Fort Bragg, As 2016 Winds Down
by Rex Gressett, December 28, 2016
Over the weekend the rains were heavy. The Noyo River on which I live ran very high and strong. I thought it might be too much, but the raising water stopped short of overflowing the banks. Just. North of town however, the dam across Pudding Creek overflowed in a spectacular cataract clearly visible to the drivers on Highway One. The city now owns a drone which was used to record live this amazing spectacle and bring back a powerful video of mother nature rampaging down Pudding Creek and clobbering our dam.
Monday and Tuesday the city management hunkered behind closed doors undertaking complicated and extensive communications with insurance companies far and wide, with emergency management at the county and of course, with the owners of the dam which turns out to be (as many probably know) the notorious Koch brothers, (yes the very ones) through their subsidiary corporation Georgia Pacific, which of course also owns our vast toxic empty mill site.
By Wednesday at three o'clock Linda Ruffing our (also notorious) city manager was ready to sing for the city council. Her performance can only be described as awesome. There are few professionals at any pay level (even hers) that can equal her command of the facts, state them so succinctly and very few indeed that can manage to distort them so completely.
The new city council was notified as they say, called to town hall, for an emergency session the purpose of which was to declare a public emergency. Linda explained that houses and trailers that were north of the city were supplied by the city with water from a ten inch pipe that ran across the top of the dam. Although the dam had almost failed and was badly eroded the water pipe did not break. It was dangling precariously. She went on to describe in careful detail the cause of the emergency. When it rains she said high water happens and that somehow in this case a great deal of brush and toppled trees, the unfortunate detritus of floods had pushed rudely down the creek and got in our dam. Some flood gates were open she remarked and others were not.
The city council was the picture of focused intensity. Lindy Peters who had been appointed our mayor only a week ago but who has a great deal of experience having served on the city council years ago, was not just attentive he was engaged. They all were. Only Dave Turner the ex mayor who always felt deep in his soul that his tenure as mayor would never end was a little scrunched. He had loved being Mr. Mayor so much, more possibly than was strictly ethical. Dave was experienced but somehow diminished and mostly quiet. I felt for the guy. The days of his unqualified control of a council majority unreservedly in the pocket of the city manger had ended.
Poor Dave these last two years of his long running arc of power are at the very best a pointless prologue and at the worst a tedious embarrassment.
Will Lee and Bernie Norvell were highly attentive. I thought Bernie might be a little suspicious but not sure of what. Cueball knew things, he usually does. He made a few cryptic remarks that I did not understand till the following day, and when I figured it out, made me wonder what his problem is. I mean that with kindness and supportively. I think that there really is a problem.
Linda broke down the emergency with just the right combination of concern and serious attention to detail, showing the video, telling us that the fault was solely with mother nature, but assuring us that under her (Linda’s) expert command there might be actual advantages to the city. Opportunities might well out weigh the cost of the problems since there was (somewhat uncertain) insurance, emergency assistance, who knows. No we were not actually covered but the city was going to reroute that pipe from off the dam to the bridge on highway one in two years anyway.
The overall impression was that since our city manager was so effective the council could relax and if they wanted things done right they better. It was a no fault emergency, and thanks to us having Linda possibly an actual advantage.
The video looked great and after the presentation Linda looked even better. She had successfully conducted the first in house training session of the new city council.
The next day I did a little digging. Very very little. Actually in the interests of fair and open disclosure I admit that all I did was smoke a cigar (they smoked cigarettes) with a couple of city workers at the site. I told them about the video, how impressive the drone footage was, and how unfortunately there was not much of a story in it that the brain dead Advocate could not adequately review.
They told me that among the workers who had labored mightily and continuously through the weekend and the early week, there was great sympathy and muted hilarity for the guy that did not get up in the middle of the night and open the flood gates as he was tasked to do. What? I said. Yeah, they said, that is why the dam overflowed. But I sputtered, the trees coming down the river unexpectedly. No no, they told me, the brush and trees that did all the damage were those growing around the damn itself the only problem was that the floodgate guy had slept through it all.
The next day I appeared at city hall asking for Linda. Gee Linda, was there some issue with some guy not opening the flood gates (I know his name but what the heck who cares) she turned a pretty shade of green. Everything she does is classy. “I do not consider that it is my job to point fingers,” saith she. No Linda it is not your job to blame others if that is what you mean. But it seems a reasonable interpretation of your job to provide to the city council a fair, impartial and objective accounting of the facts. That human error played not a but the vital role in this visually engaging micro-disaster seems to have quite a bit of relevance for the city council in as much as it might well impact the insurance, the liability and even dare we think it, the protocols and procedures that led to the mishap. All of that is not her job either I guess. But what all understand to be her job before anything at all is to deflect city council attention from any possibility of blame that might attach to her even remotely.
Linda professionally and expertly used the little disaster to train the as yet not-housebroken city council. Her patented super-girl persona shone like polished armor. It rivaled even the great video. Why smudge it up with mundane facts when a little lie could keep it all bright and shiny.