Three candidates vying for the District 2 seat on the Trinity County Board of Supervisors representing most of Weaverville are seeking to replace the three-term incumbent Judy Morris who announced earlier this year she would not run for a fourth term.
Two candidates are new to the field: Jill Cox, a teacher and business owner, and Melanie Miller, a retired business owner and comedienne. Tom Fox, who has described himself as self-employed, a student of law and now retired, has run for the District 2 seat before, challenging Morris four years ago. He declined the Journal’s invitation for an interview last week.
District 2 boundaries encompass most of Weaverville except for a portion at the north end that’s in District 4 and part of the East Weaver neighborhood in District 1.
The incumbent supervisor’s current four-year term runs through the end of the calendar year, but the seat is up for election on the March 3 primary ballot. A candidate must receive 50 percent plus one vote in order to win the seat in March and take office next January. If none do, there will be a runoff election in November between the top two.
Cox, 54, is a 31-year resident of Trinity County, moving here sight unseen as a newlywed when her husband, Kent, accepted a teaching job in Hayfork where he continues to teach junior high school. She has a bachelor’s degree in piano performance/music theory and a California teaching credential, having taught kindergarten through fourth graders and as a substitute teacher in the early years of her career.
She has run her own advertising business for 16 years, working with corporate directors, marketing directors, finance officers and other business owners to create, produce and display theater advertising.
Cox also currently teaches piano and music theory to about 20 private students who’ve ranged over the years in ages between 4 and 82. She is the mother of three sons and a daughter between 17 and 25.
She said she is running for county supervisor “because I love this county. I and others I talk to have felt estranged from local governance and frustrated with some of the directions taken over the last few years. I’m now at a season in my life where I can give back to my community, and I want to.”
Saying she values the power of collaboration, Cox has been conducting her campaign by interviewing up to 45 individuals to date, seeking to educate herself about current local issues and possible ways forward through collaboration with the Board of Supervisors. She interviewed the county administrative officer, sheriff, undersheriff, the deputy who took her on a ride-along, county department heads, members of the legal, faith, real estate, logging, education and cannabis communities, the Forest Service, Weaverville and Trinity County chambers of commerce and current or retiring business owners.
“What I found was a vast array of extremely knowledgeable, experienced, creative citizens. I would be honored to facilitate the collaboration of these and others, which I believe would produce exciting, positive results,” she said, adding “I didn’t realize before how much people do, give and invest of themselves in this community. I am so appreciative. Trinity County is a special and unique gem, and I want to give back, work hard and see a lot of positive things going forward.”
On specific issues, Cox said her experience with cannabis was her father’s use for pain as he was dying of cancer, “and I appreciated clean, well-operated, regulated dispensers with compassionate caregivers who were so patient with my ignorance and willing to walk a moving target with me. What I have a problem with is the invasion of our land by the illegal portion of the cannabis industry that’s been so ravaging and disrespectful. It’s not fair to those trying to do it well, and a few bad ones color it for everyone.”
She said she believes the county’s response was “a hurry-up offense that was not wise, and running ordinances ahead of a general plan update was not wisdom in leadership. Now it’s a real mess for everyone to figure out, and I think we can all agree it’s not fair to the growers or the non-growers.”
Cox is passionate about ideas to revitalize Weaverville’s Main Street in ways that will make it a weekend destination for visitors within the region whether they come “to get a little bit gritty” on the trails, hiking, biking and four-wheeling, or they come for weekend festivals celebrating local arts, crafts and history.
She envisions a number of small businesses that could be encouraged “if we welcome visitors with open arms by learning their lingo, providing everything they forgot to bring, and services they might need while they’re here.”
“We can’t judge the future within the limitations of the present,” she said, adding she would like to help create a defining and overriding vision “of what we want to see our county become, one through which all opportunities, ideas and proposals get vetted.”
