Wednesday, February 27, 2008

my book: Kevin Davis the homeless guy

Here are 3000 words that took me around 20-30 hours of following around this homeless guy and another 15 or so of writing/trying to write. ie, I poured my heart and soul into this. And he got really mad at me. Sigh...

Bard, sage, poet and homeless hippie wanders Glenn County
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Prominent among the endless tales of Glenn County’s self-described “homeless hippie” Kevin Davis are two about law enforcement.

Some 15 years ago, in Austin, Texas, he was sleeping in the open in a state park, curled around a fire in subfreezing temperatures, when awakened by fire officials.

“We’re supposed to put it out,” they told him, “but if you don’t put any more wood on, we’ll just kick it around a bit and go.”

Another time in the same city, sleeping in a Laundromat at 2 a.m., he was awakened by a policeman and told to leave.

“I said, ‘Officer, what laws did I break in my dream?’” he recounts.

It’s a dichotomy that has defined the life of Mr. Davis, 50. He hasn’t paid rent for 15 years, instead living in various cracks in the system until he decides to move on – or, more frequently, is kicked out.

A constructed shack in an Austin state park, for three-and-a-half years: discovered by rangers and evicted. An abandoned Mendocino house with a hole in the fireplace for a winter: bulldozed. And now, in a blue van with his two pets, Shepherd and Christina. He says they are wolves.

For the last three years, he’s made his residence in Glenn County, living on a $950 monthly disability check. With all the time in the world and almost no friends, he spends his days in the parks reading and some nights dumpster-diving for food and salable appliances.

“I’m the only one here, so the police don’t bother me,” he says.

He rolls a cigarette every hour and a joint more occasionally. When the topic of religion comes up, quotes from the Bible and C.S. Lewis roll as effortlessly from his tongue as technical jargon from the herbal medicine he swears by.

As also roll out indictments of society: some seemingly justified, others more of a stretch.

And poems. And stories.

“I’m hanging out, waiting to die,” he tells me the first time we meet.

“And whosoever will not receive you …”

Mr. Davis remembers a time he walked into Willows’ Assembly of God church, asking to use their phone. “There’s a phone down the street,” Mr. Davis claims he was told. In anger, he quotes, mangling slightly, a verse from Luke:

“And whosoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”

Visiting the county Human Resources Agency, where they won’t let him use the phone to find housing in Chico – the phone can be used only for finding jobs.

Visiting the Mental Health drop-in center in Orland, he brought “five dozen eggs,” pork, and some bread, intending to make French toast and omelets. But they won’t let him cook in the kitchen – which is used one hour a week for a cooking class – or warm up his scallops in the microwave.

“If an old man wanted to let me live in a trailer in his driveway, that’s illegal,” Mr. Davis tells Willows City Councilwoman Rose Marie Thrailkill at an afternoon soup kitchen.

City code states that it is “unlawful and a public nuisance” to live in a trailer for more than 48 hours.

Mr. Davis says he was also told by previous Willows Police Chief Rick Shipley that he couldn’t sleep in one of the abandoned buildings dotting the town. Current chief William Spears says homelessness doesn’t matter: trespassing is trespassing.

“This is what it’s like! You get angry!”

On the global scale, Mr. Davis is chock-full of conspiracy theories: from President Bush and the Trilateral Commission to cholesterol not causing heart disease and drug companies “selling Big Brother’s message.”

On a personal level, he says he’s seen an angel of death take the family of those who have wronged him: A woman who sold him his current van, the mother of a college student who helped kick him out of a Berkeley co-op.

And he attributes questionable motives to those who have dealt him real or perceived slights.

When we enter HRA, he interprets a several-minute delay as a deliberate attempt to put him off. It turns out they can’t help him: Mr. Davis isn’t interested in motel assistance, and Section 8 housing assistance isn’t open at the moment. Even if it were, though Mr. Davis was having trouble finding a landlord at his income level, staff would not help him.

“You want to go down there and threaten to sue their ass for housing discrimination!” he tells Section 8 administrator Bill Lawthon.
But Kevin, we interject, you said earlier that you don’t believe in forcing people to put you up.

