The last straw?

File photo from Sacramento County

Editor’s note: After a meeting that led to a COVID-19 quarantine, two Sacramento County supervisors call for CEO’s resignation

Sacramento County CEO Nav Gill is under pressure to step down after he hosted an indoor meeting that appeared to violate COVID-19 safety rules and led to the quarantine of top county officials.

County Supervisors Phil Serna and Patrick Kennedy are calling for Gill’s resignation, saying that they no longer have confidence in his leadership. As of Wednesday morning, Gill had not responded.

Serna, the board chairman, and Kennedy, who represents District 2, sent a three-paragraph memo to Gill. “As you are well aware, we have had as a board and individually, several difficult conversations of late calling into question your patterned behavior and questionable leadership and decision making. The events of the past few days, as well as hearing from county staff, have elevated our concerns.”

“Realizing the weight of this situation, and the effect this continues to have on our constituents, the people of Sacramento County, we no longer have confidence in you as Chief Executive Officer of the County of Sacramento and call for your resignation,” the memo continues.

“Of course, with the intention of serving the employees and residents of Sacramento County we commit ourselves to work with you for a smooth transition should you choose to resign.”

UPDATE: On Friday, Gill sent a short email to supervisors saying he plans to stay on the job: “Phil & Patrick – In response to your memo of October 20th, and after careful thought, I don’t plan to resign.”

If he doesn’t step down, it would take four of the five supervisors to fire Gill, who was unanimously appointed county executive in January 2016 and was assistant county executive since 2007.

Serna is calling on the other three supervisors to publicly state their positions on Gill, The Sacramento Bee reports. Don Nottoli is suggesting a personnel session, while Sue Frost and Susan Peters have not commented.

“Just as you should have confidence in me as an elected member of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, the Board itself, the public we represent, and thousands of proud county public servants must have confidence in the administrative head of the largest local government in the Sacramento Valley. That necessity for trust and assurance is even more pronounced during a historic pandemic,” Serna posted on Facebook late Tuesday night.

That came hours after the Board of Supervisors meeting, where Gill did not publicly apologize for the Oct. 15 gathering of more than 40 officials after which one tested positive.

Earlier in the pandemic, Gill had faced criticism for his handling of federal COVID-19 relief money. Instead of using the cash to combat the virus or provide relief to businesses, as the city of Sacramento did with its share, the county instead used most of its $148 million to pay salaries for sheriff’s, probation and public health employees and to avoid cuts to existing services.

But at an Aug. 11 meeting, supervisors were told by public health officials that not all their needs to fight the coronavirus pandemic were being approved. Gill said that was news to him and told supervisors he was disappointed and embarrassed by the lack of communication. Later in August, supervisors approved $45 million more for public health efforts.

That controversy also revealed allegations from Public Health staff that Gill, Health Services Director Peter Beilenson and deputy County Executive Bruce Wagstaff had fostered “an environment of intimidation, bullying and dismissiveness” toward county Health Officer Olivia Kasirye and other Public Health staff. They have denied those allegations.

Also this year, criminal justice reform advocates have assailed Gill for proposing what they call a business as usual budget that was largely approved by supervisors.

Sacramento County CEO Nav Gill

This latest incident was apparently the last straw for Kennedy and Serna.

The county says at last week’s meeting, there was “appropriate social distancing” and that “a majority of meeting participants came into the meeting wearing face coverings.” While some took off their face masks, they were seated at least six feet apart from each other, and Gill was at the front of the room and at least 10 feet away, the county statement said.

Later that evening, one participant received a positive coronavirus test, all those in the meeting were contacted and those seated near that individual were quarantined, the county said.

None of the five supervisors attended Tuesday’s board meeting in person. Serna told Gill he was frustrated and said: “This cannot happen again.”

At Serna’s urging, Gill said he will send a countywide email reminding employees of safety rules of wearing masks, social distancing and holding remote meetings whenever possible.

Gregg Fishman, who is a Nov. 3 runoff with Rich Desmond for the supervisors seat now held by Susan Peters, joined the call for Gill’s resignation.

“Most of the county senior staff have been exposed to COVID-19 through the arrogant, negligent behavior of the CEO,” Fishman said in a statement Wednesday. “These are the people who are supposed to help us get through the pandemic, not conduct spreader events that violate their own rules. Nav Gill should resign or be fired for gross negligence.”

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