Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Acceptable? Or not? W/Update

Looking back, moving forward at the MCSD
Guest opinion by Tom Marking
Jan. 1, 2008 edition of the McKinleyville Press

This has been an interesting year at the McKinleyvilleCommunity Services District. For the customers, the operational aspects of the district have been handled efficiently and effectively. The staff has done an excellent job and we proudly serve our customers.

Our rates are low, our service is high and our goal is to keep it that way. We thank all our customers that are attentive to conserving water, are cooperative and are appreciative of our staff efforts on their behalf. Over the past few years, we have completed the ball fields, built a marsh complex, replaced the Pierson Park playground, constructed a new Hiller Park playground, started new recreation programs, added trails and amenities. Things are looking good from a staff perspective.

However, the recent fiscal emergency declared by the Governator has us concerned about another tax grab from the parks budget. Stay tuned in 2008.

Board Stuff: In retrospect, the election of 2005 brought a new dynamic. As all of you are well aware the governing board is suffering through some growing pains. The McKinleyville Press editorials have been doing their utmost to keep the public well informed of the recent controversy (the First Amendment is alive and well in McKinleyville, no loss of rights in this town!)

The election of 2005 brought in a duo of "progressives" to the board that wish to meld their political aspirations into district policy. From the outset, we were informed that "we were leaderless," we were a "ship without a rudder." Ouch! The sharp edges of those statements have been dulled a bit over the last few years. Local Solutions was probably ecstatic when Ron Coffman was maneuvered onto the board this spring... they finally had a majority on a local service board.

Well, in Mr. Coffman's zeal to charge forward with a bold new leadership style, he stumbled badly and created quite a stir. It is not polite, ethical or legal to make false accusations about the staff and the general manager in public meetings. He was offered the opportunity to correct the situation with an apology and retraction, but instead he rolled the dice on the election, and the voters gave him an answer. There is wisdom in that decision. The silent majority is underrated.

In September, the general manager made it clear he did not want to work for a board that governs from disrespect and hidden agendas, and publicly stated his intention to retire next year. While the editor continually reports that the decision to leave was over Mr. Reid's saber rattling and fabled unilateral disciplinary session; that was ruse from the start. There was no basis for any disciplinary action... and Mr. Reid has backtracked on that hasty decision (in spite of leaked confidential letters). All Mr. Reid accomplished was to cause divisiveness and problems for the staff, the board, the district and himself. (More spilled milk to be cleaned up).

After the recent election, maybe there will be smoother sailing with a new captain on deck. The board needs to refocus on our mission statement, goals and statutory authority. No doubt, there will be a few choice words spoken in closed session between the manager and a few members of the board... whenever that is finally scheduled.

Whether there will be satisfactory resolution to the current situation is yet to be determined. All relationships are built on trust and respect. Perhaps that is a worthy goal for the coming year - to be respectful and try to build trust. Actually, that is a worthy goal in our private lives also, don't you think? I wish Mr. Coffman good heath and I wish all the board a happy new year. Perhaps we can resolve our differences and get back to serving our customers in the manner they deserve and expect (p.s. and work out our differences in private,)

(Tom Marking is the general manager of the MCSD.)


Well, this isn't a good way to start off negotiating in private, is it? I'm surprised to see all this erupt, but even more surprised to see Marking brand Coffman with the "Local Solutiuons" brand.

For the record - I watch "Local Solutions" pretty closely, and Ron Coffman was no "Local Solutions" candidate (though they may well have wanted him). And the voters didn't do anything to "send him a message," Coffman withdrew from the race. (For those who don't know, Coffman was appointed to fill a vacant position, and running was the natural extension of that term, not, as Marking puts it a "roll of the dice.")

It may be fair to call Javan Reid and Jeff Dunk "Local Solutions candidates" because both men accepted $400 from "Local Solutions:" when they ran for Board. Both obviously participated in the sham interviews LS put on. While Reid may have been involved with "Local Solutions" from its inception, Dunk was, in my observation, clueless as to what they were about. He was merely flattered that they liked him and were willing to support his candidacy.

And make no mistake, what they are about is aiding Richard Salzman in achieving his goals - keep Gallegos in office and get Rodoni out. Using the local "progressive" community's angst about national politics, Salzman was able to drum up people to undertake this effort - it was in many ways a fund-raising mechanism for Salzman's candidates, as well as a get-out-the-vote machine.

