Off the Record (Oct. 4, 2017)

by AVA News Service, October 4, 2017

SAD NEWS from Willits: The man who died in the fatal motorcycle accident on Highway 20 on Sunday was Gabe Madrigal, husband of the well-known Holly Madrigal, candidate for supervisor, long-time member of the Willits City Council.

THE AWFUL NEWS from Las Vegas early Monday morning immediately ignited the usual deluge of WHYS as the pro forma national handwringing commenced. Why? Pick a reason. The country is crazier by the day, and coming apart every which way. The Vegas lone nut was apparently better organized, and much older, than the massacre maestros we’ve seen recently, but early indications are he’d suffered serious gambling reverses, his Filipina girlfriend was out of the country, perhaps because she realized lover boy was about to go off, he’d been alone for some time in his stark desert gated community, muttering to himself and getting ready to commit major evil in revenge for whatever injustice he believed he’d suffered. His pops was a famous bank robber, so a psycho gene may also have been loosened in him. Lone nuts in Mendo? Not counting the tinfoil hat types? Armed lone nuts? Lots of both, but ‘lone’ is the key descriptive. The more alone a person is, the more likely crazy becomes, and millions of people in this country are physically and psychically adrift.

ANON passes along the latest on the Courtney family who were on the Caribbean island of Dominica when the latest hurricane struck: "Word from Dr. Courtney that he and his family are safe and sound. They have food, water and power. There was not enough phone time to get a lot of information, but he did say his house survived relatively undamaged. Amazing. They don't have internet or decent phone service yet, but they have people working on the problems. I will post another email as soon as I get more information. Thank you all so very much for your good thoughts and prayers."

I HADN'T HEARD the man's voice since we were boys sixty years ago, but I recognized it instantly as that of Don Johnson, "Donnie" Johnson, as I knew him then. We were good friends in high school. "I knew you were out there somewhere," he said. I said I'd always hoped he was out there somewhere, but other than him I hadn't thought about high school since I left it in 1957, probably the year my mother said to me one day, "A very nice colored boy came by looking for you," adding, "I didn't know you had any nice friends." 'Colored' or 'negro' was the term respectable white people deployed at the time. My parents were hardly cutting edge progressives, but to them only disreputable white people — today's deplorables — resorted to ethnic slurs. Racist terms were class indicators to them, and they were, they thought, solid members of the white middle class, although they struggled all their lives to hang on to its lowest rung. Don Johnson and I, besides our friendship, shared, and probably still share, an unprecedented sports distinction, one that hasn't been matched since in the Bay Area that I know of, perhaps because high school kids aren't allowed to pitch more than a few innings a week. But one glorious night, I had pitched a 13-inning, 1-0 shutout, and Donnie Johnson had knocked in the winning run, and we'd gone jubilant and kings of the world out into the spring night. A couple of months later, high school was over and I never saw Don Johnson again, or anybody else from that time. "Are you going to the 60th reunion," Don Johnson asked. I said I'm going if you are, otherwise it's like going to lunch with total strangers, and I have no reason to go. Everyone else on that '57 team is dead, a grim fact I'd received in the mail with the reunion announcement. Just thinking back on everything that's happened since 1957 is a kaleidoscopic blur of improbable people and events. Talking with Don Johnson again, and the wonderful prospect of seeing him again, feels like some kind of reverse time travel, but knowing that he made it through the longest game of all takes me beyond happy.

HILARIOUS headline from the Chronicle: "Fight breaks out in empathy tent." The empathy tent had been set up in Sproul Plaza in anticipation of Yappo's visit, which turned out to be fleeting but upset a good portion of Berkeley. Yap got the attention he cashes in on, and undoubtedly sold a lot more of his cretinous books. If the truth was known, Yappo's trip's real purpose was probably a visit to a debauch festival in San Francisco last weekend.

