23 hrs

Such a heartbreaking day. As our nation reels from divisions fueled by racism, police abuse, protests that have unfortunately turned violent, and cynical stoking of culture wars by our President — and as we struggle with the extreme hardships and stresses of the worst public health and economic crisis of our lifetimes — I spent much of the past two days trying to resolve a dangerous public rift here in our North Bay community. Because this has significant implications at a very delicate moment, I think you deserve to know exactly what happened.

Thursday night, when I saw that Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick announced on Facebook he would no longer enforce local public health orders, I immediately called the Sheriff and asked if he would allow me to convene a meeting of local leaders to see if we could hear each other out and deescalate this situation before it causes more divisions, confusion, and a crisis of confidence in our government institutions at a very tense time.

I was pleased that the Sheriff welcomed and accepted my offer, and we quickly convened an “all hands” Zoom meeting at 8:30 Friday morning — with the Sheriff, my legislative colleagues Rep. Mike Thompson and State Senator Mike McGuire, County Supervisors Susan Gorin and Lynda Hopkins, and top County public health leaders. I made clear at the start of the meeting that I had no authority to tell anyone how to resolve this, but hoped – because we all represent the same people – that we would all embrace the goal of avoiding a divided community and ensuring public confidence in our local institutions. There was some initial airing of grievances over the Sheriff feeling that he hadn’t been adequately included/respected in public health policy decisions, and county officials feeling blindsided by the Sheriff’s public non-enforcement threat and pointing to information and meetings that had been made available to the Sheriff to make sure he was included/respected in the decision process.

But the tone was conciliatory and by shortly after 9 a.m., I asked the Sheriff and the county officials if they would commit to a two-part agreement to resolve the conflict: 1) the county would commit to extra efforts to include the Sheriff in meetings and deliberations about public health orders, including considerations regarding data transparency, equity, and other evolving aspects of local public health orders; and 2) the Sheriff would withdraw his non-enforcement threat and commit to working with his local government counterparts to ensure unified and cohesive implementation of public health orders. The answer from both sides was a clear and unequivocal “yes,” and we had a deal. It was agreed that the parties would announce the agreement in a joint public statement, which the county and the Sheriff would get to work drafting. We ended the Zoom meeting in a very positive, grateful and unified spirit.

Then it went off the rails. Somehow the agreement prematurely leaked, the Press Democrat posted a story before the joint statement was finished, and it was the Sheriff’s turn to feel blindsided. He understandably wanted to announce his walk-back of the non-enforcement threat in the agreed upon way, rather than reading a less than flattering newspaper headline. He issued a Facebook update that he had NOT changed his position. We quickly re-convened a teleconference call and worked to put the deal back together, and by 1:30 in the afternoon, we had reaffirmed the agreement and the Sheriff said he would support language in the joint statement pledging to enforce public health orders. The Sheriff and I exchanged respectful text messages thanking each other for working this out.

And then he changed his mind, rejecting the previously agreed upon joint statement and issuing his own ambiguous statement on Facebook that mentioned nothing about enforcing public health orders. It got worse from there, as he told the Press Democrat he would not enforce the “fu**ing public health order” and accused me and other officials of “bullying” him.

I’m deeply disappointed that a great outcome for everyone in our struggling North Bay community slipped from our grasp. At least for now, things have devolved in an ugly and unproductive way that is bad for our community. Let me emphasize that ordinarily I would not involve myself in such a local matter, but I tried to do it in a way that respected everyone’s lanes of authority (mine being merely a facilitator). Given what was at stake, I think it was worth a try and I did my best. It is now up to our county authorities, including the Sheriff, to determine the path forward.

I support all of my state and local government colleagues who are trying to unify and protect our community to get us safely through this difficult time. And lest there be any question, I firmly support Dr. Sundari Mase — a spectacularly qualified and thoughtful public health expert who is doing a great job under very difficult and stressful circumstances. Finally, I’m so impressed and grateful for the fact that all other local law enforcement officials have pledged to enforce public health orders.

  • ‘Not following this f–king health order’: Sheriff won’t change course, backing away from deal to continue enforcement
    After a day of high-stakes negotiations, Sheriff Mark Essick said his shock Thursday announcement would stand: no enforcement of the local health order by county deputies.
  • Sonoma County Health Director, Dr. Sundari Mase.
  • Board of Supervisor president Susan Gorin with Supervisor David Rabbitt.