At the last Fort Bragg city council meeting I apparently called Scott Dietz our esteemed councilman a criminal. The following day he confronted me with this at the public works committee meeting, which I was barely attending while looking into the process of video taping all committee meetings. I was just there. Surely I said quasi criminal, I sputtered. No, he told me, criminal. Now here I was on the spot. Had Dietz been criminal in his new job as councilman or merely irresponsible and reprehensible? Clearly his motive in the Hotel deal was to circumvent the clear intention of California law, but all acknowledge that he did it carefully and within the loopholes especially constructed in the law by its authors. I refer to the Brown act. The wise men that wrote the act, while almost protecting the most basic rights of democratic freedom , restrained themselves and ensured the survival of politicians as a species by the insertion of such massive loopholes that the loopholes are actually larger than the law itself.
Scott used that advantage to bite off a cold million for the city incumbency without telling a soul outside a little cabal. And these clever negotiators passed on an indefensible IRS deduction of 2 million on a million dollar sale to to the sellers. Like any good government deal, it made everyone happy.
Not withstanding the painful defect of giant loopholes, the Brown Act remains the monument, such as we have, to California's requirement of public disclosure; it flatly states in plain language that doing the public's business in secret, though always convenient to public officials, is contrary to their instructions and their mandate from the people that hired them. The people.
Councilman Dietz did only meet with one other councilman, which is not a majority and which exempts him on that matter from immediate prosecution. He met the Mayor in great excitement and repeatedly to set up the deal they were probably too busy to tell anybody else about . Of course they and the city manager sent emails. But we would not have these emails if it were not for the courage of a whistle blower in high office in Fort Bragg who left her job after having made those emails public. We know from them that Scott Dietz and the city manager and the mayor and others were in a flurry of behind the scenes negotiation. That is not illegal but making the deal permanent before releasing it to the press or the public is.
While they were doing this other California cities were loaning money to central district hotels, as indeed Fort Bragg had done in the past on this very property. Hotels generate that all important bed tax and damn well bring in other business. Fort Bragg's Old Coast Hotel was a popular landmark and a historic property on top of all that. Turning it into a social services center that generated no taxes and that brought a frankly transient population into the economic heart of the city where they truly did not of their own initiative tend to be , worked a sort of magic on the people of the city but not until they finally found out. It was not pretty
But before that, when it was all nice and dark and quiet, Scott Dietz and the mayor did not worry about any of those confusing economic arguments or tax implications. The legal point is that they did not allow you or even any other councilman to worry about them either or even know about them. Neither did they inform the press or any other person outside of their cabal. Is that criminal? It is damn sure sneaky. But sneaky is technically not criminal. It would have prosecutable if and only if there had been if one other city councilman in on this exciting and perfect deal. But the rest of the city council allegedly found out when the people did four days before they cast the vote. But of course they were all aware of it.
Taken all in all, the whole Old Coast Hotel deal was an elegant scheme to take both the federal government and the state government to the cleaners at the same time. When I call them criminal it is because I know damn well that all counilmen knew about the deal from the get go and therefore they actually did behave in a criminal manner. They just couldn't pass it up. They were still mad and said so about having to "give back," as they put it, the two million for the merge project that the town hated with fierce unanimity. This was really a slicker deal. It would make up for the hurt the lost two million had left among the council. This deal was much better. It had the immense advantage of being behind the public's back. True, it was a bit complicated but it was lucrative to the city and their friends. It generated over a million in cash to the special friends of the city and hundreds of thousands in extra money to pass around to the social service industry folks, of whom there is a thriving community. The pill pushers and misery misers and poverty pimps were available instantly to provide apparently spontaneous public support for what the day before was widely acknowledged to be a wholly villainous agency called by many, Hostility House. Four days after an innocuous fictitious business names announcement the social services movement showed up. Town hall was packed and a vote was taken with promptitude. When the smoke cleared, Presto, the Carines had gotten a $2 million check from the IRS, the city had a check for million and some change from the state.