AN AVA READER COMMENTS: "How will the proposed mental health facility improve the lives of a larger number of the people now walking the streets in Mendocino County? Is there a legal, reasonable way to involuntarily commit someone? Will drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitation be available? Most of the homeless people I know of whose lives would benefit from a stay in a good facility would not go willingly. Unless there is a way to get them through the door, the situation will not improve for a larger number of people than those who are already sent to the hospitals for a 5150 or, with their consent, out of county. The county adopted Laura’s Law but doesn’t use it for some reason. How will the number of people helped increase? And who will man the facility? Adequate mental health care here on the coast is still nonexistent after millions of dollars have been spent. A dedicated mental health facility sounds great, but so did a homeless center in Fort Bragg. The reality of these types of ventures in this county is dismal. Mendocino County’s administration has shown time and again in recent years that their talent is spending money and obfuscation."

NOT MUCH I disagree with here, but I'll repeat that one large advantage of an in-county facility is to spare the huge expense of shipping our more intractable mental cases out of Mendocino County, and for that reason alone I think Measure B is worth supporting. I share the reader's skepticism about the abilities of our county's helping professionals. But missing from the discussion of the dilemma posed by increasing numbers of free range drunks, drug addicts and untreated mental cases is the grim fact that their numbers steadily grow larger while government, at all levels, shuffles the problem off to overwhelmed, under-funded non-profits. Homelessness, as this population is described en toto, can only be effectively addressed by the re-opening of state hospitals combined with a federal low cost housing program, and when's the last time you heard your elected reps even talk about what's got to be done?

A READER is curious about dope stats, specifically if local law enforcement gets its share of the local dope trade. Yes, the dope trade floats all the County’s boats. As of March 2016, local cops have taken in a cool $7.5 million since the restitution program began with the election of DA Eyster in 2011.

THE BEAUTY of the local marijuana biz, you might say, at least so long as the love drug remains at least partially illegal, is how lucrative it is to so many people, including the forces of law and order.

CRITICS COMPLAINED that Eyster's approach to marijuana busts was unfair to people who couldn't afford to "pay to play." A judge even denounced the Eyster strategy as ”extortion."

BUT WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE? Most bustees prefer Let’s Make A Deal to a long, expensive slog through the legal system, at the end of which they just might get themselves a felony conviction and a jail sentence. Settling for a fine and a minor misdemeanor saves everyone time and expense.

CALIFORNIA'S Health and Safety Code Section 11470.2 allows a DA to offer deals like Eyster's, although he's the only DA in the state to swap would-be felonies for fines and misdemeanors, with the fines going back as restitution to law enforcement for their costs in busting growers, and "interdicting" them as they travel up and down Highway 101 with their product.

WHEN EYSTER took office, he inherited some 500 open felony cases for marijuana-related crimes. 500 pot felonies is simply nuts. His predecessor, Meredith Lintott, had filed on everything pot-related like it was the crime of the century. The average time to resolve a marijuana-related case, a grand jury looking into Eyster's break-through pot prosecution strategy found, was 15 months, with the County Jail jammed to the rafters with pot farmers. It was crazy to devote so much time and effort to marijuana cases that should be spent on the violent crimes that everyone truly wants prosecuted.

EYSTER'S approach to marijuana cases has been a huge success, with more than 500 defendants having paid to play. He told the grand jury that the recidivism rate for those participating in the program is 10 percent as opposed to the overall recidivism rate of 40 percent for all convicted defendants in the county.

THE DA’s OFFICE does not get the restitution money. It goes to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office and to the County's other police forces in Ukiah, Willits and Fort Bragg. The last time we looked, the monthly restitution dough was rolling in at more than $100,000 per month.

WITH THE COUNTY'S marijuana licensing program a confusing mess, busts for illegal cultivation, and the environmental crimes associated with illegal cultivation, not to mention the annual "interdictions" on 101 now ramping up for the Fall harvest, local law enforcement will continue to make money on Mendocino County's leading export crop.

