Tuesday, 23 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – A man convicted of a 1995 murder has been denied parole in his first hearing before the Board of Prison Terms.

Fred Gene Stillman, 50, had his parole hearing on Nov. 19 at Avenal State Prison in Kings County, according to former Lake County District Attorney Gary Luck, who is now working as a part-time deputy district attorney.

Luck, who prosecuted the case before he was elected district attorney, attended the parole hearing to argue against Stillman's release from state prison.

In November 1995 Stillman was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and use of a deadly weapon in the murder of Bart Jackman earlier that same year, Luck said.

Stillman was found guilty of slaying Jackman outside of the Landmark Lounge in Clearlake, said Luck.

Stillman, his wife Luanne and daughter Jennifer all participated in the crime. Luanne Stillman was found guilty by the same jury that convicted her husband of assault with a deadly weapon. Jennifer Stillman, who was 16 years old at the time of the crime, was tried as a juvenile.

Fred Stillman received an indeterminate term of 16 years to life, according to Luck. During the same trial, Stillman also was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon on Michael Betts and was sentenced to an additional four-year term.

Luck said Stillman first had to serve two years of the four-year term before starting his life sentence on the murder conviction.

Based on his sentence, Stillman first became eligible for parole on Nov. 22, 2009. Luck said a parole hearing is generally conducted at least one year prior to the anticipated parole release date.

At his first hearing, Stillman's parole was denied, said Luck.

The commissioners denied parole, Luck said, citing Stillman’s lack of viable parole plans, insufficient participation in alcohol and substance abuse treatment, and lack of progress in completing any educational goals.

Luck said their decision also was impacted by the fact that Stillman was involved in several fights while in prison which would cause him to still present an unreasonable risk to public safety.

In concluding the hearing, the commissioners informed Stillman that he must make significant changes in his behavior and progress in completing his educational goals during the next five years if he hopes to get a parole release date at his next hearing, according to Luck.

The commissioners for the Board of Prison terms extended the time until Mr. Stillman’s next parole hearing for a five-year period. Luck said this means Stillman must serve another full five years in prison before he is again eligible to have a parole hearing.


MIDDLETOWN – This year Minnie Cannon Elementary has started a new awareness program called "College Talk."

The idea behind this program is to introduce students to the idea of attending college while still in elementary school. At each monthly assembly a different college is highlighted.

The first of the year was UC Davis. Students were given lots of information about UC Davis in the form of fun facts. They learned that the college was opened in 1908, thus celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year.


In addition students learned about top programs of study at the university, including art, law, viticulture, medicine and firefighting. Students were most interested to hear about all the sports teams and facilities, including a hockey rink, indoor soccer arena, swimming pools and much more.


“At last year's strategic planning meeting we were discussing the needs of the district and how to address those needs,” said Minnie Cannon Principal Tom Hoskins. “One of the primary district directions was to adequately prepare Middletown Unified School District students for college. The idea of College Talk came from that need. We hope that it will enlighten students about the opportunities available to them after high school. We believe that this knowledge will be valuable in helping students make informed choices.”


Hoskins added that the College Talk assemblies will also include information about trade schools and other post high school options. Some members of his staff are including field trips to the featured colleges as part of their yearly plans. He also is exploring the idea of having former MUSD students who are attending or have attended featured colleges to join the assemblies.


* * * * *

The end of October means Halloween and several of the schools marked the day with celebrations.

At Coyote Valley principal Walt Campbell reports that 11 classrooms were open to trick or treaters and that between 100 and 200 children came through. He was especially pleased that many Middletown Middle and Middletown High School students volunteered to "man" the doors.

At Middletown Middle School Halloween marked the end of Spirit Week. Spirit Week is five days of dress-ups, lunch time activities and finally a Friday rally.

At the Friday rally three students Jacob Gill (guitar and vocals), Landon Bracisco (guitar and vocals) and Reid Carpenter (drums) entertained their classmates with three songs including an original piece and AC/DC's “TNT.” No name yet for this band.


* * * * *

At the November board meeting held at Coyote Valley, District Superintendent Dr. Korby Olson read and presented proclamations to retired classified and certified employees.

On hand to receive recognition were Shirley Strumph (7 years), Kathy Toy (+20), Nikke Deacon (+20), Joe Mathews (25) and Bob Norris (25).

Others retiring but not in attendance were Bob Pratt (10), Bonnie Albertson (9), Nancy Jones (23) and Dennis Jensen (27).


