A City Divided
by Malcolm Macdonald, September 13, 2017
Meg Courtney appears to be rather poor at keeping a secret. In early August Ms. Courtney somehow got hold of information from a closed session meeting of Fort Bragg's City Council. As a former council member one would think she would have recognized the privileged nature of closed session matters. Rather than keeping the information private she sent out emails far and wide. Eventually, it even landed in my laptop, though I doubt if I've ever been on Courtney's friend list. The email read: “I've been made aware that there is a coup brewing to get rid of Linda Ruffing our City Manager. It would be a real tragedy for our city if we were to loose [sic] her. As a former council member, [I] can attest to her professionalism, her honesty, her clarity, her creativity and my respect for her.
“This Monday (August 13) there is a city council meeting where we can let the council know of our support for her. Public comment, where we can make our thoughts known, is one of the first things on the agenda...“Below is a list of Linda's accomplishments to help you with talking points. Please call me if you want details.Hope to see you on Monday night! And please forward this to 'your people'! — Meg”
Not sure just who Meg's people are, but in the waning days of August many of the same addressees received this from Courtney: “You may have already received this, but in case not, here is a really good idea from Hilary White and hopefully we can sustain it every Monday, though the next Monday is Labor Day and not sure if the Mayor will be in. (caveat: Sadly I can't be there as I have a long-standing appt. in Ukiah that morning. — Meg”
The text or email (not sure which it was originally) continues, with these headlines, authored by someone other than Meg Courtney:“Request for Action:Monday with the Mayor10:45 am on Monday, August 28”
Followed by the body of the message:
In response to the forced retirement of our female city manager, Linda Ruffing; and the 'chosen' departure of our female city attorney, Samantha Zutler, due to the observable conditions of rampant sexism and outright harassment, we are both outraged at the treatment of women in positions of authority, and concerned about the future with a 5 member, all white, male, City Council.
“While Linda and Samantha will no longer be part of the future of our city government, and our actions will not bring them back, we feel compelled to be proactive in an attempt to push back against institutional misogyny and also publically [sic] educate our City Council. They have already begun the hiring process for both of those positions. In the current climate, it is extremely doubtful that they would hire a woman, or that a woman would choose to accept either position.
“As a beginning action, we are proposing that a group of women gather at City Hall for Mondays with the Mayor, to have a SILENT protest. Meaning we go there and DO NOT TALK (to him or each other) for one hour, or as long as the time lasts, or until you have to leave. Lindy Peters likes to be liked and likes to talk.
“A large group of women sitting in silent protest in city hall would be a very loud commentary on how we feel about the treatment of women in our city. We are frequently silenced, but to choose silence as a statement could be powerful. What do you think?
“The time to gather at city hall is 10:45 am on Monday, August 28. We are reaching out to invite women we know to participate. We are hoping to have this be an unexpected action, so if you ask another personal friend to join us, please ask that they not spread the word publicly.
“We will need a lot of people, men and women, to get involved in what is happening locally. We need to find a way to engage in thoughtful and civil discourse about the future of our town. We need to demand real leadership from our elected officials.
“We will be presenting the Mayor with the following request:”
The request was apparently authored by one or more of the signatories listed at the conclusion of the email/text. The request itself was addressed directly to Mayor Lindy Peters:
“We oppose both the actions and inactions of this City Council that have created an environment of hostility at public meetings. The Council's actions, or lack thereof, have encouraged and contributed to the seething distrust and rumormongering within our community. We call on you, Lindy Peters, as mayor and head of the City Council to improve the tone of your public meetings so that they are less hostile, more inclusive of our entire community, and more conducive to the goals of our democracy. The untimely exits of our City Attorney and City Manager, both highly intelligent women who were actively mistreated by this Council and the public, is cause for great concern. You have allowed for some of the most misogynistic language and misleading accusations to go unchecked and allowed these two highly skilled, female, employees of our City to be scapegoats for horribly misguided anger from the community and the Council. You have done very little to provide the leadership necessary to redirect this misguided anger which has only allowed it to fester. We are tired of speaking in calm and rational voices and not being heard, but we refuse to stoop to the level of ranting and raving and shouting and arguing. We hope you will hear our silence.
We hope you will join us!
Carole White, Simon Smith, and Hilary White”
The trio then added this postscript, apparently aimed at their readership, not Mayor Peters: “If you have not read this week's paper, you might want to. There is a statement from Linda herself, an interview with Linda by newspaper staff, and a community forum piece written by us. We need to keep up the pressure. If you can't participate in this action, please consider writing a letter to the editor. We can't change what's done but we can say we're not ok with it.”
If the writers of the email/text had been paying closer attention to Fort Bragg City Council meetings they would have noticed that many months prior, the August 28th city council meeting had been cancelled. For the past few years the council has taken one of the August meetings off the calendar as something of a holiday for council members and city staff. With that in mind Mayor Peters was not present at City Hall that morning for “Mondays with the Mayor.” As the Courtney message points out, the following Monday was Labor Day. In addition, through previously scheduled events (including a “sister city” visit to Japan), Mayor Peters is already scheduled to be absent from Fort Bragg for consecutive Mondays into late September.
In reference to Lindy Peters, when he took over the role of mayor in December, 2016, he said this, “I want this to be an inclusive, participatory government.. when people come to the podium and sometimes get emotional talking about an issue, I pledge that I will listen... and we will try and give respect, mutual respect from the podium and respect from the dais... This country is divided... and to a certain extent this community is divided too... I make it my mission to bring this community together, to try and find common ground…. As mayor it's up to me to run the meetings [in a manner] that will be civil, where we will treat each other with respect, we will be polite and try not to use perjoratives... We will do the best we can as council members, and I know I speak for all of us, to listen to everybody, to listen to all sides of the issues and try to make a decision that is best for our community.”
Readers can judge for themselves the validity of each speaker/writer's words. Fort Bragg remains a city somewhat divided. There are people who I view as being spot on about the issues facing the hospital, but in some cases, in my opinion, those same folk are dead wrong about the matters pertaining to Hospitality House or the Hospitality Center. But even within the major issues of the past few years alliances are not simply defined. There are professional women in Fort Bragg who were highly critical of actions taken by former police chief Scott Mayberry, seemingly putting them in the pro Linda Ruffing camp. Yet, the same female professionals were just as critical of Hospitality House, thus, apparently, placing them on board with the anti-Ruffing folks. Oversimplifying the problems within Fort Bragg or the actions of its city council to a women vs. men argument appears misguided at best.
Let's close with the official Fort Bragg City press release, quoting Mayor Peters concerning Linda Ruffing's departure: “Fort Bragg has been very fortunate to have City Manager Linda Ruffing at the helm for the past 12 years. She is a talented and effective leader who has dedicated many years of her career to our community. I wish her all the best when she retires early next year.”