The Bay Area sheriff who gained notoriety in May for refusing to enforce his county's public health orders says that budget cuts would mean no more rescue copter for the cash-strapped and currently burning Sonoma County.
You may remember Sonoma County sheriff Mark Essick, who gained statewide notoriety in late May when he refused to enforce the county health officer's orders about businesses staying closed, or as he told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, “I’m not following this fucking health order.” The sheriff has placed himself back in the news amidst ongoing fire containment efforts in Sonoma County, which take place against a backdrop of a $45 million budget deficit for the county. KPIX reports Essick is threatening to eliminate a emergency helicopter program known as "Henry 1," often used for situations like this, and currently, in fire rescue missions.
To put a point on the importance of their copter program, his department’s Facebook page posted the daunting rescue video from last Friday night seen below. The video is chilling (though ultimately uplifting), with the recognizable rescue action starting at the 3:00 mark. Two Marin County firefighters are trapped on a burning ridge, and get coptered away, hanging from cords, placed in what they call the “Bambi bucket.” As they dangle from a flying helicopter atop a burning landscape — a situation where most of us would be creaming hysterically and/or pooping our pants — the Marin fireman merely deadpans, “Fuck. Thank you for coming.”
And a week before, Essick posted a Facebook video basically asking residents to complain and exempt his office from the same across-the-board cuts that every single other Sonoma County agency is being forced to endure. “This year, the Board of Supervisors asked us to cut $14.2 million,” Essick says in the video. “There is no fat to trim.”
But the Board of Supervisors is firing back that Sheriff Essick is just pulling a raw political move. “I think each department could have gone onto Facebook and said, ‘Look at what the county is making me do,’” board chair Susan Gorin told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “We are all scrambling to try to sustain services, identify our essential services and work with all departments to minimize impacts.”
Her colleague Shirley Zane was more blunt. “He is bullying the Board of Supervisors through social media,” Supervisor Zane told the paper.
What Sheriff Essick does not disclose is that he has the latitude to cut that $14 million from his budget however he sees fit. He does not have to end the Henry 1 copter program, he can find those savings elsewhere. (And as the Press Democrat adds, the copter has been on the chopping block before in 2012, and “was spared partly through private donations used to form the nonprofit foundation Friends of Henry 1 amid budget cuts that came as a response to the Great Recession.”) This seems to be political game from a sheriff’s office trying to not be defunded that way every other county service is being defunded, using some scare tactics that may not be above ground.
Image: Sonoma County Sheriff