* * * * *


Congrats to Middletown High School junior Lisa Copeland. She is the first ever Lake County high school student (boy or girl) to advance to the Northern California CIF Golf Championships. To advance to the NorCals, Lisa had to work her way through three different qualifying tournaments.

Lisa is awesome on the golf course, but also sports a 4.9 GPA and does volunteer tutoring when not on the course.

* * * * *


There will be lots on new construction going on at all of the district schools over the next few years.

First affected will be on the main campus in early November. The drop-off area/circle in front of Minnie Cannon will be used as an equipment storage area for the construction crews. This will cause some traffic disruptions and changes in parking for the near future.

Similar upgrades can be expected at other locations around the district over the next couple years.

* * * * *

Minnie Cannon recently hosted a family science night. MC received a grant to bring the hands-on science night to our community in conjunction with the Explorit Science Museum in Davis.

Fifteen hands-on stations were available for students to interact with. Exhibits included optical illusions, engineering(building bridges and kites), electro static (a hair-raising good time), and an anatomy station where students could touch a real sheep's heart and lungs (with gloves of course).

MC student council provided science prizes from Funtopia that were raffled off every 15 minutes. MC teacher, Lisa Guerrero, was responsible for writing the grant and organizing the event.

* * * * *

Loconoma teacher, Cindy Weber, reports that two students have completed their graduation requirements. James Lemon and William Werder finished all requirements and will graduate this quarter. They will also return for formal commencement ceremonies on June 9, 2009.

Bob Norris is a 32-year Lake County retired teacher who lives on Cobb. He will be writing regular updates on the activities within the Middletown Unified School District.


LAKEPORT – A Lakeport man has lost his appeal of a conviction handed down earlier this year for attacking and stabbing a man during a March 2007 gang attack.

On Monday, First Appellate Court justices agreed unanimously in a three-page decision to uphold the 15-years-to-life sentence that Ricardo Tapia Muniz, now 20, received from visiting Judge Galen Hathaway on May 2.

Muniz was prosecuted for stabbing and critically injuring then-19-year-old Clearlake Oaks resident Alex Larranaga near Library Park on March 16, 2007.

The prosecution had alleged that Muniz and four fellow defendants had attacked Larranaga – who had just emerged from a nearby restaurant where he had dinner with his family – because they believed his brother was a rival gang member and thought he had "flashed" gang signs at them.

In an agreement with the District Attorney's Office, Muniz pleaded guilty to aggravated mayhem and an enhancement that he committed the crime for the benefit of a criminal street gang. In exchange for the pleas, an attempted murder charge and a special allegation of causing great bodily injury were dismissed, according to court documents.

On May 28, Muniz filed his appeal, in which his attorney raised no specific issues with the prosecution but asked for an independent review of the case record, the justices noted in their decision.

"We discern no error in the sentencing," wrote Justice Ignazio Ruvolo. "The refusal to grant probation, and the sentencing choices made by the trial court were consistent with applicable law, supported by substantial evidence, and were well within the discretion of the trial court."

Justice Ruvolo added that the restitution fines and penalties amounting to $2,000 imposed against Muniz were supported by the law and facts, and that Muniz was represented by an attorney at all times.

The District Attorney's Office said in May that the sentence requires that Muniz serve a minimum of 15 years before he is eligible for parole.

Muniz, according to court documents, is serving his sentence at San Quentin State Prison.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Brad Shelden of Shelden Signs and Lighting works on the cypress tree in Lakeport this week. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



LAKEPORT – As the holiday season begins, an event this weekend will focus on remembrance and gratitude.

Hospice of Lake County's “Light Up A Life” benefit is currently gathering sponsorships and will culminate in a tree-lighting ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, following the Dickens Christmas Faire lighted parade.

The focal point of the lighting ceremony will be a cypress tree located in Museum Park on Main Street in downtown Lakeport. Jan Parkinson of Hospice Services said this is the first time the tree has been a part of the ceremony.

The Light Up A Life event offers the public an opportunity to honor a friend co-worker or loved one by sponsoring a single light on a chain that will decorate the tree, she said.

Parkinson stressed the fact that honorees are not limited to those who have passed on. She encourages individuals and businesses to honor employees as well as loved ones living or who have passed.

Sponsorships are available for $10, said Parkinson. Each individual honored will have their name entered in a printed record of the event. In addition, each person honored will receive a letter acknowledging the honor as well as the name of the person or organization making the donation.

