Out of power, booted from office and massively discredited by a $3 million dollar cash misallocation and a brazen cover-up, the old guard from ex-City Manager Linda Ruffing's discredited City Council showed up Monday night to lead an orchestrated flashmob demanding continued funding for their special “happy place” — even if the city goes broke funding them.
Ex-Mayor Dave Turner, ex-city councilman Doug Hammerstrom — and a line up of paid employees — totally took over the first 30 minutes of the regular city council meeting Monday night to perform a serial whine for the continued funding of the Noyo Center.
The Noyo Center is a support facility for ego-damaged local politicians put out to pasture. They operate a whalebone museum (you can't make it up) and claim to be activists for ocean protection generally. Actually, they have zero influence on ocean policy. The Noyo Center is a fantasy factory that carefully eschews real local fishing issues (of which there are plenty). The Noyo Center has a higher calling involving issues on a planetary scale (somehow). Local fishing is beneath their concern. And anyway it’s basically "no stress" — a retirement group.
Tough choices are not their style — but manipulation of the local political process is right up their alley. The Noyo Center gang briefly filled City Hall Monday night to inform the city and the council that they had a preordained right to TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax/bed tax) funding and Fort Bragg can go to hell.
It was one week ago that the finance director solemnly informed the City Council that Fort Bragg had slipped into the red ink. Like the snowball that starts the avalanche, a very reasonable pay raise for the cops pushed the city over the edge into formal insolvency. The modest across-the-board police salary increases ate up the tiny $70,000 financial surplus and left the city with a deficit of 5,000 bucks. It's not much, but it was enough to cause total panic at the City Council.
When the Finance Director told the Council that Fort Bragg was officially in the red, Lindy Peters, with his 18 years of council experience, knew right away that the TOT money was a way out. Probably the only way. The TOT is a city fee on hotel rooms and was promised at the inception of the tax to specific purposes including 1/8th to the Noyo Center. By law, the city can use TOT money however it wants — but to get the tax approved they made promises. At the last meeting, Lindy Peters amused the people of the city by suggesting charmingly that he personally saw no way to break his promises about TOT allocations, but if the rest of the Council people could do it for him, it would be a good thing for the city.
They have to do something.
All possible sources of city income are either problematic or impossible. The people of the city told the council to suck eggs when they floated the last sales tax proposal, and the city has no easy fix for a slide into insolvency and the real threat of cutbacks to services. The “nuke” that must NOT be spoken of is that inevitable day of reckoning when massive city payments to CalPers (bureaucrat pension payouts) can no longer be avoided.
It's coming. It means city bankruptcy unless something changes — and if you think it can't happen here… It is happening to small cities across the state.
When the Noyo Center Board of Directors saw Lindy Peters squirming on the live-stream they sprang to action, showing up at the very next meeting with all their buddies, employees, friends and neighbors to metaphorically pound the table.
The people of the city may lose services, Fort Bragg may face police cutbacks, the inexorable cataclysm of pension payments to fat-cat administrators and bureaucrats (thank you for your service) is coming at us like a perfect financial storm, but insiders from Noyo Center had no trouble mobilizing a 30-minute takeover of city hall to insist that they absolutely must continue to suck up their God-given percentage of public money. Damn the torpedoes.
Dave Turner and Doug Hammerstrom, with their extensive personal councilperson histories of ducking, dodging, and lying about civic insolvency, know all about impending bankruptcy and the pressures of deficit disaster.
The subtext of the Noyo gang was a pitch for a little urbane corruption on behalf of a respected elite. After all, when they were in the saddle, they never batted an eye as Linda Ruffing misallocated $3 million bucks from the water enterprise fund, never asked about the uber-convenient firing of the then finance director that made the misallocation happen — and cheered when our current finance director swore it was all a “Bookkeeping Error.” Now it's up to the current city council to break their promises to the special interests that got them their TOT tax. Or save the city.
The City Council promised to discuss it.