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Tainted Grants & Testy Gripes

The November Zoom meeting of the Mendocino Coast Recreation & Park District (MCRPD) Board of Directors lasted nineteen minutes. The most newsworthy item from the proceeding was the announcement that California State Parks had acknowledged receipt of a $76,267 payback on a planning grant from the Off Highway Motor Vehicle Division. 

In July, 2018, California State Parks had placed all grants to MCRPD on hold due to audits that claimed conflicts of interest in the grant writing and procurement process. In June of 2020 state parks made it clear to MCRPD that grants would continue to be disallowed unless three “tainted” members of the MCRPD board left office or were removed. One of the “tainted” three, John Huff, resigned, but later decided to run for an open seat in the November election. Another one of the “tainted” three, Kirk Marshall, finished out his term of office in November without running for re-election. The third board member deemed “tainted” by State Parks, Bob Bushansky, has offered up excuses why he considers the label unwarranted. He seems intent on staying on the board at least until his term is up in two years. 

Sarah Bradley Huff, principal grant writer for MCRPD and spouse of John Huff, left her position in September. Mr. Huff won his election bid, so MCRPD will still have two members on its five person board who may still be considered “tainted” by California State Parks.

This leads us to the November meeting of the Noyo Harbor Commission. Newly appointed Commission Chair Jim Hurst held the gathering in a socially distant, yet in person, format at Silver's at the Wharf. Hurst, Commissioner Michelle Norvell, and brand new commissioner Doug Albin made up a quorum. To fill out the five member commission, two new members will be appointed by the county and hopefully seated before January, 2021 comes to a close.

Among the items considered by the harbor commission were letters of resignation from the harbor master and commissioner Steve Bradley. Here's where the past connections with MCRPD get sticky. Also in the Noyo Harbor Commissioners agenda packet was a letter from their chief grant writer, the same Sarah Bradley Huff. Her correspondence: “This letter is written to inform you that effective immediately, I am terminating my Grant Writing and Grant Management agreement with Noyo Harbor District. 

“For the last several years, I have worked very hard with Harbor staff and Commissioners to try to bring funding to the harbor in an effort to create a better and more functional facility. I have strived [sic] to always do my best and provide professional and quality service to your District. However, it has become apparent that my services are no longer desired by some members of the Commission. Several of the more recent meetings have evolved [sic] into a personal attack. While most commissioners arrive at meetings well primed, it is clear that others are ill prepared to discuss the issues at hand. In an effort to cover up their poor planning, they in turn make inuendoes [sic] insinuating wrongdoing on the part of others. In addition, the condescending way of  behaving toward staff and council [sic] and other commissioners has become intolerable.

“This decision was not an easy one to reach and in closing I hope the Commission can find the balance it needs to meet the needs of the entire District it serves and not just a select few. The Noyo Harbor has always been an important part of Fort Bragg and the surrounding communities. I hope it is not lost due to the egos of a few.”

Under Item #3 of the Harbor Commission's agenda, “Conduct of Business,” fell this item: “Discussion and possible approval for Jim Jackson to retain Sarah Huff at the District's expense.” Jackson is the legal counsel for the commission. When questioned, Chairman Hurst made it clear this was not his idea, but Mr. Jackson's. Hurst also made it known that the idea would not fly under the newly constituted set of commissioners. One of the issues Ms. Huff apparently alluded to in her resignation letter was the objection that Hurst and Commissioner Norvell seemed to have with Ms. Huff essentially retaining almost sole control over the grants she wrote for the harbor district. In the meeting prior to this one, questioning from Hurst and Norvell appeared to indicate that Huff's grant writing control extended so far as to her denying commissioners access to the grants until after the grants were accepted. This, of course, begs the question how did the previous commissions vote to approve seeking grants they had not even read?

At one point in that prior harbor commission meeting, after Hurst's and Norvell's questions, Ms. Huff indicated that she didn't view the situation as an attack on her and would be happy to answer any further questions. Apparently, that openness to questioning only lasted a few short weeks, followed by the vitriolic resignation letter.

Documents obtained through a public records act request indicate that Ms. Huff was paid 5% of the total amount of every grant obtained through the harbor district. 

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