Public Staff and democratic Elections

Yesterday’s Times Standard had a short, but very important letter yesterday from Chip Sharpe of Bayside, that shouldn’t be missed.


 

Planners and schemers abound in Humboldt County

I have no confidence that Humboldt County’s present Planning Commission has the well-being of our county at heart. And only a little more faith in our current Board of Supervisors to do the right thing.

I am grateful for our professional and dedicated county staff. It’s a bit ironic that we the people are dependent upon career civil servants to protect us from supposedly democratically elected or appointed boards and commissions.

 – Chip Sharpe


 

Thank you Chip for paying attention and taking the time and effort to write the letter. Here is the Times-Standard brief coverage of the event from the 1/21 print edition.

The commissioners — including Morris, Lee Ulansey, Kevin McKenny and Alan Bongio — stated that staff misrepresented the commission’s recommendations on the ordinance when it came back to the board for final review in December. The commission had made several recommended changes to the ordinance after a marathon 10 meetings in November and early December.

Professional public staff is likely to feel pressure as politics change over time.  Eureka City Councilmember Linda Atkins argued vehemently that staff had been ignoring her request to add a houseless crises resolution to the agenda, and then had to take the initiative herself to amend the milquetoast resolution that City staff had produced.

But these are not equivalent, at least in my potentially partisan eyes.  I do want to spend more time reviewing the recent Planning Commission meetings before I comment further, and I’d welcome any comments from those who have ideas or feelings on the subject.

I do want to address what Mr. Sharpe calls the “supposedly democratically elected” boards and commissions.  I’m not sure what exactly Mr. Sharpe has in mind, but this is what I understand to be eroding our local democratic elections.

a) an increasingly shrinking electorate that favors those with the most to gain or lose personally rather than more esoteric and long term public goals.

b) a crumbling business model for local public interest reporting or media. (Serious Question:  Has one existed in Humboldt?)

c) disingenuous politics that takes shape in two concrete forms election after election locally.

  i) right of center politics cannot win elections in Humboldt so candidates must either not wear a political label or, worse yet, must chose one that will help their political ambitions.

  ii)  property-rights activists who have donned the mantel of populism based on tenuous overlap in environmental concerns (i.e. Peter Childs’ righteous Alternative Owner Builder activism which has opened the gates to potentially catastrophic negative cumulative environmental effects), or populism based on tenuous overlap in objectives, with those struggling to stay either financially afloat or in the middle class.  (i.e. cash-poor land owners or renters who need extra income from their property)

The ultimate example to me of the undemocratic process has been the ongoing GPU process, which can be condensed down to the political fight over the Guiding Principles.  Supervisors Rex Bohn and Estelle Fennell were elected almost 4 years ago with a strong contingent lead by Peter Childs, and supported by organizations like the League of Women Voters for increased public participation in the GPU process.

To anyone paying attention, this should have been known to be baloney at the time. (League of Women Voters I’m looking at you)  Worse yet, after elected, those professing to be interested in public participation, in effect, canceled the work of previously elected Supervisors and their staff by re-writing the standard operating procedures for county planning commission staff (Supervisor Lovelace’s apt description of the Guiding Principles), with little or no changes to their privately-written version over sustained and vehement public criticism.

And worst of all?  There is no media coverage of these contradictions, nor even a potential for a democratic solution, as there will likely not be a viable candidate to run against either Supervisor Bohn or Fennell.

And we will lack these competitive contests, not because there aren’t important policy differences, but because of a political system where very few, very powerful, local players with vested interests to either protect capital, or continue income from this capital, have the capability to run candidates at every turn – “public interests” right now do not.

So yes, I agree with Chip generally, if not on the specifics: More and more our Supervisor’s elections are democratic in name only.


Thank you Humboldt County Planning staff for the work you do.  We DO appreciate the work you do and our children and their children depend on it.


Resources:

For the local right-wing take from The Humboldt Consequential (THC):

Ghosts of Steve (sic) Girard: County Staff wagging the dog?

And for the announcement to THCs readers just after the meeting from anonymous Dave in Jacoby.

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