The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors is set Tuesday to consider the public censure of Supervisor Michelle Bushnell after an investigation sustained an allegation that the Second District representative mistreated a Planning Department staff member during a December of 2021 meeting.
The staff report states the “board action is limited to public censure,” which would require a two-thirds vote, in a situation when a violation of the board’s code of conduct is sustained following an investigation, in this case by Watsonville-based attorney Richard E. Nosky, who is described as a neutral third party investigator.
The findings relate to a grievance filed by a county planner late last year, which alleged the supervisor interfered with the issuance of a cannabis permit on behalf of a constituent and then acted unprofessionally — berating staff — in a meeting with the applicant, the planner and Planning Director John Ford.
According to Nosky’s summary, Bushnell violated two of the board's codes: the first being the requirement to practice civility and decorum in discussions and debates and the other a requirement that supervisors support a constructive and positive workplace for county employees.
The summary states the employee played “a large role in provoking Bushnell and created an awkward and hostile tone for the meeting” but “Bushnell’s reaction to the employee was not representative of model conduct for an elected official.”
Nosky also states that Bushnell acknowledged her behavior was inappropriate and took responsibility for her actions.
“Even though Bushnell was provoked, she was overly confrontational with the employee and questioned the employee’s qualifications in front of a constituent. This did not show proper decorum and reflected poorly on her office,” he wrote.
The process that led to the findings was set in motion at an April 4 meeting, when the supervisors unanimously approved revamping the board’s code of conduct, which included having employee grievances reviewed by a three-person committee consisting of the county administrative officer, county counsel and the human resources director, who then decide whether a formal investigation should be launched.
If an investigation substantiates the underlying allegations, as is the case here, that's reported to the board in open session. Previously, such grievances were brought to the board of supervisors first in public session, which the board and staff said raised confidentiality concerns.
The grievance made against Bushnell was the first one to go through the new process.
According to the staff report, the three-member review committee received “additional complaints to be considered” after the April 4 and “determined that a formal investigation into whether violations of the Board of Supervisors' Code of Conduct occurred was appropriate.”
The director of Human Resources then brought on Nosky to conduct the investigation, which he found sustained one allegation. The state report states that
a "'sustained' finding indicates that the investigation established that, more likely than not, the allegation is true.”
In other business, the supervisors will also hear an update on the Cannabis Excise Tax Reduction Program that the board approved in February, which reduced the county-levied tax by 85 percent for 2022, and consider how to move forward in 2023.
The board will also hear a 9:30 a.m. presentation on the PG&E power capacity issues in Fortuna, Garberville and Rio Dell that are putting Eel River Valley projects at risk. Presenters are scheduled to include Fortuna City Manager Merritt Perry, Rio Dell Planning Director Kevin Caldwell and a PG&E representative.
The board of supervisors meeting starts at 9 a.m. Find the agenda here