Once upon a time in Elk on a cold winter afternoon Thomas Carlyle, Oliver Cromwell and I were pounding across the green moors of England riding hard with the incomparable calvary of an awakened nation to execute a king. But when the shadows grew long, and the clock insisted I pulled myself away from my books to head up Highway One to Fort Bragg. I was surprised to discover It was Dec 10, 2018. The City Council, fairly and honestly denoted the Lindy Peters City Council, was meeting for the last time. The new City Councilwomen were taking their seats.
As I leaned into the road and blessed the absence of traffic I thought to myself that in the unsung chronicle of our tiny and isolated coastal town epochs were changing and whole philosophies of governance were passing into history. It is a history all parties participating devoutly hope will never be written. Fort Bragg's administration was providing ceremonial cake at 5:30 as the city gathered in Townhall to turn the page.
There was almost nothing on the formal agenda but ceremony. The only token of real business they had on the agenda was the always wildly popular dispensation of money. This joyous event arrives annually in the form of interest-free housing rehabilitation loans you don't have to pay back for 30 years unless you sell your house. It is a County program that generously enables a low-income family to substantially erode their equity on the condition that they remain planted in the community and permit special building bureaucrats to tell them in comprehensive detail exactly how they must spend the cash. The awardees get a rehab but are also compelled to buy shiny new energy efficient appliances. There are already 13 families on the waiting list.
When I got to Townhall I thought at first that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in a Fellini film. Everyone except Dave Turner was arrayed in brilliant Timberwolf purple tea shirts with Dave Turner's picture on the front. That not being enough for inventive strangeness everyone who wanted one was given a hand-held paper Dave Turner mask on a little stick. I was not entirely surprised to discover that. It had officially become Dave Turner Day. It was a nightmare. I got my cake and took a seat.
As I quietly tapped away on my computer trying not to be distracted by the deluge of Daves, the room behind me filled unto overflowing. At first, almost everyone there was a Dave.
With malice aforethought, the discredited villains of our recent political past once more conspired to steal the show at Townhall and this time to manifest the spirit of Dave before it whiffed out for the last time like an exhausted candle. As an expression of surreal political theater it was intense. The entire Linda Ruffing political machine had come to Townhall to bear witness to the passing of the last and most effective of the Ruffing political shills. Linda Ruffing herself was present for the first time since they fired her. Scott Dietz was resurrected from under the political bus where he had been so casually discarded. Doug Hammerstrom was in murky attendance. Meg Courtney showed up beaming vacuity. They all got their cake and milled around in their purple Dave shirts and paper Dave faces in a demonstration of weirdness that scared me.
Fort Bragg always turns out for important political rituals. The candidates' forum, our principle election event, is always massively packed. Any controversy that evades obfuscation and actually comes before the Council attracts a gratifying crowd of patriots. It is a full-time occupation for the manipulators of policy to keep the dirty business of the city (and there is plenty of it) off the public radar and to ensure that the really rotten stuff is mentioned in sparsely attended meetings.
Success for the Council in the Lindy Peters era was a Townhall with lots of empty seats and only a few irascible regulars hanging in there. Mayor Lindy always leaned hard on secrecy and worked like a horse to keep comments and observations from the public to the extremity of the legal limit. Officially contrived deception is present in abundance in Fort Bragg, but the mere possibility of a packed city hall keeps the reigning power on their toes.
As the cake disappeared and first the seats and then every inch of floor space filled, the mass of purple tee shirted Dave worshipers became almost evenly balanced with actual people. After the conspirators had presented an elaborate truly tear-jerking video depicting the greatness of Dave through the years. Plaques were awarded to the two outgoing Councilmen Dave and in a kind of afterthought Mike Cimolino, Yin and Yang.
Dave Turner, our longest serving City Councilman ever, had for decades established himself as the preeminent apologist for the elaborately hidden but horribly real financial debacle resulting from the megalomaniacal reign of former City Manager Linda Ruffing. He was the only remaining Councilman of an incumbency that had insinuated itself into absolute control of municipal government, and which persisted (world without end) for almost twenty years. He survived the last election by 40 votes. Mike Cimolino was the new guy and by far, the most outspoken adversary of the ethically creative Ruffing system. Cimolino had run for office on the sole premise of firing Ms. Ruffing and he got it done.
For Mike Cimolino it was the end of a courageous albeit uneven campaign to move the machinery of government back into the paths of sanity. He largely achieved that and got exactly no thanks In the Monday night send off from the Dave worshipers. But the City of Fort Bragg knows. The new City Manager knows who it was that hired her. She knows why. In a few short months, Tabatha Miller has balanced the budget that had run carefully undisclosed deficits for 10 years, misallocated 3 million dollars (now being laboriously repaid) and allowed a million dollars of (arguably illegal) surprise overcharges on municipal works projects.
Every city department is still struggling under the weight of decades of mismanagement. The new City Manager Tabatha Miller got us out of the "unavoidable" city bankruptcy that Ruffing and friends had casually bequeathed the city as her parting gift. City manager Miller seems to have put Development Director Marie Jones back in the box, walking back Jones's quarter of a million dollar grand scheme to build the glass beach staircase and getting it done instead for $25 thousand. Mike Cimilino, Bernie Norvel and Will Lee made it happen by firing Ruffing and found an excellent replacement in Tabatha Miller. They deserve a lot of credit.
Dave Turner was the last vestige and primary pillar of a discredited political machine Turner practiced pretend oversight his whole career, and they sent him away in a purple blizzard of t-shirts and Dave masks.
When they passed out plaques Mike Cimolino got a regular one and Dave Turner got a grand one. But the pen of history is a sharp instrument. Dave went out in a cultish extravaganza by discredited villains. But it was Mike Cimilino, not Dave Turner that returned the City Council to reputability.