If you go to a lot of public meetings as I do there will be some that bore you to yawns, but once in a blue friggin' moon you'll get awakened from a sleep-deprived stupor.
Monday, August 11th at the Fort Bragg City Council proved to be the latter. I was on my way out of town at 4:45pm when a cell phone call turned me around. The caller hinted at “something big about Scott Mayberry,” the Fort Bragg police chief who had been out on medical leave for about a month. This leave appeared so open-ended that the City had hired Steve Willis as an interim police chief with contractual duties that could extend well into 2015. Something was obviously amiss between Mayberry and the City of Fort Bragg.
There were 70 or more supporters of Scott Mayberry in the audience August 11th when Mayor Dave Turner asked for a show of hands at the outset of the meeting (another ten or so were there with concerns about water rates). The size of the crowd was impressive, considering many City Council meetings are sparsely attended at best. The Wow factor hit about 18 minutes in when Roberta Mayberry stepped to the podium. She is the wife of the police chief. At first Mrs. Mayberry turned her back to the City Council and city staff, directing her opening remarks to the crowd. Then she faced City Manager Linda Ruffing and her chief assistant, Ginny Feth-Michel, asking them “to maybe pay attention when people are speaking.”
Feth-Michel and Ruffing (pronounced like “roofing” not “roughing”) appeared to be taking notes on electronic devices, but the entire proceeding was being video taped by MendocinoTV, so a little more eye contact with the public commenters would have gone a long way in appeasing the crowd because Roberta Mayberry's “pay attention” comment provoked prolonged applause.
Respect. That word and concept seems to be at the root of the problem. In fact one can find that thesis statement right in Mrs. Mayberry's comments: “Three and a half years of disrespect has been given to my husband.”
Mrs. Mayberry went on to say that “it has been a constant problem here, [Fort Bragg] getting police officers hired.” She gestured toward the city manager at this point. There are currently only ten officers, three sergeants, a chief and three community service officers. Since March 20th Lt. John Naulty has been on leave. At times officers have been working twelve hour shifts day after day after day, including Chief Mayberry.
Scott Mayberry decided to take a leave, a leave that began either on July 2nd or 3rd (Linda Ruffing says July 2nd, but Mayberry worked a shift that day, so perhaps it's correct to put the start of his leave at July 3rd). In her August 11th remarks Mrs. Mayberry claimed that public mention of this as a medical leave was a violation of the Chief's rights. The following Monday Scott Mayberry received an email at home from Feth-Michel informing him that Steve Willis was now serving as interim Chief of Police and that Mayberry would no longer be able to receive emails through his police department account. As Mrs. Mayberry pointed out, Lt. Naulty's email account, through the department, has not been shut down, though his leave extends all the way back to March 20th. When Chief Mayberry brought his city car in to the department that same Monday, for Willis to use, he found his nameplates already removed from the door and his desk. When recounting this Mrs. Mayberry stated, “If that isn't disrespect, I don't know what is.”
Later in the August 11th City Council meeting another public commenter read an email or text message from Scott Mayberry announcing his resignation as Fort Bragg's Chief of Police. There were gasps and audible, “Oh no,” sighs from the audience.
Earlier on I'd leaned over to ask a familiar face in the crowd, “Is this all a power play between Chief Mayberry and Linda Ruffing?”
On the surface that's what it looks like. Ruffing and her chief assistant have apparently slowed down the hiring of new officers, possibly withholding approval until after Ruffing conducts her own background checks on potential hires. From Mayberry's point of view, he may feel micromanaged and insulted, as a law enforcement officer with over 20 years experience, not to mention someone who grew up in Fort Bragg where his father was once chief of police, long before Ruffing arrived on the scene.
Mrs. Mayberry claimed that her husband went to two City Council members over a year ago to discuss his problems (presumably with the city manager) and, according to Mrs. Mayberry, he received “zero help.”
To a degree I can empathize with Mrs. Mayberry about her husband's employment predicament. No one wants to see an immediate family member lose their job, a job at which they've worked long and sometimes thankless hours. However, at the time and after watching her presentation over again several times, one can't escape a sense of self-righteousness in Mrs. Mayberry's words, demeanor, and body language. At one point she rapped her finger on the podium, waiting for Ruffing and Feth-Michel to pay fuller attention, behavior more suitable for a teacher's aide instructing first graders.
I have spoken with Roberta Mayberry since the August 11th meeting. I find her personable and at times willing to listen to opposing views, no small feat. However, while sympathizing with her concerns about the City Manager I told her that her August 11th appearance at the City Council meeting didn't really serve her husband well.
It was easy to play to a more or less hand-picked crowd. It is also easy to communicate on social media sites with only your supporters, but there are a significant number of Fort Bragg residents who think like the one who commented on the Mayberrys feeling disrespected by City Hall, “If you feel that someone has done something wrong, you don't sink to their level.”
During her August 11th comments Mrs. Mayberry stated that gang activity had become more prevalent in Fort Bragg in the month that Scott Mayberry has been off the job, hinting that it would only get worse in the future without him. A rebuttal from a citizen who watched the City Council meeting from home came in this form: “Trying to instill fear is the weakest form of leadership. Trying to tear a community down on your way out, regardless of what happened, is the very weakest form of leadership.”
Another response to Mrs. Mayberry's remarks went this way: “When you feel you have a valid point to make, and you feel it is the truth, you don't need to ask people to speak in anger.”
