Supervisors Are Busy With Performance Evaluations But Are They Actually Doing Their Job?

Opinion writer Susanne Baremore says that a recent closed session performance evaluation of Public Health Officer Karen Ramstrom is a form of harassment that is out of line with accepted policy and practice. Drawing attention to how Ramstrom has appropriately fulfilled her role in the county, Baremore calls on the Supervisors to fulfill theirs, by learning to govern as a body, while maintaining their individual perspectives, in service to their community.

This is an Opinion Column, not news, and is not intended to represent the perspectives of Shasta Scout’s writers, editors, or board. We have fact-checked references to data or other verifiable information to try to ensure accuracy. If you have a correction to share, reach out to us at [email protected]


You’ve more than likely noticed the deluge of campaign signs which have begun to appear this month in advance of the June 7th primary election here in California. With the almost year-long saga of the local recall process and subsequent election, it’s almost as if we are only halfway through an interminable double season of campaigns and elections. Even the avid political junkie in me has grown weary.  

It has been years since there has been what could be considered a “good” campaign for any office on the ticket– one which offers a healthy debate of ideas, a comparison of resumes which portray skills and abilities relevant to the elected office at hand. The closest we seem to come to this ideal is heated, bloviating exchanges filled with insults and chest-pounding pronouncements of one’s political philosophies. 

But what about well-crafted policies?  What about solid leadership philosophies to support stable governance?  Many in our region, and even across the country, have watched in shock and dismay as last year’s misinformation-turned-rage led to petitions to recall three supervisors, and the ultimately successful recall of a single Shasta County supervisor.  Much of the recall was predicated on the disappointment of supervisors not ‘standing up’ to Governor Newsom’s COVID mandates.

So, an elected official with decades of public service, policy experience, and knowledge of basic governance was unseated and replaced by someone who is, by his own admission, “just learning” how to do the job. The idea of “fresh perspective” is important, but in spite of that, Shasta County’s local government currently sits precariously atop a very unstable form of governance. While county supervisors are elected individually, based on locally-drawn district boundaries, their success requires serving, and governing as a body.  A stable, healthy governing board includes healthy debate, critical discussion, and at times compromise.  At the end of the day, a board should be functional enough to disagree on minor to major points, but ultimately support its board decisions as a whole as often as possible.

As Shasta County’s board currently sits, there is virtually no concurrence as to that notion of governance as an elected body.  There are consistently 3/2 votes, with elected supervisors generally making comments about their personal opinions on issues, rarely acknowledging the need to work cohesively in terms of setting policy and supporting county departments, officers and staff in the delivery of services.  

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Case in point: The recent performance evaluation of the appointed county health officer. While Shasta County holds no formal process nor guidelines for the evaluation of an appointed official’s performance, it has been a standard practice to provide annual evaluations for those department heads appointed directly by the Board of Supervisors. 

But this most recent evaluation of Health Officer Dr. Ramstrom seems less a review of performance, and more a tool for harassment or intimidation, based on comments from Board members.  Generally speaking, a performance evaluation is intended as a guide to review and/or improve performance, not to threaten one with one’s job, especially at a professional level such as a health officer. 

The position of Health Officer is a state-mandated requirement, governed under the California Health and Safety Code  §101000-101300.  In a nutshell, the local health officer is tasked with carrying out federal, state, and local health regulations and policies. From a public health perspective, Dr. Ramstrom has performed this role competently.  She has provided the Board of Supervisors ample information to make informed decisions about all manner of public health issues, including a global pandemic, and she has provided feedback as to the consequences of the Board of Supervisors choosing to ignore basic public health precautions during a pandemic.  

 In the two years in which COVID has been a public health issue, Dr. Ramstrom has not taken action outside of policy set by the Board.  In fact, she walked back the requirement for flu shots for healthcare workers after listening to those healthcare professionals, and considering additional data.  In October 2020, she and her colleagues at Health and Human Services fought diligently to remain in less restrictive tiers when they felt the data supported such decisions, even though the State evaluation had indicated a proposed move to the more restrictive Purple Tier.  

Early on, the Board decided to take an “education-only” approach to dealing with businesses out of compliance with State of California mandates.  Dr. Ramstrom’s staff implemented those education-only protocols, in the face of death threats and other forms of harassment.  

The Board needs to consider its own role in the development (or lack thereof) of the local policies used to govern and guide the community through the pandemic.  Supervisors have, on multiple occasions, expressed concern about ensuring economic stability and personal freedom during this pandemic.  

To those ends, the workforce, in the aggregate, actually grew from a seasonally-adjusted number of 69,800 in November 2019, just prior to the pandemic, to 70,500 in November 2021 according to the Employment Development Department. Over 500 people died as a result of COVID, and arguably, in some measure, as a result of the education-only policies utilized locally for the past two years. The individual freedom to not wear a mask in public was assured on so many fronts, it contributed to some of the highest COVID case rates in the state, and one of the highest rates of deaths per capita as well.  

So, the question to which we will likely never know the answer, due to rules governing personnel issues, is: How exactly is Dr. Ramstrom falling short in her performance as health officer?  She carried out the education-only policy as directed by the Board, and the concerns of personal freedom and economic stability were realized.  What specifically warrants the termination of a highly-competent professional who has carried out her duties to the extent of the law, and will require a full-blown, possibly nation-wide recruitment to replace her?  While the health officer does serve at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors, and is therefore subject to being fired capriciously, why would the Board of Supervisors do so?  How is this defended as an action of good governance?

And in the meantime, this approach to governance by the Board of Supervisors has contributed to an attrition-based gutting of the county’s public health leadership.  Since the beginning of COVID, three Health and Human Services Agency branch directors have resigned for various reasons, and the agency director is retiring next month.  This is over 100 years of collective public health knowledge and experience gone, in two short years.  There is already a shortage of qualified public health professionals due to two years of pandemic-fueled burnout, death threats and harassment. According to reports published by Kaiser Family Foundation in November 2021, seventeen of California’s 58 counties have lost their health officer since March 2020, and at least 27 have lost a director or assistant director. It would be a deeply sardonic moment in Shasta county governance if we were to lose our current health officer, and no one else came forward for the job. 

The Board is missing some critical nuance to their role as a governing body.  While each supervisor is elected individually, all five of them are tasked with serving as a single governing entity.  Good governance benefits from an array of opinion and perspective, but at the end of the day, good governance does not benefit from constant divisiveness, nor from a lack of circumspection as to how their actions as a board are ultimately serving—or not serving—the citizens.

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Susanne Baremore is a nearly life-long Shasta county resident, who has spent portions of her career in county and municipal government. She currently works as a field representative for a non-profit state education association. If you have feedback or questions about this piece, contact her at [email protected]

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