He explodes. “This is what it’s like to be homeless! You get angry!”

The reason they won’t help him, Mr. Davis later tells Ms. Thrailkill, is because HRA is run by “homosexuals.” Similarly, the mental health center is run by “lesbians.”

“They get paid to care,” he says in disdain.

“My dad took the money route”

It wasn’t easy to extract exactly how Mr. Davis ended up where he is today; his train of thought meanders and drifts between times, places, and experiences. And because he usually speaks in pronouns: “they did this” or “they did that,” the reporter’s “who, what, where, when, why” rundown is necessary much more than usual.

“My mind works like that,” he says apologetically. “Jumps from one thing to another.”

When I ask Mr. Davis whether he sees his homelessness as a choice or something that happened to him, he says it’s a little of both.

It was certainly a journey.

The first time he was kicked out of his crack in the sidewalk occurred at age 15, when he still had a home to live in. Growing up in a southern Illinois town before moving to Houston, he was the adopted son of an engineer father and lived in a five bedroom, three-and-a-half bath house.
“My dad took the money route,” Mr. Davis put it.

As a teenager, he created a gang with some friends, and the group started raiding the million-dollar house of a local Mafioso awaiting trial.

“We’d give the security guard a joint and we’d take back whatever we wanted,” he recalled. “I’d come back with a 2 by 12.”

With their loot, they built a huge fort in the trees of a nearby forest and held 300-person Christmas parties. But a rival gang roused 42 people from the bar and stripped the fort: Mr. Davis and a friend, who were standing guard, were helpless to stop them. Eventually, the police and the city came in with bulldozers and “laid half a hill on it.”

“It took a year to build,” said Mr. Davis. “I cried, dude.”

Dropping out of high school after his sophomore year, he took briefly to a motorcycle, disowned his grandparents, and got married in his early 20s. He’s closed-mouthed about his marriage; in our 20 hours together, he mentioned it only once, in passing: “I went through a painful divorce, which won’t be discussed further,” he said.

For a while, still living in Houston, he held a managerial job at a pizza parlor. Telling stories about DJ parties with staff and streaking, it’s clear he was happy then. So I ask: why not settle down again?

“If I found a place where people were honest and good to each other,” he says. “Like they are in books.”

At age 30, he “came into Austin with nothing more than a shirt,” knocking on, knocking on people’s doors, raking leaves, painting, and building.

“I lived in a halfway house in a not-so-safe part of town,” he sad. “The Mexican prostitutes next door would proposition people pulling into Dairy Queen.”

Other times, he slept on the floors and couches of college students at $5 a night, painting and building.

When a state building in Austin was demolished, he collected enough “good American bricks” to build two patios, a two-car garage, and a sidewalk.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he joked.

Starting at age 35, he spent three and a half years in a forest nearby, building a cabin with a cinderblock fireplace, and growing food in a garden. He’d come in to town to do odd jobs, dumpster-dive for food and supplement his catch with salad. It was a retreat from civilization – and a demon.

“I (was) on detox after 15 years of nightly alcohol,” he said. “I went through panic attacks for a year. Then the anxiety started.”

“When my mind started thinking about Budweiser, I started working on a pool,” he said.

He was mostly alone, to commune with the nature he loved. So, in part, reads a poem he wrote:

“There are a few simple things/That I cannot explain/And they give a joyous pleasure/In a life of mostly pain.

“To sit amongst the forest/With the city far away/For I can hear the leaves that drop/From the trees that slowly sway.

“Yearning comes to me while walking/My longing comes a little faster/I stare up at the starry sky/And dream of being with my master.”

He had some strange disturbances at times, as when the police approached his cabin searching for a killer.

The ranger briefly questioned Mr. Davis before introducing another ranger, his partner.

“This dude is training a semiautomatic rifle on me,” he recalls.

Eventually a developer bought the property: laughing, Mr. Davis tells me how they still had to give him a month to move out of his illegal construction.

“Back then it was great,” he said. “Come 2000, all the lights will turn off, the Tribulation (would come). I was so sure.”

