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:

“Friends,

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!

Thank you.

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.”

4 Responses to A City Divided

  1. Judy Reply

    September 13, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    I honestly believe the council as well as the Mayor have been very respectful to the City Manager. The Mayor’s praise of her speaks for itself.
    Turning this into a male vs female issue is laughable and at the same time sad. Laughable because No case of disrespect was pointed out by this group. Only their opinion, which they have a right to express. Sad, because this ( in my opinion) is the start of a campaign for someone. They want a female on the council or in the Manager position but it would have to be one of their choosing or they still wouldn’t be happy.
    You can’t blame the council for one or two loud and sometimes disrespectful people who sometimes make rude and disrespectful comments directed at Staff.

  2. mr. wendal Reply

    September 14, 2017 at 7:59 am

    Wow. Can the writer get some examples of the “rampant sexism” referred to in the emails? I’ve seen people at the city council meetings upset with process and particular issues but, apart from a couple of people whose credibility is in question with most others, it’s a matter of issues, not the sex of the city manager that has caused dissatisfaction. Exactly what examples of sexism have taken place, by whom, where and when? Will they share details? If not, they have no credibility.

    I don’t see refutation of any of the legitimate complaints about the city manager that have been made by other left-leaning residents, including women, of the city. All I see is name-calling, yet again. After the city has brought in much money to an organization that ignored citizen complaints for years, how about a city manager who is asked to share serious ongoing safety concerns regarding that organization with the city council and does nothing for weeks, until it must go on the agenda? That inaction would, of course, create a huge uproar and whether the city manager is a man or a woman or transgender has nothing to do with it. Why aren’t the people in these emails addressing the problems brought up by the community instead of, as happened at a city council meeting, calling those unhappy with the city manager misogynists? That’s untrue and completely ignores the problems. Do they really want to work to improve the situation? I see no evidence of a desire to heal the city by this group.

    Thank you, Mr. Macdonald, for the report.

    • Judy Reply

      September 18, 2017 at 6:11 am

      This is the same group who referred to those who didn’t agree with them about the Hospitality Center/Hospitality House and “bigots” and “uncaring”.

  3. Alice Chouteau Reply

    September 18, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Courtney posted that message on MCN LIst Serve, among other venues, Hugely popular, widely read in FB and the coast. The group that showed up to support Ruffing looked and sounded like Coast Democrats.
    The accusation of ‘sexism’ is downright ludicrous. The division in town was created, I suspect deliberately, by turner, ruffing, and their supporters. At the first CC meeting about the purcase of the OVH for HC, the turnerites began the name-calling and labelling, and have encouraged it since. Turner actually bragged about his superior moral compass.. The uncivil behavior came from their condescending arrogance, in my opinion, and the results of the last city election were the majority of locals fed up with the way ruffing and turner had run local gov for ten years, a , decade without bringing economic recovery to town, except their take from CDBG grants for HC. Voters Turned out to vote for fresh voices and outlooks, but underlying everything was ‘get rid of ruffing and turner.’
    And yea, I refuse to capitalize their names.

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