Complaint against supervisor triggers review; Paz Dominguez censured 

HUMBOLDT – Supervisor Michelle Bushnell’s involvement in a staff-level cannabis permit review led to a complaint against her and the Board of Supervisors has approved referring the matter to a new county committee. 

Also approved is a resolution censuring county Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez for “retaliatory, harassing and/or bullying behavior” and poor financial management “resulting in increased staff workload and financial losses to the county.”

The board took up the conduct-related situations at an April 4 special meeting. 

Michelle Bushnell

Changing the board’s code of conduct policy stemmed from the complaint against Bushnell. Included in the agenda materials is a name-redacted version of the complaint, which was addressed to Supervisor Mike Wilson and written by a county planner. 

Bushnell said she requested a public airing of it and supervisors thanked her for that. But the unusual reveal is due to the complaint’s trajectory of being reported on by the Lost Coast Outpost news blog. 

The complaint had been leaked to the Outpost, leading to a Public Records Act request for more information on it. 

The complaint alleges that Bushnell engaged in “misconduct” by attempting to influence decision-making on extension of someone’s interim cannabis cultivation permit. The extension was hampered by what’s described in the complaint as numerous violations. 

The alleged misconduct occurred during a late December meeting between the planner who wrote the complaint, Planning Director John Ford, a supervising staff member, the applicant, the applicant’s agent and Bushnell. 

Informed of the violations and potential rejection of the permit extension, Bushnell allegedly yelled at and insulted the planner and at one point “abruptly exited the room and slammed Director Ford’s office door, hard and loud enough to make the walls shake.” 

Shortly after, she’s alleged to have “returned and was visibly crying.” 

Bushnell told the Outpost the slamming of the door was unintentional but acknowledged getting emotional. She denied that she was trying to bend the county’s rules. 

A written staff report says that the matter got resolved in a series of meetings with the complaint’s author, Bushnell, union representatives and top-level county management. 

County management and the staffer’s union rep “agreed that the complainant and Supervisor Bushnell had participated in effective conflict resolution and that no further action was needed, other than to return with amendments to the code of conduct,” according to the staff report. 

Bushnell was also schooled on proper supervisor conduct through an all-day “Effective Communication, and Board Roles and Responsibilities” training session facilitated by a hired consultant on Jan. 12. 

Noting the Outpost’s possession of an unredacted version of the complaint, Bushnell said it “makes me wonder where it came from” but added, “I’m not going to be hiding behind smokescreens, I wanted it to come to the public because someone is obviously not okay with it.” 

The code of conduct amendment creates a committee made up of county administrative, legal and human resources department heads to review complaints so that “fact finding” and recommendations such as censure can occur. 

The amendment also adds an appeal process if requested.  

After approving the changed code of conduct policy, supervisors unanimously voted to refer the Bushnell complaint to the new committee. Bushnell didn’t participate in that part of the vote.

Paz Dominguez censured

Prior to those actions, the board approved the censure of Paz Dominguez, who wasn’t present in the chambers or via teleconferencing. 

Karen Paz Dominguez

The censure follows a March 22 closed session board meeting on a letter from various unnamed county staff members, managers and department heads indicating that litigation is afoot unless something’s done about alleged problematic conduct. 

An “independent third-party” investigator hired by the county found that Paz Dominguez “engaged in retaliatory, harassing and/or bullying behavior,” according to the resolution, and her financial management “resulted in increased staff workload and financial losses to the county.” 

The censure resolution got unanimous approval. Paz Dominguez is an elected official so the board can’t fire her. She’s up for re-election in June. 

There was only one public commenter throughout the entire meeting but multiple department heads spoke in support of the censure due to the financial implications of Paz Dominguez’s actions and what they described as lack of response to their concerns.  

Planning Director John Ford said he’s personally experienced an impact, as he hadn’t yet gotten the W-2 earnings form necessary for filing his taxes.