Kevin Hoover: Public Involvement, So Crucial And So Stupidly Disregarded – September 17, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

There’s something not happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. That is, if it’s anything at all.

As you know from the “Then and Now” series of photos in the Eye’s pages, Arcata is always changing in ways large and small, blatant and subtle, but also visual and invisible.

Over the last several years, we’ve had a fall-off in opinion submissions at the paper. We used to have far more letters to the editor than we could fit into two or even three “Opinion” pages. These days, we can easily get by with one, and some weeks there aren’t even any letters to the editor other than cranks and identity-theft sexpots. Maybe we’re satisfying our expressive needs on Facebook, saying “LOL!!!!!!!!” to pics of kittens in hampers, or anonymously calling people Nazis on blogs, I don’t know.

Further, we, as a town, didn’t manage to generate any ballot choices for City Council other than the three incumbents and any possible write-ins (Valerie Rose-Campbell is trying, but even if she succeeds, she’ll be at a structural disadvantage).

In the near term, that’s OK in that the three incumbents, Mayor Michael Winkler, Vice Mayor Shane Brinton and Councilmember Susan Ornelas are functioning fairly well. There’s been a measurable maturation of this council and its individual members, they’re doing the work and they aren’t stale yet.

At the same time, the City’s many citizen volunteer committees and commissions boast numerous high-functioning members who would have made fine candidates. They know procedure and attend reliably. Maybe they’re happy working on nuts and bolts matters, as they didn’t try for a council seat.

It’s too bad, because those committees have served as the “nursery” for successful councilmembers in the past. Hopefully they will again, since those who want to go from zero government experience to Arcata’s top leadership haven’t gotten it together.

(The lack of a big council race certainly saved me a lot of work organizing another candidate forum and managing the profiles and advocacy letters. But that’s fun work, in that people are involved and impassioned, you have a lot to work with. I had already reserved the Council Chamber, talked to the Chamber of Commerce and KHSU about participation, and was getting ready to ramp up the Issue Scrutinizers one last time, then the candidate collapse happened. Oh well…)

Arcata’s Nuclear Weapons Free Zone & Peace Committee has suspended operations. A flagship committee when formed in 1989, the classic Arcata committee (with “Peace” added to its name in 2005) withered for lack of participation. It couldn’t maintain enough members to form a quorum and is now moribund.

Now, the Committee on Democracy and Corporations is in suspense, unable to sustain the critical mass of a quorum. Measure F, which created the committee, passed by a landslide in 1998 (3,193/60.83 percent in favor; 2,056/ 39.17 percent opposed). It probably would again.

This Saturday, we’ll have another great Farmers’ Market. The Ridge Trail and McDaniel Slough projects are proceeding apace. Arcata has a whole bunch of new affordable housing. In spite of economic adversity and lack of public involvement, everything is kind of OK… for now.

Still, it seems prudent to lay down a marker here that this kind of non-involvement will eventually be very, very bad for Arcata. Nature – and politics – abhors a vacuum, and if credible candidates don’t run, the opportunists and extremists will gladly fill the void. It has happened.

So here’s the big tut-tut: 1. Never assume that City stuff is being handled properly, because sometimes, without you, it isn’t. 2. If this is a trend, no good can come of it. 3. Don’t despair that you, the concerned citizen, don’t have a chance in the next City Council race. If you can just get 20 qualified voters to sign your petition, you’re on the ballot, and you may not have much competition. 4. If you’re thinking of an eventual run for council, try working on a volunteer committee first to see if you can handle and/or enjoy the work. 5. If you’re already a well-functioning member of a citizen committee, consider going for the council gusto.

The Humboldt County Board of Stupidizers?

Over 12 years and more than 200 public meetings, Humboldt County has been crafting a General Plan Update (GPU). All that scoping, testimony, drafting and other staff work is at risk of being thrown away. The reason? Supervisors Bass, Bohn and Sundberg say – in so many, sometimes too many words – they don’t understand it, so they don’t believe it.