Regarding law enforcement, Cox praised the efforts of Sheriff Tim Saxon and she pledged if elected she will do whatever possible to ensure he gets the funding he needs “to eradicate what’s illegal.”
Other top priorities on her list include support for a long-awaited update of the county’s general plan because it is the document that defines the county’s vision; and efforts to develop redundant, reliable high-speed internet access, both for local residents who could benefit from the ability to work remotely and for visitors who won’t come if they don’t have cell phone or internet service.
Attending all current Board of Supervisors’ meetings, Cox said she’s observed “a lack of civility sitting in that room. We need to raise the level of professionalism.” She added that the board “needs to embrace transparency and submit to accountability.”
Regarding upcoming ballot measures for the March 3 election, Cox said she does not support Measure A, the proposed cannabis tax, as written, but would support a collaborative effort involving all stakeholders to develop a tax all could support. All three of the District 2 candidates said they support Measures D and E to form a special district and tax to help fund Trinity Life Support ambulance services. Cox and Miller are also supportive of the Trinity Alps Unified School District’s efforts through Measure F to raise a bond to fund mold remediation and other improvements to facilities.
Miller, 67, is known by many in Weaverville as the “Deli Llama,” having owned and operated her delicatessen Trinideli for 25 years before retiring last June. She has also produced 103 Comedy Night shows in Trinity County, performing her own stand-up comedy routines and showcasing many others over the past several years.
She said what most people don’t know is that she was the first woman oil refinery inspector hired by Chevron and worked during the 1970s and ’80s at the Richmond (Calif.) oil refinery with 2,500 other employees who were all male.
She attended night college to earn an associate degree in non-destructive examination techniques involving radiology, metallurgy and ultrasound among others.
Miller credits that time for teaching her how to work with a variety of government agencies and one-on-one with environmental regulators statewide.
“It was just a great job that paid really well, and I’ve been 45 feet below ground in the Bay Area,” she said.
Finding Trinity County while on a vacation, she decided to move here in 1987 because “I wanted a nice safe place to raise my daughter.” For work, she started her Comedy Night gig in the original New York Saloon and toured the West Coast with her stand-up routines that often included a smattering of local politics.
“The thing with comedy is you connect with all kinds of people or you fail. I’ve had a few of those nights, too, and then you bail, real fast,” she said.
She began producing shows to bring in other talent from outside of Trinity County, and then opened her own deli.
“I always loved delicatessens and I knew I was a good cook,” Miller said, noting that through her 25 years in business she had to deal with burglaries (solving them herself when deputies were not available), vandalism, wildfire evacuations and county layoffs of some of her frequent customers.
“I learned to adapt to all those changes and keep running. I’m proud I never had to lay off an employee. I’ve gone without pay, but not my employees,” she said, adding she is a problem-solver.
Miller said she is running for county supervisor because she always wanted to, she now has the time, “and I hope I can help. I am retired, but my mouth has miles to go.”
She said she is campaigning by listening and speaking with people, but declined to be specific on issues until the Soroptimists’ candidates’ night was held last week in Weaverville.
She also shuns campaign signs, saying she always made fun of the “clutter” in her comedy routines so she “can’t be a hypocrite now,” and considers door-to-door campaigning a huge invasion of someone’s home.
“I’m beholden to no one. All the money I collected was to pay my filing fees. I am who I am, and I say what I mean. People will know where I stand. I have no poker face. We don’t have to all agree, but can everybody start being a little nicer? Why does everything have to be an argument? We need to be working together as a whole county,” she said.
During the candidates’ night hosted by the Soroptimists Jan. 30 in the Trinity Alps Performing Arts Center, Miller was one of seven participating candidates responding to written questions submitted by audience members and read by the moderator, Trinity County Schools Supt. Sarah Supahan.
Regarding cannabis, Miller said Trinity County’s abundance of lakes, streams, fields “and Mother Nature have been taken from us before, but cannabis was given to us as a Plan B. Weaverville needs to look at the benefits to Southern Trinity, Hayfork and Downriver” and not defer to obstruction she believes is being caused by special interest groups, namely the Trinity Action Association that sued the county over its cannabis licensing program.