After it didn’t, he lived in Berkeley for a while. But he had problems, with gangs, large numbers of other homeless people, and the police harassment that comes with each.

“I’m a loner homeless guy,” he says. “I don’t hang out with other homeless people. That leads to trouble.”

“Once, a pretty black girl that I had talked to in the park (telling the rest of the gang) ‘he’s all right, leave him alone’ was all that stopped me from being part of a gang initiation ritual,” he said.

“The middle school had police all the time. Here you never see them saying, ‘Hey bitch this, hey bitch that.”

Between then and coming to Glenn County, he’s lived in Ft. Bragg and Mendocino, where his attempts to live away from civilization hit a snag.

“In order to get far enough away from Big Brother,” he said, “you run up against Mexicans growing millions of dollars of weed.”

He spent one winter in an abandoned house.

“There’s a hole this big for the fireplace, so I’m not breaking and entering,” he said in jest. “I would crap in a 5-gallon bucket and throw it in the backyard in a rainy day, so it would sink into the soil.”

Another time, in Mendocino in 2002, he wanted to stay on a vacant property. Though the land was worth millions, “there was nothing there but a roof held up by studs,” he says. “And I was told, you trespass, you go to jail.”

A lonely bard and sage

Perhaps because he’s wandered for so long and so frequently, he has endless sad tales of humanity, saying that “even in the small towns half the people worship Satan.”

“I found these two lesbians, lived with them for eight weeks,” he said. “I taught them the love of God … when they moved, they wanted me to move with them.”

Mr. Davis starts crying as he tells their stories.

Of one, “Her mother was a biker, and one day the biker leader decided he wanted an eight-year-old girl.” When he was staying up later, drinking with the other one, “she told me, ‘I was my daddy’s playtoy from age 5 to 15.’” Her mother wouldn’t do anything.

Later he tells the story of a 13-year girl that he knew who came up to him in the park, telling him she had taken some drugs she stole from her stepfather – ecstasy laced with heroin.

“There are some highs that are not fun,” he says sobbingly, as a tear drips down his cheek.

He was once taken in by a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to stay with them baby-sit their kids full-time. He stayed there for a couple months before he slipped up, drinking a couple of beers and then going to help with a job. The next day, they turned him out.

“You make one mistake and they ostracize you,” he said. “The kids loved me; their parents were too busy to play with them.”

Mr. Davis attributes some of his behavior to the things he’s seen.

“If I seem a bit too worldly,” he says, “it’s not my fault.”

At times: Mr. Davis becomes part of the story, as when a contractor once paid him $20 and led him into a room with a towel and a garbage bag. Someone microwaved a cat, and he had to clean up the mess.

Other tales reflect on his values.

He cites John, a rich financier he used to know, who would complain about work and $30 fines. “I’d tell him, “John, you own a home that’s worth a million dollars,’” Kevin said. “Imagine him, whining to a homeless guy.”

“If I won the lottery, I’d just be a richer transient.”

“Sharing wisdom here and there”

Mr. Davis might be a high school dropout, but he’s an extremely well-read one. He summarizes the Inferno to explain why Dante would have considered a coal company strip mining or a bank foreclosing on old people worse than murder. Now, he’s working through the Hannibal Lecter books, along with a book on the Dead Sea Scrolls. I help him download and print an apocryphal work, the Book of Enoch.

He cites C.S. Lewis’s teachings on alcohol: fine as long as it’s not a stumbling block. He sees the reference to his own marijuana.

“If you can get through life without it,” Mr. Davis says, “praise the Lord.”

He sees himself as a sage; his poetry is metered and rhythmic; in the Romantic spirit of endless, hopeless quests, desires and searching.

“Strolling down life’s lonely path/Stars tumble from the sky/Wondering if there is a home/For such a man as I.

“I linger sometimes for awhile/Making friends along the way/And I dare to laugh for a time/Knowing I’ll leave again some day.

“And sharing wisdom here and there/With those I’ve come to know/Quietly basking in summer sunshine/Till autumn winds begin to blow.

“Then again it’s traveling time/To go skipping down destiny’s trail/Sharing with new folks I will meet/Still another adventurous tale.

