Absolutely nobody in Mendocino County’s fourth District expects anything from Supervisor (Silent Dan) Gjerde. Honey Bear don't care. That’s how he rolls.
Dan Gjerde is as close to "nothing" as a politician can get.
For Silent Dan, "nothing" is NOT an accident. It is not an omission — and it is not anything as innocent as mere incapacity. Dan truly believes that doing nothing is his real job. He works at achieving nothing. He is good at it and proud of it. His supporters — and there are some who strongly support the Fourth District Supervisor — appreciate calculated nothingness.
What they understand, and what we have been missing, is that in some powerful political circles “systemic nothing” is extremely useful. Indeed, it is the ultimate tool for keeping the people of the county and the process of governance at a convenient distance.
Dan gets that. What looks to an honest person like vacuity is the most effective tool of an arrogant administrative state. What the self-perpetuating power apparatus understands, and what Dan Gjerde understands so perfectly, is that doing nothing in representative governance is the firmest foundation of unchecked power.
Dan Gjerde has never held a town hall meeting. Ever. He actually can’t. There is nothing to discuss, and if there was — he couldn't discuss it. In his regime of emptiness, there is nothing to question or protest. Nothing is nothing if not effective. Gjerde won't answer emails (at least he won't answer mine).
He has ONE rule. Vote with the majority. He does it himself and he expects it of the other Supervisors. To the best of his ability, he does what he is told to do and calls obedience the substance of virtue. Silent Dan has proposed no policy that was not handed to him gift-wrapped by the CEO. He makes a painfully minimal contribution to the discussion — and above all things, he avoids any suggestion that he believes anything at all, cares about any issue or, God forfend, has any identifiable ideological convictions.
Last Monday morning, at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors, he slipped a bit. It was very brief but in a way, he spilled the beans. In a fit of pique and likely to his own surprise, Dan made an eloquent expression of his foundational ideology. Why Oh why, lamented the Fourth District Supervisor, can’t new supervisors Ted Williams and John Haschak do what I do and just vote with the majority?
We must forgive him. Debate and dissension are such an annoyance. Innovation and representation of the people’s interest is uncomfortably disruptive. From Gjerde’s point of view, Williams and Haschak have been bad little boys and Dan Gjerde — as the County's premier good little boy — just couldn’t take it anymore. All that voting of conscience, all that damn representation. Why can’t they just vote with the majority? It was a cry of real pain and an eloquent expression of the doctrine of governance by a brain-dead rubberstamp.
The uncritical consensus is Dan Gjerde’s foundational principle. If you were not paying close attention, you might well have missed it. It happened very late in the day-long meeting when virtually everyone from the public had left the chamber and the online viewers were lulled into somnolence. Dan Gjerde naturally raised his flag where it was least likely to be seen.
The routine business of the various city councils — and even more the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors — is almost entirely an elaborate unwrapping of state and federal regulation. The County CEO and her staff read the regs that come down from above and proceed to lead the supervisors by the nose.
When it gets excessively complicated, the Supervisors hire consultants to interpret the will of the state and package it for public consumption. In this system, voting as a block is the very signature of happy face governance.
Those of us who follow local governance in any depth know this, as an axiom. In any issue of importance, at any elected board or council, there is inevitably a divergence of opinion. When a matter of importance comes before our elected representatives the very fact of its significance almost always divides the representatives and splits the vote. It happens every time.
Ted Williams of the Fifth District has made the outrageous presumption of repeatedly advocating for the interests of his constituency, indulging in common sense, and promoting innovation. Dan has it right — Ted Williams has not always voted with the majority. Dan Gjerde is fed up with it. Ted Williams is the new man on the board. Like an underdog prizefighter, he has been throwing punches ever since his arrival on the scene. Ted has battled against the economy-killing pot overregulation, pushed hard and successfully to introduce zero-based budgeting and relentlessly challenged the supine board to discuss, to debate, and not infrequently — to innovate.
You can see how that would piss people off.
Never underestimate the power of nothing.
Since Dan Gjerde first ascended in glory from the Fort Bragg City Council to the Mendocino Board of Supervisors he has never faced an electoral challenge. Nothing kicks ass. This year, long-serving city Councilman Lindy Peters has decided to run against him.
Recently, I asked Lindy Peters what exactly he was running on. I naively assumed that Lindy would have put together some sort of campaign or would be presenting some platform of opposition to the incumbent. Silly me.
Lindy Peters told me that he and silent Dan had spoken together and had it all worked out. He told me they had agreed not to go “go after” each other.
Wow. Should be a boring campaign — and in the old fashioned democratic tradition — a bit of a blasphemy.
“Nothing” on this scale is a new thing in American politics. Perhaps in the next Fourth District supervisorial election, nothing will prevail. On the other hand, maybe nothing will.