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Miss Smith’s Finest Hour

The City Council meeting met Monday night in Fort Bragg’s Townhall was packed. I am always amazed at how much is revealed by intention or by omission at City Council meetings. Whatever they intend to do or try to hide, the focus of political pressures in the formality of democratic ritual tends strongly to strip away the veil behind which power maneuvers. It is high drama and it is very real.

A Council meeting in its traditional and formal way always makes Councilmen more or less uncomfortable and provides the greatest check on the abuse of power that the people own. It is the only check other than a free press, which alas even if you include all radio and other media in Fort Bragg, is almost solely limited to a newspaper actually published not in the city but in the county. (I wish someone would correct me on that last point, but they can’t.) In short, we depend as a self-governing city on what reporting we have and the formal meetings of our City Council.

Grave and irresolvable mechanical problems with my beloved and normally highly reliable truck kept me from the meeting. I was at first resigned knowing that Paul (McCarthy) and I would watch it together at home, where at least I could jeer and hoot to my heart's content and eat popcorn.

When the meeting began, Townhall was, as I said, packed. An unusual event in recent months. The controversy about Tucker’s Bar moving to Franklin Street was resolved at the Planning Commission but appealed to the Council by a group of quiet living advocates much concerned that cigarette smoke and excessive cheerfulness would mitigate negatively their repose in apartments proximate to the main drag in Fort Bragg. They came in numbers and spoke with courtesy and eloquence. The Council bore it patiently, with only Mayor Lindy Peters cracking for a moment to point out that NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) was the bane of government generally and predictable in the current instance. As the crowd rotated through their opportunity for three minutes at the podium it became clear that the opponents of bars in general and the anti-cigarette advocates were at least balanced and perhaps outnumbered by citizens dismayed by the many empty properties, deserted and deteriorating for long years in the central business district. The Council listened with attention and then kind of got up and shot back, as the appeal was denied and the City Council one by one, exercised their common sense and stood up to the NIMBYites. It was a refreshing and entertaining moment. A capitulation to the influential Andrea Luna’s (and a few others) desire to abide in the central business district without the annoying distraction of increased commerce and prosperity on Franklin Street would have been a catastrophic mistake. They didn’t make it. The bar including the smoking patio at the rear was approved, the appeal was denied and Tucker’s Bar is coming to Franklin. In pace requiescat.

At that point, virtually everyone left. I should not say, everyone. A small group of regulars remained. But the crowd as such left. When Townhall was emptied out Tabatha Miller, our new and quite wonderful City Manager, gave the Council an update on the most formidable, urgent and potentially destructive issue facing the City. She described to the Council progress on the complete dismantling and formal ending of the Fort Bragg City Council as a functional entity and how we must capitulate to Jacob Patterson's lawsuit to implement districting under the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act) by sheltering under the Safe Harbor provision, which makes Districting precipitous and certain.

Ms. Miller updated the Council on the apparently inevitable with professional restraint and technical precision. She is walking a tightrope. If the new City Manager was to oversee the financial ruin of the city in her first year of office it would not be pleasant for her. The City Council of course bears a more acute responsibility. They chewed over the misery foisted on the City by the cynicism of Jacob Patterson, the young attorney and sole beneficiary of the ploy to divide Fort Bragg into ethnically defined voting districts.

The Council ran through the absurdities and contradictions inherent in the shakedown by attorney Patterson. Ms. Miller described the division of our electorate into 5 arbitrary districts by expert demographers. She released the key information that a district could be contrived where a maximum of 25% of the voters' district will be Hispanic. It was the best they could do. If a Hispanic person runs for office no one in any other district, Hispanic or otherwise, can vote for them. (Councilman Will Lee was described in the demographers' data as Asian.)

It might have been funny but under districting the very heart and substance of self-representation and local government is going to be taken from us. The point of the CVRA is to correct racially polarized voting. It can't do that, if only because polarized voting can be shown to anyone’s satisfaction not to exist in Fort Bragg. Under Districting, the City Council will become a dysfunctional joke along the lines of the current Planning Commission. The loss would be immense and catastrophic for self-governance. I don’t actually blame the crowd for leaving. They don’t understand Districting and can't quite believe it. I don’t. It is complex, absurd, sinister and irrational. The City Council is incrementally and reluctantly being dragged to admit openly that the one man assault by a covetous and immoral baby lawyer in concert with the state of California is driving a stake through the heart of what we know as our City Council. The way the invariably gentlemanly Dave Turner put it, “We’re screwed.”

Mr. Patterson was of course not present to defend the indefensible. One imagines him tucked up in his mommy's house watching the meeting and morosely brooding over his whiskey or whatever it is he drinks. He must be observing his own descent into eternal infamy and consoling himself with anticipated profits as the City Council dumps pretense and becomes sufficiently frustrated to start blaming him personally.

Mr. Patterson has declined numberless times to be interviewed. He won't debate. He won't answer emails. He won't speak intelligibly before the Council. No one knows who is on the committee he claims to represent. If the mysterious committee actually does exist they have exactly no courage or integrity and a great raging fear of exposure. Admirable patriots. Attorney Patterson spends a god awful amount of time with the City Manager but no one knows what he is doing in these extensive discussions. Whatever they discuss, it does not seem to have any practical relation to the lawsuit he is responsible for. One supposes he is hiding at his mommy's house waiting for his mandated payday.

Monday night I really wanted to be there. Instead, I was stuck on the sofa at home. I actually needed to be there even in a comparatively empty hall. I wanted them to know how much it all means to me personally and how vitally important this redistricting issue is to the City. I wanted to defy the capitulation to despair. I wanted to support my councilmen in the death agony of self-government. I wanted to be a participant however bad things were.

To my significant surprise, of all people on God’s great earth, Simon Smith carried the ball. To my immense amazement and real gratitude, Simon Smith said what I would have liked to say and said it better than I would have. Ms. Smith is a vocal proponent of (detested) political correctness and a professional (as she tells it) implementer of codes of “inclusion” (which I also hate). Moreover, I believe she was a provisional (perhaps uncertain) supporter of Districting when the issue was first sprung upon us.

However that may be, Monday night Ms. Smith stood forth in her inimitable style and told the council to fight it. She told the Council to stand up for the principle of democracy, to risk even insolvency and bankruptcy if that must be. To go to court (I assume she meant) even if as seems inevitable we lose. Simon asked the Council if they were ready after leaving office to look themselves in the mirror if on their watch this abomination to democracy is inflicted upon a passionately self-governing City. It was Miss Smith's finest hour.

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