Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I attack CPS

this has been sitting on my desk for 3 months, as the baby in question sits in foster care. I didn't know what to do and didn't have the initiative to do it. Finally I figured it out.

Two days later, the director of Human Resources, which runs CPS, came up to me trying to sell me a story on their volunteer of the year. Take that any way you like.

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Taking baby from mom, CPS plays telephone
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows – Telephone: a game played by children. A message whispered in a circle starts out as “banana” and ends up as “frying pan.”

Telephone: a game played by authorities with children. A Willows man commits a nonviolent felony. Because of his criminal history, five years later, a judge orders him to stay away from his girlfriend’s infant son. His anger at Child Protective Services workers is played as violent tendencies. Citing the restraining order, CPS workers take the child and place him in a foster home.

Welcome to the lives of Charles Meador and Erin Dieudonne.

Ms. Dieudonne has a son Andrew (not his real name), age 14 months, with ex-husband Marc. After she gained child custody, she began a relationship with Mr. Meador.

Andrew’s relationship with Mr. Meador?

“He calls him Dad,” Ms. Dieudonne says.

The chain of events started when a phone call – the only contact between Mr. Meador and El Dorado County Child Protective Services – became the basis for a restraining order against him, for Andrew.

CPS worker Starr Lloyd phoned Ms. Dieudonne at home on Nov. 27, and ended up talking with Mr. Meador, who volunteered his nonviolent criminal history, jail time, and that he was moving in with Ms. Dieudonne.

A week later, an El Dorado judge issued a restraining order on Mr. Meador, based on a recommendation by Ms Lloyd. “Due to his CPS and criminal history,” Ms. Lloyd wrote, “it is respectfully recommended that Mr. Meador not be allowed around the minor.”

What does a social worker need to issue such a recommendation for a restraining order?

“A report of the person harming the individual,” El Dorado CPS supervisor Christine Amey says. “A substantiated police report, doctor’s report.… We would have to complete a report of suspected child abuse and evidence to support the disposition of the investigation.” (Full text of Ms. Lloyd’s report and Ms. Amey’s interview in sidebar 1.)

What’s there? Not even close.

On January 23, a month and a half later, a visiting Glenn County CPS worker found Mr. Meador in Ms. Dieudonne’s home with Andrew. The next day, they took Andrew.

One reason was explicitly stated: The couple was in violation of the restraining order. The other was implicit in a Glenn County CPS report: Mr. Meador is an angry person prone to making threats and possibly violence.

One question relevant in determining whether a person is capable of taking care of a child, Glenn County CPS program manager Shelley Gates said, is whether they “have a history or demonstrate evidence towards violence.”

If they’re hostile towards a CPS worker, does that count?

“Not really,” Ms. Gates says. “They’re in a terribly vulnerable situation, so they might be (hostile) the first time. You’re looking at a bigger issue than how they’re behaving towards you as a social worker.”

But the day after the first and only face-to-face encounter between a CPS worker and Mr. Meador, CPS took the child. And a report of the encounter – essentially irrelevant evidence according to Ms. Gates – helped build the picture of Mr. Meador as an angry, violent man. (Text in sidebar 2.)

That characterization went along with Mr. Meador’s violation of the protective order, as justification.

The quick action with little observation time is abrupt for CPS procedure. Usually, Ms. Gates said, there’s a 10-day process to go through for investigating cases, and if necessary removing children; the average referral, which generally involves less drastic solutions, usually involves two or three visits, Ms. Gates said.

CPS only would act faster if the case was an emergency, when the agency “finds things were far worse than expected.”

She explained: “Maybe we thought it was just general neglect, and then you find there’s drugs in the home and the kids can reach it, and a two-year-old toddler wouldn’t know what they were ingesting.”

Mr. Meador’s presence didn’t seem to pose the same imminent danger.

But the enforcement of all protective orders is standard procedure, Ms. Gates says.

“We’re bound by the restraining order,” she said. “It’s not for us to make the decision. Someone in a higher place … in the other court … has made that over us.”

But it’s not just legal authority but also the greater knowledge of the courts:

“Even if we’ve met the guy and say, ‘I don’t see what the problem is,’” she said, “there’s a lot more that we don’t know.”

Problem is, the judge didn’t seem to know either.

In the next part: more on Erin Dieudonne and Charles Meador. What does losing your child do to you? And after that: the wheels of justice turn slowly; what’s happened since then?

Sidebar 1: Want to get a restraining order in El Dorado County? This is all the evidence you need.

This is what El Dorado CPS supervisor Christine Amey says you need:

We would “ask specific questions, ask the parents regarding allegations,” she said. “It needs to determined whether child would not be safe.

“After we’ve got evidence that vitiates the risk, we would ask for a restraining order that the adult stay away from the child.”
What would vitiating evidence be?

“A report of the person harming the individual,” she says. “A substantiated police report, doctor’s report.”

So they would need either a report, or in-person investigation?

“Yes,” Ms. Amey says. “We would have to complete a report of suspected child abuse and evidence to support the disposition of the investigation.

“Then a worker would go before the court and ask for restraining order. A judge would not issue a restraining order if there was not substantial evidence of a need.”

This is how much there actually was – no investigation, no in-person visit with Mr. Meador.

The comments below include all remarks about Mr. Meador contained in a report by El Dorado social worker Starr Lloyd. Valley Mirror comments in italics.

“On November 27, 2007, the undersigned contacted Ms. Dieudonne by phone at 10 a.m., in which her boyfriend Charles Daniel Meador was in the background talking. Ms. Dieudonne was questioned about whether or not he was residing in home. Ms. Dieudonne paused and denied his residence there. At which time, the undersigned asked for Mr. Meador’s personal information to submit a CLETS, Mr. Meador’s quickly got on the phone and questioned the undersigned about why the Department wanted to check his history.

“The undersigned asked Mr. Meador if he and Ms. Dieudonne were seriously dating, he responded that they are serious and he plans on moving in to her apartment. Mr. Meador continued by stating that he is a convicted (nonviolent) felon and that he was convicted of burglary in 2003 and was just released from prison in 2006.

“Mr. Meador continued by stating that he was a child that is six months old and that CPS has been involved. The undersigned completed a referral history check on Mr. Meador and his child which documented CPS history of five referrals on father, Charles Meador. There are no open cases or existing referrals on Mr. Meador, but that last referral was as recent as August 22nd, 2007. The referrals indicated concern over the father being domineering to his child’s mother and having ‘anger’ issues. The reporting party (“That’s just whoever called in the referral,” Ms. Amey explains) reported that Mr. Meador Father is very controlling and possessive.

“Mr. Meador reported to the undersigned that he sees a mental health counselor, elating [sic] to the fact that he has mental health issues. Due to the concern (from whom?) of this male being around the child, the undersigned requested a copy of Ms. Dieudonne’s lease agreement to determine whether or not Mr. Meador is residing in the home.

“Ms. Dieudonne is not making appropriate choices for her child by choosing to be involved with Mr. Meador; Ms. Dieudonne does not understand the possible threat this relationship could pose to not only her, but her child.

“It is respectfully recommended that Mr. Meador not be allowed around the minor due to his CPS and criminal history.”

At the December 7 court session in which this report was submitted, Judge Gregory Ward Dwyer issued an order: “Mr. Meador not to have any contact with the minor, mother (Ms. Dieudonne) not to allow contact.”

Sidebar 2: Mere anger at Glenn County CPS worker seen as violent tendencies.

A description of Mr. Meador by social worker Zinnia Petersen follows; it was included in a report a month after Andrew’s removal. Problem is, parents’ and guardians’ reactions to CPS workers are “not really” relevant in evaluating their attitude toward children, CPS program manager Shelley Gates says.

“Mr. Meador was defensive and asked why (CPS investigator David Pratt) was there. (He) informed Mr. Pratt that if he had seen his badge that he would probably not have let him into the home. He further stated that he would not give him his name. Mr. Pratt stated that Mr. Meador went into a litany of impression that he had suffered at the hands of child protective services (CPS). Mr. Pratt stated that Mr. Meador was agitated, standing, in a rocking motion, shifted his body weight from one foot to another and that his jaw muscle flexed when he did not speak. Mr. Pratt noted that the mother (Ms. Dieudonne) had kept silent to this point while Mr. Meador ranted. Mr. Meador confirmed who he was to Mr. Pratt and launched into a rant about being homeless and being persecuted by CPS. Mr. Meador stated he had suffered so much as a youth by his mother. (“Bullshit,” says Mr. Meador. “I said my mother was my saving grace.”). He once again began to escalate.”

in which I assail the competition

Upgraded airport: build it, but they won’t come
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Airport enthusiasts to the contrary, there isn’t really a market for the glittering toys known as very light jets (VLJs) – not in Glenn County,

In late April, four to seven person “air taxis” that travel between small airports were the subject of an hour-and-a-half presentation by CalTrans Aviation Planning chief Terry Barrie, enthusiastically received.