The ceremony will include a tree lighting, lighting of candles, sing-a-long, and sharing of love and respect, according to Hospice Services.

This past week, Brad Shelden of Shelden Signs and Lighting, worked at the end of his 76-foot boom and ladder truck to install 1,400 feet of lighting cable on a 85-foot cypress.

The lights being used this year are actually LEDs (light emitting diodes) that consume up to 80-percent less electricity compared to standard filament lights. Approximately 5,600 LEDs make up the chain of lights.

Shelden worked two full days to decorate the tree. Parkinson was on hand to watch as part of the installation took place.

Hospice Services of Lake County is committed to supporting patients and their families through the end of life process through medical, emotional and spiritual support.

They help keep patients comfortable, provide visits and support to patients and families, and also provide bereavement counseling and camps for survivors.

Sponsorships may be arranged by calling 263-6222 or visiting the Hospice office at 1717 S. Main St. in Lakeport.

E-mail Harold LaBonte at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Congressman Mike Thompson's name is being put forth by his colleagues in the search for an interior secretary. Courtesy photo.

LAKE COUNTY – Could Lake County's congressman become the next secretary of the interior?

Congressman Mike Thompson was reelected to his First Congressional District seat earlier this month by an overwhelming majority. He's due to begin serving his sixth term in January.

However, the 57-year-old Thompson (D-St. Helena) could be moving on up from his Cannon Office Building address in Washington, DC, to a cabinet position if a proposal made this week is considered by President-elect Barack Obama.

Some of Thompson's colleagues in the California Congressional Delegation, including Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), sent a letter to Obama's transition team asking that Thompson be considered for the Secretary of the Interior post in the new president's cabinet.

“Mike Thompson is immensely qualified to be Interior Secretary,” Miller said in a prepared statement. “He has a strong base of support in the conservation, environmental and outdoors community. He is knowledgeable about the issues. And he is a person of great integrity and commitment to public service.”

A coalition of conservation and wildlife groups, including Ducks Unlimited, also have reportedly contacted Obama's team to push for Thompson's appointment, according to the Associated Press.

In a statement issued by his office, Thompson said, “It’s an honor to be recognized by the many groups I’ve worked with over the years, but no one associated with President-elect Obama has contacted me.”

According to a Friday Washington Post article, there's already another contender for the interior secretary post – Congressman Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), son of a migrant worker and chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, who has an established record on environmental issues.

Thompson, who owns a vineyard in Finley and is an outdoorsman, has a record on conservation issues and protection of endangered species.

His supporters believe that an interview Obama gave Field and Stream magazine, which was published in September, bodes well for a Thompson nomination. In the interview, Obama stated, “I think that having a head of the Department of Interior who doesn't understand hunting and fishing would be a problem. And so my suspicion is that whoever heads up the Department of Interior is probably going to be a sportsman or sportswoman.”

One of Thompson's most notable conservation achievements was the passage of the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act, which President Bush signed into law in October 2006.

The legislation gave wilderness status to 275,830 acres in the First Congressional District – with 51,671 acres in Lake County, around the Cache Creek and Snow Mountain areas.

Victoria Brandon, chair of the Sierra Club Lake Group, worked with Thompson on the wilderness legislation.

Responding to Thompson's name being put forward for the cabinet posted, Brandon said Friday, “As far as I know the Sierra Club has not taken a position on this possible appointment, and I personally am of two minds: Thompson would undoubtedly be a superb Secretary of the Interior, but the thought of losing him as our Congressman is dismaying to say the least.”

On species protection issues, Thompson has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, particularly its handling of the Klamath River fish die-off, which claimed an estimated 80,000 salmon.

Thompson and 35 fellow members of Congress from California and Oregon submitted to House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., a request in June of 2007 for an investigation into Vice President Dick Cheney's involvement in policy decisions that resulted in the 2002 fish kill.

He also successfully worked to get legislation passed to assist the struggling salmon industry with more than $60 million in emergency funding in the summer 2007.

The following month, Thompson and Miller were part of a special congressional panel that convened in Vallejo to look at the issues facing the Bay-Delta.

During the half day of testimony, Thompson questioned a Department of the Interior official at length regarding an administration official's possible interference in policy decisions regarding the delta smelt.

