwood said that if this were to pass, “What will be the next group of individuals?”

District 1 Supervisor Dwight Ceresola agreed. “We are talking about a group right now that works for the county and that group has the right to decide if they are going to get that shot.” He said a month ago they were heroes and now they could lose their job.

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He said the issue was nationwide and could make the current shortage of healthcare workers even worse. He described his recent experience in a number of hospitals in a 150-mile radius, with each one having different Covid policies. “Hospitals aren’t even on the same page,” he said. “I refuse to vote yes.”

“It goes against everything I believe in that someone has to get a vaccination they don’t want,” said District 3 Supervisor Sherrie Thrall. “I just don’t feel that this is a function of the board of supervisors.”

She said that no one asked the supervisors to weigh in on the subject when it was being decided, and “I absolutely resent being put in this position now. I don’t support it.”

Board Chairman Jeff Engel shared Hagwood’s concern about who would be next. He said that as a board of supervisors they took an oath of office to uphold the constitution of the United States and the state. “It’s unconstitutional,” he said of the mandate and agreed with Hagwood, calling the threats extortion.

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“So if I go to jail, I’ll be in good company,” Hagwood joked.

Engel made the motion not to adopt the policy, and by roll call his fellow supervisors unanimously agreed.

Following the meeting, District Attorney David Hollister clarified that the order from the California Department of Public Health was not written with any criminal penalty included.

“While the statutory basis giving authority for such an Order may include a penal consequence, it does not appear that was the intent nor do I expect to have cases referred to the DA’s Office for a violation of the Order,” he said. (During the meeting someone asked if the state would prosecute or if it would be up to the district attorney.)

Hollister said it appears that failure to comply with the Order “would be an issue between the employing medical facility (in our case the Board of Supervisors and our Health Departments) and CalOSHA (regarding fines) or the state (regarding grant funding for the health departments).”

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