The service would come to Glenn County, board members and observers hoped, after some airport upgrades funded by grants (read: ‘subsidies.’)

The Journal-Press Register subsequently billed VLJs as a “craze that’s taking over the skies” on the top of page 1 – but back of the envelope calculations quickly dispel any notion that they’re coming here, any time soon.

Public Works deputy director Randy Murphy gave out fliers for DayJet, one of the premier VLJ companies, which shuttles passengers between points in the southeastern U.S.

Despite repeated requests over many days, DayJet claimed they were too busy to help us out with some simple data requests, but we’ll try to use them as a model for VLJ air travel anyway.
About one-sixth of small airports are designated as a DayPort, which handle from 10 to 25 takeoffs and landings daily, the flier notes.

We’ll be optimistic and say that Willows or Orland airport is so designated – but given the population density of Glenn, Colusa, and Lake Counties and the serviceability of Chico airport, we’ll round “10 to 25 people” to “10 people.”

DayPorts reasonably require a car rental near the airport. So if the airport plan comes to pass, a rental car service must materialize in Glenn County.

The chances of that? Low.

Compare people.

Butte County has four rental car outlets – for a population seven times as large as Glenn County’s and with a 25 percent higher per-person income.

Compare airport traffic.

Chico alone has three rental car outlets, for about 100 people who fly out of Chico airport commercially every day, an airline rep said – not to mention private passengers. How’s another 10 people coming daily into Willows or Orland going to draw a rental car agency?

Not to mention, as Mr. Murphy noted at the meeting, “all of this costs money, and we’re short of that.”

Simple solution: use someone else’s, through subsidies.

FAA grants are available, Mr. Barrie said, and if they require local matching funds, CalTrans can provide that.

But the question of whether too many people would really want to come to teeny Glenn County didn’t dishearten enthusiasts present at the meeting – like pilot Tony Miller, Terry Jackson, or entrepreneurial Journal reporter Susan Meeker, whose office is next door to the Willows airport.

“I’ll run a service out of my van,” she joked.

Recalling a musician, a friend

Recalling a musician, a friend
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows — Shawn Simleness had known Steven Furtado since junior high school, but the two only really became close over last summer.

“I was dating a girl named Caroline (Whyler). He was dating a girl named Grace (Waggoner). I was able to hang out with Steven a lot because our girlfriends were best friends.”

“Over the summer we went bowling together every weekend. We all rode horses together up in my girlfriend or his girlfriend’s house. We always did active stuff, we’d go ride horses, or go bowling, or go to Chico.”

“I didn’t really talk to him (before) I started dating Caroline. That brought us together. I got to see him at work, every day. Sometimes we would go out to lunch, or I’d help him out with band, we’d move stuff to a concert.”

“We weren’t best friends, but we were comfortable around each other.”

“He never bothered anyone. He wasn’t one of the kids who spread rumors. Some of the kids talked, reminisced, he was always focused. I didn’t know everything about him, but he was a nice guy, and there was no reason to hate him.”

The two worked together at Sani-Food until Shawn quit in December. “He was always on target. He was a good worker, always knew what to do.”

After the tragedy, Shawn visited again his old workplace to talk about Shawn.

“Everyone was family, and we all loved one another. It’s like a family member when one of them dies. It’s hard to see them go.”

The two played different instruments in band, but Shawn recalls Steven as a “wonderful, great musician.

“Looking back, he influenced me to do better. He was a hard worker; he inspired me to do more.

“I’ve grown with him musically.

“He would always be on time in zero period – go in before school and practice,” Shawn said. “He was really focused, he had a goal …

“He was a good guy. He would always use sarcasm when you talked to him, but that’s just Steven, being a smart ass.”

“I’d go on into school every week, and he’d have a different hair color. People would make fun of him, but wasn’t afraid to be himself.

“In junior high, come Monday, you’d see Steven walking down the hallway, and he’d have bright red hair on top of his head. I’d go on into school every week, and he’d have a different hair color. He wasn’t afraid of what other people thought of him. Some people were afraid to be themselves, but Steven didn’t care.

“I think it’s just unfair that he had to go. He didn’t deserve to go.”

“He was smart, hard worker, shy, but once you get to know him.…”

One mother speculated that the kids would have “no more tears to cry” after the summer 2006 death of Brian Parks and April death of Kayla Arnold, each members of the Willows High class of 2008.

“I don’t know, I can’t say that,” Shawn replied. “I cried. I knew Steven more than I knew Brian and I knew Kayla. I saw a lot of people upset. He was important to a lot of people.”

Shawn’s never experienced death in his family; for him, the deaths have gotten harder.

“When Brian died, the thought of never seeing his face again hurt,” he said Monday. “I never knew him, but I saw him around school.

“With Kayla – I knew her, hung out with her, talked with her,” he continued. “With Steven, it was even harder.”

“It’s getting sadder every time. Hopefully this is the last time.”

“It doesn’t get old.”

Asked Monday about Tuesday’s vigil:

“I’m going to anything I can,” Shawn said. “We’re all in this together, we all grew up with Steven together, and I think we should all be together.”

He remembers his friend’s mastery of diverse areas.

“In wood shop, all of the kids would be sitting at the table, talking, or doing homework, ‘cause they needed the teacher’s help,” Shawn recalled. “Not Steven, he would always be working. He’d have a whole dresser in a week, or a whole entertainment center in two weeks.”

Why was he so good?

“He was so devoted to it. He was devoted to anything he was active too. He was the best person in wood shop. The first trumpet.

“He was a good bowler. He always whupped our ass. He tried to do his best at anything. He doesn’t give up, just keeps trying hard at everything.”

“He does golf, football. If he has a desire to be something, he does it. I don’t have any doubt that if this hadn’t happened, he would have been very successful in the future, because he knew how to be a leader.”

County Health Services director Scott Gruendl said at a Monday press conference that Steven’s death might be harder for students to deal with than the two previous natural cause deaths in the class.

“This is the taking of a life,” he said.

Mr. Gruendl speculatively cited the example of Jennifer Carrigan’s brother, who crashed on the way home after hearing the news and later succumbed to his injuries.

When life is taken “in a senseless way,” he added, it’s more easy for emotions to get out of control.

Shawn agreed.

“With murder, it’s definitely harder,” he said. “It kind of makes you angry, because a good person died for no reason. Because of a jealous ex-boyfriend of his girlfriend.”

“The picture in my head of him and his girlfriend being murdered, it just sounds like a horror movie in my head,” Shawn said. “It affects a lot of people differently, but I think the fact of him being murdered affects a lot of people harder.

The event was being talked at during school, “like an ‘oh my god,’ ‘I’m in shock’, ‘it’s not real.’”

“He’s not involved with any gangs or anything. Him being stabbed – a lot of people will talk about it. You never expect anyone to do it.”

“What really hurts me is when I went to Brian’s candle-lighting. I saw Steven crying, and I gave him a hug. We were there for each other. It sucks to go to his.

“It was the same with Kayla. It reminded me a lot of last time, and now we have to do it all over again.”

‘You could count on Steven Furtado’

‘You could count on Steven Furtado’
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

“You could count on Steven to get whatever you needed done.”

That’s what band booster president and parent Warren Wehmeyer says of the Willows High senior.

The group raises money for band and choir.

“Steven would always volunteer to help. We were on a first-name basis. He was the only person in Willows High that had permission to call me by my first name.”

“He had a lot of drive. A lot of potential. I mean that from my heart.”

“We had things to move and carry, we had things to sell, tickets. He was always willing to help. When we were setting up, winter concert, for a silent auction, he was right there to help. He didn’t have to ask me what I wanted. He just jumped in, and he did it.”

“He was able to work on his own without being told what to do. He knew what had to be done, and he did it. He had a lot of initiative.”

With Steven, “It was, let’s get this damn job done. I always treated him like an adult.”

“I don’t put up with crap from anyone. And I never got it from him.”

Mr. Wehmeyer recalls Steven’s involvement with a now-disbanded Ducks Unlimited conservation group, for eight years starting at age 8. The group centered around a yearly dinner.

“Steven was active during all of the planning of the dinners. He was an active and voting member.

“When we were at the dinner, he was what we called a runner. They would do all the work, hand out the raffle prizes, make sure anything that needed to be done was done. That’s the hardest job.”

“It didn’t matter what there was to do, come up with ideas, plan, he did it. (Parents) Denise and Dan encouraged him to come to the meetings. He never missed one.”

“Six, seven months from before the dinner you had to plan. And Steven was there, one night a month. And then he gave me the night of the dinner. There was nothing that adult members do that he didn’t do.”

Mr. Wehmeyer highlights Steven’s accomplishments and activities: band, football, golf, woodshop, work at Sani-Food Market, an Eagle Scout, hunting.

“How this kid had time for a love life I didn’t know,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t ask.”