“See, life has little meaning for me/Except to show and share some love/Till I go to my final resting place/To dwell in God’s kingdom above.”

“And in vain found someone to love”

Mr. Davis notes a couple of friends here, but his only regular companionship are with Christina and Shepherd, which he alternately refers to as his dogs and his kids.

He got Christina and brother Shepherd nine years ago in Texas, trading a 50-pound compound bow and arrows for the animals.

Smoking pot has interesting effects on them. “Christina likes to come up and sit on my shoulder and breathe in the smoke,” he laughs.

At one campground, Shepherd almost got into a fight with a pit bull, and Mr. Davis refused to restrain his animals, fearing the pit bull would get the best of them if he did so.

“I’d have about 30 seconds to decide if I wanted to go to jail to save my dog’s life,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to do it, I’d probably throw up doing it, but I’d go get my machete.”

It’s a fellowship he longs for with humans. Especially, with the other sex.

He says he’s been celibate for a decade, though before that he was a “whore.” He considers visiting a prostitute in Chico.

“I’m going to do the mindless emotionless horizontal bop thing one last time before I die,” he says.

He mulls getting a “20-year-old” mail-order bride from Mexico or the Philippines; he’s more inclined towards the latter because “they learn English” and “Asian women are more faithful.”

He fantasizes about finding someone and traveling around as a husband and wife doing home remodeling; he saw that on a TV show once. It seems a path too late to tread.

“I don’t have a lot in common with other people,” he says. “I’m going to look for people to talk to, look for the senior center in Orland. If you want friends, you’ve got to be friendly,” he says, acknowledging it will be a challenge for himself.

He mentions that he’d take construction work at minimum wage – something to do. Or maybe go back out into the woods, “where it’s man versus nature, not man versus man.”

About Glenn County, Mr. Davis is “blasé.”

“No one helps, but no one hurts,” he says. “I dunno if I want to settle here,” he muses. “I gotta make up my mind pretty soon. I’m trying to find reasons to stay here.”

“Aw hell,” Mr. Davis says as we part ways, “I wish everything was different.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

budget crisis coming...

General fund 10% short; Supes eye protecting cops
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willlows — Humorist P.J. O’Rourke said of government budgets: you can take 10 percent off the top of anything.

Mr. O’Rourke, welcome to Glenn County.

A preliminary budget shows a $2.3 million shortfall out of a total of $19 million of general revenue. This is the first time numbers have been put down on paper, but it’s clear the process isn’t going to be pretty.

“Everything is on the table,” said Supervisor Tracey Quarne. Mr. Quarne repeated the phrase five times in a 20-minute interview.

“I will lose sleep over this until it is resolved,” said Sheriff Larry Jones.

The budget before the supervisors applied an equal percentage cut in funds to all departments. A department with a $1 million budget would lose a bit over $100,000 in revenue; a department with a $500,000 budget would lose a bit over $50,000.

But supervisors singled out law enforcement as an “essential service” and a “priority,” and said they’d make it a higher priority for funding than other programs.

An even distribution of cuts “might be fair when you’re doing a math problem,” said Mike Murray, “but it’s not fair to the citizens.”

Sheriff Jones couldn’t estimate how much a 10 percent revenue cut would increase the crime rate. However, he cited personnel figures in saying that such cuts would “decimate” law enforcement.

“We couldn’t operate the jail,” he said. “The state mandates staffing levels. We’re at the minimum.”

The shortfall is a result of falling sales and property tax revenue. Property taxes usually increase when homes are sold, because their values are re-appraised. With inflation and a decline in the housing market, said Finance Director Don Santoro, expenses are increasing much faster than revenue.

The county is legally required to pass a balanced proposed budget by July 20.

Asked about the 10 county jobs supervisors approved before the budget discussions as exceptions to a hiring freeze, Mr. Quarne said he thought the board was being cautious.

“But I do foresee a day where ‘no’ will be the majority view,” he said.

“We’re going to make it the least unpleasant as humanly possible,” Mr. Quarne continued. “But these are tough dimes.”