THE ANNUAL FACT of the Highway 101 marijuana “interdictions” got me thinking about how I’d transport if I were in the business, and transport is the only way mom and pop growers have to make real money anymore. They’ve got to get their pot to the dope-starved masses in places like Chicago and New York. There are growers here in Boonville who can’t get rid of last year’s pot at $500 a pound. The more ambitious exporter might be wiser to haul it east through Covelo, and over the Mayacamas via 162 to the less interdicted and much busier I-5 than run dope down 101. (Just tryin’ to help out here.)

WE AGREE with an indignant Fort Bragg man, Daniel Armes, that the young Illinois men who robbed him of his marijuana in June at gun point got off easy, so easy we're trying to get a statement out of the DA how one guy got all the way off, the other a year in the County Jail and 5 years probation. In the Armes case we had an armed robbery followed by a dangerous high speed police pursuit over Highway 20, circumstances that usually result in state prison time. We wrote the following at the time:

“THEN there was the armed robbery on Harrison Street in Fort Bragg on Sunday, June 11 by three bandidos from Illinois, Ladarius Washington, of Galesburg, Illinois, Charles Williams, of Peoria, Illinois and a 17-year-old. Three guns, three young men, six or seven pounds of dope taken from the Harrison Street address. How did the Illini geniuses find their way to a dope house in Fort Bragg? They met the Fort Bragg person at a dispensary in the Bay Area, and from there it was, “Hey, you look like nice kids, come on up to my place in the redwoods. I’ll cut out the middleman for you fellas on a real good deal on bulk product. Maybe we’ll have time for a walk on the Haul Road and a sea food dinner down in the harbor.” Instead, the nice young men from the Land of Lincoln pulled their gats and soon they were barreling east, frantically throwing their guns and the stolen marijuana out their car window until, near Willits, they hit the spike strips the cops had waiting for them.”

JUST IN: "Witness credibility issues dictated the outcome," said DA spokesman Mike Geniella on Thursday afternoon about the light disposition in the Armes case.

SOMEONE is keeping very detailed records about perceived slights in the AVA. In this case a passing comment going back to November of 2016 has been cited to impeach Rex Gressett’s critical remarks at recent Fort Bragg City Council meetings. Talk about the princess and the pea!

ACCORDING to Dan Young’s KZYX news blurb Wednesday night, “Gressett attacked [sic] Smith in an article which the Anderson Valley Advertiser published on November 23, 2016."

Gressett's "attack”?

Charles Brandenburg made a piteous appeal alleging that the maids he employs at his Inn were afraid and much distressed. I believe him. Then up popped the redoubtable Simon Smith, our new local champion of blended gender, politically correct, authoritarian dogmatism all in one package. She really put it to them. The Obama administration, she intoned, has made the world a better place by its relentless commitment to human rights and civil liberties, and now look what we are going to have to deal with.

IT'S UNLIKELY that KZYX reporter Dan Young dug the above up himself. It’s more likely that an associate of outgoing City Manager Linda Ruffing found it and provided it to him.

MS/MR SMITH might want to check Obama's record before she claims he represented a political step forward, and Young, whatever hothouse rose bush he popped from, might be in the wrong business if he thinks Gressett's lively characterization of Fort Bragg's thin forces of righteousness represented an attack.

DAN YOUNG is a new media name to us local news hounds. I've heard him rush through chaste audio accounts of Fort Bragg City Council meetings that might as well have been a presser from the city manager. He seems to be a close friend of a young woman named Smith who, if memory serves, frequently addresses the council from an oracularly correct liberal perspective, which is "liberal" in the oppressive sense of "liberal" as practiced by former mayor Turner, former councilman (sic) Meg Courtney and, of course, KZYX itself. Young has recently characterized our reporter, Rex Gressett, as akin to "Neo-Nazis, white nationalists & white supremacists." And, get this, “Trans-phobic.” Gressett's sin seems to be his criticism of Ms. Smith and the oppressive "liberalism" she, Turner, et al represent. What either "white" or fascism has to do with civic Fort Bragg apparently only makes sense to Young.

