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Boards Behaving Badly 

Maybe the Journal should start an ongoing feature called "Boards Behaving Badly." I don't get it. These public servants are duly elected and have the backing of the majority of their constituents. Then once in office, they fall prey to taking the easy path of making tough or uncomfortable decisions, first behind closed doors, and then going out of their way to keep public input and scrutiny to a minimum. Like The Wizard of Oz: Don't look behind the curtain!

• First, in April, the Eureka City Council was called into "emergency" session on Good Friday to approve using public funds (staff time) to apply for a $295,000 Caltrans grant to fund a feasibility study of the east-west rail line proposal. The study is something the majority of council members believes in and genuinely backs, but most of them had previously stated they would not need — nor would they use — public money for this work. There was plenty of private funding for this study, we were told for more than a year. They apparently changed their collective mind. That is fine, except it was no emergency. They just wanted to avoid the public fuss of explaining themselves.

• In late May County Supervisor Estelle Fennell apparently decided that morphing the General Plan Update into something more to the liking of her former employer, Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights, would be a lot easier if the pesky "Guiding Principles" of the GPU were a bit looser, more reflective of the current county Board of Supervisors' thinking instead of all those other supervisors elected over the last 13 years. So she made some changes — some of them dramatically different — and rolled out her revised plan again on a Thursday right before the board was to meet Monday. No surprise, she had three more like-minded supervisors lined up who went along and her changes sailed through, 4-1.

Update: Due to substantial pushback from the public since that vote, the Board of Supervisors has backpedaled a bit, calling the vote a preliminary "straw" vote, and assuring the public it has plenty of time to weigh in. In July the board scheduled a new hearing on the "Guiding Principles" for Sept. 23, 6-9 p.m. In the meantime, the public is supposed to let their supervisor know what they think. So here's my personal input for my own representative, 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg: I fully support the original Guiding Principles adopted in 2004 after a lengthy process of public input, especially the part "to protect agriculture and timberland ... using measures such as increased restrictions on resource land subdivision ..." that you supported when you ran for office. In other words, let's plan for development where services already exist. (Hope to see many of you on Sept. 23, and please email your own supervisor.)

• Finally, we have last week's obscure meeting of the Mayors City Selection Committee and the brouhaha over its appointment to the North Coast Railroad Authority Board of Directors, the subject of this week's cover story. I fully agree with Trinidad Mayor Julie Fulkerson. How embarrassing! First the committee appoints Alex Stillman of Arcata to the NCRA and she attends two meetings. Then the east-west rail boosters cranked up the pressure and, due to a procedural loophole, Alex was booted and Fortuna Mayor Doug Strehl was in.

Where is the deception and bad behavior? One of the mayors who appointed Alex, Eureka's Frank Jager — a genuinely good guy trying to do the right thing and bring people together — caved under pressure. Rails-with-trails advocate Alex was simply not pro-rail enough. So Frank stepped aside (fell on his sword), and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Newman took his place so Frank would not have to reverse his own vote.

I'm certainly glad (sarcasm alert) Mayor Pro Tem Mike Newman clarified the city's official position on trails as "rails first versus trails." The big mystery, Eureka citizens, is when did this discussion take place? When was it on the agenda so you all could know about it and express an opinion on this new "rails-first-versus-trails" policy?

Oh, that's right! It was on the agenda — June 16 to be exact. And then Mayor Frank pulled it off. So how many of you Eurekans support this new trails policy? We'd like to hear from you!

Just don't look behind the curtain.

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Judy Hodgson

Judy Hodgson is a co-founder of the North Coast Journal.

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