It’s the logical fallacy known as argument from personal incredulity – one used, for example, by the 911 “truthers.” They don’t understand how two planes could destroy more than two buildings, so they reject that explanation. Creationists don’t see how an eyeball could evolve, so that rules out evolution.

It’s not just for conspiracy theorists. Spend any time at City Council meetings and you’ll soon hear someone testify that, “I fail to understand how (an idea is true or relevant),” as though their inability to grasp a concept invalidates it on some objective level.

The key words, though, are the first two: “I fail.” Yes, you fail. But must we all be hobbled by your failure? In the case of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, apparently so.

As quoted by Ryan Burns in the North Coast Journal, here are the explanations by the three supervisors for wishing to dispose of the current draft:

Rex Bohn: “I wished I had the knowledge that, I mean, that Mark [Lovelace] had. He’s got to work on this for 12 years. I’d like to have some of that knowledge so maybe I’d have a little bit of understanding.”

Ryan Sundberg: “I guess the more I look at this the more confused I get… It’s super-overwhelming to me, I know, to try to go through this thing and understand it. The more I read it, it seems like, the more backwards I get.”

If that plaintive confession doesn’t instill fear for the county’s future in you, check out this dog’s breakfast of a rationale:

Virginia Bass: “What my uncomfortableness at this point, especially when you, you know, we’re looking at the document, we have asked for so much information … but what I don’t have in there, and I have never really asked or we haven’t really been able to get to the bottom of, which really rises to my radar today is, again, the unintended consequences and my needing to have a level of confidence in moving forward.”

It’s particularly regrettable that Bass – someone who actually does do the work – should pretend to be a know-nothing. The feigned dumb-down is most unbecoming.

Did any of these folks happen to mention in their campaigns for office that they couldn’t understand planning documents? Now they tell us. What other parts of their jobs are they unable to comprehend? These are stark questions that these three will be asked when and if they run for re-election. We now know that any new candidates ought to be asked this as well: what parts of the job are you going to have trouble with?

With three of five county legislators unable to read legislation, it seems that the citizen participation in the GPU– including long evenings spent away from families at meetings that stretched into the night over the past decade, then driving home in the rain and dark – well, that was all for nothing, because of the supervisors’ just-disclosed perceptual and cognitive impairments.

Rather than toss out the work laboriously crafted by citizens and planners, couldn’t these supervisors hire someone to explain the General Plan to them in simple terms that would expedite comprehension? We all have challenges in our work, and this is their work.

It shouldn’t be hard – the language and length isn’t at all exotic for a technical planning document. Lots of people do understand the GPU very well. Planners understand it. Attorneys certainly do. And the special interests who backed these supervisors are obviously paying attention.

As Frank Zappa so succinctly put it in “Heavenly Bank Account,” a song about televangelist-grifters: “It is best in cases like this to pretend that you are stupid.”

Trouble is, no one believes that these three supes are stupid. So the mumbling and dissembling isn’t believable, and won’t cover up payback for patrons.

These three supervisors asked everyone for their jobs. They ought to find a way to do them – for everyone.

Tags: , ,

41 Responses to “Kevin Hoover: Public Involvement, So Crucial And So Stupidly Disregarded – September 17, 2012”

  1. "At the same time, the City’s many citizen volunteer committees and commissions boast numerous high-functioning members who would have made fine candidates. They know procedure and attend reliably. Maybe they’re happy working on nuts and bolts matters, as they didn’t try for a council seat."

    Nailed it. I'm quite happy working on nuts and bolts matters at the EDC. :)

    #64185
  2. "At the same time, the City’s many citizen volunteer committees and commissions boast numerous high-functioning members who would have made fine candidates. They know procedure and attend reliably. Maybe they’re happy working on nuts and bolts matters, as they didn’t try for a council seat."