WHAT EXACTLY did Gressett say that caused Young to slander Gressett as an American nazi, which Young does in the most cowardly manner possible by likening Gressett to fascists rather than saying forthrightly he is one? Young doesn't say, but Gressett's sin seems to be criticism of official FB's functioning, which has too often been malfunction, and to criticize Mr/Ms Smith, a great comic figure whose appearance before the Fort Bragg City Council us “trans-phobes” here at the AVA are enjoying very much.

A READER NOTES: "Thanks for putting it in print, that our liberal Democrats like Turner are using the cloak of being nicer than the rest of us to make corrupt deals and screw up Fort Bragg. Simon Smith is a transgender munchkin who has attended meetings in both personas, making first comments during input period as a male, returning later in quite a Mae West gown for another comment. He/she, or is it 'they'? is popular with the small coteries of Turnerites."

MS. SMITH'S presentations are reminiscent of Tom Cahill's exciting appearances before the Fort Bragg City Council back in the day. Tom would approach the mike carrying a teddy bear under one arm, a ten-foot staff, decorated in Sioux warrior colors, under the other. He'd alternate these props as he spoke, brandishing the teddy bear when he was speaking softly, shouting and waving his war stick at the points he felt needed emphasizing.

AS IT HAPPENS, I'd just read a Life and Letters piece in the current New Yorker on Willa Cather, which is highly recommended to all you Cather People, of which I am mos def one. Anyway, when Cather was writing drama reviews for McClure's early in the 20th century she characterized an actress as "unattractive, putty-faced, backache, headachy little minx." Given Cather's gifts, I'm sure this is an accurate description of the unfortunate performer. Gressett, although I'm sure he's tempted given the whining faux libs he deals with in Fort Bragg, has managed to depict them as they are, which is why the fog belt libs are so unhappy with him.

Samuel Gibney, 2014 & 2017

A YOUNG MAN was found dead on the sidewalk near the corner of Franklin and Fir last Saturday, Sept. 23, just before 7 p.m. The man, identified as 32-year-old Samuel Michael Gibney, was believed to have been a transient from Fort Bragg, according to Capt. Gregory Van Patten of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office is conducting a coroner’s investigation into the mode, manner and cause of the death. An autopsy was conducted on Tuesday and a blood-alcohol/toxicology analysis will follow, which takes about six weeks to get results. “He had just recently passed away when we got the call,” said Fort Bragg Police Chief Lizarraga. “There was only one witness — the person who called it in.” Gibney has family in Fort Bragg, but for the most part, lived on the streets. The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with any information is encouraged to call the police at 707-961-2800.

THE SPARE police prose of the above makes the sad news sadder, announcing as it does, the death of a young man whose family roots go deep on the Mendocino Coast. The kid was not “a transient from Fort Bragg.”

HERE'S HOPING FORT BRAGG does not hire a headhunter to find its next city manager. There are at least two good candidates at City Hall right now — Ms. Lemos and Ms. Jones. Headhunters are expensive. Worse, hiring them is an abdication of local authority. Either take responsibility for the people you hire or slink back into private life, for god’s sake.

NOT SINCE the arrests of two administrators from the Mendo County Office of Education, has a school official appeared in the Sheriff's Log. And none other than DA Eyster himself appeared in court to make sure Laurie Harris, a member of the Willits School Board, was memorialized in a recent booking log's Catch of the Day.

Harris

WE THINK MS. HARRIS'S ritual humiliation for minor cultivation is a clear case of retribution for reasons unrelated to production of the love drug. The chronology of recent Harris-related events began when she was arrested for an outstanding warrant on her misdemeanor citation a year earlier after she appeared at the County Courthouse to ask for the return of $2,000 seized when her property was raided in November of 2016 by COMMET — County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team. COMMET carried off 37 pot plants, three pounds of bud, and items described vaguely as "equipment," equipment presumably used in the cultivation and/or sale of marijuana. The bust, by Mendocino County standards, was suspiciously small given the number of much larger, much more environmentally destructive grows in every area of the county.