The official, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Operations Manager for the California/Nevada Office Steve Thompson, said he couldn't answer Thompson’s question regarding political influence because the Department’s Inspector General was investigating the potential manipulation of scientific evidence from the Bay-Delta.

Steve Thompson did say during questioning by the congressman that the investigation involved the former deputy assistant secretary, Julie MacDonald, who had resigned under pressure from another investigation that May.

Congressman Thompson also opposed the Bush administration's July proposal to drill along the Outer Continental Shelf, saying it wouldn't increase the oil supply for years and was potentially disastrous for the ecosystem.

“Our district’s coast is rich in marine resources that have tremendous value to our local economy. An oil spill would be devastating to the coastal economy and its unique ecosystem,” he said at the time.

Another factor working in Thompson's favor for cabinet consideration is that he and Obama have a track record of working together on issues important to them, and have been of similar mind about their opposition to the handling of the Iraq War.

In January of 2007, Obama and Thompson introduced legislation in the Senate and House, respectively, to get the US out of Iraq. The Iraq War De-Escalation Act set deadlines for redeploying US troops. The legislation did not pass.

Thompson also told Lake County News during an interview last month that he and Obama had a phone conversation on the issue of the financial bailout before a second and final vote was taken to pass the legislation.

Initially, when Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton were running for president, Thompson said either would make a great leader for the country. He formally endorsed Clinton but later embraced Obama after he won the nomination and pledged his support.

Brandon's concern about losing Thompson in Congress broaches an important point – if he were to resign his seat for the cabinet, how would his seat be filled?

The US Constitution requires that, if a seat in Congress becomes vacant resignation, death or refusal to serve, a special election must be held. In the case of the Senate, state legislatures may provide for a state governor making a temporary appointment until a special election is scheduled.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


LAKE COUNTY – The California Highway Patrol (CHP) reminds motorists to plan ahead this holiday and help make the state’s roads a safer place.

“Thanksgiving always produces a high volume of traffic; therefore, the CHP intends to provide as much visibility as possible in order to ensure a safe holiday weekend,” said CHP Lt. Mark Loveless, commander of the Clear Lake Area office.

The official Thanksgiving holiday driving period begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 26, and continues through midnight on Sunday, Nov. 30. During this time the CHP will implement the Maximum Enforcement Period (MEP), putting every available officer on the road.

“Be well rested when you start and allow extra time in case of congested traffic,” said Loveless. “Drive safe, drive sober and wear your seat belt.”

In addition to busy roadways, inclement weather is another obstacle motorists may encounter. Rain, fog, wind and snow have been known to create not only frustrating, but hazardous conditions for drivers. Those traveling through the mountains should carry chains in their vehicle.

Last year, during the Thanksgiving MEP, 41 people died in 4,337 collisions that occurred in California. More than half of the vehicle occupants killed were involved in alcohol-related collisions.

“Thanksgiving is a time for us all to be thankful for what we have. If fewer people lose their lives on our roads and highways, I will have something else to be truly thankful for," said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow.

Another sobering statistic, 1,628 people were arrested by CHP officers for driving under the influence last year over the Thanksgiving holiday; a nearly 2.5-percent decrease from the same time period the previous year.

The Thanksgiving MEP is also an Operation Combined Accident Reduction Effort (CARE) holiday. Operation CARE is a joint program of the nation’s highway patrols that promotes safe driving on interstate highways during holiday periods.

CARE highways in California include Interstates 80, 40, 15 (San Bernardino to the Nevada border) and 5 (Bakersfield north to the Oregon line).


WASHINGTON, DC – The Internal Revenue Service is looking for taxpayers who are missing more than 279,000 economic stimulus checks totaling about $163 million and more than 104,000 regular refund checks totaling about $103 million that were returned by the U.S. Postal Service due to mailing address errors.

“People across the country are missing tax refunds and stimulus checks. We want to get this money into the hands of taxpayers where it belongs,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We are committed to making the process as easy as possible for taxpayers to update their addresses with the IRS and get their checks.”

All a taxpayer has to do is update his or her address once. The IRS will then send out all checks due.

Stimulus checks

It is crucial that taxpayers who may be due a stimulus check update their addresses with the IRS by Nov. 28. By law, economic stimulus checks must be sent out by Dec. 31 of this year. The undeliverable economic stimulus checks average $583.

The “Where’s My Stimulus Payment?" tool on this Web site is the quickest and easiest way for a taxpayer to check the status of a stimulus check and receive instructions on how to update his or her address. Taxpayers without internet access should call 1-866-234-2942.

