Placer County partners with homophobic church for poll training. Residents are rightly upset

·4 min read
Daniel Kim/dkim@sacbee.com

In preparation for the June primary election, Placer County officials are conducting poll worker training at facilities around the county, among them the community center at Rocklin’s controversial Destiny Church. Several residents have already contacted county officials to express legitimate concerns.

“Poll workers training is not a partisan task nor church function,” Placer resident Murial Moore wrote in a letter to County Clerk Ryan Ronco, Health Officer Rob Oldham and the Placer County Board of Supervisors. “The need to rethink where the training … takes place is critical.”

The Rocklin megachurch is best known in the community for defying COVID guidelines by holding indoor church services; promoting homophobic and transphobic views; and advising congregants to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom in a blatant violation of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and other tax-exempt organizations from speaking for or against candidates for elected office.

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Ronco attributed the county’s decision to rent Destiny Church’s community center for $100 a day to a lack of other available venues of the size and price necessary for poll worker training. He said the county considered numerous options before deciding on Destiny, including @ The Grounds, the former fairgrounds, which costs $1,500 a day; and Union Brick by Wedgewood Weddings, which would have cost several thousand dollars. The county also considered Rocklin’s Sunset Center, which was booked on some of the dates needed and not large enough to accommodate the 120 people expected.

“We even reached out to some of our local movie theaters to see if they would work with us on hosting the training, but at anywhere from $800 a day to $250 an hour, they also proved to be expensive, especially given that they weren’t able to provide the capacity we needed,” Ronco said. The county clerk added that the county’s use of the community center “does not in any way signal support for the ideas of Destiny Christian Church.”

The county’s explanation hasn’t assuaged community frustrations. Placer resident and small-business owner Myra Jolivet said she was “excited” to work the polls until she was told where the training would be.

“I was appalled that one of the training locations selected was the facility of an organization known nationwide for its bold bigotry and divisiveness,” Jolivet wrote in her letter to Placer officials. “Did anyone give thought to the fact that Destiny Church and all that it stands for is distasteful to those of us who practice anti-racism, anti-bigotry and believe in the integrity of the democratic process?”

Roseville resident Holly Cuthbertson, a vice president of the Placer Action Network, a local Democratic club, also sent a letter to Placer officials expressing her dismay.

“This incident has tested my trust in the county and leadership to make sound decisions,” Cuthbertson wrote. “I hope that more consideration will be taken in the future to ensure that decisions this completely out of touch with the community don’t happen in the future.”

The megachurch has made national headlines for its defiance of California’s COVID guidelines restricting indoor gatherings and, more recently, Pastor Greg Fairrington’s announcement that he would hand out COVID vaccine exemptions to anyone who wanted one.

“(Fairrington’s) actions have most certainly led to the spread of this virus which, as of May, has killed over 1 million Americans,” Roseville resident Glenda Atwood Hay wrote to county officials. “This is not a safe place for volunteers to spend five minutes, let alone four hours.”

In the future, Ronco said, the county will not need to rely on outside venues. A Rocklin building purchased by the county will soon be home to the Placer County Clerk-Recorder-Elections Office and Warehouse, which will include a 120-person training and conference facility. Ronco said he and his team were originally set to move in this month, but supply chain issues have delayed the project to the end of the year.

Additionally, Ronco said the county can accommodate poll workers who feel uncomfortable stepping into Destiny’s community center with training at a county office in Auburn.

“Hopefully, by the time of the November election, we will have our construction completed, and our own training facility will be ready for use,” Ronco said.

A series of unfortunate events may have forced the county to make a difficult decision to ensure the election runs smoothly. But spending taxpayer money on an organization that promotes bigotry and lawlessness undermines the spirit of the democratic processes the county is responsible for.

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