“(Steven) had an impact on everyone’s life in this town. Everyone who ever met him was impacted by him. He was one of the most impressive kids that I have ever met,” he said.

“Other than my children,” Mr. Wehmeyer amends.



“He had so much promise. He showed me, and he shows me, why we should not be afraid of the upcoming generation. When we see the quality of kids … There are some great kids. And Steven … unfortunately we have lost him. But we have confidence that everything will be okay. He showed that to me. And I can never forget that.”

Mr. Wehmeyer highlighted one memory of Steven that he’ll treasure.

“We were at a Ducks Unlimited event. The man who was providing the gun safe, Dan’s Safe Co. in Orland, needed a helper, needed someone to help sell tickets. And I told him, I’ve got the perfect person. I thought of Steven, took Steven over.”

“Dan took him, and the first 15, 20 minutes, Steven didn’t do too good. He was too shy, too shy to aggressively sell tickets, which is what you have to do at one of these things. Dan took him aside and told him, ‘Son, let’s talk about why you haven’t sold any tickets.’”

“It was that spirit of ‘what can you teach me?’ He was just so anxious to learn. He followed that man around all evening. And he learned from him. And before that evening was over, Dan was able to leave, Steven was able to sell all the tickets, handle all the money. And Steven sold his share. I think it shows a kid (that) thirsts and prays for knowledge. And (if) you give it to them …”

“Dan taught him how to sell. ‘Here’s what you do, you look that customer in the face and you did this, you do this, you do this,’ and damned if Steven didn’t pick it up."

“I just want to remember Steven as the young man who was always so anxious to learn.”

Stories of Steven Furtado told

Stories of Steven Furtado told
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Singing and dancing to the Backstreet Boys.

A “told you so” after friends paintballing a pizza box on a telephone pole led to trouble.

A badly worded comment on a Boy Scout trip: “If you want to lose your innocence, stay with me for a night … that’s not what I meant!”

Stories about Steven Furtado, no longer around to hear friends, family and mentors memorialize him at a Tuesday night candlelight vigil.

From a mother: “As much as I loved (Steven and Jennifer) as kids, I’ll never forget about the adults they never had the chance to be.”

A poem, followed by laughs: “I remember New Years’ Day, when you slept on the couch. We shaved off your eyebrow and still you weren’t a grouch.”

The vigil drew more than 150 people, who gathered in the fenced-in grounds of the Willows High auto shop in the near-twilight. Beforehand, the growing crowd stands in silence punctured mainly by laughs and the sound of cars carrying from the road outside. Gathering in a large circle, friends turn around and give each other handwaves, before turning back inwards. A few pairs stand close and whisper conversation. Tear-covering sunglasses proliferate in the near-twilight.

Mental health counselor Amy Lindsay emceed the event, introducing the Willows High band. They play two somber numbers, including an instrumental version of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.”

Flames are passed around the audience, with the first candles lit by Steven’s parents.

Schoolmates come up, speaking without a microphone as they recall memories of hanging out.

“I think they brainwashed me, I always raised my hand and said, I’ll be the pink Power Ranger,” recalls a male friend, sobbing.

Parents and grandparents come in the interlude, reflecting on the promise of a young man.

“He was a guy who was mature beyond his years,” one father says.

Hugs substitute for handshakes as the tears flow. After about an hour, Ms. Lindsay calls the event to a close with a moment of silence. The band then rehearses a song from the Lamb Derby parade – the last song Steven ever played.

Afterwards, students write notes on purple cards in the dim twilight, leaving memories. “We’ve built so much together, you and I.” “I’ll never forget our story at Sani-Food.”

As the crowds drifted off, the mood breaks, or perhaps fades. The setting becomes more casual. Students congregate in groups of five or six. Less solemn laughter returns. Friends slap hands. A group congregates near an old metal car in the auto shop. One boy leans on the car, opening and shutting the passenger door, and playing with the mirror. A nearby teen spits on the ground. Voices grow from the hushed tone of remembrance to more casual, hang-out voices.

“We use our full names for school,” one student asks another. “So, once we’re done with high school, can I call you B-Man?”

“Please leave your candles and the gate,” Ms. Lindsay says, in dismissing the crowd. “The school doesn’t want any explosions in the auto shop.”



Organizer explains vigil

By Sam Bhagwat

of The Valley Mirror

Mental health counselor Amy Lindsay has spent the last two days at the school counseling the kids.

Though she didn’t know Steven Furtado in his life, she’s played a large role in his remembrance, helping to organize the vigil.

“We needed something to do,” she said.

“(The kids) said, let’s do ribbons, so they went to Wal-Mart and got material. They said, let’s do pages. Then, this, so that everyone could hear the funny stories.”

“These kids are amazing,” she said.

“If someone was crying the hallway, they went and hugged them, no matter if they knew them,” she said. “It was not about them.”

“It was very quiet at school.”

She said the high schoolers were mostly handling the situation in peer-to-peer support groups, rather than one-on-one counseling.

The names of Kayla Arnold and Brian Parks were not mentioned at the memorial.

“This wasn’t about them,” Ms. Lindsay said.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Willows high school senior murdered

This one was hard. Really, really hard. I worked 30 hours in two days and took the next day off, partially to avert emotional collapse. I might blog more about it later. I just hope I helped remember this kid I shed tears over, whom I never knew.

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County mourns: Furtado and girlfriend murdered
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows – Another one gone.

Willows High senior Steven Furtado, 18, was murdered Sunday in Chester with his girlfriend Jennifer Carrigan.

Miss Carrigan’s mother discovered the couple, each with multiple stab wounds by knife, at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Jenny’s ex-boyfriend, Reyes Carrillo-Garcia, was arrested later that afternoon and is held in Plumas County Jail on two counts of homicide. There is no bail.

A week earlier, Reyes had taken Jenny’s phone and pretending to be Jenny, sent Mr. Furtado a phony, nasty breakup message, sources say.

Steven is the third loss from the Willows High class of 2008. Brian Parks collapsed on the football field and died in the summer of 2006. Kayla Arnold suffered from a medication conflict and died in April.

Police and counselors from the county health service and the county office of education flooded the campus Monday. Students were called into assemblies and told the news by vice principal Jerry Smith. Almost all seniors already knew, students said.

Adults and classmates alike expressed strong admiration of Mr. Furtado. They remember him as a multi-talented, hardworking student.

Asked about his activities, Steven’s cousin Brandy McDonald, a sheriff’s deputy and the family spokesperson, replied: “What didn’t he do?”

“He was only person in Willows High that had permission to call me by my first name,” said Willows High band booster and parent Warren Wehmeyer.

Mr. Wehmeyer highlights Steven’s accomplishments and activities — band, football, golf, woodshop, work at Sani-Food Market, an Eagle Scout, hunting, fishing.

“How this kid had time for a love life I didn’t know,” Mr. Wehmeyer said. “I certainly wouldn’t ask.”

Willows High senior and band president Charlotte Wehmeyer remembers Mr. Furtado’s leadership as first chair in the trumpet section. That made Steven in charge of 12 other trumpets – including eight freshmen.

“He was the most wonderful section leader,” said Miss Wehmeyer. “He’d helped them out when they needed help. He’d make sure they knew the music. He’d make sure they understood the concept of high school band, ‘cause it’s a lot different that middle school band. He’d give them lessons.”

Friend and Willows High student Shawn Simleness recalls his work ethic.

“In wood shop, all of the kids would be sitting at the table, talking, or doing homework, ‘cause they needed the teacher’s help,” Shawn recalled. “Not Steven, he would always be working. He’d have a whole dresser in a week, or a whole entertainment center in two weeks.”

Steven had been planning to attend UTI in Sacramento next in a one-year program to learn diesel mechanics. Steven mentioned coming back to Willows the year after that, rifle coach Bob Foust said.

The slain couple met at a three-day all-state honor band camp in Sacramento in mid-March.

“(Steven) was actually kind of secretive about that,” recalls Miss Wehmeyer, who was at the camp. At one performance the seven Willows High students went to together, “we all wanted to go, and were all like, ‘come on,’ and he was all like ‘I want to stay.’”

“We didn’t learn that he met her at all-state until last week. It kind of made sense, he had that sort of lovestruck look in his eyes. He’d been alone for a little bit and he needed someone good.”

The two may have been introduced by Willows High music teacher Ellen Pastorino, who traveled to the capital with her students, but chaperoned another group.

“(Jenny) was actually in our band teacher’s group,” Miss Wehmeyer said. “Mrs. P ended up introducing us all to her group, and I think that’s how he met her.”

County Health Services director Scott Gruendl said at a Monday press conference that Steven’s death might be harder for students to deal with than the two previous.

“This is the taking of a life,” he said.

Shawn agreed.

“With murder, it’s definitely harder,” he said. “It kind of makes you angry, because a good person died for no reason.”

“The picture in my head of him and his girlfriend being murdered, it just sounds like a horror movie in my head,” Shawn said.

