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All Kinds of Harassment (Nov. 25, 1998)

Community Services District Board meeting, 11/18/98 —

The meeting opened with two mirthless jibes, variations of which greet me most places. “With friends like Bruce Anderson you don’t need enemies,” nervously laughed one attendee; and, “Oh! I thought we were going to be blessed without Mark! … Now you’ll write ugly things about me I guess,” chuckled another. 

The usual passive-aggressive impertinences out of their frustrated systems, the CSD Board got down to the serious business of running a tiny volunteer fire department.

Three benefit assessment change requests considered. The trio of assessments had mysteriously risen to $108 after having been set at $72. One was lowered on the spot, the other two Chief Colin Wilson volunteered to speak to and/or investigate to confirm the legitimacy of the downward correction.

“The second underground tank pull went much better,” reported Chief Wilson, referring to the removal of old fuel tanks at Art’s Philo BP station. The removal edict issued by the federal EPA says get the old tanks out by December or close the gas business. Several independent Mendocino County gas stations will either retire themselves or stop selling gasoline.

Wilson is still investigating the septic situation at the Last Resort property in Philo with an eye toward moving its septic tank and leach field to accommodate a new firehouse.

Director Dan Myers reported that he had met with Paul Douglas, the architect who designed the relatively new firehouse for Mendocino Village. After some discussion, the board voted to spend the previously authorized $1000 for Mr. Douglas’ architectural services. Mr. Douglas will develop a plot plan for a new firehouse in Philo and present it at the December Board meeting. (Douglas works for $60/hour; his assistant $40 per hour.) When Director Bev Elliott wondered aloud how much the Philo property might cost, Wilson said that property owner Nick Alexander has said that he wants an 8% per year back over the price he paid for the downtown Philo parcel. A deal appears imminent.

Chief Wilson described a new program offered by CDF wherein CDF provides a part-time fire officer to local fire departments for 16 days per month during the off-season at $850/month. Wilson said that he’s putting in 60-hour weeks and has to start cutting back his time on the job. He wants the Board to consider using a paid CDF officer to fill in for him. 

“The number of hours I’m putting in are having a financial effect on me,” added Wilson. “I have to keep my options open with the awareness that this is a political job, and I don’t know how long I’ll last.” Wilson’s proposal will be on next month’s agenda.

Wilson then told the board about a couple of recent mishaps, one where the Floodgate engine’s water pump sprung a leak in the Floodgate parking garage; leaked water damaged the station’s floor. In another mishap, the Chief accidentally drove away from a gas pump in Ukiah taking the fuel nozzle with him, causing some $60 incidental damage to the station’s hose. Several board members asked your reporter not to mention this obvious accident. Wilson should be commended for fessing up to something less secure, more furtive officials might try to avoid.

Warrants, totaling around $14,000, were approved almost without comment. 

A clearly unenthusiastic Director Leo Howard, the board’s hapless “airport committee representative,” reported that the Airport Committee had met but, as usual, “it wasn’t much of a meeting.” Plans to get a local physician to give flight physicals to the Valley’s cadre of elderly pilots have fallen through. The Airport Layout Plan, an expensive and pointless Caltrans boondoggle which gullible airport locals naively allowed Caltrans to impose on the Valley’s tiny airstrip, requires a series of technical airport maps and diagrams detailing the future installation of Boonville International’s concourse and deluxe sky lounge for visiting wine barons has metastasized in the uniquely Caltransian way into what Howard described as “a seven-part thing; seven steps are involved. Nothing is moving. Nothing really happened. There are no minutes, just my notes here.” 

No one cared.

Director Elliott then presented a proposed District Harassment Policy whose peremptory title seemed to make harassment mandatory but which, Mrs. Elliot explained, was required by the District’s insurance company as part of their new “loss control” program.” “I lifted this from the North Coast Energy Cooperative,” she said. “It’s a lovely policy, very comprehensive. It covers all kinds of harassment, not just sexual.”

