Once upon a time, I left this town. I drove south to San Francisco to attend college, fiercely determined to never return again.
Fast forward a bunch of years, and I landed right back where I came from. For better or worse, this has once again become my home. It's the place where I live, work, and raise my kids. You have grown on me, Shasta County. In spite of my liberal political leanings I've felt welcome here. I've found great schools for my kids, a church that supports me and my family in our faith walk and I've gathered a stellar collection of friends that help sustain this "blue" citizen, deep in the heart of "red" country.
And today I've reached my boiling point. After leading our county through the most extreme public health crisis in modern history, our Board of Supervisors has chosen to terminate our Public Health Officer, Dr. Karen Ramstrom "without cause."
Yes, technically she's an "at will" employee with no guarantee of employment. And yet, any competent HR professional or attorney will tell you, you don't go around letting people go without cause....because if you do....they will most certainly find some illegal reason for your action. And promptly take you to court to prove their point.
And also, it's just common decency. You don't just up and fire people because you feel like it. Grow up!
So why, exactly was Dr. Ramstrom let go?
Could it be because she is a woman?
Or because she's over 40?
Or perhaps because she's a Veteran?
Let's hope it wasn't any of those things because those are protected classes, which would actually make your actions illegal. Awkward! Not to mention expensive.
So maybe it's because she did a crappy job during the pandemic? Is that it?
Did she shut down businesses during COVID?
Did she mandate vaccines?
Did she enforce public masking requirements with a heavy hand?
Did she fail to keep the public informed about COVID risks?
Nope? None of that? Hmm.
Did she work hard to balance the needs of business owners with her obligation to protect public health and safety?
Did she patiently, oh so patiently, listen to all the concerns, fears, mis-information, and conspiracy theories and seek to find common ground with the full 50% of our county who are not yet ready for vaccines?
Did she partner with schools, correctional facilities, hospitals and healthcare centers to manage risk using widely accepted practices such as masks, contact tracing, social distancing and encouraging vaccines?
Did she follow CA state mandates as she is required to do as the Health Officer?
Yes? All of that? Well. Isn't that interesting.
So, maybe the BOS just decided to get rid of her because they can. Maybe they just took that "at will" clause and used it to their advantage because they had an itchy trigger finger and three solid votes.
I can just hear the hamster wheels in their heads spinning now..."There! That will show them we mean business about taking back Shasta County."
Here's what it also shows...
It shows our public servants they should make no assumptions about job security. (This should be really great for employee morale, recruitment and retention)
It shows our community that the BOS is beholden to a vocal and misinformed minority and will act without regard for the potentially significant legal and financial repercussions. (While I am not shocked by this decision given the culture of our current BOS, I will be shocked if it doesn't wind up in court)
It shows that there are a lot of people in this town who are angry and barking up the entirely wrong tree. (Government 101: State laws preempt local ordinances)
I would like to believe we are better than this, Shasta County. I would like to believe that the asphalt cowboys, the bay area transplants, the ranchers, the college professors and everyone in between can find their place here. I want to believe that we're all different but can peacefully co-exist, engage in respectful dialogue and debate, and feel at home. I want to believe that our collective health is a valuable asset, worth protecting with the best tools that science can provide for us.
That's what I want to believe.
Tonight I believe a lot of things that are contrary to all of that. I won't put them into words here because that is not the Shasta County that I hope for. That is the Shasta County that I pray over.
Tomorrow, I'll find more hope. But for tonight, I'll stew in my frustration and see what fruits it may bear.
I sure hope that the next brand of cancer, food-borne illness, sexually transmitted disease, birth defect, addiction, flu, mental illness or natural disaster is met with a Public Health Department fully staffed with capable, compassionate leaders of the same caliber as Dr. Ramstrom. For all of us, I hope for this to be true. We're in this together, for better or worse.
PS...What do we do? If you're disappointed with Dr. Ramstrom's dismissal, here are some positive outlets for your frustration:
1. Many county employees are emotionally rocked by this dismissal. If you have friends who work in county offices, take a minute to reach out to see how they are doing and offer a few kind words of support.
2. These 3 Supervisors voted in support of this decision. Let them know how you feel about it:
Les Baugh: email@example.com
Les Baugh: firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick Jones: email@example.com
Tim Garman: firstname.lastname@example.org
3. These 2 Supervisors voted against terminating Dr. Ramstrom. Give them a high five, and a word of encouragement:
Mary Rickert: email@example.com
Joe Chimenti: firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Check out the candidates for the June 7 election. Click here. and then click "Candidate Information" for a dropdown list of local offices that are up for election. Take some quality time to read the candidate statements so you are informed and ready to VOTE on June 7.