Mr. Gruendl cited the example of Jennifer Carrigan’s brother, who crashed on the way home after hearing the news and succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday.

When life is taken “in a senseless way,” he added, it’s easier for emotions to get out of control.

Community members may be avoiding the use of the word “murder,” instead using more passive words like “killed” or “died.”

A band parent noted Monday afternoon that in numerous discussions of the topic, she had never used the word “murder” nor heard anyone else use it, though everyone knew what had happened. It was not used at a candlelight vigil Tuesday night.

All note the need for a healing process.

A Sani-Food cashier said that it was probably too soon for those on the evening shift, when Mr. Furtado worked, to talk about him.

“Some people won’t talk about it,” she said. “Some people will want to talk about it.”

A group of close friends gathered Monday night to remember Steven, going out for golf – a game Steven played avidly.

Perhaps because of the news, students seemed to stay on campus for lunch Monday more, with nearby taco stands noticing significantly slower student traffic.

Willows High principal Mort Geivert says the three deaths in this class in unprecedented for him. He’s echoed by former Willows Unified superintendent Gary Kemp, who in 40 years of rural teaching and school administration recalls accidental deaths “about every other year,” but only one murder.

“About 10 years ago, we had a kid killed by a gang,” he said. “And that’s the only one I remember.”

The successive deaths have only sharpened the pitch of anguish, Miss Wehmeyer says.

“The first (death) it was like, ‘this is bad.’ But I wasn’t really close to Brian. The second (Kayla Arnold), it was like, ‘man, this is really bad.’

“And now, it’s like, ‘how could this happen to us?’ We’re dropping like flies.”

Going forward?

“It makes you wonder if there’s going to be anything else before graduation,” Miss Wehmeyer worries.

“We need to do is be there for the kids,” says principal Geivert, “but also be sure that we get them to the very end. The senior class needs to go to June 6 to get their diploma.”

And mentally for the students?

“Kids need to have faith and trust that the judicial system will run its course and deliver justice,” Mr. Gruendl said.

It will, like the healing, be a slow process.

Delaine Fragnoli of Feather Publishing contributed to this story.

A friend learns of death by text message



Students and parents look on at a candlelight vigil held Tuesday night for deceased Willows High senior Steven Furtado. Around 300 people, ranging from family and close friends to students who didn't know Steven at all, packed into the auto shop yard on campus. While students recounted pranks, funny memories, and good times, adults lamented the passing of a student with such potential. For the students, it was "something to do," said organizer and mental health counselor Amy Lindsay. Valley Mirror photo by Tim Crews.

A friend learns of death by text message: ‘Did you hear the sad news?’
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows High senior and band president Charlotte Wehmeyer had known Steven Furtado since the two were in kindergarten together.

So on Sunday night when a friend sent Miss Wehmeyer a text message – “Did you hear the sad news? Steven Furtado died” – she didn’t believe him.

I’m not kidding, the friend replied.

Standing outside her house near her father, Miss Wehmeyer says, “I turned around and I started crying.”

Band members had Monday meetings – “around 7:20, every Monday morning,” she recalls. Steven was always ready to go: “He always motivated us, no matter what. He’s always been that way.”

The senior was first chair in the trumpet section, in charge of 12 other trumpets – including eight freshman.

“He was the most wonderful section leader,” said Miss Wehmeyer. “He’d helped them out when they needed help. He’d make sure they knew the music. He’d make sure they understood the concept of high school band, ‘cause it’s a lot different than middle school band. He’d give them lessons.”

The last time she saw him was Saturday morning, at Willows’ annual Lamb Derby parade. The high school band marched through the downtown, performing a number in front of the courthouse.

“I saw him when we were lining up to march, but after that I didn’t see him,” Miss Wehmeyer said.

In a class of about 120, she had at least one class with him every year. “We stayed pretty good friends, I guess.”

She mentions a bonding experience at the high school all-star band camp in Sacramento. A group of seven Honkers traveled down to the capitol together.

“We got to learn a lot about each other, make fun of each other when we played, call each other’s hotel rooms,” she recalls, laughing.

It was there that Steven met his girlfriend, Jenny.

“He was actually kind of secretive about that,” she said. He recalls one performance the group all went to together. “We all wanted to go, and were all like, ‘come on,’ and he was all like ‘I want to stay.’

“We didn’t learn that he met her at all-state until last week. It kind of made sense, he had that sort of lovestruck look in his eyes. He’d been alone for a little bit and he needed someone good.”

The two may have been introduced by Willows High music teacher Ellen Pastorino, who traveled to the capital with her students, but chaperoned another group.

“(Jenny) was actually in our band teacher’s group,” Miss Wehmeyer said. “Mrs. P ended up introducing us all to her group, and I think that’s how he met her.”

Mrs. Pastorino remarked before the trip that the “closely chaperoned” students would have “a really good opportunity to … meet students from all over the state” – casual remarks that seem now eerily prophetic.

On Friday, Miss Wehmeyer had not only band class with Steven, but also choir.

“He joined just a couple weeks ago,” she said.


Willows Junior Rifle coach Bob Faust holds a picture of star shooter Steven Furtado. In the picture, Steven is smiling after winning first place at a spring 2007 National Rifle Association sectional shooting contest, out of about 50 competitors. "His shooting was so good that we had him shooting with the adults," Mr. Faust says. "He was textbook." Valley Mirror photo by Sam Bhagwat


Rifle coach recalls champion shooter
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows Junior Rifle Club coach Bob Faust watched Steven Furtado grow in a sport for six years before winning a major competition last year.

“Steven started rifle shooting in January of 2002. He was like 12 years old then.”

“He hardly ever missed a practice, and if he would he’d tell me so.”

Practice was weekly – every Wednesday evening between December and April.

In 2004, Mr. Foust started noticing Steven’s skill.

“We have different levels of competence for postions – prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing,” he explained. “Steven made four levels of improvement in one year.”

“Sitting is his best position.”

Mr. Foust recalls a teenager with confidence; friendly with adults and able to mingle with other students. “Shooting helps build confidence,” Mr. Furtado says.

And Steven was good – “textbook.”

The National Rifle Association holds yearly sectional matches, in which students compete, shooting in targets in all of the four positions.

Last year, Steven took first place out of about 50 competitors – the first Willows High junior to do so.

“He was really excited and proud of himself,” Mr. Foust recalls. “He got third one year and another. Then, he finally won.”

With Steven’s skill and gun safety, he began practicing with the adults.

“His grandfather Troy just bought him a target rifle.”

Mr. Foust thinks of Brian Parks, the first member of the Willows High Class of 2008 to pass away. Steven and Brian had been close.

“(Steven) designed his own arm tattoo, with BP for Brian Parks,” recalls Mr. Faust. He had it put, right below his shoulder, “just a couple months ago.”

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Would audit result in energy savings?

more government stories...you get sick of writing six meeting stories in a week though...

Would audit result in energy savings?
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Natural gas wells at the Orland airport.

Wind turbines at the county landfill.

Those were the top two possible improvements under consideration Tuesday as supervisors debated whether to accept a proposed Chevron “energy audit” to reduce electricity bills.

The audit would identify projects that could pay for themselves with energy savings.

The county would save more money the longer the equipment lasted; supervisors were concerned that it wouldn’t last as long as projected.

“The financing period is generally shorter than the lifespan of the equipment,” said planning and public works director Dan Obermeyer, who presented the proposal.

“It’s the ‘generally’ part that scares me,” replied supervisor Tracey Quarne.

The $40,000 fee would be waived if no feasible projects were found. That didn’t placate director of finance Don Santoro, a skeptic of the idea.

“The board is at the mercy at this contractor, who tells us what is feasible,” Mr. Santoro said. “It’s not a contract I would personally sign. The contract needs to protect the county.”

Chevron business development manager Ashu Jain said he’d be happy to have the county judge feasibility.

“We have five people, and this is our third visit,” he said. “We’re going to spend a lot more than $40,000.”

“We’re not interested in an audit. We’re interested in a project.”

The $40,000 fee would only be paid upfront if the Chevron engineers found a viable project and the county didn’t want to built it. That’s a big deal in a tight budget year.

The project would be financed over the long run, avoiding such issues. For example, if a piece of equipment cost $2 million, it might be financed at $140,000 over 20 years. The county would save money if equipment held out for 20 years, and cut electric bills by more than $140,000 per year.

In order for a project to be feasible, Mr. Obermeyer would require projected savings at costs plus 25 percent – in that example, $175,000 per year. That would guard against incorrect projection, he said.

Mr. Quarne was also concerned about giving up gas rights at the airport, pointing out they could be valuable.

After a half-an-hour slugfest of debate, the board decided more research was needed and tabled the matter for further consideration May 20.

More adults needed at Juvvy

More adults needed at Juvie
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows — A dozen empty beds.

That could be the situation at juvenile hall soon without more money to fund another counselor, as juvenile hall guards are called, Chief Probation Officer Brandon Thompson told supervisors Tuesday. He was asked for general fund money to prevent that emptying of rooms, as cells in juvvy are called.

