Tempers flare at tonight’s Noyo Harbor Commission as Harbor Master Bill Sanborn left the meeting.
Editorial by Marianne McGee, MS/ABS
The July 2019 meeting of the Noyo Harbor Commission began on a very querulous note, from the moment it started, with newest Commissioner Michelle Norvell questioning numerous issues with previous meeting minutes, resulting in detailed discussions that covered more than mere corrections.
Anger and frustrations surfaced throughout the first 2 hour portion of the meeting with Commissioner Norvell criticizing and interrogating the actions of the staff and contractors including the Harbor Master, Secretary/Treasurer, Attorney and Grants Administrator. This in turn caused other Commissioners to become angry and frustrated, resulting in one of the most contentious public meetings I have ever witnessed. (Over my professional career I have been to literally thousands of meetings both here and in Oregon, so that is quite a feat!)
It appears that part of the problem is that Commissioner Norvell, as a new and conscientious member, is attempting to gather ten years of historical information at the busiest time of year for Noyo Harbor, which has a very small staff. It also appears that given a variety of staff over the years, not all of it is easy to find and access. This resulted in Commissioner Jim Hurst telling her that she needs to go work directly with staff to try and unravel the Gordian knot that does exist. While she disagreed, Hurst added that a Commissioner’s responsibility is “not to sit on our butts at a meeting once a month, rather, to be a positive force- not creating more work”.
It appeared Norvell was accusing people of withholding information from her, changing information improperly as well as discouraging and mishandling public information. At one point the discussion is so heated that Norvell claims to feel bullied by Harbor Master Sanborn as he asks who is at the root of a complaint igniting Commissioner Forkner to say he thinks she is the person doing the bullying! At that point Sanborn walks out of the meeting for a few minutes because he is so upset.
Many of Commissioner Norvell’s questions and concerns appear to have minute details that cannot be answered or addressed at a public meeting and her research needs to be done separately. On the other hand many of her concerns are also very relevant and point out glaring gaps in information available, which it appears the Noyo Harbor District has been working to remedy. Harbor Master Bill Sanborn has only been there relatively short time and has apparently been working very hard to deal with many infrastructure issues he inherited as well as updating the paperwork.
There are evident issues that establishing more formal policies and procedures will make it a more effective organization. Commissioner Norvell, having served for a number of years as a Fort Bragg Unified School District (FBUSD) Trustee, has public meeting leadership skills,which we hope she is able to use effectively with the Noyo Harbor Commission.
To accomplish her goals she is going to need to balance her information requests judiciously and develop better communications and relationships with staff, her peers and the public. Sounding like an angry prosecutor from the beginning of the meeting to the end of its first 2 hours did not reflect well on her, in my opinion. She needs to recognize the limits of the very small Noyo Harbor staff and the immensity of the tasks facing them. While FBUSD had plenty of professional staff to respond to Trustee requests, the Harbor District has basically two people trying to handle a wide range of diverse projects from infrastructure to the Community Sustainability Plan. On the other hand, Commissioner Norvell’s skills, attention to details and desire for transparency would make her an excellent candidate for the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors representing the 4th district.
Issues Norvell is concerned about, that deserve a deeper dive, especially concern confusion around budget numbers, lack of a monthly financial statement, grant processes and the current State audits underway on two of grants waiting for reimbursement. Sarah Huff, who handles their grants as a contractor, only reports from the audience, refusing to go to the podium where Mendocino TV has a microphone, so even Commissioners cannot always hear her. As a result, we have also been confused about the grants status. Jim Hurst, who did a yeoman’s duty of helping to keep the meeting on track, also said he has been calling to hire a CPA for several years to help keep their finances in order.
The first half of the meeting can best be summarized with a quote by Bill Forkner who said “If there is a problem with some of this, the board did it, not staff!”
The second portion of the meeting was completed after a Closed Session. It appeared to have to deal with Rex Gresset debacle of a lawsuit after his scow sunk causing expensive damage to the Harbor. The second video reveals a Commission that operated smoothly and was completely the opposite of the first two hours! No traces of animosity appeared to remain!
Many important items were covered in these meetings including fee changes, dredging, the budget, the High Dock project, Community Sustainability Plan and problems with the Salmon Barbecue, so be sure to watch both videos.
An Ad Hoc Committee to help prioritize projects in the Community Sustainability Plan was discussed.