Supes Decide Not to Censure Bushnell


Michelle Bushnell
  • Michelle Bushnell
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday decided not to censure Supervisor Michelle Bushnell after an outside investigation found she mistreated an employee during a meeting last December, with several of her fellow board members citing the Second District representative’s efforts to address the situation, including attending trainings.

In a 4-0 vote, with Bushnell abstaining, the board instead moved to receive and file the investigation’s findings. The censure — a largely symbolic gesture that basically amounts to a public reprimand — would have required a two-thirds vote.

“It has already been adjudicated in my mind,” Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson said, echoing similar sentiments expressed by supervisors Rex Bohn and Steve Madrone, who said he “applauded” Bushnell for “recognizing (her) part in this.”

Before the discussion started, Bushnell offered to answer any of the other supervisors’ questions. She also noted she went to mediation in this case and there were “a lot of allegations,” with this being the “one finding” sustained by the investigator.

The item was based on a grievance filed by a county planner late last year, alleging Bushnell 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.

An outside investigation found Bushnell violated two sections of the board of supervisors’ code of conduct: to practice civility and decorum in discussions and debates and to support a constructive and positive workplace for county employees.

A summary of the findings prepared by Watsonville-based attorney Richard E. Nosky, who conducted the inquiry, 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 noted that Bushnell acknowledged her behavior was inappropriate and took responsibility for her actions — which Madrone also referenced in his comments.

One speaker via phone — who only identified themselves as a member of an employee organization — listed other situations they said they’ve seen in the Planning Department involving Bushnell and asked the supervisors to understand such situations have a “serious impact” on staff, and also accused Bohn of using inappropriate language in discussions with employees.

Another speaker, who appeared to be the constituent at the planning meeting in question, voiced support for Bushnell, saying the supervisor was “dedicated to the citizens in her district” and she was “not the only person there causing tension” that day in December.

When the matter came back to the board, Bushnell and Bohn asked Human Resources Director Zach O'Hanen to verify that the alleged incidents mentioned by the caller had already been investigated, which he confirmed. Bushnell also asked O’Hanen to clarify the findings for the other allegations against her, which he replied were determined to be “unfounded.”

Wilson also noted that there is a process for employee complaints and the meeting was not the proper venue.

The complaint against Bushnell was the first to go through a new process approved by the board of supervisors in April, when 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 will decide whether a formal investigation should be launched.

If an investigation then substantiates the underlying allegations, as was the case here, that would be 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.

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