Supervisor Terry Swofford told Supervisor Lori Simpson he was “pissed off” at her for questioning his integrity.
Swofford’s anger grew when Simpson laughed at him and said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve seen you in action. I don’t think you would represent us and be fair.”
That exchange highlighted a 30-minute verbal wrestling match between the supervisors as they fought to see which one would be appointed to the Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) executive committee.
The supervisors’ entertaining brawl caught the other supervisors and the audience at the meeting Tuesday, May 8, by surprise.
The surprise was mainly because the CRM executive committee, formed in 1989, has never been called on to render a decision. In fact, it has never met.
The supervisors ultimately settled the matter with a coin flip, won by Simpson. But not before a sometimes comic debate that prompted laughter and occasional one-liners from people who couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
But while the audience was entertained, Simpson and Swofford said they were dead serious about wanting to be on the committee.
“When we are on that committee, we are involving the whole county,” Swofford said. “And the issues are big enough that we may end up in a lawsuit because we are involved in this.”
The issues Swofford cited concerned the controversial watershed restoration technique known as “pond and plug.”
The program, originally designed to bring restoration grant money into the county to offset the loss of natural resource jobs, has become a polarizing issue.
Downstream water users want the water to continue flowing their direction as it always has.
Ranchers and users living in the watershed want to see the upstream meadows restored so they have better water storage in the summer.
Many of the ranchers live in Swofford’s eastern-county district. And Swofford said “pond and plug” was the issue that most concerned him.
Simpson argued she should be on the executive committee because she would be more objective than Swofford.
“You’re too influenced,” Simpson told Swofford. “And I’m more objective, because it’s not in my area. It’s in your area. You are going to take a certain position, where I’m going to take a neutral position.”
“I disagree with that,” Swofford said.
“And I’m closer to the meetings,” Simpson said.
“I ain’t buying that either, Lori,” Swofford said.
In between Simpson and Swofford’s jousting, Plumas Corporation Executive Director Greg O’Sullivan tried to emphasize that whomever the supervisors appointed to the committee needed to have an open mind.
“It’s very important that whatever the appointment is today, it’s balanced — that this board doesn’t become a veto board for projects moving forward,” O’Sullivan said, adding that the four-member executive committee’s decisions had to be unanimous.
O’Sullivan said “pond and plug” is just one of the issues the committee would face. He said a lot of the projects “are not controversial and need to move forward. They have grant funding and timelines to them.”
O’Sullivan said the Feather River CRM group, which is under the direction of Plumas Corporation, can’t afford to be bogged down by politics.
John Kolb, who is on the CRM steering committee, wondered aloud whether politics had anything to do with the Simpson-Swofford battle.
“I know both (Swofford and Simpson) are in an election battle themselves right now,” Kolb said. “I don’t know what bearing that is going to end up having on this. But we need to have some stability at the top. And we need some direction that is not politically motivated, but motivated by science and results. This is an issue that is going to continue on past elections.”
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall, who was sick, didn’t attend the meeting. Supervisors Robert Meacher and Jon Kennedy said they couldn’t decide whom to pick for the committee. They said they felt Simpson or Swofford would do a good job.
O’Sullivan objected to Meacher’s idea of naming both supervisors to the committee. So Meacher and Kennedy looked at each other and tried to come up with a solution.
“This issue to me is just a flip of the coin,” Meacher said.
“I don’t like flipping a coin. I think that’s stupid,” Simpson said.
“They should both (be on the committee),” Meacher said. “And they both care.”
“I would be more objective,” Simpson said again. “I’ve been working on water issues and natural resource issues.”
“Oh, and I haven’t been working on water issues?” Swofford said. “Sherrie (Thrall) ought to weigh in on this. I think she has a …”
“She has your vote?” Simpson said, igniting another round of laughter from the audience.
“So what is wrong with Meacher’s idea? He has an idea for the county and not the Assembly race right now,” Kennedy said, taking a light-hearted jab at the board chairman, who is running for the state Assembly.
Kennedy added it didn’t really matter which supervisor was named to the executive committee because major CRM decisions would probably require approval from the Board of Supervisors.
“That is what I’m saying,” Swofford said.
“So you can’t veto everything if we (supervisors) are going to make the decision,” Simpson told Swofford.
“Lori, you keep saying that,” Swofford said. “It does kind of upset me that you are accusing me of planning to veto stuff that you don’t even know what we are talking about! OK?
“You are questioning my integrity. I’m damn pissed off!”
When Simpson reacted to Swofford’s outburst by laughing, Swofford grew more upset.
“You just keep laughing!” Swofford said.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Simpson said, trying to compose herself. “But I saw you in action (during a public meeting addressing watershed issues the previous week). And I thought you had an agenda there. And I don’t think you would represent us and be fair.”
“That’s your opinion,” Swofford replied.
“Was it regarding ‘pond and plug’?” Kennedy asked Simpson about her opinion of Swofford.
“Yes.” Simpson said.
After a few more minutes of debate, Meacher decided a coin flip was the best way to solve the problem. He said the loser of the flip would become an alternate on the committee.
“This ain’t gonna look good in the paper that you flipped a coin to decide this,” Swofford said.
“It’s been in the paper before. We’ve done it before. He’s done it,” Kennedy said, pointing at Meacher.
After Kennedy and Meacher reached in their pockets and failed to come up with a coin, O’Sullivan held up one of his.
“Looking for a coin?” O’Sullivan said. “Having budget problems?”
O’Sullivan’s remark sparked another round of belly laughs in the supervisors’ chambers.
After the laughter subsided, Meacher tried to explain that he wasn’t trying to make a joke of the decision by flipping a coin.
“The legislative intent of flipping the coin is because both the individuals are equally qualified,” Meacher said. “And it’s not to make light of it.”
“Shall we let the lady call?” Kennedy said. “I’m going to make a motion based on the result of this coin toss.”
“OK …” Simpson said, “heads.”
Meacher flipped the coin and covered it on the back of his hand as he turned toward County Counsel Craig Settlemire.
“Counsel?” Meacher said, uncovering the coin.
“It’s heads,” Settlemire said, trying to fight back his smile.
“OK, I move that Lori Simpson be appointed to this,” Kennedy said, “and Terry Swofford as alternate.”
“So ordered,” Meacher said.
“Can I have my quarter back?” O’Sullivan said.
“That was very interesting,” Meacher said after he dug O’Sullivan’s 25 cents out of his pocket.
“I hate to see what they are going to say in the paper, though,” Swofford said.
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