Kelly Wooster’s stupid joke has cost us. It has been divisive. It has pitted some of us against others. It’s wasted our resources, our precious time. It has brought unwanted attention to the dark side of Calaveras County. It exposed our bigotry. We won’t recover for a long time.

On March 3, at a public meeting, Planning Commissioner Wooster asked if Mexicans should be included among unwanted “invasive species” we should target in our laws and ordinances. His foolish words were a staggering affront.

It comes on the heels of an earlier proclamation by county supervisors to commend a religious group for its work in our community.

In 2014, the supervisors praised a group for its “advocacy and education” that “seeks to enlighten and strengthen the lives of women and young women in Calaveras County by inviting them to test and see for themselves the many blessings that can come from living the teachings of Christ.”

I like Christ’s teachings. They set a moral standard. But it’s not the supervisors’ job to hold one religion up as testimony for us. Other religions have some good teachings, too. Some non-Christians were rightfully offended, but the supervisors, in their hubris, could have cared less. Good Christians all, they stood their ground. The message to such infidels, it appeared to me: Get yourself in line.

Then along comes Commissioner Wooster. Whatever was going through his mind, who knows? It makes no difference now. The words came from his mouth. He then, belatedly, apologized, limply. His bosses, the board of supervisors, accepted that apology. Except Supervisor Chris Wright, who called for Wooster’s resignation. All elected and appointed county officials now will get some sensitivity training, the supervisors said.

So I dug into the matter. In 2014, surprisingly, after the debacle over the teachings of Christ, the board did some homework, or at least its hired minions did. They came up with a masterpiece of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo called “Administrative Policy: Discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.” It’s designed to protect the supervisors from lawsuits. Religion isn’t particularly highlighted, but the message is clear. It could be called the “Let’s Just Don’t Be a Jerk Policy.”

It declares a “zero tolerance” for nastiness, its words not mine.

“This policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of the following protected classes and/or characteristics: Race; sex/gender; sexual orientation; gender identity/expression; religion; age; color; creed; national or ethnic origin; physical, mental or sensory disability, including disability requiring the use of a trained service animal; marital status; genetic information; and/or status as veteran or member of the military.”

It goes on in great detail.

Among the passages, pertinent now, is a ban on: “Jokes or derogatory, disparaging, derisive or offensive comments, or inappropriate/unprofessional use of slang or foul language which can be heard by those in the vicinity …”

Unfortunately, the “zero tolerance” clause is toothless. The first remedy to any offense is in the ear of the listener. The first step for that listener is to tell the offender to shut up:

“Some discrimination and/or harassment may be stopped by the complainant taking the initiative and telling or informing the harasser to stop the unwanted conduct. This process is known as ‘self-help.’”

It says, “some people who engage in harassment are unaware that their conduct is offensive and will stop if told to do so. Therefore, whenever it is reasonably possible under the circumstances, a complainant should tell the harasser in person, in clear and unambiguous words, that the conduct is offensive and ask the harasser to stop. If, under the circumstances, it is not possible to do this in person, then the complainant should do so in writing.”

OK, so much for “zero tolerance.”

There’s a more drawn-out, more formal process, of course, that calls for filling out a form and having the human resources folks investigate. I don’t know if in Wooster’s case it ever came to that. I really doubt it.

The issue then becomes whether Wooster’s comments represented a pattern of misconduct. Has he made such statements in the past?

To his credit, nobody’s come forward to say so.

That leaves the supervisors, and us, in a quandary. The county’s policy on discrimination clearly applies to its rank-and-file employees. An abusive employee would be warned, but then, if he or she repeated the offense, would be fired, I presume. Should an elected or appointed employee be given the grace of a first strike, too? Do we hold elected and appointed officials to a higher standard? There’s the rub. The policy doesn’t address that.

Supervisors could have decided that issue this week, but they didn’t. Until they do, this business with Kelly Wooster’s joke isn’t just unfunny, it’s unfinished.

Buzz Eggleston is a retired editor of the Calaveras Enterprise. Contact him at buzz.calent@gmail.com.

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