    Nailed it. I'm quite happy working on nuts and bolts matters at the EDC. :)

    #65544
  3. Kevin Hoover

    I had you and a few others in mind when I wrote that.

    #64187
  4. Kevin Hoover

    I had you and a few others in mind when I wrote that.

    #65552
  5. Yeah, Josh… you should have run this year.

    #64188
  6. Yeah, Josh… you should have run this year.

    #65553
  7. Very well stated, Kevin.

    #64189
  8. Very well stated, Kevin.

    #65545
  9. Kevin Hoover

    Thanks Ryan. I meant to add that you deserve some sort of a medal for transcribing those jerky-jerky supes' quotes. What punishing work.

    #64190
  10. Kevin Hoover

    Thanks Ryan. I meant to add that you deserve some sort of a medal for transcribing those herky-jerky supes' quotes. What punishing work.

    #64191
  11. Kevin Hoover

    Thanks Ryan. I meant to add that you deserve some sort of a medal for transcribing those herky-jerky supes' quotes. What punishing work.

    #65555
  12. I don't think it was fair to make elected officials look bad by writing down what they said, Ryan.

    #64192
  13. I don't think it was fair to make elected officials look bad by writing down what they said, Ryan.

    #65556
  14. Thank you, Kevin, for telling it like it is. Many of the City's committees and nonprofit organizations are having real difficulty recruiting to fill quorums and to find members who will roll up their sleeves and do the work. My observation is that most of the poor public decisions and planning throughout the County, are because of lack of public involvement. Whether it's electing officials who apparently haven't learned what they need to know to understand the General Plan updating process; devolving into a balkanized and deteriorating system for managing waste instead of waste reduction and value-added recycling; or poor decisions about what to do with Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka, we're lacking public involvement. Maybe this is another one of the consequences of the economic crash of 2008. Maybe economic hard times and uncertainty are causing more citizens to focus inward, when now is the time that community participation and collective actions are most needed.

    #64193
  15. Thank you, Kevin, for telling it like it is. Many of the City's committees and nonprofit organizations are having real difficulty recruiting to fill quorums and to find members who will roll up their sleeves and do the work. My observation is that most of the poor public decisions and planning throughout the County, are because of lack of public involvement. Whether it's electing officials who apparently haven't learned what they need to know to understand the General Plan updating process; devolving into a balkanized and deteriorating system for managing waste instead of waste reduction and value-added recycling; or poor decisions about what to do with Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka, we're lacking public involvement. Maybe this is another one of the consequences of the economic crash of 2008. Maybe economic hard times and uncertainty are causing more citizens to focus inward, when now is the time that community participation and collective actions are most needed.

    #65546
  16. There are good reasons why people in Arcata don't turn out in droves to be on the committees and commissions. Intended as advisory to City Council, the volunteer work and effort is often ignored and undermined by the professional staff. CC members have neglected to try to fill vacancies (PC had 2 vacancies for YEARS) with council members and the professional staff preferring smaller, more manageable creations. The PC and the HDRC are largely steered to make recommendations favored by the professional staff (where there is to be separation)… read the grand jury report on the PC (not Arcata's although the findings apply here 100%). Those rightfully challenging process, rules and procedures are often not supported by CC effectively against the manipulations of paid, full time staff. Part of the inherent weakness of a general law city… the CC hires just the manager and city attorney.. without strong commissions and committees the city ends up being run by staff.. as in Arcata. Arcata will continue this unfortunate trend until the CC starts appointing and retaining strong advisors willing to develop leadership roles. The media needs to step up and support the elected official's active oversight and ensure they do try to keep the committees and commissions filled with citizens working for the benefit of the community…. not the benefit or convenience of the staff running the commissions and committees. The grand jury reports are there to assist citizens to advocate for needed changes. The media folk need to continue to push when pushing's needed… there seems to be a disappearing trend there too. Good reporting makes good government.