During daytime hours, the facility is required to have one adult supervising every 10 detainees; that would cap the population at 10, given current staffing levels.

That “would have a huge public safety impact,” Chief Thompson said.

Supervisors weren’t happy that the proposal would take general fund money in an already tight budget, and raised their eyebrows at another agenda item requesting a transfer of money from salary to supplies, support, and care.

Still, they ultimately gave Officer Thompson what he wanted.

One supervisor asked, “What’s to prevent other departments with coming up with (other) expenses?”

“We’re not requesting things we want,” Mr. Thompson replied. “We absolutely need this.”

Supervisors seemed to go along with that claim, noting department understaffing and the 400-person caseloads of probation officer. Mr. Thompson chimed in, pointing out that he will have less than $5,000 next year for office supplies and only $2,000 for gas.

Supervisor Tracey Quarne, who spent the four-hour open session meeting repeatedly querying department heads about their funding sources, expressed frustration at the general situation.

“Earlier in the meeting because there was no general fund impact, we hired five people,” Mr. Quarne said. “This is just frustrating.”

Tuesday’s meeting spent an abundance of time on small details.

Mr. Quarne pulled a reimbursement to a probation officer for a flat tire off the consent agenda because of a $10 difference in money, an item the board spent more than five minutes on.

Planning and Public Works head Dan Obermeyer and assistant deputy director Randy Murphy spent several minutes in front of a packed house asking for a transfer of water rights from the Orland airport that might yield as little as $160.

The board also spent about 20 minutes haggling over when to schedule a special meeting to discuss possible additions to the budget; department heads have requested $555,000 over and above balanced budget allocations.

After debating conflicts with LAFCO, education, and other meetings and the nature of the proposed meeting, the meeting was set for 10:30 a.m. next Tuesday.

story 1 from airport meeting

Another bran deal: Bad or little communication
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Bad communications.

That's the reason only one person complained about rice bran coating the Orland airport runway, said maintenance man Ken Dunn – not lack of danger.

Airport board member Jerry Kraemer exchanged a series of angry e-mails with Glenn County Planning and Public Works Agency Deputy Director Randy Murphy for not doing anything about it.

You're the only one who complained, replied Mr. Murphy.

Mr. Dunn said at a Wednesday airport board meeting that he wasn't even aware of the problem's scope.

"Nobody told me it was a safety issue," Mr. Dunn said. "That's why I didn't say something. I would have been in Randy's ear."

He only heard about it when he ran into Mr. Kraemer a week later.

The particular problem is unlikely to recur. It started when Wilbur-Ellis left their rice bypoduct uncovered and the wind kicked up; now they're bagging it.

"Once (the wind) started blowing their money away, they started covering it," Mr. Murphy said.

Pilot Dennis Hailey tied it to a larger problem.

"The attitude is that no one's going to help them," said Mr. Hailey. "To call someone because rice bran blew in, forget about it."

That's something that the airport is trying to change, though not without friction.

Better future service had been promised after the April passage of a $20 per month per hangar fee increase intended to make up for past inflation. A resolution came forward to incorporate inflation for this year into another fee raise, around $3 or $4.

And some present were not happy.

"I feel like I'm being jacked around here," said hangar renter Tony Miller. "Make it 20, make it 25, just do it."

Mr. Kraemer was uncomfortable with the resolution, and supervisor Tom McGowan didn't want to second it, so it died.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Hear ye: proclamations cost $1k/year

Hear ye: proclamations cost $1k/year
First in an occasional bean-counting series
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Go buy a trumpet, why don’t you?

Proclamations cost Glenn County residents more than $1,000 per year, The Valley Mirror found after doing some math.

The measures — National Weights and Measures Week, Hunger Awareness Week, Sexual Assault Awareness Month and so on — are brought before the board of supervisors, and usually read out loud.

“Proclamations are just a given,” said Supervisor Keith Hansen, who’s spent 28 years on the board listening to them.

Around 14 such proclamations are presented annually; but only eight were discussed by the board (not correspondence or on the consent agenda), so we’ll count 8.5 total. The last such measure, two weeks ago, took eight minutes of time.

About 25 people are usually present, mostly high county bureaucrats. The average person there is paid, we’ll guess conservatively, around $30 per hour.

Multiply all those numbers together, and you get $850 per year.

Now add in clerk time; around 15 to 75 minutes per proclamation to put it on the agenda, upload attachments, and record minutes, according to Assistant Board Clerk Sandy Soeth. Clerk time costs $28 an hour, according to a figure given by Ms. Soeth, averaging the salaries of the three clerks.

Guess 30 minutes on average, and multiply that by all 14 items, by $28 an hour: $196 per year.

Now add the two figures: $1,046 per year. And we aren’t counting the time of figures like Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Jean Miller, who has presented several recent proclamations.

The board can’t stop items from being placed on its agenda, but Mr. Hansen says that proclamations should serve some purpose.
“We have 4-H week because those people are a vital part of our community,” said Mr. Hansen. “A proclamation is our way of publicly thanking them.”

The issue has been discussed before. In an October 1981 board meeting, Mr. Hansen and fellow supervisors spent 45 minutes arguing the merits of proclamations, with then-supervisor Jean Rumiano noting a ban on proclamations in neighboring Butte County.

Mr. Hansen says they sometimes offer some food for thought, but notes that it’s hard to filter them by importance.

“What’s important to you or I might not be important to the next guy,” he said. “It’s better to recognize people than ignore people.”

law library, part 5

you'd think I'd get sick of writing about of this, but it's nice to see something happening...

-----

Law library: on road to repair?

By Sam Bhagwat

of the Valley Mirror

A man with a plan.

That’s Butte County law librarian John Zorbas, who presented ideas Thursday for making Glenn County’s broken law library work.

He negotiated with a Berkeley publisher for access to OnLaw, a basic, easy-to-use online legal research tool, and listed some basic sets of law code books to buy: annotated code, rules of procedure, evidence, and so forth.

And, the total price was well within Glenn County’s $11,000 yearly budget.

Those present were impressed with Mr. Zorbas’s ideas and enthusiasm.

“What would it take for you to be our law librarian?”, asked county counsel and board member Tom Agin.

The financial administration would still come through Glenn County, Mr. Again proposed, “but the hard questions would come to you.”

“I think that would work,” Mr. Zorbas replied.

Mr. Zorbas runs a tight, efficient operation, especially compared to Glenn’s.

Butte has seven times the population and its law library 20 times the budget, but receives 100 times more usage, as the MIRROR documented in a four-part March series. The few Glenn County users are frustrated with a slow online system designed for legal professionals rather than the average citizens.

Mr. Zorbas proposed running the law library largely in the same manner it is run now, off of the public library computers, with legal self-help program SHARP possibly helping out with shelf space.

But, says the experienced Mr. Zorbas, OnLaw is actually user-friendly, instead of the currently-used LexisNexis system, designed for lawyers.

On the book side, Glenn County libraries have only a couple shelves of outdated law books now; Mr. Zorbas’s ideas would add many resources who prefer to flip instead of browse.

The proposed system for Glenn County, Mr. Zorbas added, is also something he wants for outlying regions in Butte County, like Paradise.

The law library board met without a quorum, as Judge Angus Saint-Evens and two lawyers were tied up unexpectedly in court.

Mr. Agin, who resigned a month ago as the law librarian, was appointed at the last supervisors’ meeting as a library member.

At the meeting, he said he never knew he had been made law librarian in the first place, and didn’t particularly care to be involved longer.

