A history of leadership
When people first made the trek west to Shasta County in 1850s, they did so because they were willing to sacrifice the ease and comfort of a normal life for a better one. They were willing to lead.
When FDR announced the construction of the nation’s 2nd largest dam and people moved from all over the western states here, they did so because they saw a path to a better life and because they wanted to be part of something historic. They were willing to lead.
When the Wintu, Pit River, and Yana tribes fought to regain their tribal identity and land in the 1980s, they did so because they believed a better life was possible for their children. They were willing to lead.
Shasta County has a long history of leaders. In fact, Shasta County was 1 of the original 27 counties in California. As Mark Twain said, “The easy and slothful didn’t come to California. They stayed home.”
But somewhere throughout the years as our state’s coastal cities grew in size and prominence, we began to believe what others – who didn’t and don’t know us – said about us. We began to believe that instead of being leaders and pioneers, we were insignificant and incapable of doing anything historic. Rather than being the vanguard, we began to believe we were outcasts and misfits.
Let me be clear – this is not true. And yet, this belief has turned into our reality in many unfortunate ways. Today, we have:
- A childhood trauma rate 2.5 times the state average
- We have the highest suicide rate in California and it’s not even close. We’re 2.5 times above the state average
- We have the highest divorce rate in California
- Our roads score just a 49 out of 100, putting us in the poor category with just 6 counties below us
You might be thinking – “Matt, I thought you said this would be a positive vision for the county. I didn’t know that this is what you meant by change the conversation.”
I know, but though, it may not feel like it, this is actually the beginning of a positive vision for the county because the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it exists. Unfortunately, our leaders are not talking enough about these challenges.
I believe we can solve these challenges and make Shasta an even better place to live. I believe it is our time to lead.
What must we do in order to lead?
To lead, we must believe. We must believe that we can make progress where other counties and other generations have fallen short.
To lead, we must focus. We must focus on the challenges we all agree exist and avoid getting distracted by the dysfunction taking place some 3,000 miles away and dominating our screens.
To lead, we must excel. We must excel in how we operate our county government, how we raise our families, and how we run our businesses.
To lead, we must collaborate. We must collaborate in spite of our disagreements, finding a way to disagree without being disagreeable, finding a way to unite around the common challenges we face rather than the party we affiliate with.
To lead, we must believe.
With those odds stacked against us, limited resources, and a rural economy, how could we possibly lead the 4th largest economy in the world? As long as we believe we can’t lead, we will have no chance of leading.
I know something about a small town that led.
I grew up in a small, rural town one square mile big. I had just 16-18 kids in my class. One would say there was nothing special about our little town of Califon. Not business, not natural resources, not beauty.
But there was something special about Califon. We had a reputation for having an amazing community, excelling in education, and holding our own in sports. When I graduated from the regional 300-person high school class several years later, 2 of us from my 16-person class placed in the top 5 students – and 2 of us from my 16-person won the male and female athletes of the year. How did we do this?
Let me share one example of how. When I was 10 years old, my 4th-grade teacher asked me if I wanted to come in early a few days a week to do some harder reading with her. My fifth-grade teacher did the same for me and a few of my other classmates. Our little school re-arranged the whole 6th-8th grade schedules to make it possible for a group of us to go to the high school each morning for advanced math.
You see, my little town didn’t get discouraged by its size and lack of resources. Great everyday people took it upon themselves to sacrifice for the good of others, to notice the people around them and invest in them, to put in the extra hours. There’s no reason why Shasta County can’t do this too.
And in fact, I do see this happening here too. Teachers at Redding School of the Arts where my kids go to school and my wife teaches have extended the same opportunity to my kids and others at a cost to themselves.
And we see leadership in other forms here too. A coffee shop that started in Redding will compete for the top coffee roaster in the country this fall. A woman that grew up in Redding has led the US women’s soccer team to multiple world championships. Just a few months ago, entrepreneurs from this community built the first 3D-printed home in California.
It’s time for us to believe that we are called to lead. It’s time for leadership to move from a few isolated examples to the defining characteristic of this community.
We can lead. It’s time we believe that we can.
To lead, we must focus.
If you ask most people in Shasta County – and in fact, around the state, what are the top issues they want to see addressed, two issues will almost always find themselves onto that list: crime and homelessness.
We should and we must take specific action on these issues. For example, we need to get to work on building a new jail so that we can both hold those who commit crimes on our streets accountable and we can effectively rehabilitate those same people so they can reenter society as productive members.