    #64194
  17. There are good reasons why people in Arcata don't turn out in droves to be on the committees and commissions. Intended as advisory to City Council, the volunteer work and effort is often ignored and undermined by the professional staff. CC members have neglected to try to fill vacancies (PC had 2 vacancies for YEARS) with council members and the professional staff preferring smaller, more manageable creations. The PC and the HDRC are largely steered to make recommendations favored by the professional staff (where there is to be separation)… read the grand jury report on the PC (not Arcata's although the findings apply here 100%). Those rightfully challenging process, rules and procedures are often not supported by CC effectively against the manipulations of paid, full time staff. Part of the inherent weakness of a general law city… the CC hires just the manager and city attorney.. without strong commissions and committees the city ends up being run by staff.. as in Arcata. Arcata will continue this unfortunate trend until the CC starts appointing and retaining strong advisors willing to develop leadership roles. The media needs to step up and support the elected official's active oversight and ensure they do try to keep the committees and commissions filled with citizens working for the benefit of the community…. not the benefit or convenience of the staff running the commissions and committees. The grand jury reports are there to assist citizens to advocate for needed changes. The media folk need to continue to push when pushing's needed… there seems to be a disappearing trend there too. Good reporting makes good government.

    #65547
  18. One thing that stops serious consideration by many people is the pay. City council members get less than $500 per month, plus medical/ dental/ vision benefits. http://www.cityofarcata.org/government/city-council

    Not everyone's in a time of their lives when they can give that amount of time for pay that's little more than a token "thanks". Looking at all they consider and do, it seems like it takes about 20 hours a week, which makes the pay below minimum wage, even with the benefits. Perhaps I am way overestimating the time they put in, but to me it seems like anyone who works a full-time job or close to it would find it extremely challenging to serve. I think that's a big part of the issue.

    And of course the commissions and committees are volunteer, which means we have to have a great deal of passion about the topic to serve, and be able to give up 1-3 days per month to fully consider all of the items before us. Again, not everyone's in a time of their life when they can manage that. Many people are working past the age when they ordinarily might have retired, since their investments are not at a point where it makes sense to begin drawing on them as income.

    #64196
  19. One thing that stops serious consideration by many people is the pay. City council members get less than $500 per month, plus medical/ dental/ vision benefits. http://www.cityofarcata.org/government/city-council

    Not everyone's in a time of their lives when they can give that amount of time for pay that's little more than a token "thanks". Looking at all they consider and do, it seems like it takes about 20 hours a week, which makes the pay below minimum wage, even with the benefits. Perhaps I am way overestimating the time they put in, but to me it seems like anyone who works a full-time job or close to it would find it extremely challenging to serve. I think that's a big part of the issue.

    And of course the commissions and committees are volunteer, which means we have to have a great deal of passion about the topic to serve, and be able to give up 1-3 days per month to fully consider all of the items before us. Again, not everyone's in a time of their life when they can manage that. Many people are working past the age when they ordinarily might have retired, since their investments are not at a point where it makes sense to begin drawing on them as income.

    #65548
  20. Thought about it, but logic and reason won out. 2012/2013 have me working more than full time on growing our companies here, and I love doing that more than anything. This year, I just can't devote the time it takes to running a winnable campaign (it's a full time job, for sure), nor do I think I have the experience and the patience (or do they call that maturity? heh) to deal with the wonderfully quick pace of government. :) Maybe when I'm a bit more seasoned and have some free time — mid-30's? Early 40's? Who knows. Until then, EconDev it is. :D

    The council can always call upon us for our expertise. We love fun projects. :)

    #64201
  21. Thought about it, but logic and reason won out. 2012/2013 have me working more than full time on growing our companies here, and I love doing that more than anything. This year, I just can't devote the time it takes to running a winnable campaign (it's a full time job, for sure), nor do I think I have the experience and the patience (or do they call that maturity? heh) to deal with the wonderfully quick pace of government. :) Maybe when I'm a bit more seasoned and have some free time — mid-30's? Early 40's? Who knows. Until then, EconDev it is. :D

    The council can always call upon us for our expertise. We love fun projects. :)

    #65554
  22. "The Humboldt County Board of Stupidizers."