Saturday, February 16, 2008

talking to a Marine

“I woke up today and I thought, what uniform do I have to wear today? Then I remembered I’m not at boot camp.”

In June, he was John Klee, Elk Creek High ‘07.

In September, after completing combat and specialized training, he’ll be shipping out to Iraq or Afghanistan.

But now, he’s Private First Class John Klee, fresh from three months of Marine boot camp near San Diego.

“You have to take it a quarter-day at a time,” he says.

Until “morning chow.” Until noon. Until “evening chow.” And until bed.

“Do everything they teach you,” he adds. “Do exactly as they say, and you’ll be fine.”

“The best thing ever”

Pfc. Klee first thought of being a Marine about a year ago. Though he’s grown up with his aunt and uncle, his father was a Marine. After he was graduated from Elk Creek High, his plans started to take form.

“I worked for my uncle’s hay business, drove a squeeze around,” he said. “It was hard work, a long day, hot … fun for a while, but I got tired of it.”

Pfc. Klee cites the benefits, and mentions the perks of being stationed in Japan, or Australia.

“I wanted to go out and see things,” he says. “(Friends) were staying around, getting in trouble with the police. I didn’t want any of that.

“I want to make it a career. I signed for four years; I want to stay in for 20, get taken care of. Once you’re a Marine, you’re always a Marine. The title can never be taken away from you.

“It’s (been) the best thing for me ever.”

“I wanted to go home”

Pfc. Klee arrived at the Recruit Training Depot in San Diego on Nov. 13.

“They got me off the bus at 10 o’clock in the evening. I stood out in attention in the cold for three hours in a T-shirt and pants.”

“(At first), you can’t look in a mirror without being told. To dress you, they count you down. You get 20 seconds to put on socks, and dressed in three minutes.

“They never let you know what’s going on. They don’t want you to know.

“You wake up at 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. They play a song, say get out right now. They run you around, and get you in line.”

Did he get in trouble?

“Everyone gets in trouble ... they’ll make you do stupid stuff, get to the back of the house, front of the house, sit down right now, get up right now. It’s all for a reason. As stupid as it is, it’s for a reason.”

One time, his entire platoon ended up in a single toilet stall.

“They got all 53 of us in two stalls. But we started laughing, so (the drill instructor) said, get in one. We were piling over the top and hanging off the sides. I think he thought it was funny, but he couldn’t show it.

“I wanted to go home. I thought I wanted to go home.

“After the first month you get broken, and focus on getting through.”

“Like you’re a Marine.”

At the end of boot camp is a 54-hour test called “the crucible.” Recruits get four or five hours of sleep each night, three meals total, and must cover over 40 miles of land, and constantly perform missions.

“Some were physically impossible, but they watch to see whether you put all your effort into it.”

Pfc. Klee draws one scenario, where recruits had to climb through pipes, representing a sewer system, and then get a 50-pound bag of ammunition to the ground without jumping down or throwing the bag.

“You’re cold, wet, tired, hungry, and freezing. But you never know when you’ll have to do that.”

At the end of the test, the recruits get a “warrior’s breakfast,” all-you-can-eat, complete with ice cream.

And they get more than that.

“The instructors treat you like you’re a Marine,” Pfc. Klee said.

fight the flu

Fight the flu: Skip work, wash hands, wait it out

It’s the flu.

So says nurse practitioner Nip Boyes of the germs that have been creating empty workplaces and overflowing doctors’ offices recently in Glenn County.

Symptoms include a fever of 102 to 104, as well as the normal signs of a cold: headaches, coughs, congestion. Adults will get muscle and joint aches. Some people cough so hard, they end up vomiting too.

“The fever lasts four to five days, the cough eight to 10 days,” Mr. Boyes says. “We don’t know for sure that this is a flu, but it’s so dramatic we think it is.”

Many people he’s seen took this year’s flu vaccine; he thinks it might not have been designed against this strain.

To stop spreading the germs, Mr. Boyes has two main recommendations: wash your hands and cough into your sleeves — not your hands.