“I would be more than happy to not have anything to do with this anymore,” he said.

law library, part 4

Law library failing, but can it fix problems?
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
Cost per month: over $800. Users per month: 4.5. Their satisfaction: very low.
Those are the vital statistics of the county's law library system,
two computers in Willows and one in Orland, hooked up to the legal
research site LexisNexis.
With the governing board reconvening recently after sitting idle for
four years, debate revolves around a couple questions debate Is a
better computer network needed — or a more user-friendly system?
And is the law library competition for the lawyers who administer it,
creating a conflict of interest?
Judge Angus Saint-Evens argues that the current use of computers is
better than spending large sums on buying and updating law books.
"Retrieval of information is so much easier from a computer than
going to a multivolume room," he says.
But he adds that programs like LexisNexis are "pretty (easy) for a
person skilled in law — but for a person who's not, it can be
torture."
Butte County law librarian John Zorbas is more firmly on the side of books.
"You could use LexisNexis to get access to all those cases," Mr.
Zorbas says. "But there's no substitute for having the cases by
themselves, annotated."
It took this reporter 90 minutes on the LexisNexis system to locate
the three pages of basic state family law code, with annotation, on
child custody.
But looking again three weeks later, it took him only five minutes to
find the same material, without annotations, from a year-old, $20 copy
of standard California codes.
Law library gadfly Dan Bailey says the problem is systemic — lawyers
are governing their competition.
"If you are an attorney there is more business if your clients do not
understand the law," he says. "If one learns the law one does not need
to pay an attorney."
Mr. Zorbas, who passed the bar and practiced law for several years
before becoming a law librarian, sharply disagreed. He was emphatic
that "lawyers don't see (the law library) as competition."
"We do a lot of things for people that public defenders won't do for
people because they don't want to get involved," Mr. Zorbas.
He cited examples like record expungements, early terminations of
probation, and infractions — cases for which public defenders would
not be paid.
"We do a lot to help people get ready for first contact with
lawyers," he added, saying such preparation helped the prospective
lawyers of law library users understand the case.
Thus, Mr. Zorbas said, the lawyers would be less likely to demand "a
$1,500 retainer" to proceed.
Mr. Zorbas exudes enthusiasm about the Butte County law library
system, planning elaborate publicity events like a black-tie dinner
and relaying his own joy at helping people.
Back in Glenn County, these are fewer roses; some in charge share the
basic pessimism of Mr. Bailey, but for far different reasons.
"I just wish the system was as simple as, what do I do if this
happens to me, press a button and get an answer," said Judge
Saint-Evens, effectively the chairman of the law library board. "But
it doesn't work that way. And it doesn't work that way in a law office
either. Legal issues are horribly complicated and for every answer you
get, you'll get three more questions."
"There are no issues that are clear-cut and one-sided. It's hard to
ferret out with books, let alone a computer."
Mr. Bailey argues the library is important in solving larger
problems, referring tangentially to his friend Doc Bogart's fights
with the county but saying the scope is greater than that.
With an effective library, "a county counsel may find he is having
to oppose a private citizen that actually reads the County Ordinances
and is not easily pushed around by county staff," Mr. Bailey says. "A
private citizen educated in the law is a citizen that is harder to
control or manipulate."

Willows eyesore gets major makeover

Willows eyesore gets major makeover
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows – Welcome to the new Sycamore West.

Realtor Kay French of Livermore and investor Ron Mort of McCloud bought the property and moved on-site on March 17. One month and $175,000 later, passers-by can barely recognize it.

It’s got a new, dark brown exterior. Letters on the buildings. New counters. Repainted and retextured walls. Repainted railings. New fences. New carpets. No more pool.

Relandscaping, new windows and siding, and a paved parking lot are future possibilities.

What it needs now are residents: only 17 of its 46 units are filled, up from 15 a month ago. One of the new residents moved because of the new improvements, and the other was new to town and never saw the old building.

Its emptiness could have been due to its bad reputation and former run-down appearance.

That’s something the new owners are determined to change.

Fixing the appearance was the duo’s “first priority,” Ms. French said.

“It used to be the pride of the community,” Mr. Mort said. “We hope it can be again.”

They’ve heard good things about the place’s appearance over and over again.

“We were hoping for a good reward,” Mr. Mort said. “I’ve heard a lot of good things.”

At a joint meeting of the planning commission and city council Tuesday, the comment of developer Forrest Sprague – “praise God someone did something with it” – resounded with agreement.

One resident, Araceli Arteaga, said the changes were “nice” but noted that the already-occupied apartments hadn’t yet been remodeled.

Mr. French said those would take place slowly over the next year or two as current residents move out.

“We’ll be here as long as it takes to make things right,” he said.

city to developers: "no need for senior housing" pastors: huh?

Sprague development saga: Methodist pastor calls out city manager on senior housing
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows – Catch-22.

That was the word used by city councilman Vince Holvik Tuesday to describe a now-resolved situation faced in going forward on developer Forrest Sprague’s still-conceptual project in north Willows.

Along with supportive local pastors and real estate figures, Mr. Sprague dominated an ad-hoc meeting, arguing that the city is being overly obstructionist towards the development and getting Mr. Holvik, mayor Jim Yoder, and city manager Steve Holsinger to give some ground.

He browbeat the members at times, expressing hope that he could go out for a beer with Mr. Holsinger after one vehement exchange.

After more than an hour and a half of tangled debate and dialogue by the four men, Willows United Methodist pastor Janna Adamson sorted out the three main issues under consideration:

* The city staff’s attitudes toward development and the council’s responsibility to give staff direction.

* The merits of Mr. Sprague’s particular proposal.

* And the need for local senior housing.

Then, she went after Mr. Holsinger on number three.

“When a city planner responds (to a developer) by saying that there’s no need for senior housing, I have a problem with that,” she said.

She pointed again to Mr. Holsinger’s remarks when councilman Jim Yoder asked why, if the demand was so high, no one had stepped in to build senior housing.

“You asked why nothing has been done,” she said. “That’s why.”

Mr. Holsinger had told a developer, through planner Karen Mantele, that there was no demand for senior housing, new senior moderate- and above-moderate-income housing in the area, citing a statement in a 2005 report planning until 2008.

Mr. Sprague responded by reading the next paragraph, which stated that there was a demand for low-income senior housing, and that the growth of the senior population was causing a demand boom.

Right now, he said, 80 to 120 are people looking for senior housing in the Willows area.

The number was based on the 42-person waiting list at JFK-Eskaton Manor and a study, conducted by Ms. Adamson and the Willows Ministerial Association, that identified 50 potential clients now living out-of-county.

“I was just visiting a 90-year-old man who has friends here,” Ms. Adamson said.

The man, a member of her congregation, is no longer independent after a broken leg, but he doesn’t want to move to Chico for assisted living.

“That’s who (a project) will help,” she said. “That’s the benefit.”

Mr. Holsinger stood by his argument.

“I don’t think that those numbers are out of date,” he said afterwards. “I think they’re good through 2008.”

On point two, Mr. Sprague’s particular proposal, Mr. Holvik identified a Catch-22.

Though Mr. Sprague identified other positive features of a project like area flood control and a small park, he couldn’t put it in dollars and cents, to compare against annexation costs.

“We should have a documented list of benefits before considering annexation,” Mr. Holsinger argued. “Bring in a consultant.”

“Am I willing to go through hydro studies?” Mr. Sprague asked, estimating upfront, unrecoverable costs in the high thousands of dollars.

Answering his own question: “not without some assurance” that the city will seriously consider annexation.

Still, Mr. Sprague went to sleep happy Tuesday night; at a meeting later, members of the city council and planning commission agreed to consider an annexation policy on May 13.

“That takes away my catch-22,” Mr. Sprague said afterwards. “I’ll know that I can expect to spend X thousands of dollars to get this far in the approval process.”

The meeting of the ad hoc committee marked an expansion of the city council’s role in monitoring the ongoing dispute.

In response to Mr. Sprague’s complaints about the city impeding development, mayor Yoder argued that this forum had been created to address the problem.

“How do you know you’re doing the wrong thing” if citizens don’t pipe up, asked mayor Yoder. “You have to hear the public to figure out what they want.”

“I should not have had to bring this issue to this height of public awareness,” Mr. Sprague replied.

“I’ve been accused of being many things,” he added. “Bashful is not one of them.”

Another point of contention was over a list of land parcels compiled by the city and designated until 2008 as the areas outside of which certain types of development like Mr. Sprague’s project should not occur outside of.

Mr. Sprague’s parcel of land was not on that list, which Mr. Holsinger and Mr. Holvik used to argue that annexation and subsequent development should be frowned upon.

Mr. Sprague replied by saying that only two of the 24 parcels on the list were somewhat suitable; of those, one was too small and the other improperly zoned.

“There is no other parcel available,” he said.

Moreover, the list had been approved by and could, Mr. Sprague implied, be amended or ignored by the city council, especially because it was “outdated.”

“We’re almost halfway through 2008,” he said.

Mr. Holsinger stood by his argument there too.

“If the housing element of the state of California says, you have adequate space (inside city boundaries) to build facilities, then I think our first obligation is to build on the sites,” he said afterwards.

Then he took a jab at Mr. Sprague.

“Granted, if I’m not the owner of one of these sites, I don’t want to hear that.”

Glenn County Title’s Rick Thomas drew laughs when noting that all plans must pass through the stage Mr. Sprague’s project is now in.

“Twenty-five years ago, my wife came to me and said, ‘I want to start a family,’” he recalled. “That’s conceptual.”

I tag along with some anti-drug people and turn out a sarcastic article

Not quite Jimmy Stewart: Bettencourt goes to Sacramento
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Sacramento – Three people drove more than an hour each way to attend this 30-minute meeting, with half a dozen people squeezed and overflowing from a tiny office in the state capitol.

But then, few amateurs enter the political arena for comfort or material perks.

Leaving, the hopes of Jim Bettencourt and two colleagues in his anti-drug organization were mostly intact; their egos perhaps less so.

Mr. Bettencourt starts in a fairly orthodox manner, relating facts, figures and stories in a well-organized proposal.

Eighty percent of teachers have never opened a book meant to help them combat drugs in high school: they don’t have the time.