THE RECORD shows that deputies Andrade and Smith of the Sheriff's Department informed Peter Hoyle, also a periodic member of COMMET, that they could see "12-foot tall marijuana plants" thriving to the rear of the Harris property. Deputies concluded that the Harris's garden contained 25 plants more than the 12 allowed by Ms. Harris's medical recommendation. Hoyle went to Judge Henderson for a warrant for the police to enter the Harris property. (Note here that Henderson took months to issue the warrant the DA needed to raid the law offices of Rosen and Vogel for evidence Rosen had relating to the murder investigation of Peter Keegan, but Hoyle shoves a warrant in front of the judge and he instantly, reflexively signs it.)

THE DEPUTIES said they subsequently hauled 558 pounds of Mendo Mellow from the Harris homestead, which included the gross weight of the 12-footers under cultivation. The 558 figure is a typical inflation by pot raiders that makes it seem to the gullible sectors of the public that a major grow has been shut down.

THE COUNTY'S pot rules from the time says individual "patients" who were cultivating marijuana on or before January 1st, 2016, and who possessed a valid doctor's recommendation, may be granted an exemption from the amount of plants they can grow, provided they apply for and obtain a permit from the Sheriff's Office. Which I believe, Mrs. Harris did.

MENDO LEGAL LIMITS are infinitely elastic. Medical pot grown with a permit was, at the time, 99, but the Supervisors, steadily adding to the confusion over the rules, were constantly amending them. Willits city law, however, still says more than six plants constitutes "a public nuisance."

AND, WHATEVER THE RULES, DA Eyster decides who will be criminally prosecuted and who won't. Why Mrs. Harris was run through a marijuana conviction process seems arbitrary in the extreme, given the realities of the exploding Mendo cultivation scene.

IT JUST HAPPENS that Ms. Harris, a matronly 54, is not popular with her school board colleagues, one of whose members at the time was Supervisor-appointee Georgeanne Croskey, whose husband is a detective with the Sheriff's Department. Another member of the Willits School Board is Chris Neary, DA Eyster's campaign manager. The Willits media was conveniently tipped off prior to the raid on the Harris property that the raid was poised to occur. Since the only people who knew that were cops, is it too much of a stretch that the media tip came from one of them? And exactly which cop would have any interest at all in Willits School Board politics?

THIS PARA leapt from Scott Peterson's lengthy (on-line) blast at management of Coast Hospital: "As soon as the Fort Bragg Hospital closes, a rousing cheer will be go up on the Mendocino Coast. Not from ‘Nice People’ like Charlene McAllister, Kate Rohr and Buzz Graham. Nor from highly paid administrators like Bob Edwards and Wade Sturgeon. The people cheering will be regular folk. All of them happy to be rid of that giant pork barrel once and for all."

I WON'T BE CHEERING. I'll be lamenting that another community-owned hospital, rare in the age of privatization, will be gone and our only Mendo medical option will be for-profit hospitals owned by a vegetarian cult organized by the Adventist church. Besides which, from my own observation, and from the experience of my disabled sister, Coast Hospital has provided a level of care the Rockefeller family probably doesn't get. Incompetence at the managerial level and all, I think the loss of Coast Hospital would be one more local tragedy. If it can hang on until we get single-payer, Coast will continue to provide the best, least expensive hospital care available in this area.

REGARDING SCOTT PETERSON, gadfly, occasional contributor to the ava’s muy cool website edition, virtually a daily newspaper by itself, he’s good on some things, not so good on others, in the opinion of this editor. Someone called from Project Sanctuary on Monday asking if we paid Scott. None of their business of course, but I’d read a long piece Scott wrote on Project Sanctuary and hadn’t found it plausible. The gist was Scott didn’t like them. I do like them. It is not exaggerating to say that in two case I have personal knowledge of they saved one battered woman’s life and were crucial in their support for another. You won’t hear a negative word about Project Sanctuary in this here newspaper.

