We have always loved our City Council. We know they are flawed but they have always been a big part of what makes life gracious in our little city — the freedom to build our lives with our own hands, to work, to create, to raise our kids in wholesome (mostly) surroundings. They sincerely work for us.
It is the skeleton in our community closet that the City Council as a governing body that is a gentle disappointment to us all.
The Council has inherited the precious mantle of self-government for which so many have poured out their blood. I guess that is a cliche, but the blood was real and the achievement was the greatest in the history of man. Living up to the responsibilities of self-government is a damn hard job, the hardest we have. It turns out that those self-governing shoes were just too big for them.
Very obviously and painfully the City Council now and formerly has never lived up to the responsibilities entrusted to them. The byzantine complexities of civic administration are simply too much for a volunteer City Council. The city administration has always run circles around them, fooled them, lied to them and mocked them. Standard operating procedure lots of places. We have waited and we have hoped for the Council to step up. The hope was bone deep but it was never fulfilled. By law, the direction of governance comes from the Council. In practice it never does.
Over the years we have had a few good council people, Jere Melo with whom I disagreed on every issue was a hard worker and no one’s fool. He accomplished a great deal, some of it useful, but he is long gone. Bernie Norvell has given it a go, studied hard and unapologetically accomplished nothing. Mr. Norvell is at least responsive to a small clique of supporters and thinks that satisfies the job requirement. Bernie is content with a holding pattern. He does not propose, he does not initiate, he does not have a discernable position on any issue until the city administration tells him what they intend to do. The tiny questions that he inserts into the council meetings are a parody of inquiry. I believe that he is the best man we have and he has not done anything except fire Linda Ruffing. It was a good start but it is not all that we have a right to expect of him. Cueball (Mike Cimilino) is smart, deeply informed and totally ineffective. He watched the squandering of resources and the mismanagement with a practiced eye acquired during a long career in municipal infrastructure. He asked the right questions and absorbed the excuses and the spin without offering a correction or an alternative. I know that he understands. I know that he cares, but he would not fight.
Will Lee and Mayor Lindy Peters are simply co-conspirators in venal non-transparency. Both of them are petulant, pompous, and defiantly uncritical. They are great smilers and ridiculously proud of their positions. They have the depth and determination appropriate to a high school student council. People tend to like them because they are unthreatening in the way that only complete disengagement from the issues makes possible.
I arrived at this conclusion reluctantly, but I have come to understand that Lindy Peters and Will Lee do not have half an ounce of courage or integrity between them. Personally, I would prefer an out and out flunky like Hammerstrom to the dodging ducking, weaving super-flexibility of Lindy Peters.
Will Lee has discovered his calling as a professional apologist. He finds that it pays well. He does his act for the corrupt hospital and now he does it for the city administration. He asserts that our bureaucrats will do just fine if everybody would just listen to him and leave the poor administrators that make our policy completely alone. Comments on the scoundrels who make the decisions behind the backs of the City Council are extremely discomfiting. Will just hates that stuff. Pick on me if you must thunders Will Lee but critical remarks on the city administration that are running the show behind my back will simply not be tolerated. We have a permanently dysfunctional city council with a glaring absence of talent or integrity. But what can you do?
The Fort Bragg City Council is the best local democracy we have access to. As a city, we want to respect it. As a community, we trust it to stand up for us. The people of the city have been patient and long-suffering, but the City Council in Fort Bragg ain't much. And now in a practical sense, we are losing even that.
A few days before the regular City Council meeting April 23, the city received a letter that will almost certainly blow Fort Bragg city politics as we have known it straight to hell and terminate the Council as we understand it. The Fort Bragg City Council in its present form is doomed unto death.
The letter that nuked the Council was from one Jacob Patterson Esq. on behalf of a mysterious Committee for Responsive Representation. (No one knows who they are.) It was a Request For Compliance With The California Voting Rights Act. Counselor Patterson asserts in the complaint that the Fort Bragg Hispanic population is bobbing along in an ocean of white, wishing that they had someone from their own protected class to vote for. The act proposes to remedy the dilution of Hispanic votes in the general election system.
Every two years in the City Council elections our tiny city looks for its best people. Everybody in our small town votes on every councilperson. That was then. Now we will be forced under threat of an unwinnable lawsuit to do it another way. Redistricting is what they call it.
The mass of white voters and the minority of Hispanic voters is held to be fundamentally unjust, at least according to this transient attorney. Blowing up the principle of a general election in favor of tiny elections to be held where Hispanics live is the antidote to injustice. In Fort Bragg little areas filled with Hispanics only are nowhere to be found. But incredibly, the Act does not require protected classes to be concentrated. The Act just charges into local elections and wreaks havoc. Damn the torpedos. Instead of electing the best people in a small city it redistricts the city electorate into little neighborhoods. We will get the best people in a couple of blocks. Each little section of the city will vote on a neighborhood City Council representative.
But voting by neighborhoods we could not get a competent boy scout leader, Hispanic or otherwise. It will marginalize our talent pool and reduce the City Council to the mediocrity of another planning commission. That works fine for some folks. It will give the North of Pine liberals a permanent seat on the council. And that, of course, is the point.
I am very sure that nobody who opposes redistricting or supports it doubts that the maneuver is a deliberate exploitation of race for political gain. In Fort Bragg, no one, Hispanic or otherwise, imagines we have a disenfranchised class. Like the Portuguese or the Italians or the Finns or the Swedes before them, the new Hispanic immigrants that have come to Fort Bragg are clearly not in need of protection. Legal and not, they are the backbone of our city and completely respected. Prosperity, hard work and pride distinguish them. Nobody has to protect them and I am very confident that they would rightly resent the presumption.
But for the ruthless political degenerates who are hammering at the foundations of our city, decency and common sense do not matter. The city will be forced to fight an expensive, almost certainly futile lawsuit to avoid redistricting. We can't afford it. The City Council doesn’t have the guts to resist it. The cities that have tried to fight redistricting have failed. Redistricting is a bad idea but a foregone conclusion.
The California Voting Rights Act for all the grandeur of its intention is a bomb lobbed at small local governments. It may have some usefulness in large cities. But in a small town of 1500 households, it is a formula for institutionalized incompetence.
However vile, it pays well for the entrepreneurial attorneys who run with the ball. Charitably I would characterize Mr. Patterson as a carpetbagging, self-serving twit. But you have to hand it to him — he has identified a profitable angle for himself and an anonymous committee has hired him. He gets to destroy the City Council. Payday for Jacob Paterson is on the way.
In Fort Bragg, we respect the City Council, I think that everyone feels that in an important way, they belong to us. But you have to ask yourself how much did they ever care? Now we will get to see them humiliated and watch as they cave into a proposal that will take the responsibility off their shoulders and end our most important institution of democratic participation. I hope they fight it, even if they can’t win. But if they do it will be the first time.