He’s walked through many a high school without a single anti-drug sign, when it’s been demonstrated that anti-drug messages coming from above do have an impact in reducing usage. In seven and a half years, he’s met only two specifically anti-drug school counselors.

“You can teach kids math, English, social studies, but if they’re drug addicts, what good does it do them?” asks Mike Coyle.

At first, Bill Bird, communications director for state Sen. Sam Aanestad, lets Mr. Bettencourt go on, interrupting sparsely with slowly spoken, sage-like comments. “I do not find the disconnect between the State Board of Education and Alcohol and Drug Services surprising.”

Soon, though, he cuts Mr. Bettencourt off. “Let’s cut to the chase,” he says. “What is your goal? What do you want?”

To create a pilot program and task force to evaluate the efficacy of in-school alcohol and drug counselors, Mr. Bettencourt says.

And then Mr. Bettencourt gets what he was looking for: advice.

“The kind of fix you’re looking for is legislative,” Mr. Bird says. “(State Superintendent of Schools Jack) O’Connell would be very gracious but not act too quickly to get what you want. You’re going to need an assemblyman to introduce a bill on your behalf.”

Mr. Bird goes into the details of what will be necessarily: Get the teachers’ union on the side, so they won’t fight against you. Cut down on the presentation and give a single sheet to the chiefs of staff of Doug LaMalfa and Sam Aanestad.

Then Mr. Bettencourt makes an off-the-cuff comment about donating $20 to campaigns, and Mr. Bird replies strongly, saying that by even talking about the subject he could get into trouble.

He emphasizes this point repeatedly, perhaps because of this reporter’s presence.

He refers to a bill introduced by Sen. Aanestad that would reduce the number of high-speed police chases in order to prevent the deaths of innocent victims, at the prompting of Candy Priano, a victim’s mother.

Candy didn’t give any money, Mr. Bird says – she just gathered support and refused to give up. You’ll have to do that too, he tells Mr. Bettencourt.

Mr. Bettencourt’s perspective is slightly different.

“Man, did you see him recoil at that $20 remark,” he jokes afterwards. “I didn’t think that even mentioning $20 would make a dent in a politician’s ass, knowing the amount of money they take.”

The 2:00 meeting closes soon afterwards, with Mr. Bird announcing he has a 2:30 engagement. Mr. Bettencourt and colleagues take a late lunch, during which they freely interpret and extrapolate Bill’s stance from his remarks and behavior, drawing lessons in an environment in which they have all power and Mr. Bird none.

The group frames the event as a initial victory, though with a long way to go.

“On the phone I bitch-slapped Bill and he knew I wasn’t going to go away,” said Mr. Bettencourt, hypothesizing as to why Mr. Bird agreed to meet in the first place.

“We need to be more forceful,” says Mike Coyle.

“Prior to today, we didn’t have any inclination to draft legislation,” says Mr. Bettencourt. “And to get direction from an aide.…”

“It was a go-away answer. But he told us what we needed to do.”

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Willows sober living, pt. 2

New Willows sober living house first in Glenn County
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
Glenn County resources for drug users trying to getting clean: none.

That’s what an Orland man found looking in the files of High Desert state prison, where he was living in before being released three weeks ago.

They didn’t list a now-two-month-old sober living house in east Willows – the first in the county, and the seed of an infant network.

“If I hadn’t heard of this place, I’d be high right now, running amok,” says the man, Sean Brooks (not his real name).

“That’s a fact.”

Almost 40, Mr. Brooks has spent 15 years locked up; nine of them for a juvenile gang-rape conviction and most recently for violating parole with dirty drug tests. Five of his six siblings have been to prison; two of his brothers are doing life. The first time he did meth was at age 10.

“My brothers cooked it for me,” Mr. Brooks says. “That’s screwed up.”

The house was founded by former Orland user Mike Lake. After Mr. Lake went through a sober living house in Red Bluff opened by former “tweaking buddy” Jason Gray, he was inspired to start his own.

“We grew up together, behind bars,” Mr. Lake said. “I never thought guys like me could do something like this.”

One challenge his house faces is the local economy: both Mr. Brooks and housemate Andy Walker (also not his real name) are forced to live in Glenn County, where they offended, by their parole agencies.

Here, in addition to old friends, there are few jobs and no temp agencies – unlike Red Bluff or Chico.

“Glenn County has nothing to offer,” says Mike Coyle, who runs the house with Mr. Lake, helping residents find jobs and other resources.

“We have a place for them, but what comes next?”

Mr. Brooks is looking for a job, and worries repeatedly that he won’t be able to get hired when people see his resume and rap sheet.

“Serious job placement, that’s our responsibility,” he says. “But when no one’s willing to give you a chance...”

He concedes he’s willing to omit a bit on applications, hoping that a month or so later when an employer finds out he’ll have proved himself. And he has a bit of government help on his side: the state will pay half of parolee’s salaries, and give their employers a $9,000 tax break.

Statistically, someone who gets arrested is five times more likely to be unemployed as the average person, according to a 2004 Department of Justice study – though because of other factors this doesn’t mean that being unemployed quintuples the risk of being arrested.

Residents choose to live in the house because they know how easy is it to fall back into old ways – especially with the county’s small size.

“Run into a homeboy at fucking Wal-Mart, ‘hey, you want to come to a party tonight,’” said Mr. Lake, who’s tried to quit, and failed, before. “You have a drink, and want to get off that, so you get tweaked. It can be that easy.”

Mr. Walker described a similar cycle.

“You get out of prison, and you want to get some,” Mr. Walker says. “You’re going to run into some homebuddy, and I’m weak to that shit.”

A year and a half ago, living with his mother in Orland, he was clean for five months, and then got high at a weekend party.

“It went downhill,” he says; he ended up with a 10 month sentence for a dirty test.

Staying clean is a constant challenge – even now, housemate Mr. Brooks says, “I could walk down the street and get high.”

“And that he hasn’t done that is astronomically huge,” says Mr. Coyle.

Mr. Brooks doesn’t want to have his real name appear in print “because it would hurt my sobriety” – he doesn’t want old friends to find him.

Their similar past struggles unites those running the house and those living in it.

“We’re both addicts in recovery,” Mr. Coyle says of Sean. He and Mr. Lake “have to piss-test just like they do.”

And at some point, their outlooks changed – whether with a change of heart, a clearer view of consequences, or some combination.

“When you sell dope and stuff, get girls, you think that’s ballin,’” Sean said. “Now, ‘ballin’’ is paying my bills, having a job at the end of the month. Normal society living.”

For Messrs. Lake and Coyle, it was their children.

“I took a shot, went on a high-speed chase down (Wood),” Mr. Lake said. “Two weeks later, my girlfriend said, ‘I’m pregnant.’ I was too high to notice.”

“And that’s when I said, I’m done.”

And for Mr. Coyle, it was when his then 1-year-old daughter found a heroin-loaded needle in a Sacramento park.

“It scared me,” he recalls.

The target population often doesn’t want to change until they get into trouble with the law.

There are hundreds of people out there who could come to the sober living house, Mr. Coyle says.

Are they ready?

“I haven’t come across a lot of people who aren’t on parole, who aren’t on probation, who want to stop being addicts,” Mr. Coyle replies.

That was a big part for Mr. Walker.

“I had hella fun, don’t get me wrong,” he says of his experiences. “But it just ends back in prison.”

That’s where he’s been for more than 10 years of his life; now, he’s nearing 30.

The men look back on a former resident who reoffended and went back to prison, and draw lessons.

“He had other people come over, spend the night,” Sean says. “That’s not going to happen – if either (fellow resident) Jerry or I did it” the other person would pipe up.

He didn’t want to change, Mr. Coyle says.

The path back can be long.

Mr. Walker was just released from High Desert prison last Friday.

“At first when you get out, you have stage fright, you’re too scared to go anywhere, do anything,” Mr. Brooks says.

Then, there’s the problem of missing job, and life, skills.

“Up to now, I’ve never paid a bill, never had an ID, a driver’s license,” says Mr. Lake, 32. “PG&E? That cuts into your drug money!”

Told the only jobs this reporter knows about are selling ads, Mr. Lake replies, in jest: “Is that anything like selling dope? We all know how to do that.”

“My only struggle is with employment,” Mr. Brooks says – and then rethinks.

“I’ll be at peace a moment,” he adds. “Then I’ll start to worry about my kids.”

Orland sober living house, pt. 3 of series

Orland – Meet Glenn Myers: wily entrepreneur and benevolent volunteer, bubbling over with do-good empire-building schemes and dreams, planning to open a sober living house in Orland.

“I get high off this,” he jokes. “But there’s no downside.”

If a Red Bluff recovery house run by former Orland junkie Jason Gray is in toddlerhood, and a Willows sober living house is in infancy, then this baby is in embryo.

The future is hopeful if ethereal – but does Mr. Myers ever have plans.

