Justice for Shy People

One thing in life that you can really count on — government. The representatives and administrators that watch over us here in Fort Bragg are empowered specifically to keep us from harm. That’s their gig. Let us reflect that harm might come unexpectedly from accident or adversity or it might be something we inflict on ourselves. We are amateurs. They know what they doing. We don’t really need public participation. That’s why they don’t encourage it. 

Super city (ex-)manager Linda Ruffing, in a kind of kiss-off to the city, left us a Code of Civility, which now stares down at us at every City Council meeting from the massive projector screen, a reminder to the people not to get out of line, or say anything too upsetting. 

After they canned City Manager Ruffing, the ex-mayor, Lindy Peters, went further in pursuit of civic decorum by urging audiences not to clap or cheer at city council meetings. Line up, speak your piece until the three-minute timer goes off, sit down. 

That’s the rule. Our new mayor, Will Lee, has duly endorsed the no-clapping rule and looks to be a strong and diligent proponent of mandatory civility.

In the small blowback consequent upon the introduction of these innovations, there was some discussion about free speech. A few malcontents thought that the City Council was supposed to represent us, not oppress us, and that to restrain polite clapping was an insult to the people of the city.

The City Council and the administration explained that the crackdown on free speech and the restraint on comment and clapping were necessary to protect shy people. 

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to oppose the policies of government in your local town, or to comment on them or to express your concerns, our wise leaders have pointed out that it might be upsetting for some sensitive souls to hear opinions that disturb them. 

Concern for the sensibilities of the shy was unknown to the founding fathers, and even to the framers of the state constitution. Those neanderthals mistakenly thought that rigorous debate and the free expression was a vital part of a living democracy. 

When the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) ad hoc committee was formed by the city council to make recommendations about the conduct of general elections, it was an important responsibility. Bernie Norvell, by far our smartest City Councilperson, cautioned Scott Menzies about his participation in the committee. Menzies and Norvell know each other. Predictably, Menzies, in concert with freshly elected councilperson Tess Albin-Smith, hijacked the committee in a kind of crusade for multiple choice voting. 

Mr. Menzies, who ran for city council in 2014, has said publicly that he was everybody's second choice and would have been elected if there was a multiple choice ballot where second and third and fourth choices would count. 

The CVRA sub-committee became a farce. Tess Albin-Smith is our least experienced councilperson. (Prior to her surprise election she had never attended a City Council meeting.) She and Menzies dissolved the ad hoc committee (temporarily) to do the hard work of selecting the way that Fort Bragg voters will conduct elections themselves. 

Menzies and Albin-Smith formed a subcommittee of two to look into it. The rest of the commission was assigned lesser tasks. I demanded that the committee meetings be made public. Since they were being conducted in Town Hall all they had to do was turn on the video. No deal. The city manager sent me this email:

"Hi Rex, The City has not and does not intend to film or televise the Election System Review Committee meetings because this committee is a not a Standing Council Committee established by the City Municipal Code. It is also not a committee that is making regular decisions or regular recommendations to the City Governance. It is a community committee with a very narrow purpose — to research, evaluate and make a recommendations to the City Council on a preferred election system. As you know this is a time-consuming process and open dialog and sharing of information is important. For volunteer members, being televised can inhibit communications. The committee is subject to the Brown Act, which means that the agendas are published and the committee is open to anyone who would like to attend.”

Shy people to the rescue.

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