But even as we address these dual challenges, we must not be deceived that we are solving these problems. In fact, we will only be putting a bandaid on a deep wound that will continue to surface in various destructive ways throughout our community. We must address this deep wound – which I’m calling the Five Factors of Family Failure because we are among the worst in the state on these 5 dimensions
- Child abuse and neglect
- Childhood trauma
- Percent of kids growing up without parents
- Domestic violence
I elevate these issues, not to cause anyone any shame, but to bring them the needed focus to help address them. And let me emphasize that single parents, divorced adults, and victims of abuse of any kind need the support, not the condemnation, of their community.
These 5 factors of family failures are the root cause of the crime and homelessness challenges that we see so visibly. If we don’t improve in these areas, we will be forced to keep building bigger jails and more micro-shelters. We must focus on overcoming them.
When working with the foundation started by the owner of Wendy’s, I remember reading the child services case file of a young girl who had moved from house to house in the system experiencing even further unspeakable incidents of abuse from those who were supposed to care for her… until an older, single woman who had already adopted several children decided she could love one more. That single, older woman changed those children’s future.
The goal of the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program was to find more people like that woman who was willing to adopt older children in spite of their past trauma and abuse. A five-year national evaluation revealed that children referred to the program are up to 3x more likely to be adopted – so we focused on getting the program to more states and we recruited a funder who focused its resources on growing the program as well.
This is what focus looks like – finding an evidence-based program that works and focusing people and financial resources on growing it to meet the need.
To lead, we must focus – both on the challenges we can all agree exist and on the programs that are proven to address them.
To lead, we must excel.
We have been told that a limited government is our goal. But a limited government is of little use if it is not also effective. I believe we should have the most excellent county government in the state. I believe our county government can become an efficient, effective problem-solving machine.
I mean, aren’t we tired of governments spending more and more of our money without making anything better? Governments don’t deserve the right to pat themselves on the back for announcing another spending package. You don’t get credit for spending our money. You get credit for making things better.
And there is no excellence without goals.
But currently, our county has no stated goals or priorities. Without goals, it only follows that the county has no written plans for achieving its objectives. How can we solve problems if we don’t have any published goals? And how can we the people hold the county accountable if we haven’t even agreed upon what it is trying to achieve? How can we make budget decisions if we don’t know what all the spending is supposed to accomplish?
Our county must have goals and it must report on the progress it makes toward those goals. The City of Redding publishes city-wide and department-specific goals with each of its budgets. We can too. And once we have goals and a way of measuring our progress towards those goals, then we must have plans for achieving those goals that the Board can review and approve.
If this sounds basic, you’re right. It’s hard to imagine any business operating without goals, metrics, and plans. It’s time our county excels.
If this sounds uncomfortable for those working and leading our county government, it may be, but excellence isn’t achieved easily. Excellence is forged on the anvil of hard work.
I don’t say this to shame our current county staff. No, I’m eager to work with any and all county staff to make this a reality.
Because I know, as well as all of you, that we can’t have an effective government if no one wants to work there if those with the most experience are leaving, and if those that remain are afraid to bring forth ideas to make it better. Excellent governments are places that attract excellent talent. Unfortunately, today, we are seeing many leaders with years of knowledge and experience leaving our county government because of the toxic culture.
We are seeing key positions remain unfilled. For example, a whole floor of the jail has been closed for months because we can’t find enough deputies to keep it open. This is a travesty because even when fully opened, our jail is too small to hold those who commit crimes on our streets accountable.
And the problem is not only money. In fact, I was told of a law enforcement officer who transitioned to the jail to get the pay increase offered, only to leave within months because the environment was so bad.
I understand what it takes to help an organization excel because my career has been built around this very goal. Several years ago, I was working with the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia. When we started working with them, they thought they were doing great as the largest youth-serving organization in the city. However, an analysis I led showed that the vast majority of those they were “serving” came to their centers less than 4 times per year, making it impossible for them to have much impact on the majority of those they served. Together, we built a plan to change that.
A few years later, I worked with a large federal agency to slow the rise of diabetes. They had a program with proven effectiveness, but no strategic plan for getting it to the 90M people who needed the program. Working with them, we developed a 5-year plan to dramatically increase the number of people impacted by the program.