Neither the Chief or Roberta Mayberry should delude themselves that everyone in Fort Bragg believes as strongly in them as those who attended the August 11th meeting. It is instructive to know that an August 14th meeting, at the same site, at more or less the same time of day, hosted by Fort Bragg's own Supervisor Dan Gjerde, a Q and A session with Mendocino County's CEO and many department heads, garnered nearly as large a crowd, but none of them appeared to be from the pro-Mayberry group. Citizen participation is a very selective business it seems.
Despite Mrs. Mayberry's high horse presentation, there are valuable takeaways. Even those who might disagree with her husband concerning certain policing matters do agree that there are questions that need to be answered by Fort Bragg's City Manager. The public commenter who followed Mrs. Mayberry was Madeleine Melo, widow of the late forester and long time city council member Jere Melo.
In a quieter voice Mrs. Melo presented something of a group petition, “We formally request that the City Council of Fort Bragg California, post and hold a City Council meeting in closed session within 30 days from today in what may be the most important meeting for the immediate future of our City and community. Surely this is as important as saving us from Styrofoam or plastic bags.
This meeting would be: in closed session with no one in attendance but the council and legal advisor (we think you will need this), NO MANAGEMENT personnel other than the City Clerk if that is required, and during regular hours and each party on the payroll, and do the following:
Call each department head in one at a time. All should be allowed to speak freely and without strings attached or conditions of any kind. Ask questions, and allow them to say what they wish about what they have experienced or seen as an employee of this City. Again no strings at all. No fear of retaliation of any kind.
Each employee of the city should be required to come to this meeting one at a time. This would avoid any undue influence for an employee not to meet with the council. Just in case that could happen, this would allow them to speak freely.
Most importantly invite in writing all former employees that have left the city in the last four years.
Allow them to speak and waive any confidentiality agreement they may have signed in their exit from employment with the City.
We know already what you will find from having this requested meeting. It is sad that it has come to this where the community has to make this request, especially in this manner, and it is a last resort. The council has seemed somehow not to hear the issues the community clearly sees. Please honor this request within the next 30 days. We ask it in the names of all those here tonight, some are city employees, and we ask it in the name of all of those who call Fort Bragg home.
We also have here for you tonight some materials we hope you will read. Some of it contains the “dirty laundry” we have tried not to air too much of.
Thank you for your service and your time tonight. Please take our concerns with the spirit given, and honor this request. The rest will be up to you how Fort Bragg will proceed. Do this for our Chief, our Police Lieutenant, the city employees, past present and future who truly care for our town.”
Snarky asides like “we think you will need [a legal advisor]” should have been edited before the presentation and the snide reference to “saving us from Styrofoam and plastic bags” makes one think that a goodly number of the presentation's authors might need some environmental sensitivity training, but valid points were raised elsewhere in the document. Whether or not some sort of grievance airing is accomplished by/through the Fort Bragg City Council may play a role in the November election in which five candidates are vying for three seats on the City Council. One of those candidates, Michael Cimilino, who also spoke at the August 11th meeting, is clearly a champion of the pro-Mayberry group.
More or less lost amidst the tumult surrounding the Mayberrys on August 11th was a relatively brief public comment by Teresa Spade, who in June quit her job as an assistant planner for the City of Fort Bragg. Ms. Spade expressed her support for members of the Fort Bragg Police Department and Chief Mayberry in particular, but brought up issues regarding her two and a half year tenure with Fort Bragg's Community Development Department and appeals made by her to Human Resources. Spade claimed that she was the second planner to quit the same position for the same reasons. “I don't believe I had the support when I went to Human Resources and asked for help. I put in my notice after the second time. When I asked [Human Resources] if they'd followed up in any way regarding my concerns and they informed me that they had not.”
Spade concluded her remarks with a request for the City Council: “It probably wouldn't hurt to look into HR policies regarding hiring, promotion, and support of staff.”
This writer called City Hall early Friday morning trying to clarify just who has been the chief human resources officer for the city. At the end of the day the call was returned by an employee who has only been there since March. The best guess for the “buck stops here” person regarding human resources: assistant city manager Ginny Feth-Michel.
Fort Bragg is rife with rumors and reliable reports about long time city employees feeling disrespected by the city manager, rumors of dissenting employees having to sign confidentiality agreements when leaving their jobs, complaints about inappropriate behavior by at least one department supervisor, and more questions about conflicts of interest within the Human Resources Department.
Ask some of the people who showed up August 11th why they came and you won't get a clear answer beyond “I like Scott and he's doing a good job” or vague negative references directed at Ruffing. There are a smattering of Fort Braggers who view her as a tree-hugging, uppity liberal interloper — and that might be the polite version. In contrast to Ruffing's chilly persona, Scott Mayberry, even when you disagree with him, wears a smile on his face and kept an Andy of Mayberry poster on his office wall.
Appearances may be deceiving, but what's certain about the power play going on in Fort Bragg is that we have not gotten to the bottom of it yet. Rumors swirl, even outside the Mayberry circle, of at least one city council member appealing to Scott Mayberry to return to the job.
Elsewhere in the pages of the AVA it has been reported that Mayberry is considering a position as an investigator with the Mendocino County DA's office. If true, Mayberry would have known about this career shift for some time in advance, making the display at the August 11th City Council meeting all the more puzzling.
Some folks contacted about their experiences within the work environment of City Hall initially agreed to go on the record with accusations and/or grievances then backed away into the shadows of anonymity. Full-on citizenship can be a hard row to hoe for too many.
When asked if she had anything to add concerning the August 11th meeting, Fort Bragg City Manager Linda Ruffing essentially declined comment in light of privacy policies regarding personnel matters, but she did say that eventually “the truth will come out.”