“There is a culture of disrespect that is becoming endemic on this board and I want to turn it around and stop it.” That was how Siskiyou County District 4 Supervisor Lisa Nixon began a statement to her fellow board members at their last regular meeting last Tuesday.
“There is a culture of disrespect that is becoming endemic on this board and I want to turn it around and stop it.” That was how Siskiyou County District 4 Supervisor Lisa Nixon began a statement to her fellow board members at their last regular meeting last Tuesday. Though she alleges she saw evidence of a negative pattern before being sworn into office, her statement last week was specifically motivated by an exchange she shared with District 3 Supervisor Michael Kobseff during the board’s Aug. 6 meeting.
Kobseff apologized if his statements seemed combative, but said he will always ask questions that are on his mind because that’s his job as an elected official.
The discussion between the supervisors on Aug. 13 was motivated by a previous agenda item dealing with the county’s attempt to sell a property on Yreka’s Foothill Drive that is under its ownership. The county purchased the property a number of years ago to potentially use as a site for the new Siskiyou County Jail.
Nixon explained to her fellow supervisors on Aug. 6 that she had some questions for the appraiser who had appraised the property. She had relayed those questions to Siskiyou County Administrator Terry Barber, who then contacted the appraiser and communicated Nixon’s questions.
After Barber related the appraiser’s response to Nixon, Nixon said she still had further questions and noted, “Miss Barber encouraged me to call the appraiser directly ... which I did.” Kobseff responded, “Shouldn’t we have all had that opportunity? I didn’t know that we could do that. Isn’t that kind of a conflict?”
At the Aug. 6 meeting, County Counsel Edward Kiernan addressed Kobseff’s concern, stating, “I don’t think there’s anything improper about speaking with the appraiser. So to answer the question, it’s not prohibited by law.”
“I considered it part of the due diligence that we all do, questioning staff or questioning folks that have given us information,” said Nixon at the time, to which Kobseff replied, “It would just be nice to know that the total board had that opportunity.”
During the board’s Aug. 13 meeting, Nixon referred to Kobseff’s questioning of whether her contact with the appraiser had constituted a conflict of interest. Speaking about the “culture of disrespect” she said she’s observed on the board, she stated, “A recent example of this occurred at our last board of supervisors meeting. Supervisor Kobseff, you and I had an exchange at that meeting that was deeply distressing to me. You accused me of some sort of wrongdoing or conflict of interest because I had telephoned the author of a document that was on the agenda for our public consideration and asked him to clarify a few points in that document. And I brought that information to share. I don’t know what it is that you have going for me. You and I had a private conversation about this several months ago. I was hoping we could work things out out of the public forum but clearly that hasn’t occurred.”
She continued to address Kobseff and firmly stated, “You need to know moving forward, I don’t care what you think of me personally, but while you and I sit on this dais, I want to be treated with the same respect that you show the other members of this board. And if anybody ever thinks that I am engaged in some sort of malfeasance or have some sort of prohibitive conflict of interest going on, you’d better have your facts straight and your laws straight before you come out in public and say something like that again.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Nixon said that she feels the board of supervisors has a duty to set a tone of cooperation, civility and high morale. “We need to turn the morale of this county family around and I think it starts with this board,” she concluded.
Kobseff was given a chance to respond and he spoke directly to Nixon, stating, “As we met several months ago, I told you at the end of that meeting that my comments at any time during the board meeting – I’m going to say what’s on my mind, I’m going to ask the questions of what’s on my mind because that’s my duty as an elected [official]. How it comes across – and I apologized then and I apologize now – if it comes across in some form that I’m accusing or attacking, that’s not the intent.”
He referred to the prior week’s discussion about the Foothill property and again conveyed his surprise that the county counsel had not seen a conflict of interest in Nixon contacting the man who conducted the appraisal on the building.
“... I’ve been told in the past that while we can contact staff, when we have someone that we have a contract with, essentially that’s kind of hands-off to us,” Kobseff said.
He added, “I wasn’t trying to find a conflict, I’m just calling it out, because my constituents will ask me, what’s the deal? You know, why wouldn’t that be a conflict? When we’re talking about a potential sale on a piece of county property, that we’re contacting the appraiser to find out why he arrived at the number he found, I mean, we paid a price for that. So again, I’m going to call it out where I see it, and if you take offense to that, I apologize, because that’s not the intent.”
“Supervisor Kobseff defended his actions at the prior board meeting based on the substance of what he was trying to convey,” said Nixon in clarification after the meeting. She noted that she “could think of a dozen different ways he could have phrased that” that would have been “non-combative ... and not belittling.”
Nixon said that she takes no issue with Kobseff or anyone else pointing out potential conflicts of interest or other issues, but that the way he communicated his thoughts bothered her.