Regular refunds

The regular refund checks that were returned to the IRS average $988. These checks are resent as soon as taxpayers update their address.

Taxpayers can update their addresses with the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on this Web site. It enables taxpayers to check the status of their refunds. A taxpayer must submit his or her social security number, filing status and amount of refund shown on their 2007 return. The tool will provide the status of their refund and in some cases provide instructions on how to resolve delivery problems.

Taxpayers checking on a refund over the phone will be given instructions on how to update their addresses. Taxpayers can access a telephone version of “Where’s My Refund?” by calling 1-800-829-1954.


Taxpayers not sure of which type of check they may be due should check on a potential economic stimulus check first because of the looming deadline. See instructions above.

For most people

The vast majority of checks mailed out by the IRS reach their rightful owner every year. Only a very small percent are returned by the U.S. Postal Service as undeliverable.

Through September 2008, the government distributed 116 million economic stimulus payments with only about 279,000 checks being undeliverable. Meanwhile, the IRS has distributed more than 105 million regular refunds this year with only about 104,000 being undeliverable. In both cases, well under one percent of refunds or stimulus checks were undeliverable.

Avoiding future problems

The IRS encourages taxpayers to choose direct deposit when they file their return because it puts an end to lost, stolen or undeliverable checks. Taxpayers can receive refunds directly into personal checking or savings accounts. Direct deposit is available for filers of both paper and electronic returns.

The IRS also encourages taxpayers to file their tax returns electronically because e-file eliminates the risk of lost paper returns. E-file also reduces errors and speeds up refunds.


LAKEPORT – Lakeport City Manager Jerry Gillham has been sent back to the United States from Iraq after suffering health issues a few weeks ago.

Gillham, 53, was sent to Iraq last summer on his second year-long deployment to that country as a member of the Oregon National Guard, as Lake County News has reported.

While in Iraq, he suffered a transient ischemic attack – or a TIA, according to interim city manager, Kevin Burke.

“We can confirm that he has suffered a noncombat-related injury,” said Capt. Stephen Bomar of the Oregon National Guard.

According to the American Heart Association, a TIA is a warning or mini-stroke that produces stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage because of its extremely short duration.

The condition is caused when a blood clot temporarily clogs an artery, keeping blood from a part of the brain. TIAs average about one minute in duration.

Symptoms include sudden numbness in the face, leg or arm, on one side of the body; confusion; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; trouble walking; dizzyness; loss of balance or coordination; and sudden, severe headache.

TIAs are considered extremely important predictors of strokes, the American Heart Association reported. Although most strokes aren't associated with TIAs, more than a third of the people who have one or more TIAs later experience an actual stroke.

A few days after having the TIA, Gillham fell, injuring several discs in his back which may require back surgery, said Burke.

Earlier this year Gillham has said he'd recently had back surgery previously for other back problems he has suffered.

Gillham received medical treatment in Iraq and Europe, said Bomar. “He is en route back home at this time.”

Burke said Gillham is now back in the United States at a hospital at Fort Lewis, Wash.

Bomar said Gillham remains on active duty status, but he did not know how long the transition might take for Gillham to return to Lakeport.

“That all depends on what happens,” said Bomar. “They will provide him the best medical care available.”

Burke said Gillham is set to meet with doctors to follow up on the diagnosis.

The city has so far received no other updates from Gillham or his family on the city manager's condition or when he might eventually return to his post at the city, Burke said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – The Hidden Valley Lake Association Board meeting on Nov. 20 drew residents from around the community concerned about the recent lockout of association workers affiliated with a union. {sidebar id=108}

There was a mixed point of view as far as what should be done concerning the lockout of union workers, which began last weekend, as Lake County News has reported.

HVLA workers at the meeting who are affiliated with Laborers International Union of North America Local 139 stated that the lockout occurred after a scheduled meeting between the two sides was canceled due to the union representative being sick.

Lawyers for the union workers contacted HVLA to inform them of the representative's illness but the association reportedly sent someone to the negotiation meeting any way. The lockout occurred shortly afterward, according to union workers.

In a press release given to community members late last week, HVLA General Manager Jim Johnson said the association locked out the union personnel “because of financial concerns regarding the ongoing union contract negotiations.”

Johnson stated in the press release, “These concerns are based on the $644,644 loss the golf course experienced in 2007 and the loss of $424,325 through September of this year.”