To lead, we must excel. We need a limited and effective government. We must turn our county government into an efficient, effective problem-solving machine.
To lead, we must collaborate.
We are arguably the most divided this county has been in recent history. We have experienced 5 recall attempts in the last 3 years. Come to a county board meeting and you’ll hear racial slurs, you’ll hear one adult calling another “an oversized toddler,” you’ll hear members of the public hurling the most demeaning insults at each of the board members.
And this divisiveness isn’t limited to board meetings, it is infecting every aspect of our lives. I have had many people during the campaign tell me that they are afraid to talk to their neighbors about anything but the blandest topics because they worry that deep-seated ideologically driven anger is lurking just beneath the surface. We apply labels, like radical leftists or MAGA extremists, to our neighbors, our teachers, and our school board members without having real conversations about what and why they believe the way they do.
Let’s be clear. No one group or party has a monopoly on these corrosive behaviors. In fact, we are seeing the third law of physics at work – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
But it must stop or we risk eroding the social fabric that makes our county a place we want to live and that enables us to make progress on the challenges we have discussed today.
I am not here to tell you that I’m going to be a unity candidate because we have experienced the emptiness of those words nationally and locally. Instead, I will tell you how I will lead.
I teach companies how to engage in better critical thinking and one of the key principles of critical thinking is to consider alternatives to your ideas and to look for weaknesses in your own thinking. This is the basis for how we get to better ideas and decisions and it is in the DNA of how I approach problem-solving. I understand that I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and that the best ideas come through the wrestling of differing opinions. I commit to you that not only will I listen to ideas and opinions that differ from my own, but I will proactively seek them out.
In fact, you can visit my website at mattplummer.com/listening-tour right now to share your opinions.
It’s time to put aside the childish personal attacks and turn our focus to the debating of ideas and actions. The problems that face us are not simple. It will take all of us. In fact, as one of our nation’s presidents once said, it will take a “great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.”
The need for collaboration is not only reserved to those in the county. It also refers to our relationship with the state.
Let me be clear. I have many disagreements with the policies and culture coming out of Sacramento. In fact, I spent 7 months working 60-70 hours a week without pay to help a candidate try to unseat Governor Newsom.
That said, the Board’s current approach to the state is destined for failure – and we are already seeing the consequences of this failed strategy. We are told that we can effectively give the state a middle finger by terminating our contract with Dominion voting machines and then boast about it on national and international news without any fallout. Well, the fallout is here already. There is currently a bill moving through the state legislature that not only would prohibit the termination of voting system contracts without a replacement in place, but would make it illegal to hand count an election when you have over 1,000 voters.
The current board’s approach is producing the exact opposite of what they promised – more state regulations and more intervention into our lives.
Instead of this approach that will result in a tighter grip on our county, I will employ a 3-part strategy to enhance local control and grow our freedoms:
- I will collaborate with other like-minded counties to take collective action rather than acting alone
- I will develop relationships with state officials, earning their respect through our collective excellence and honor, which will enable us to influence them
- I will grow support for our way of life by ensuring we’re operating with reason and excellence.
George Washington almost lost the Revolutionary War by employing the approach currently being used by the county board – a head-to-head battle against the far more powerful British Empire in New York City. Washington learned from this and shifted the strategy of the Continental Army to focus on winning the hearts and minds of people living in the colonies, launching more covert maneuvers, and ultimately collaborating with the French.
To lead, we must collaborate – both as a community and as fellow counties in the state.
It’s Our Time to Lead
I believe it is our time to lead. Any maybe, you’ve made it through this whole speech and you’re wondering – why is he so fixated on leading?
Well, there is one reason. We have but 2 choices: either lead or be led. If we do not lead, we will be led further down the path of crime, homelessness, mental illness, high cost of living, water shortages, and wildfires. If we do not lead, we will be led further down the path of division, anger, and fear. If we do not lead, our children and their children will be led to find somewhere else to call home and they will abandon the unparalleled beauty and rich history of leadership and grit that defines Shasta County.
We can lead. In fact, I believe there is nothing more natural to us. One day not too far from now, we will look back and remember what it took to produce the strongest families in the state, the healthiest children, the best roads, and the lowest crime rates. One day we will look back on the sacrifices we have made for the good of our family, our neighbors, and this county and count it all worth it. One day we will look back and realize that we have led this county into a better future.
Let’s take on this grand assignment before us and make future generations proud!
Thank you everyone!