“(Kids) have been taught by their parents to cover their mouths,” Mr. Boyes says, “and then they reach for a doorknob.”

He also urged those who think they’re sick to stay home from work.

“If you go to work, you’re just keeping me, as a practitioner, in business,” he says.

Because influenza is a virus, there aren’t drugs to make your body get rid of it quicker. Those sick must simply wait out the eight to 14 days.

But, Mr. Boyes emphasizes, you can treat the symptoms. He recommends some prescriptionless remedies:

* for pain and fever: naproxin, the generic drug that’s in Aleve.

* to suppress cough: dextromethorphan, the generic drug in Delsym. He can prescribe another drug, called promethazine, to make it work better.

* to get rid of congestion: loratadine, the generic drug in Claritin.

For people with respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema, Mr. Boyes recommends using an inhaler and an inhaled steroid, something he has to prescribe.

He’s also recommending a drug called Tamiflu for spouses of the sick that stops the infection from spreading to them.

Mr. Boyes warns that if you don’t take care of yourself — lots of rest, nutrient-rich food and non-alcoholic fluids — you’re more likely to get a secondary infection, like bronchitis. Age, he says, plays a huge role.

This is the third viral strain Mr. Boyes has seen go aroung the area this season.

Out sick recently — perhaps not all from the flu — were Orland Police Chief Bob Pasero, three staff members at Willows High School and three at Hamilton Union High.

As for us, this week THE MIRROR’s entire staff was hit. Our intern tried to visit a doctor, but his appointment got canceled.
The doctor was sick.

what the bosses want...

County to dept. heads: ‘Freeze!’
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

No green, no jobs.

With the money faucet tightening, Glenn County is now under a hiring freeze, adopted unanimously by the board of supervisors on Tuesday.

The freeze excepted binding job offers. Department heads who want an exception granted must plead their cases individually to the board.

The meeting ended at Tuesday at noon, with the hiring freeze effective at 5 p.m. No department heads took advantage of the five-hour window to extend job offers, though one offer was extended in the morning before the board acted, according to Personnel Director John Greco.

Despite concerns of planning and public works head Dan Obermeyer, the freeze applied to all jobs, including those not funded by the county’s general fund.

Odd wishlists for Washington

In other news, entrepreneurial teenagers scheming to get the best possible stuff for Christmas should start consulting with the supervisors — if honesty is no object.

The board entertained a slippery proposal to secure federal funding for a dispatch center and completing the Hamilton City J Levee. Letters requesting funding will be sent to Congressman Wally Herger and Senators Boxer and Feinstein.

A proposal was floated to have one letter list the dispatch center as the top priority and the levee as the second priority. The other letter would reverse the order.

Eventually, the idea was dismissed, and supervisors decided to frame the two as equal priorities in both letters.

“As much I appreciate [Administrative Officer David Shoemaker’s] thinking about crafting separate proposals,” said Supervisor Tracey Quarne, “I’m afraid of this becoming gamesmanship — how they’re going to perceive this versus that.”

Accounting dominoes

Also, Vietnam-era international relations theories were brought back in a more plausible setting: a dispute over accounting methods.

Kandi Manhart, manager of the county’s Resource Conservation District, requested to pull the RCD out of the county’s method of allocating funds, known as A-87. Under this system, districts and departments get paid for services two years after the fact; it’s the standard required by the federal government when grants are given.

The supervisors feared that granting Ms. Meinhart’s request would start a chain of dominoes, with other departments pleading for exemptions.

“We can’t unravel A-87,” said Supervisor Tom McGowan.

They voted 4-1 to deny Ms. Meinhart’s proposal; Mr. Quarne dissented.

Monday, February 04, 2008

a couple shorts

Jan 4 storm ag lossses now $48 mil.
Valley Mirror reports

A tempest in a teapot, the Jan. 4 storm was not.

Almond tree damages from the storm in Glenn County will total around $48 million over the next 10 years, according to a new estimate by Assistant Agricultural Commissioner Jean Miller.

Miller's calculations are not of lost profit, but instead of lost revenue and expenses incurred. They don't factor in savings on now-unneeded costs like picking labor, but take into account the loss of production and additional costs of growing replacement trees until they reach full production.