AN INTERESTING real life story from reader Harvey Reading, and please note how much more interesting and instructive it is than, say, endless rants about how bad Trump is:

In 1975, fresh out of college (1974), I took a “lumper” job at the Safeway warehouse, in Richmond, California. Lumpers were fill-in warehousemen, hired on a daily basis to make up for permanent employees unable to be at work on a given day (sick, vacation, etc.).Getting work required me to drive from Sonoma to Richmond to be at the Teamsters Union Hall in Richmond by around six in the morning, in order to be present before Safeway announced how many employees they would need for the day. The rule was that to get work one had to be present at the union hall. At the end of the day, if Safeway had no “openings” for the next day, one would, the next day, again go to the union hall and repeat the process. Generally, if there was no call by around 0900, there would be none after, and one would go home. However, if there was an “opening” for the next day, Safeway could tell the lumper simply to come back the next day, without the need of going through the hall process. If that happened 30 times in a row, one became a permanent employee and a union member, with union benefits and union dues.After about a week, Safeway began calling me back, and I never went to the hall again. This continued until I was nearly at the 30-day limit. I had been making the same money, $7.5295 per hour (yes, that many figures after the decimal point! Also, the equivalent of about $45/hour today) as the permanent warehousemen.Then, Fish and Game gave me a call. They wanted me to come back as a Seasonal Aid, at $3.15 per hour. I didn’t hesitate a bit, and said I would. My dream was to work for them on a permanent basis, doing “god’s” work and saving the world, as so many of us with degrees in the life sciences dreamed of doing in those years before Working Class hope utterly disappeared in the “land o’ democracy and opportunity.”

It took me another five years, including a couple of years as a temp, “fighting” Dutch Elm Disease (along with many other degree holders) with Food and Ag, two years as a State Park Ranger (badge, revolver, handcuffs, Mace, baton, etc.); not to mention my fall-back, being a service station mechanic, with Class A (if I recall, maybe Class 3, who knows? whatever was the “highest” level license at the time) motor vehicle smog equipment inspector and installer license), that began in 1969, while attending classes at Berkeley, before my dream came true.

My entry, admittedly, was through the back door, an interagency transfer from Parks to Fish and Game during Jerry Brown’s hiring freeze of the late 70s-early 80s. And, naturally, like most dreams, it turned out differently than I had expected. All-in-all, though, I would still make the same choices.The point is this: not until I retired in 2002 had my salary been equivalent to the $7.5295 per hour that I had made as a Safeway warehouseman, about the same as a GM assembly line worker at the time (2002). In the meantime, wages for warehousemen and others had declined in real value over that same period of time.I will grant that the poor will be with us always in a brutal Kaputalistic system. It has always been so, even in the days when Kaputalism was limited to bartering. But, things are so out-of-control now that something must give, in particular the wealthy bastards must give way, to force, if necessary. Not all homeless people are nuts or on drugs. And, I DO NOT mean to imply that you, Louis Bedrock, have suggested such a thing.

REMINISCENCES of a couple of readers about the condition of their young lives propelled me down Memory Lane of the time I lived in a SRO at 5th and Brannan, south of Market in San Francisco. I think I paid fifty a month for a room overlooking the intersection. For my fifty bucks I got a high-ceilinged room, a shared bathroom with a grimy tub down the hall, clean sheets every Friday. (I cadged showers from friends. The history of that tub was too much to contemplate.) South of Market then was a forest of single room hotels peopled by old guys mostly, along with serious drunks, and people not quite crazy enough for the state hospital at Napa. One night, squeezing past an old guy who lived in the room next door, he suddenly attacked me, peppering me with skillfully thrown punches that would have hurt if he still had some force behind them. I pinned him against the wall and told him I was going to get him 86'd. The next day he was his usual jolly self. I asked him why he'd hit me. "I did no such thing," he said. "What's wrong with you?"