    "These three supervisors asked everyone for their jobs. They ought to find a way to do them – for everyone."

    "Did any of these folks happen to mention in their campaigns for office that they couldn’t understand planning documents? Now they tell us. What other parts of their jobs are they unable to comprehend?"

    "It’s the logical fallacy known as argument from personal incredulity – one used, for example, by the 911 “truthers.” They don’t understand how two planes could destroy more than two buildings, so they reject that explanation. Creationists don’t see how an eyeball could evolve, so that rules out evolution".

    OK, let me get this straight… I get treated like I am crazy for saying that folks in local government are not particularly good at their jobs…but this is perfectly fine…
    Is it the fact that you disagree with this particular iteration of "not being good at their jobs" yet seem to think that the powers that be in Arcata are somehow better at theirs, or you just don't like me pointing out that the Arcata government is pretty shabby, and oversteps their authority at almost every turn?

    Either way, I didn't call anyone stupid, nor did I imply it…

    #64205
  23. "The Humboldt County Board of Stupidizers."

    "These three supervisors asked everyone for their jobs. They ought to find a way to do them – for everyone."

    "Did any of these folks happen to mention in their campaigns for office that they couldn’t understand planning documents? Now they tell us. What other parts of their jobs are they unable to comprehend?"

    "It’s the logical fallacy known as argument from personal incredulity – one used, for example, by the 911 “truthers.” They don’t understand how two planes could destroy more than two buildings, so they reject that explanation. Creationists don’t see how an eyeball could evolve, so that rules out evolution".

    OK, let me get this straight… I get treated like I am crazy for saying that folks in local government are not particularly good at their jobs…but this is perfectly fine…
    Is it the fact that you disagree with this particular iteration of "not being good at their jobs" yet seem to think that the powers that be in Arcata are somehow better at theirs, or you just don't like me pointing out that the Arcata government is pretty shabby, and oversteps their authority at almost every turn?

    Either way, I didn't call anyone stupid, nor did I imply it…

    #65550
  24. Kevin Hoover

    It's simple. Support your premise. I quoted the supes themselves saying they were confused, clueless and unable to perform a basic job function.
    You, Mark, accused various officials of "fraud" (a criminal offense) and incompetence, but failed to provide any documentation whatsoever. You then apologized for "upsetting" anyone.
    Does that help?

    #64206
  25. Kevin Hoover

    It's simple. Support your premise. I quoted the supes themselves saying they were confused, clueless and unable to perform a basic job function.
    You, Mark, accused various officials of "fraud" (a criminal offense) and incompetence, but failed to provide any documentation whatsoever. You then apologized for "upsetting" anyone.
    Does that help?

    #65557
  26. Signatures that do not match implies fraud to me, every one but the incumbents having a dozen or so signature ruled invalid "feels" like fraud to me, I have no proof,nor do I have the wherewithal to contest the rulings, therefor I apologized for using the term fraud, in favor of the less inflammatory"shenanigans".
    As Marc Delany pointed out in his Sept 3 2012 letter to the editor, sometimes being crappy at your job when you are a public official, leads to violations of the law.
    One thing we can agree on is more people need to be involved in how the government of Arcata, and the County runs.

    PS,
    I am trying to raise money to open a full time dojo in Arcata. If anyone is interested in making a donation, you can click on this link and donate what ever amount you like.
    http://www.gofundme.com/17ldnk?pc=fb_cr

    #64209
  27. Signatures that do not match implies fraud to me, every one but the incumbents having a dozen or so signature ruled invalid "feels" like fraud to me, I have no proof,nor do I have the wherewithal to contest the rulings, therefor I apologized for using the term fraud, in favor of the less inflammatory"shenanigans".
    As Marc Delany pointed out in his Sept 3 2012 letter to the editor, sometimes being crappy at your job when you are a public official, leads to violations of the law.
    One thing we can agree on is more people need to be involved in how the government of Arcata, and the County runs.