Director Myers expressed concern about a statement in the policy that read “all sexual harassment is unlawful.” “Does that mean that people’s mental condition is protected by law? That’s pretty broad,” noted Myers.

“I have a nursing background,” replied Director Elliott, “and a it could include someone with a mental condition.” 

“Show me,” declared Myers. 

“Federal law says that you can’t be unkind to anyone without it being considered harassment,” replied the congenitally kind Elliott. 

“I don’t buy it,” said Myers. “You’d have to show me. I don’t know that it is. I’ve never seen harassment defined to include a person’s mental condition.”

(Given the precariousness of America’s mental health in these sensitive times made even more fragile by the prevalence of feral child-rearing practices creating even more public incivility, Myers has a big point here.)

“Do you want to delete that section?” asked Elliott, backing away from the loveliness of the proposed policy.

“Yes,” replied Myers directly. “I don’t know what’s legal and illegal. I don’t want to be put in a position where we have to take appropriate action to remedy a situation like that due to loss. It could be used against us.” The board agreed to remove the offending sentence.

Then Myers asked, “And is sexual orientation protected? I’m not qualified to draft this kind of policy…” as he squirmed and fidgeted, becoming more uncomfortable with the subject at hand. “I know we’re obligated to commit to some kind of organizational recognition, maybe training… Maybe we need a harassment dummy to practice on,” joked Myers, not realizing that Mendocino County already has plenty of thin-skinned candidates for the victim role. Myers suggested that the policy avoid making legalistic statements and be titled “Policy Against Harassment” instead of “Unlawful Harassment.” 

The policy was adopted with Myers’ suggested changes.

Doug Elliott reported that volunteers are still working on a community appeal fundraising letter and have already received some donations for preparing the antique fire engine for parade and ceremonial use.

Director Elliott reported that she had attended the Supes meeting the week prior and expressed her opinion that the controversial notice on the back of the tax bill envelope was “very offensive.” The message, drafted by an anonymous Farm Bureau true believer, advised locals that lethal chemicals applied by Chateau Methyl Bromide to its grapes and corporate timber’s clearcuts which fouled household water supplies were facts of rural life, so fork over your property taxes for more of it and shut up about it. 

Elliott told the Supes that they should have coordinated the statement with community organizations like the AV CSD because “statements like this jeopardize tax payments (which the CSD depends on) because some people are going to pay their taxes with tea bags in protest” — a reference to the suggestion by Mendocino’s ambidextrous coast activist Beth Bosk. Elliott said that she told the Supes that she “objected strongly and opposed” such notices. Elliott added that Supervisor Pinches had tried to explain that the statement was simply meant to be informational, but Elliott told Pinches that “that didn’t come across — it was highly offensive.” 

Director Myers suggested that the CSD draft an alternative message for the next tax bill and give it to the Supes for the April billing cycle; everyone agreed that was a good idea.

Board Chair Eva Johnson said she hadn’t seen the notice and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. But Johnson got into the spirit of 1779, wrapping up the meeting by observing, “I don’t know about that (the notice and the tea bag protest), but I can’t imagine anything more offensive than what’s across the street from my house,” referring to the ever-expanding industrial brewery at the intersection of Hwy 253 and 128 across the road from Johnson’s sheep ranch. Even though the Supes meant to support ag operations like Johnson’s, there are some rural industries — like breweries apparently — that shouldn’t get the ag/timber free pass. “Those trucks go in and out of there at all hours of the day and night; there’s dust and noise…” And chemicals, too. Unfortunately, neither Johnson nor any of the brewery’s other neighbors expressed objections to “micro-brewer” Ken Allen’s huge metal and concrete beer-making facility at the time it was originally proposed. And now, a major expansion is under construction — also unopposed.

Johnson should be careful though — under the District’s new policy, Allen might interpret her unkind remark about his facility as harassment.

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