FAST FORWARD sixty years and these people are the homeless. 5th and Brannan was a three-story building that tilted rather severely to one side. Out on the street, residents leaned in greeting, our very own Masonic handshake. On the ground floor was shop space occupied by a Gypsy family. "Need a transmission, boss?" They were always trying to sell me stuff I assumed was stolen, not that stolen stuff was high on my list of scruples. I was by far the youngest person in my all-male building except for the Gypsy women below. I would see them around the city at night selling corsages to young couples. "You want your lady to be more beautiful?" I brought a girlfriend up to see my room one afternoon, a Friday. I was hailed by the manager, a shell-shocked veteran, that it was sheet day. My girlfriend started to cry. "This is the most depressing place I've ever been in my life," she said. "I won't go one more step." The shell-shocked vet advised me later, "I think your friend is nuts, kid. You better trade her in." A few weeks later, climbing the stairs to the cheap seats at the Geary Theater — live theater was affordable then — she started screaming, "Vertigo! Please help me!" I wanted to toss her over the balcony as she started to laugh. "Hah! Gotcha going, didn't I?" She was a laugh a minute, but I couldn't stand the excitement and, as the song went, slip-slided away soon afterwards. I walk through the area now and it's unrecognizable, with sleek structures, sleek people, the oddity being that in some blocks, the sleek people are less numerous than the kind of people who used to live at 5th and Brannan. They now live on the street.

ON LINE COMMENT OF THE WEEK

Not able to figure out PayPal to comment on MCT where apparently the new Fort Bragg City Council “Code of Conduct” for public participation is being discussed now. Last night on KZYX Community News there was a segment about the supposed disruptive behavior of certain members of the public, particularly Rex Gressett and his “conspiracy theories” who attend Fort Bragg City Council meetings. Under the guise promoting norms of civility, however, what was being put forward was an attempt to censor the content of speech by members of the public and to silence critics of local government officials. But unlike KZYX, the Fort Bragg City Council is a government body whose rules must pass constitutional muster. Even if Rex’s views or the ways he expresses them are over the top outrageous, which they’re not (not a statement of agreement with them, however), to seek to prevent him from expressing them at successive town meetings is a blatant violation of the First Amendment rights of him to express them and of the public to hear them. Look, every community has its gadflies and even cranks who show up repeatedly to talk about God knows what and people put up with that as a cost of maintaining democracy. So it’s a sad state commentary on the state of “political correctness” and the gentrified Nanny State mentality of Fort Bragg’s official when local officials are so thin skinned that they seek to silence a local working class critic like Gressett since anything less than a genteel Judy Woodruff like “conversation” will unduly disrupt discourse. But the law is clear, any attempt by government officials to restrict free expression by prior restraint or otherwise is prohibited except under the most extreme circumstances. (See MN v. Olsen, Brandenburg v. OH). But for some, this code-apparently designed for the public, not the elected officials it seeks to shield, does not go far enough. For them criticism of officials, the repetition as in MN v. Olsen, of allegations of misconduct by them, constitutes harassment. What if Trump said that? Think about it.

In that regard, it was particularly scurrilous when the KZYX commentator dismissed First Amendment concerns as simply a cover for alt-right types and the neo-Nazi thugs at Charlottesville, suggesting that Gressett and the AVA represent that. But leaving aside this smear, at Charlottesville, it was not the government, but Antifa activists and others in the street that confronted those creeps. Also troubling is the way this is personally directed at Gressett who they single out for retribution. But this is also unconstitutional, being in essence a bill of attainder that is sought against him, the term used when private citizens are deprived of their rights by a legislative body. I don’t have a dog in this fight in terms of the underlying issues, but on a more human level, it’s downright pathetic, a “CoastLib” caricature of itself that Bruce Anderson didn’t need to invent. I mean, Gressett was one of only two speakers among over twenty who opposed Linda Ruffing, yet his continued presence at public town meetings is intolerable to the council. Yet in spite of all those testimonials, the council voted unanimously to demand her resignation, so he must have been onto to something. But she remains in office until January as a lame duck where she and her supporters are apparently seeking retaliation against their real and perceived critics.

—Joe Hansem

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