I Was There

by Malcolm Macdonald, August 31, 2016

You Are There was a 1940s and 50s CBS radio and television series in which 20th Century reporters pretended to be at significant historical events from centuries gone by.  In present day Mendocino County there are those who report on certain events simply by watching on television or their computer feed. In many cases there's nothing wrong with this. Problems arise when the “remote viewer” believes they are seeing the complete picture then extrapolates an opinion based only on what the camera lens is showing.

The August 22nd Fort Bragg City Council meeting proved a case in point. The oft times Johnny-on-the spot media outlet known as Mendocino Sports Plus made the following observation and commentary, “And only one city council candidate was at the meeting — Rex Gressett — we guess the other four candidates are not ready for the harsh realities of 'Prime Time.' But, we're guessing, since they weren't regular attendees or contributors to City Council meetings in the past, why start now? Odd way to run campaigns if you ask us.”

Those who were seated in the audience, out of view of the camera which catches only the City Council, City staff, and speakers at the public microphone, observed three other City Council candidates attentively watching and some times taking notes throughout the three hour meeting. One of those candidates was Curtis Bruchler. Mr. Bruchler was born and raised in Northern California. He has worked as a union plumber as well as for a big city water department before moving to Fort Bragg fifteen years ago. He currently works at E&B Automotive. According to his candidate filing statement, Mr. Bruchler “decided to run for City Council because [he] believe[s] that Fort Bragg is at a crossroads. Current economic and social conditions require leadership with vision. We will need strong leadership to help guide our community into the future. We will need leadership that listens to its' constituency, believes in total government transparency and acts in all respects in the best interests of the City of Fort Bragg and its' citizens.”

Perhaps the most active note taker at the August council meeting proved to be Will Lee. Mr. Lee has lived in the community for three decades. He has been a business owner in at least three endeavors, including chef at the Fort Bragg Grille. Currently he is listed as the Medical Staff Manager at Mendocino Coast District Hospital. His candidate filing statement includes the following, “I support constructive dialogue between our community leaders, our Hispanic citizens, advocates for the homeless and disabled, and law enforcement. Together we can strengthen the bonds that make Fort Bragg strong and united. Together we can help develop and foster job growth for families. Together we can keep our city safe through responsible development to keep our local families together in a city that we all love. I will seek your good ideas and work for solutions to the issues presented to the Council for consideration and action.”

If you want minute observations that the camera didn't catch, try this on for size (for what it's worth). When City Council candidate Scott Menzies seems to be losing interest in matters before the council he twirls his pen/pencil like a baton between his fingers. However, when matters pique his interest he appears to be a careful note taker.

Mr. Menzies is a downtown business owner and tai chi instructor who has attended just about as many City Council meetings as Rex Gressett, the man Mendocino Sports Plus mis-labeled as the only candidate present at the August 22nd meeting. Menzies' candidate filing statement concludes with this, “My values include supporting a thriving yet sustainable economy. I want to see all of our downtown storefronts filled with businesses. I have spent years exploring the role of small, independent businesses in community development. My work establishing an Independent Business Alliance in Humboldt County and my involvement in the Fort Bragg business community have all affirmed my belief in the power of small, independent businesses to grow social capital, develop our economy, and affect positive change. Fort Bragg is grappling with some significant issues, but these issues are not entirely unique to us. I believe we can benefit from trying to understand and solve local issues in light of the world, national, and personal challenges that we all face. I am motivated by big-picture thinking and problem solving and hope to bring my proactive, progressive stance to the Fort Bragg City Council.”

Mr. Gressett's candidate statement includes, “I have had businesses and one marriage and many disasters and many triumphs and joys. But I am not running because of any of these things. I am not running because of my past experiences, or because what I have learned in business will make me an expert in government. We have experts. I am running because I am one of the people that loves our town so much to have become greatly involved in the decisions that our city is making and those that we will have to make. In his ‘Republic’ Plato tells us that the people must be told that when the gods made man out of the clay of the earth he mixed a little gold in the clay of the leaders. This belief is still widely held today. Quite obviously it does not apply to me. I am only a citizen. I write on city issues regularly for our best newspaper. I have been to a great many city council meetings and committee meetings and dialogues and budget meetings and public meetings and dialogues I have attended with an open mind and I hope a fearless determination to find out and to understand exactly what our government is doing. I have uncovered and probed and investigated and I have written about it widely. I continue to learn. Because of this public involvement it is not hard to find me on the web or to review my comments and protestations before the city council. But as the election proceeds I will do my utmost to let the people know my positions on city policy and direction.”

Bernie Norvell is the fifth candidate for the two vacancies on the Fort Bragg City Council in November's election. Mr. Norvell has lived and worked in Fort Bragg nearly all his life. Part of his candidate filing statement reads like this, “I am comfortable working in many settings with people of all ages and diverse social and economic backgrounds. While impressed with the many accomplishments we have achieved as a community, I am also concerned about the undercurrent of distrust and negativity among a growing number of citizens and the polarizing influence it has on our ability to move forward on important and exciting work that lies ahead. I share your pride in our town’s history and understand the need to be heard to secure the future we deserve.”

For those who like the soap opera-esque aspects of civic meetings, Mr. Gressett performed in much his usual manner by referring to Linda Ruffing as the “Darth Vader” of city management more than once during public input on the issues surrounding possible updates to Fort Bragg's Inland Land Use and Development Code. At one point Mayor Dave Turner took umbrage and/or Gressett's argumentative bait. Turner responded to what he believed to be an egregious misstatement of facts concerning Ruffing's work, “If you are going to come up and say things that just aren't true, you are going to get responded to, especially in this kind of meeting. I can't stand it when somebody says something that is just not true, especially in such a derogatory way to someone who works hard for this city. I know it's flamboyant and it sounds good, and it's right off the masthead…”

At this point Mayor Turner pointed into the audience. Since the camera was focused on Turner, those watching from home probably assumed he gestured toward Gressett, but the Mayor was pointing at yours truly when he added, “your masthead, fanning the flames of discontent.”

Astute AVA readers know that those words have waved over the front page for a lot longer than I have been writing in our beloved Anderson Valley newspaper; however it appeared that Mayor Turner had grown so annoyed at Gressett he needed to let loose on anyone associated with a paper that would deign to print Mr. Gressett's ramblings from time to time.

The AVA also recently ran a piece by David Gurney that heartily criticized Fort Bragg city government. Mr. Gurney was on hand August 22nd to speak during the public comment section of the city council meeting. Gurney raised a valid point questioning why the consent calendar is the very last item on the Fort Bragg City Council's agenda at each meeting. Gurney wants it moved up much closer to the beginning of such meetings. He rightfully cited other venues at which this is the custom (Ukiah City Council and the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, for instance).

Unfortunately Dave has a habit of nearly hyperventilating when he gets wrought up over an issue, making his two appearances at the public microphone nearly as dramatic as Bette Davis squaring off with Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? In this melodrama Gurney was threatened with potential arrest, but that got no further than the threat, and the irony of the whole consent calendar brouhaha is that the matter of an earlier appearance on the agenda will likely go to a council committee, get passed forward to the full Fort Bragg City Council, then end up approved on a future consent calendar.

Lost in much of the casting for Much Ado About Nothing was the discussion about vacation rentals, house sharing, and similar subjects, but don't worry those matters were re-directed back to city staff before the matters return for full council approval. You can watch from the comfort of your home or show up and see the full drama unfold in person.

You Are There by clicking on the author's website: malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com.

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