The statement said the lockout will end and employees will be allowed to report back to work as soon as HVLA management and the union can reach an agreement regarding salaries, cost of living increases and benefit payment allocation.

On Thursday evening, the HVLA board heard from many people on the subject, some siding with Hidden Valley Lake, but most came to speak on behalf of the union workers.

Hal Muskat, who has lived in Hidden Valley Lake for 12 years, described what is happening as “horrible.”

Muskat said that the work done by the union personnel is what justifies homeowners in Hidden Valley Lake paying their association dues.

He suggested that residents withhold their association dues from HVLA and instead put their money into an escrow account. This way, Muskat said, people are still paying, but the association can't get its hands on the money until the union workers are put back to work.

Another resident suggested that the golf course be boycotted until union workers were able to do their jobs again.

The board also heard from an emotional Lora Darling, wife of one of the golf course maintenance workers who is currently part of the lockout.

The Darling family will not be able to have Thanksgiving this year and with Christmas just around the corner they fear that the holiday will be ruined for their family as well, she said.

Darling pleaded with the board to put unionized employees back to work as this lockout is really hurting her friends, neighbors and family.

HVLA has offered union workers their vacation pay now to try to help with the financial hardship of the lockout, but many workers didn't agree with this offer, as they said they work hard for their vacations and didn't to use them that way.

After the open session time was ended by HVLA Board President Don Dornbush, most of the union workers left all at once. “You guys are a disgrace!” were their parting words to board officials.

On Nov. 19, HVLA released a list of comments relating to union negotiations.

Among other things, the association stated that, as of Oct. 31, union personnel were paid about $77,600 a year more than the union contract requires. Officials also maintain that they have not requested or suggested that the hourly rate of any union member be reduced.

The association stated that HVLA management suggested to the union that they be allowed to consider full-time employment as 32 hours per week – which is the same as all other HVLA employees – as opposed to the current guaranteed 40 hours per week. The reason, according to HVLA, was that reducing the hours was an alternative to laying off personnel. They said the union did not agree with the recommendation.

HVLA management said it has proposed a 4-percent pay increase effective Nov. 1 and a 3-percent increase effective for each of the other two years of the contract, which is consistent with what the rest of the staff will receive.

The union has reportedly requested that HVLA pay the entire benefit packet of over $6 per hour worked for each employee, which the association says will amount to about $163,000 for union employees. This is in addition to their hourly rate of pay, and could equate to $12,480 per employee per year.

Responding to comments Local 139 business manager Dave George made to Lake County News last week, HVLA said that both sides – not just the association – have introduced lawyers into the negotiations process this year.

HVLA officials also stated that the association has not refused to advise the union as to the salary of each union employee, as George had stated. The association said it provided more than 2,000 pages of documents that Local 139 had requested; when the union again requested salary information, it was provided on Nov. 3.

The lowest salary being paid for any union person is $11.60 per hour, according to HVLA, which it said exceeds the required union contract rate of $9.56 per hour.

“In fact, all union personnel are paid more than the required union contract rate,” the association stated. “The average pay for all union personnel is 20 percent above the required union contract hourly rate. The rate of pay for union personnel currently ranges from $11.60 to $21.20 per hour.”



With the Foodie Freak columns I want to help people discover places and foods they may not have experienced before and to save money when cooking at home. So when I made a recent change at home I thought it was something that I wanted pass on.

Theresa is a cashier at my local mega-mart and she has become accustomed to hearing me moralize about making everything myself. One day when I purchased pre-packaged macaroni and cheese in a box, she looked at me as if I was purchasing a dirty magazine and seemed a tad disappointed in me. I laughed uncomfortably and said, maybe a little too loudly, “My wife and daughter like this stuff!” Theresa smiled and went back to scanning my groceries.

It’s not that I’m an elitist snob that only eats truffles and caviar; I just prefer to make foods myself and from scratch. If you make food yourself at home you can make it healthier than the pre-made pre-packaged items you find on the store shelves – to me even salad dressing tastes better if it doesn’t come out of a jar or bottle.

It pains me to see families with shopping carts full of boxed dried “meals” and I just want to tell them, “You can make that same dinner at home, almost just as easily, with less fat, less salt, and for pennies on the dollar – think how much more money you could have in your pocket every month!”