“Let’s try to hold on to our last best resource that makes a lot of money, and ‘no,’ I don’t grow weed,” she said, arguing Weaverville should be capitalizing on the industry as other parts of the county have.
Miller said she drives 120 miles outside of Trinity County to purchase a cannabis salve she uses for arthritis “in a town that hired 15 new deputies and built a new courthouse. Weaverville has an elitist attitude, and we don’t have enough money to be that. It’s embarrassing. We need to grow our economy.”
On public safety, she said there’s not much the Board of Supervisors can do “until we grow our economy,” and claimed cannabis fee revenue is not being accurately accounted for in the county. Regarding economic development, Miller said there are many companies that would like to relocate to Trinity County, “but the fees are too high and the county tries to grab it all at the beginning.”
On the topic of homelessness, Miller argued it’s a statewide issue, but also a local one caused by “slumlords making huge rent off these struggling people, but not upgrading where they live. We need to look at what boards these people are sitting on.”
Regarding upcoming ballot measures, Miller said she absolutely opposes Measure A, the proposed cannabis tax, comparing it to taxing for a sandwich before she’s made it.
Fox, 68, declined to be interviewed and indicated he was no fan of the candidates’ night format either, but shared some of his thoughts there, saying he prefers to handle his campaign by sending out a mailer to the voters in his district and seeking input either in person or by mail.
He said he was called on to run for office again by “a higher power” because “mostly we have no representation in county government. We have homelessness, drug problems, and law enforcement that isn’t there when we need them. We’ve got to come together as a community and can only make changes by getting involved.”
Several times he repeated that he doesn’t need or want the job of dealing with other people’s problems and would rather stay home “with my horses, chickens and garden, but when I have problems with homeless people at my driveway right in town, I need to get involved.”
Regarding plans and priorities, he said he currently has none, but will listen to the people of his district “and then I’ll set priorities. If elected, I’ll have 10 months to learn. The homeless problem, we’ve got to fix it. We can’t have people camping in East Weaver and shooting at 1 a.m. I have 12 years of law school I can bring to make us prosperous.”
On a question about how to prioritize public safety, Fox said changes are needed, noting “100 years ago we had posses and they didn’t get paid. To be a moral person doesn’t take money. We’ve got to change it. ‘We the People’ need to get off our tails and stand together.”
On the cannabis question, he said he grows four plants each year for his personal medical use in an oil he makes “that doesn’t get you high,” and he does not smoke it recreationally. He said cannabis is a medical necessity for some people, “and we need to capitalize on it. It’s an industry that can bring this county out of the gutter, but we need a tax on it that works.”
Asked about plans to improve communications, transportation or other efforts to promote economic development, Fox said he doesn’t have any and would study it by asking the people.
“Our Constitution sets up a government of, for and by the people with the consent of the people and we don’t have that now. This is a secret mission for me to get into the Board of Supervisors. I don’t want to. It is costing me family time with my 11 grandkids,” he said.
Fox said if he were a millionaire, he’d be for getting the homeless people into a home of some kind, “but the county doesn’t want to spend money on that.” He added many of the homeless cases stem from mental illness, but “we’ve got over 1,000 living in our forests right around Weaverville. I don’t know how to fix it. I tried to offer work to the ones in my driveway, but they don’t want to work. That’s what we’ve got to address. Maybe we can get them working out there cleaning our forests.”
He’s not a fan of taxation and doesn’t support Measure A though he said he hasn’t read it yet, but he does support Measures D and E for the ambulance service, noting his wife was injured and her life was saved “so let’s keep the ambulances. That’s a no brainer. Some taxes you need and that’s a valid one.”
In closing, Fox said the candidates’ forum “was not a good night. I don’t have thoughts. I want to represent the people. I will lead people to the table. Tell me what you want.”