"You've got to replant the trees, care for the trees," she explained.

About 11 percent of almond trees — one in every nine — were lost in the storm.

Miller gives her estimate a margin of error of $15 million, and says it's still preliminary.
She also estimated damages of citrus trees at around $270,000.


Employment numbers are in for December, and it doesn't look good for Glenn County.

About 160 jobs have disappeared since December 2006, out of a total of around 11,000 in Glenn County. And another 200 people have joined the unemployment rolls.

As a result, the unemployment rate now stands at 9.9 percent. That's far above California's 5.9 percent unemployment rate and more than double the nation's unemployment rate, which is 4.8 percent.

And the only good news on the job front may really be bad news in disguise. While non-government employees were losing their jobs and going on unemployment, the number of government employees actually increased, by 120 people.

Considering civil service firing practices, if the economy doesn't improve, more county employees and fewer taxpayers means a larger tax burden down the road.

Hope you like working at the DMV, anyway.

Schools face cuts

Schools face cuts, Willows’ could be $1 million
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

It’s chopping block time.

With declining enrollment and a governor’s budget proposing reductions of around $4.4 billion in school funding, Glenn County school administrators are being forced to mull what — and whom — they’re going to cut.

“Before the governor’s budget, we were looking at cutting around $600,000,” — mostly from declining enrollment, according to Willows Unified superintendent Steve Olmos. With the proposed cuts, he pegs the figure at $1 million.

That’s a lot of money — especially considering Willows Unified only has 1,760 children to spread the cuts around on.

And with around 85 percent of school districts’ budgets spent on salaries, says Hamilton High Superintendant Ray Odom, “you cannot make a reduction of this type without a cutback in personnel.”

Last year in Willows Unified, the four least-senior teachers were given notices that they wouldn’t have jobs this year. When senior teachers decided to retire, the district was able to retain them.

This year, says Willows Unified’s business manager Steven Rudy, about 15 to 20 teachers will likely receive notices.

Districts are required to notify teachers by March 15.

Chris von Kleist, superintendant of Orland Unified, says that unofficially, the district is already looking at a hiring freeze.

For Orland, Mr. von Kleist was more close-mouthed about what might get the ax, preferring to emphasize the fact that the final word hadn’t yet come out of Sacramento.

“All the lobbies, all the interest groups haven’t had a shot at him yet,” said Mr. von Kleist. “This budget will look entirely different by the time it comes up.”

“We’re not going to talk about cutting back programs at this time,” he said.

He also emphasized that the district had a reserve fund of money greater than the amount of possible lost funding this year.

“California is 42nd in the nation in per-pupil expenditures,” said Mr. von Kleist. “We used to be in the top three.”

Olmos said he’ll be bringing proposals to save money to a school board meeting on Feb. 7.


Sidebar: How the funding works

Funding from Sacramento and Washington comes in two forms:

General unrestricted funds can be used for any purpose and usually go to pay for salary and benefits. This year, Glenn County schools receive $5,810 per student.

Categorical funds are allocated for specific purposes. For example, under Title I, Washington gives money to school districts with lower-income students for use on remedial reading, writing and mathematics programs.

While specially directed funds ensure that programs like special education are funded, there are concerns about flexibility.

Consider a hypothetical 10 percent cut in categorical funding. Willows Unified, says Mr. Olmos, would have to “make the cut across the board, instead of looking at specific programs.” It couldn’t, for example, cut one categorically funded program 20 percent and use the money to stem cuts on another program.


Districts have to notify their teachers of being cut or non-renewed by a state-determined deadline in order to give them the option of not rehiring them the next year.

So that their employees aren't scouting around searching for new jobs late in the season, districts try to notify teachers whose positions will be in danger.

"We say we have every intention of keeping them, but they start looking for another job," said Hamilton High Superintendent Ray Odom. "I would, if I were them."

The strange part is the way the notification deadline works. The longer legislators bicker over funding, the more deadlines for school districts are moved backward in time instead of forward.

