On Monday Morning Mayor Lindy Peters was plucked up for jury duty. Our shiny new City Manager Tabatha Miller graciously stood in for him at the informal morning meeting. There was an hour’s notice that Ms. Miller would conduct the meeting. Whamo, the (small) conference room at City Hall, was packed. People were standing and more kept coming. It was more evidence if any more were needed how fast and vast is the capacity of social media (i.e., MendocinoSportsPlus) to mobilize the community. It was a mere whisper of a posting in the middle of a working day. Ms. Miller was smart and attentive. She listened, took good notes and radiated competence. I won't bring a dead issue up again, but I cannot forbear to remark that Ms. Ruffing would not have conducted an open meeting in the conference room for any contingency short of a nuclear strike, and very likely not even then. (Ok, I said it at the meeting.)
In the social media comments I saw, the best was as a short one: “Don’t break the new city manager.” I am sure that she has the total support of a thankful community. As the discussion went around the table, the phenomena of professionalism and openness in the office of the City Manager clashed disturbingly with the expostulations and complaints of a deeply frustrated community accustomed to the use of battering rams in mortal struggle with City Hall. I was certainly conscious of the disjunction. When they hired Tabatha Miller in darkest closed session negotiations, I seriously doubt that the Council was entirely forthcoming about the volatility and dissatisfaction in Fort Bragg. I am not sure the City Council could have conveyed the depth of it, and pretty sure they didn’t bring it up.
She knows now.
Besides all that, it must be like being hired to troubleshoot Pandora’s box. There is the issue of a $1 million-plus in overcharges from bollixed city contracts, dark questions about one-bid deals that spiraled out of control, and rumors of swiped money derived from the Coastal Trail going into the Chestnut Street project.
The real heartbreaker was the surprise deficit. It really should not have come as a revelation. The numbers were there but obscured for years by jolly City Hall spin. When we collectively discovered Fort Bragg was somewhat worse than broke it blindsided almost everybody.
Nobody yet has talked seriously about the impending CalPers (pension fund) contribution that will push us definitively over the financial edge in three years, and absolutely no one on the council or in the administration has breathed a whisper about the open secret of massive unfunded liabilities for decomposing infrastructure.
Even more politically incendiary is the leaked information that Georgia Pacific, with the stolid compliancy of our own Development Director Marie Jones, has been meeting regularly with a whole raft of stakeholder agencies to make smooth the way for a walk out on the cleanup.
Adding insult to injury Ms. Jones not only did not inform the people or the Council she was meeting with the state bigwigs, she maintains righteously she was perfectly right to handle all that on her own. “Do I watch what you do in your house?” saith Marie in weird indignation. Too bad DTSC was not so self-contained. And then there was George Reinhardt’s succession of document leaks.
The next shoe to drop in doom, will be in the form of a no further action letter from the state department of toxic substances control (DTSC). Coming soon. All of that is context for the poor City Manager.
On the front burner is the pending wanton destruction of the dry sheds, a loud signification that our community’s economic interest is not a priority. Blame for that one belongs to the City Council of course. Profound political rumblings are ominously audible.
Monday morning, Folks around the table agreed that it is not as bad as it used to be. In days of yore keeping 54% of Fort Bragg residents below the poverty line was the key to the golden grab for federal Community Block Development Grants (CDBG). City Hall administration got to keep 7% of the federal cash and they loved it.
Tabatha acknowledged that Fort Bragg got a hefty percentage of all city income from CBDG, “more than anywhere else that I have seen,” she honestly remarked. The old timers at the Monday Morning meeting affirmed the impossibility in days gone by of getting even the most innocent enterprise through Fort Bragg City Planning. For decades endemic poverty was a (the) golden opportunity for the federal grant getters at City Hall. That’s all over. All the voters had to do was fire in two successive election cycles, just short of the entire city council.
After the bloodbath, the development department permit people reformed themselves marvelously. It all came up like perking popcorn in the one hour meeting. The whole circus was duly noted on the city manager’s notepad. She did not faint. Not even close. She has been here two weeks and deserves our most sincere support and understanding.