City Council Selects New Assignments Amid Public Rancor – January 4, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

CITY HALL – Per the Arcata Municipal Code, recently re-elected City Councilmembers Alex Stillman and Mark Wheetley were sworn back in for another four-year term Tuesday, Dec. 14. The special meeting of the council was attended mostly by City staffmembers.

Wheetley expressed gratitude to voters for his re-election and pledged quality service to all. “I’m here to represent everyone that lives in the City of Arcata,” he said.

Stillman, who was openly pleased to have been the top vote-getter (besting Wheetley by 34 votes) said she was “thrilled” to be returned to the council, and said this term will be her last on the council, completing a total of 16 years of service over two eight-year terms.

“Our City is really forward thinking,” Stillman observed. “I look forward to four more wonderful years of helping Arcata be better and wiser and be proud of who we are,” she said.

Next, the council internally elected the new mayor and vice mayor. On a motion by Michael Winkler, Susan Ornelas was unanimously elected mayor. On a motion by Wheetley, Winkler was elected vice mayor. That whole procedure took exactly one minute.

After swapping chairs so that newly anointed Mayor Ornelas could take the council dais’s center seat, she offered thanks to Stillman for her service and looked ahead. Ornelas said her varied experiences have given her life skills which she will use as mayor to forward many City initiatives. She said her orientation was toward sustainable use of land and resources.

“We’ve got some great projects going from Samoa Boulevard up to Valley West. We’re working on senior housing, we’re working on trails, transitional housing, and we’re also working with businesses to provide business loans to kind of counter the current economic conditions of our greater state and country.”

Ornelas said the state’s water crisis and woeful economy, plus program cutbacks at Humboldt State, though out of Arcata citizens’ control, will nonetheless affect the City and that citizens should be heard on these issues.

“I see this as a year that we all need to be more resourceful,” Ornelas said. “I want us to really wake up to our neighbors… get to know them. That’s really what a community is, sharing and moving forward.”

Winkler said Arcata is doing “amazingly well in these difficult economic times,” and lauded Arcata’s environmental protections and compassion for the underprivileged.

The council then reconvened as the Arcata Community Development Agency and Arcata Joint Powers Financing Authority, electing Ornelas and Winkler as chair and vice-chair of those bodies.

Bitter words

The next night, the newly constituted council departed from the perfunctory program got down to the nitty gritty of naming the councilmember representatives and liaisons to various outside bodies, both in Arcata and in greater Humboldt.

Most assignments were settled without dispute (see list above), but when it came to naming the representative for the Humboldt Waste Management Authority (HWMA), things got tense.

Stillman said Winkler had told her that he was interested in the role, and that she had taken some phone calls on the matter. Councilmember Shane Brinton, who has served in that role for the past year, immediately spoke up and made a pitch for his reappointment as HWMA rep.

He said that several issues before the HWMA were maturing, including a plastic bag ban and acquisition of the Arcata Community Recycling center’s Samoa Processing Facility. He said continuity at the HWMA is vital, as fellow representative Eureka City Councilmember Larry Glass was not re-elected. He noted that he had just been elected vice chair and expected to be named HWMA chair this year.

Stillman said she received “public calls” on the appointment, and asked Winkler to say something. He said he had long experience in recycling. “This is something that I feel very well qualified to do,” he said.

Ornelas said she had received calls from HWMA boardmembers who requested Winkler be Arcata;’s rep because of his “very reasonable, calm demeanor.” Brinton asked if the unnamed callers had said that he wasn’t reasonable and calm, but Ornelas said that hadn’t been mentioned.

Wheetley said Brinton had done a good job but that with Winkler’s “great experience” with waste reduction, appointing him would be a “positive change.”

Brinton attempted some horse trading, saying that since he had supported Winkler for vice mayor and as representative to the Humboldt Transit Authority, he made a “respectfully request” that Winkler withdraw his request to be HWMA rep. But Winkler didn’t respond.

Stillman began to make a motion, but in something of a breach of protocol, Brinton interrupted her and nominated himself for HWMA rep. It didn’t get a second. Wheetley then made a motion which included  Winkler as HWMA rep and Brinton as alternate.

Ornelas called for discussion, and with his voice slightly trembling, Brinton cautioned his colleagues. “I would like to impress upon you the ill will that you will engender if you remove me from the Humboldt Waste Management Authority,” he said.

Brinton said that he had made an effort to get along with his colleagues despite the fact that he represented a more politically progressive segment of the community which is not satisfied with the other councilmembers’ more centrist orientation.

“I’ve really tried to bring it together and bring it back from the days when everyone was yelling at each other in this council hall, but this is really insulting,” he said. “I feel like this is really an effort to further marginalize me and I’m just not pleased with it.”

Wheetley’s motion carried 4–1, with Brinton dissenting. A number of other appointments were processed without drama.

Ornelas made a conciliatory gesture to Brinton, saying she was “sorry that you got a little offended,” but that he would likely enjoy serving as representative to the Redwood Coast Energy Authority.

But Brinton wasn’t mollified. “Well I just expect that if I really start to make progress at RCEA and feel like I’m really accomplishing something I can have that taken away from me in a year as well, but I’d be happy to work my hardest at it,” he said.

The council then took a break. As the councilmembers adjourned, Winkler and Brinton exchanged words, with Winkler asking Brinton for his assistance with the HWMA assignment.

“Fuck you, Michael,” Brinton shot back. The curse was clearly heard by viewers watching the meeting on Access Humboldt, and can also be heard on the archived video of the meeting.

Anger and analysis

The harsh exchange was a precursor to a more complete expression of Brinton’s unhappiness, which he offered during the Council and Staff Reports section of the meeting.

Brinton openly wondered why he had been denied the HWMA appointment, speculating as to whether it was because he hadn’t supported Wheetley during the recent election. “I just have to wonder what it was that compelled all of you to take away the appointment that I cared most about,” he said. “I have to think that today’s decision was based on something else other than HWMA… There’s clearly some sort of animosity directed toward me in this situation and I don’t appreciate it because I feel that I give and I give and I give and it just wasn’t very nice.”

Saturday, Brinton was still upset by what he saw as an undeserved  snub by the rest of the council. “I was surprised and upset by the decision of the other councilmembers,” he said. “I’ve worked hard on the HWMA and I’ve earned the respect of my fellow boardmembers.”

Brinton intimated that there may have been more to his colleagues’ decision than Winkler’s calm resonableness.

“There appears to be something else going on here,” he said. “I’m still finding out more about it. My understanding is that the councilmembers were lobbied by an outside interest.”