    PS,
    I am trying to raise money to open a full time dojo in Arcata. If anyone is interested in making a donation, you can click on this link and donate what ever amount you like.
    http://www.gofundme.com/17ldnk?pc=fb_cr

    #65558
  28. Kevin Hoover

    " I apologized for using the term fraud"

    Where? Please provide a link. All I remember is your apologizing "if I upset anyone."

    You have never documented the charges of fraud or "shenanigans" which you leveled against non-elected employees of the City of Arcata or Humboldt County.

    #64211
  29. Kevin Hoover

    " I apologized for using the term fraud"

    Where? Please provide a link. All I remember is your apologizing "if I upset anyone."

    You have never documented the charges of fraud or "shenanigans" which you leveled against non-elected employees of the City of Arcata or Humboldt County.

    #65559
  30. Kevin Hoover

    The term "shenanigans" suggests that someone tampered with your petition verification to affect the outcome. That's a criminal offense, which you have accused non-elecetd officials of committing.

    Compounding this reckless, unsupported accusation is your typical-politician response of "I'm sorry if I [offended] anyone." You used the word, "upset."

    So you still have called City and county employees crooks, essentially, and never followed through with any proof.

    These sorts of outbursts – reactively accusing people of fraud ad incompetence at every turn – may be why people like Winkler choose not to sign your nomination petition.

    #64212
  31. Kevin Hoover

    The term "shenanigans" suggests that someone tampered with your petition verification to affect the outcome. That's a criminal offense, which you have accused non-elecetd officials of committing.

    Compounding this reckless, unsupported accusation is your typical-politician response of "I'm sorry if I [offended] anyone." You used the word, "upset."

    So you still have called City and county employees crooks, essentially, and never followed through with any proof.

    These sorts of outbursts – reactively accusing people of fraud ad incompetence at every turn – may be why people like Winkler choose not to sign your nomination petition.

    #65560
  32. not quite sure what you are saying here Kevin, could you give me a simplified version?

    #64231
  33. not quite sure what you are saying here Kevin, could you give me a simplified version?

    #65551
  34. Kevin Hoover

    Mark, I'm sometimes unsure whether you're serious or not. Assuming you are, the simplified version would be something like this:
    Citizens: participate. Elected leaders: respect the participation.

    #64232
  35. Kevin Hoover

    Mark, I'm sometimes unsure whether you're serious or not. Assuming you are, the simplified version would be something like this:
    Citizens: participate. Elected leaders: respect the participation.

    #65561
  36. Kevin- Sorry for the sarcasm. It was supposed to be an allusion to the GPU primer the supes asked for. I understand and appreciate your concerns, as well as the effort you make at fostering intelligent discourse in Arcata. As for myself, I can get a lot of blow back when I express my opinions, and have even had veiled threats made against my family in the past. Not to mention the unbelievable ways that people distort what you actually say, so it's almost like, what's the point? A letter to the editor can be like a Rorschach test. People see all kinds of things in them, and many times it's just a reflection of their own insecurities. That being said, I am reluctant to participate.

    #64235
  37. Kevin Hoover

    No apology necessary. For once, I wasn't trying to be a scold as much as documenting the general decline in public participation in some key areas. And yes, lamenting it a bit.

    #64236
  38. Kevin Hoover

    No apology necessary. For once, I wasn't trying to be a scold as much as documenting the general decline in public participation in some key areas. And yes, lamenting it a bit.

    #65562
  39. Hoover, had you worn your polyester knit black and green sweater vest over a light blue button down JC Penny long sleeve shirt with a bow tie , polyester slacks, second hand black shiny wing tips, white socks and your trucker cap with your camera neatly hanging about your neck perhaps they would have taken you seriously.

    #64248

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.