I have written about the resistance of the people of the city to this deal many times over the months as the city administration fought back at every junction against community activism and protest. The community kept pushing and the city management adopted a strategy to deliberately drag it out, create obstacles, make absurd objections and otherwise delay. Probably people are tired of the whole thing and of course that was the conscious intention of city government. An election seems at last on the horizon, and I think that after the delays and obstacles that the city has placed in the way of this election that public indignation may be greater and not less. This week, as soon as the County accepts a flawless and massive petition which they will certainly have to do, the election will officially begin formally and we will see if the media blackout continues to prevail. Or if the people contrive somehow to provide their own mechanism of discourse that the Advocate will not give them.
But let us acknowledge the effectiveness of these studied and obstructive delays and foot dragging by the city administration. So far they have indeed prevailed to drag matters out, and for all of that time the Old Coast Hotel is operating as a social center. Delay by the city is backed up by a media blackout by our only truly local media source the Fort Bragg Advocate. This newspaper in careful coordination with the city hall cabal has imposed a local media blackout on community resistance to the Ortner takeover of the Old Coast Hotel. They print nothing from the opposition to the deal while printing anything and everything from the city government. The advocate is frankly a propaganda tool of Linda Ruffing. They admit it, and they don’t care. They are owned by a hedge fund in New York and are friends with city manager Ruffing. They don’t know you. They have no more integrity or honesty than any other shoddy organ of propaganda in all of the dismal history of censorship. I say to the Advocate shame. this deliberate news blackout is unAmerican, it is unethical, it is deliberate and it is at the bottom of our problems as a town with our city government. Someday this truly egregious civic misgovernment will be known and when it is the editorial policy and crude censorship of the Advocate will also be exposed.
In Fort Bragg only the AVA continues to honestly cover the true story. You, dear reader, if you live in Fort Bragg have only this paper and the chat rooms from which to discover the subversion of public interests by your own local government.
Any way I guess Scott is actually right about this, it is not actually illegal to be sneaky, although in California law there is the strong implication that public officials owe a greater ethical obligation and are expected to not be overtly sneaky. But loophole are loopholes, and I guess that I have to admit it — Scot Dietz is not technically a criminal. If I had the misjudgement to think that he was criminal just because he deceived and misled the people and did a secret real estate deal with a $2 million phony deduction to the seller, if I was willing to do that, frankly he did not know what I would not do. He was equally amazed that I had the idea he would profit from this alleged criminality. Bullshit (I thought but did not say), you love the strokes you get, the special treatment, that’s all it is for you a chance to be the big deal that you always suspected that you weren't and against every expectation of yours turned out to be. I hate to put it like that, but really, what a lot of strutting for no work. Dare the public anticipate even a minor effort? One dissenting vote perhaps? Propose something?
Yes, I would say you are using the office for profit. You don't steal directly but if you don't do anything at all except posture as an elitist, and from that posture casually torpedo every notion of public disclosure or transparency. Sorry, I just do not consider that responsible. Government transparency is a general public right. You owe it to us. Fight against transparency and you serve the interests of the incumbency and those who pay their way. There is a class of people in our county that likes that, rewards it, and to me that fairly counts as criminal. If not criminal it is at least shameful. In exchange you get to be a the focal point of a socio/political elite and you have found that you can use that access and prestige to pad your income, This is not illegal either and I would not care if you would do some work. But I have noted with dismay that in your term of office you have not done anything except posture. You have not proposed anything, suggested anything or said anything. It is true that our pal Scott Dietz is very excited over the pork that is coming down (has come down actually) from CBDG for Bainbridge Park infrastructure. He expects the voter to believe that he had anything to do with getting that money. And they probably will.
But that is showbiz, and the truth is that Scott Dietz has done nothing at all except systematically degrade the dignity of the office and manifest a flagrant disregard for ethical probity. Is that criminal? I guess not.