Something is Fishy in Noyo Harbor

Is there something fishy happening at the Noyo Harbor Commission?

Editorial by Marianne McGee MA/ABS

There is much activity at the Noyo Harbor Commission, with changes in Commission members, staff and a flurry of rumors.  While this is a legal body subject to government regulations, there is very little accurate information available to understand what is happening there. In Calendar Year 2020 the Commission only held about 4 meetings with 3 meetings minutes available on their website, which is confusing. The only publicly available recordings ever done of their meetings were when Mendocino TV recorded them in 2018/2019.     

It is an interesting time to look at the Noyo Harbor Commission membership, given the fact that almost 3 members, harbormaster and grant contractor are no longer there.  Membership is composed of 2 Fort Bragg City Council appointees, 2 County supervisor appointees with both entities choosing the fifth member, who operates as the Chairperson.

About 2 years ago the City Council appointed Michelle Norvell, spouse of now Mayor Bernie Norvell, as a city representative. This choice appeared to set off a series of changes as Ms. Norvell raised questions and concerns regarding Noyo Harbor operations.  (See the Mendocino TV editorial and recording of July 2019). As a person who studied group and committee dynamics for my Masters degree, I thought her experience was to add consistent systems and transparency to an organization that appeared to be operating very informally for years, which raised necessary conflict.

Recently Doug Albin, spouse of Councilor Tess Albin-Smith, was appointed by the City Council to fill the Fort Bragg vacancy.  Mr. Albin, who certainly has impeccable credentials for the position, will add to the improvements Ms. Norvell has brought to the Commission.  Additionally, Jim Hurst, long standing community volunteer was appointed Chair by both entities.  While I believe the City of Fort Bragg designees are highly qualified and ethical Commissioners, the optics of the City representatives being both spouses of City Council members casts a bit of shade.

Currently the Commission has been operating with only those three members and this week the County Supervisors will approve their anointed appointees.  It is not apparent who the other applicants, if any were, given Mendocino County is not using the same transparent process the City of Fort Bragg did.  .  It would be helpful if the County supervisors used a similar application and interview process for their more important Committees and Commissions.

It appears that the Mendocino County Supervisors are approving the two county nominees to be Noyo Harbor Commissioners at their meeting January 26, with the apparent designees being former Supervisor and Point Arena City Manager Richard Shoemaker and Daniel Platt, commercial fisherman and owner of Noyo Harbor Tours.  I am sure the Mendocino County Supervisors will rubber stamp the Noyo Harbor Commission appointees, undoubtedly under the iron fist of CEO Angelo.

There has been speculation of why Ukiah based Richard Shoemaker wants to be on this Commission, especially since he recently retired from his part time $50,000 a year gig in Point Arena. While there is no doubt he has a strong resume for government, nonprofit and commission qualifications, I am curious about his intentions. His statement on his application does not really say why he wants to be a Commissioner and he is the long time companion to former City Manager Linda Ruffing

Shortly before former City Manager Linda Ruffing and Planning Director Marie Jones were relieved of their positions, they were publicly raising the issue of the City of Fort Bragg annexing Noyo Harbor, yet again. They claimed that the City of Fort Bragg was in a much better position to develop and improve Noyo Harbor than the County is. This has been a contentious issue in this community for decades and raises strong feelings on both sides of the issue.  So having the City Council appointing spouses can appear suspect, although the City website has a disclaimer stating that potential annexation is not a current priority. 

At their recent Harbor Commission meeting a decision was made to draft a request for qualifications (RFQ) to hire a consultant to implement the Community Sustainability Plan, which was completed about a year ago.    Linda Ruffing was previously hired by the Contractor to develop and tailor that Community Sustainability Plan, which looked like a boiler plate cut and paste document to me. So Ms. Ruffing was indirectly paid by Noyo Harbor Commission working on the same project as it was developed. Additionally, given the staff and grant contractor upheaval, there may be more well paid consultant opportunities there.

Once again, it is time for the community to remain vigilant about what happens in Noyo Harbor, a critical economic driver in our struggling society.  It is extremely important that the Noyo Harbor Commission have their meetings broadcast live, as well as record them and make it available on their website.  In this day of Zoom meetings, this should be relatively easy; they just need to remember to record them.  It is critical that the Noyo Harbor Commission, under Mr. Hurst’s leadership, operate legally with open communications and transparency.

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