One day after Mr. Myers closes on the house – which he bought by refinancing his own – he mentions future plans to pull the equity out and plug it into another house for abused women.

He plans to redo the bathroom, put in 550 square feet of tiles, pull up the carpet, put in sidewalks and gutters, put in an office, and make the house ADA compliant, all at a cost of seven to 10 grand. And he predicts that they’ve have the house open in a month, something his girlfriend and fellow organizer Sue McDonald smilingly disagrees with.

“He doesn’t have a clue,” comments girlfriend and fellow board member Sue McDonald.

“But I know it’s the right thing to do,” responds Mr. Myers. “I’m going on blind faith.”

He plans to feed to house, and is trying to do so by getting a delivery service that would get packages of food to the house. Except the delivery service would cost $40,000 a month, for 1700 packages – far more than Mr. Myers could use. So he plans on going to Salvation Army and getting them to help out.

Paying rent could be a big problem for residents, so Mr. Myers is planning on providing jobs for them. He had plans and approval to provide concessions at Thunderhill and the Glenn County Fairgrounds, and all he needed was a catering trailer. Then the day after closing on the house, Mr. Myers was at juvenile court providing support for his son when he met Sandra Foxx, a 60-year-old woman providing in-home care. Ms. Foxx, who used to deal drugs, was eager to help. Explaining his plans to her, Ms. Foxx pipes up with the news that she knows a Chico pastor with a suitable trailer.

“When you came up to me, you told me you thought God sent you there,” said Mr. Myers. “You tell me you’ve got a catering trailer? (Then) I know He did!”

In one sense, Mr. Myers’ crew will be complementing the efforts of county departments.

But through the group’s volunteer efforts and organization, for the same cost as government programs, Unity in Recovery clients will get lots of extra service: housing and a living-on-site manager, and perhaps even food.

Mr. Myers’ program costs $450 per month, and provides housing, an on-site manager, the support of other residents, and requires three group meetings a week, about 13 per month.

In contrast, consider a program coordinated by Alcohol and Drug Services’ Karen Dexter, planned if grant money comes through. Ms. Dexter’s program would involve would cost the federal government $444 per month per person. Her target population is slightly different – co-occuring mental health and substance abuse cases, and her scope is larger: an anticipated 150 people over three years.

But the program would provide the same 13 meetings a month; and though a quarter of the meeting will be one-on-one with a licensed therapist, Ms. Dexter anticipates only about half of clients will attend all meetings.

The group is volunteering their time, and voluntarily staying on their current trajectory.

They worry about being able to keep a functioning board, mentioning past members and associates that have drifted away.

Of Amy, a former drug court graduate that’s relapsed: “I know she’s kicking herself harder than anyone else,” said Sue McDonald.

Of Tina, a former board member: “She went back to her boyfriend...she’s not making the right choices, but that’s okay,” Ms. McDonald says, noting that that the choice was Tina’s.

Crafting the rules, there’s a thin line between too-tough love and too much forgiveness.

“You don’t want to say one (dirty test), bam you’re gone,” said Mr. Coyle. “It could be the one relapse that lifts you up.”

From an early draft of rules, Mr. Myers has dropped rules, like no cell phones and a requirement that residents account for all money earned with receipts.

This isn’t just an empire in embryo, it’s also a network, and has the smell of a grand anti-drug alliance.

The group is getting help and support from the community: Mr. Coyle is throwing in an antique table he says he has no use for; Orland supervisor Tracey Quarne is donating tiling

The contractor who’s doing work on the sidewalks and gutters offered to throw in labor for the garage free, as well as let Mr. Myers do flooring work under his license.

“And if he does that, I’ll hire him to do my driveway,” says Beth xxx, another board member.
They’re also connected with other, similar houses.

Mr. Coyle, who helps to run the new sober living house for men in Willows, is on the board. Mr. Myers is in regular communication with former Orland junkie Jason Gray, who runs a sober living house in Red Bluff. Both Mr. Coyle and Mr. Myers have taken many of their rules from Mr. Gray.

“I was going to do (a house for) men, but you guys really helped us out,” Mr. Myers tells Mr. Coyle.

Mr. Myers refers to the Glenn County: Not in Our Town anti-drug organization.

“Jim Bettencourt is working on the kids,” he says. “We’re working on the parents.”

Orland sober living house, pt. 3 of series

Orland – Meet Glenn Myers: wily entrepreneur and benevolent volunteer, bubbling over with do-good empire-building schemes and dreams, planning to open a sober living house in Orland.

“I get high off this,” he jokes. “But there’s no downside.”

If a Red Bluff recovery house run by former Orland junkie Jason Gray is in toddlerhood, and a Willows sober living house is in infancy, then this baby is in embryo.

The future is hopeful if ethereal – but does Mr. Myers ever have plans.

One day after Mr. Myers closes on the house – which he bought by refinancing his own – he mentions future plans to pull the equity out and plug it into another house for abused women.

He plans to redo the bathroom, put in 550 square feet of tiles, pull up the carpet, put in sidewalks and gutters, put in an office, and make the house ADA compliant, all at a cost of seven to 10 grand. And he predicts that they’ve have the house open in a month, something his girlfriend and fellow organizer Sue McDonald smilingly disagrees with.

“He doesn’t have a clue,” comments girlfriend and fellow board member Sue McDonald.

“But I know it’s the right thing to do,” responds Mr. Myers. “I’m going on blind faith.”

He plans to feed to house, and is trying to do so by getting a delivery service that would get packages of food to the house. Except the delivery service would cost $40,000 a month, for 1700 packages – far more than Mr. Myers could use. So he plans on going to Salvation Army and getting them to help out.

Paying rent could be a big problem for residents, so Mr. Myers is planning on providing jobs for them. He had plans and approval to provide concessions at Thunderhill and the Glenn County Fairgrounds, and all he needed was a catering trailer. Then the day after closing on the house, Mr. Myers was at juvenile court providing support for his son when he met Sandra Foxx, a 60-year-old woman providing in-home care. Ms. Foxx, who used to deal drugs, was eager to help. Explaining his plans to her, Ms. Foxx pipes up with the news that she knows a Chico pastor with a suitable trailer.

“When you came up to me, you told me you thought God sent you there,” said Mr. Myers. “You tell me you’ve got a catering trailer? (Then) I know He did!”

In one sense, Mr. Myers’ crew will be complementing the efforts of county departments.

But through the group’s volunteer efforts and organization, for the same cost as government programs, Unity in Recovery clients will get lots of extra service: housing and a living-on-site manager, and perhaps even food.

Mr. Myers’ program costs $450 per month, and provides housing, an on-site manager, the support of other residents, and requires three group meetings a week, about 13 per month.

In contrast, consider a program coordinated by Alcohol and Drug Services’ Karen Dexter, planned if grant money comes through. Ms. Dexter’s program would involve would cost the federal government $444 per month per person. Her target population is slightly different – co-occuring mental health and substance abuse cases, and her scope is larger: an anticipated 150 people over three years.

But the program would provide the same 13 meetings a month; and though a quarter of the meeting will be one-on-one with a licensed therapist, Ms. Dexter anticipates only about half of clients will attend all meetings.

The group is volunteering their time, and voluntarily staying on their current trajectory.

They worry about being able to keep a functioning board, mentioning past members and associates that have drifted away.

Of Amy, a former drug court graduate that’s relapsed: “I know she’s kicking herself harder than anyone else,” said Sue McDonald.

Of Tina, a former board member: “She went back to her boyfriend...she’s not making the right choices, but that’s okay,” Ms. McDonald says, noting that that the choice was Tina’s.

Crafting the rules, there’s a thin line between too-tough love and too much forgiveness.

“You don’t want to say one (dirty test), bam you’re gone,” said Mr. Coyle. “It could be the one relapse that lifts you up.”

From an early draft of rules, Mr. Myers has dropped rules, like no cell phones and a requirement that residents account for all money earned with receipts.

This isn’t just an empire in embryo, it’s also a network, and has the smell of a grand anti-drug alliance.

The group is getting help and support from the community: Mr. Coyle is throwing in an antique table he says he has no use for; Orland supervisor Tracey Quarne is donating tiling

The contractor who’s doing work on the sidewalks and gutters offered to throw in labor for the garage free, as well as let Mr. Myers do flooring work under his license.

“And if he does that, I’ll hire him to do my driveway,” says Beth xxx, another board member.
They’re also connected with other, similar houses.

Mr. Coyle, who helps to run the new sober living house for men in Willows, is on the board. Mr. Myers is in regular communication with former Orland junkie Jason Gray, who runs a sober living house in Red Bluff. Both Mr. Coyle and Mr. Myers have taken many of their rules from Mr. Gray.

“I was going to do (a house for) men, but you guys really helped us out,” Mr. Myers tells Mr. Coyle.

Mr. Myers refers to the Glenn County: Not in Our Town anti-drug organization.

“Jim Bettencourt is working on the kids,” he says. “We’re working on the parents.”