If a bill is signed in Sacramento before Aug. 15, the deadline is that date. But if negotiations drag on past Aug. 15, then the deadline moves backwards, to March 15, and the only notifications that count are the ones issued before that date.

So if the state budget was passed on July 30, upon discovering he wouldn't have enough money to pay a teacher, Mr. Odom could give her a notice on Aug. 1. But if on July 30, he fears negotiations will drag on past Aug. 15, and doesn't think he'll have enough money to pay a teacher, he'll still be stuck keeping her on.

As a result, any teacher who has a remote chance of being let go gets a notice on March 15.

The prophet dies

It hit me when I heard about this. I still don't think I've gotten it. I'm going to miss him...


Obituary: Gordon B. Hinckley, 97, leader of LDS Chuch in global growth
A personal view
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows — Alejandra Thomas, 6, sits on the living room floor clad in green pajamas, resting her elbow on a table and listening to her father’s query.

It’s Monday family night, for which Mardy Thomas and wife Michelle have gathered daughter Alejandra and corralled her two restless younger siblings. The religious lesson this week in their Willows home is on a suddenly time-relevant theme: Prophets. One day earlier, Mormon leader Gordon B. Hinckley, the “prophet, seer, and revelator” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, died at 97.

“What happens if a prophet dies?” Mardy asks his daughter. “What do we do?”

“Nothing?” Alejandra ventures.

“Well, we don’t do anything,” her father concedes. “But what about our church leaders?”

President Hinckley led the church since 1995, when predecessor Howard Hunter died. Under his guidance, church membership expanded from 9 million to more than 13 million, with much of the growth coming outside the church’s traditional base in North America.

A temple construction program began, more than doubling the number of the sacred buildings. And the church began large-scale, often interfaith, humanitarian efforts.

But more than anything, he was a grandfatherly figure — kind, humorous and witty. Along with Marjorie, his wife of 67 years, who died in 2004, President Hinckley earned a place in the hearts of many church members, including the around-650 who live in Glenn County.

"He's just such a good guy," said Tannis Goodman, 15, of Willows. "He’s so sweet and welcoming, and smiling, and he can always tell jokes really well, and he always had a good atittude about everything.

Miss Goodman was at the Thomas home Sunday evening for a "fireside" gathering, watching a church movie, when she got a text-message from her brother saying the prophet was dead.

"I was shocked," Miss Goodman said. She called him back to confirm what he had said, and then started to cry.

“It was very hard for some of the youth,” said Michelle Thomas. Many had seen President Hinckley in person in September 2006 when he visited Sacramento to participate in festivities celebrating the opening of a temple. Others, like Miss Goodman, saw him at the church's semi-annual general conferences.

And for them as for this recent convert, President Hinckley is the only prophet they remember.

The devotion felt for the prophet can seem strange to outsiders. Two years ago, before I joined the church, I happened to call my then-girlfriend when President Hinckley was in the hospital for a brief stay.

The background was noisy, with her five Brigham Young University apartment-mates in a state of agitation, unsure what was going on. I happened to have websurfed upon a more detailed news story – President Hinckley was fine, just old – but while relaying this information couldn’t understand why in the world the six of them were so worried over this old man.

Explaining precisely what the prophet is involves a messy technical jargon of continuing revelation, priesthood keys, and offices in the priesthood. But the essence – at least right now – is simple.

“Kind of like the Pope?” my Catholic friend asks me.

“Sort of,” I tell her.

The world mourned when John Paul II died in 2005, with religious and political leaders coming from over 100 countries to attend his funeral. So too now will a smaller community mourn for the revered old man it's trusted for many years to guide them.

"People related to him because of his friendliness, and sense of humor," said Gary Kemp, bishop of the church ward in Willows. "I anticipate they’ll anticipate the new (prophet) with love as well."

Back in the Thomas home, Mardy shows his daughter an Old Testament passage to better explain President Hinckley’s role.
“Surely the Lord God will do nothing,” Alejandra whispers, struggling with the King James English and shyly turning her face away from both her father and me, “but he revealeth his secret to his servants the prophets.”

“What does ‘revealeth’ mean?” she asks.