And then one day I was making tacos at home and thought, “Why do I keep buying these packets of taco seasoning? There must be a better way!” Spices are expensive, and spice mixes are even worse. After all, not only are you paying for the individual spices, but then you’re paying someone to mix them together and put them in all new pretty packaging.

So I started researching taco seasonings and experimenting with what I liked best, and here’s the funny part: I also wanted to experiment with fajitas seasonings and started to look for a fajita spice recipe – and found that they were basically the exact same spices as the taco seasoning recipes! So why buy a packet that says “taco seasoning” and another packet that says “fajita seasoning” when you can mix up your own jar of spices to your own taste and use it for whatever type of meal you’re having?

Once I experimented a bit and felt I had a great taco seasoning put together I made tacos for lunch for my daughter’s school. I also threw together a fairly simple taco sauce just for fun. Later, the students and teachers were begging for the taco sauce recipe, and I didn’t remember how I made it! So I had to spend a while playing around with different ideas and think that I have finally recreated it, and have included it here for you to try.

The taco seasoning recipe I have included will season one pound of ground beef. As a time saver you can make it in quadruple batches and then just use 1/4 cup taco seasoning to 1 pound cooked drained ground beef and 1/4 cup of water. The seasoning mixture will hold its flavor well for three months.

One of the spices I included in the taco spice mixture is smoked paprika and I can’t recommend it highly enough to you. It adds a new dimension to dishes that I can’t live without now. Not only does it improve taco seasoning but goulash, ratatouille and osso bucco all become dishes fit for royalty when adding some smoked paprika. It’s available at many local mega-marts so look for it on the spice rack on your next shopping trip.

Readers may have noticed that I rarely list salt in my recipes and the reason for that is just that salt is such a subjective flavor, and with its health/diet issues I prefer you make salt decisions in your own home. For me, these recipes are fully flavorful enough.

In an effort to share these (in my opinion) fantastic seasonings and sauce with the world, I’ve tried to get commercial kitchen/bottling companies to take my recipes and start a line of specialty food products, but they either want thousands of dollars up front or they don’t return my calls or letters at all. So my failure to start a line of specialty foods is now your benefit. Here are my recipes for taco seasonings and sauce.

Taco/Fajita seasoning

1 tablespoon dried onion flakes

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder

1/4 cup water

For tacos

1 pound ground beef

Mix all of the dry ingredients and set aside. Brown ground beef in a skillet and drain any excess fat. Return to heat and add spice mixture and water, stir until well mixed and slightly thickened (about one minute). Remove from heat and serve.

For fajitas

1 pound sliced beef strips

Mix all of the dry ingredients and set aside. Brown your favorite fajita beef strips, then add grilled onions, bell peppers, seasoning mix, 1/4 cup water and the juice of one lime, cook until onions and peppers are slightly softened.

Taco sauce

1 can (7.5 oz) Chipotles in Adobo

1-15 ounce bottle (1 and 1/2 cups) raspberry vinegar

1 1/4 cup brown sugar

3 cloves of garlic

Add all ingredients (including the adobo sauce) together in a blender and blend until very smooth (i.e., give it at least a minute). Pour through a strainer or mesh to remove seeds. Pour into storage containers (once washed, the raspberry vinegar bottle acts as a perfect serving vessel) and refrigerate over night to let the flavors meld. Makes about three cups, and will keep in refrigerator well for several months. You can hold back the adobo sauce that the chipotles come in from the recipe for a milder sauce, and also to make it even milder you might wish to add some ketchup. As the recipe is written the sauce is spicy to the taste but without being overwhelming while inside a taco.

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


ANDERSON SPRINGS – The Anderson Springs area was greeted by an earthquake early Friday morning.

The 3.0-magnitude earthquake occurred at 7:02 a.m., according to the US Geological Survey.

The temblor took place at a depth of a ninth of a mile two miles west southwest of Anderson Springs, five miles east southeast of The Geysers and five miles south of Cobb, the US Geological Survey reported.

The most recent quake of 3.0 magnitude or above to occur in the Cobb/Geysers/Anderson Springs Area took place early on the morning of Nov. 12, when a 3.5-magnitude earthquake was recorded. The US Geological Survey had originally rated the quake as a 3.1 but later upgraded it.

In another part of the county, a 2.9-magnitude quake was recorded on Wednesday at 3:10 a.m. 10 miles west southwest of Lakeport, at a depth of 1.6 miles, according to the US Geological Survey.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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