It was also a means of priming the pumpline - Salzman didn't want to lose any more races because his candidates lacked experience, so getting like-minded people in on the ground floor, School Boards and Service Districts was one goal. He's a very patient man for all his volatility, and willing to wait to get his three votes on the Board of Supervisors.

Despite the supposed breakup of LS and Salzman, you will be seeing a great deal of them in the upcoming Supervisor's race - Clendennen is a real "Local Solutions" candidate, and they'll be pulling out all the stops to oust Rodoni.

But all that aside - If Marking were a "Local Solutions" sympathizer, and wrote this piece lambasting Bill Wennerholm and Helen Edwards airing all the dirty laundry, it would be just as wrong as this is. If there was any hope for repairing the recent rift between Dunk, Reid and Marking, this would look to have ended those chances. This is the kind of thing you write to get it out of your system, sleep on it for a day or so and then rip up.

And all that said, Marking is reputed to be an excellent manager otherwise, and one well worth keeping. He's been with the District far longer than most managers in that profession, which is testament to his ability and skill.

What do you think?

Added 1/12/2008
McKinleyville Press Editorial by Jack Durham

Now that the political dynamic has changed on the McKinleyville Community Services District Board of Directors, it appears that Manager Tom Marking will be sticking around. He's back in charge and has a board that will probably follow his recommendations.

There's a definite upside to having Marking back at the helm - he's smart, creative, frugal and he works his butt off.

Unfortunately, there are some serious issues that will probably remain unresolved - mainly Marking's belligerence to some members of the board.

Marking has deemed it necessary to communicate to the board with a litany of insults. For example, in a letter to directors he accused a board member of "arrogance" and "grandstanding," describe him as "snobbish" and then wrote that "his entire manner is offensive." In another letter, he stated that a different director "demonstrates a lack of character and ethics."

Some McKinleyville residents probably think such language is just fine and that the directors had it coming. But that view holds McKinleyville's manager to a very low professional standard. Certainly other managers of other districts and cities deal with contentious board issues without resorting to such tactics. That's not to say that a manager may not, at times, have legitimate gripes that make him or her want to lash out at board members. But when the situation arises, a professional will take a deep breath and approach the situation in a calm, purposeful, diplomatic fashion. It's about taking the high road and keeping your cool.

That approach is the opposite of Marking's guest opinion in last week's McKinleyville Press, in which he accuses Directors Jeff Dunk and Javan Reid of wishing to "meld their political aspirations into district policy." Marking doesn't elaborate on this, but appears to buy into some sort of conspiracy theory that the duo is making changes in MCSD policy with the goal that doing so will somehow help them get elected to a higher office. There's no evidence to back this up such an assertion. So what's the point? Perhaps it's about playing politics and trying to marginalize directors with whom Marking disagrees with.

He also conducts an oddball analysis of the last election, stating that Director Ron Coffman "rolled the dice on the election, and the voters gave him the answer. There is wisdom in that decision. The silent majority is underrated." Marking seems to have forgotten that Coffman pulled out of the race and didn't campaign, which might have something to do with the fact that he wasn't elected.

Tonight, Jan. 8, Marking and the board are scheduled to meet behind closed doors to discuss the situation. Based on his guest opinion, Marking sounds like he's geared up for a fight. "No doubt, there will be a few choice words spoken in closed session between the manager and a few members of the board," Marking wrote. It sounds rather ominous.

It would be nice to think that by "choice words," Marking means that he'll be professional, diplomatic and courteous. Let's hope so, because if he's going to stick around at the MCSD he'll need to be prepared to deal the town's diverse political landscape and an elected board that represents different segments of the community - even those he may disagree with. McKinleyville will be best served if Marking concentrates on being a manager and stays out of politics. Leave that for the board members that residents actually elect, and who can be tossed out of office every four years.

And that pretty much says it all.

In closing this thread, I want to say that Marking is right to recognize "Local Solutions" as a problem. But Jeff Dunk and Javan Reid are only window dressing in the LS effort. "Local Solutions" is a threat to good unbiased government IF they gain any traction as a powerbroker. Their association with Salzman ought to rule that out, but they have proclaimed a break with him. Should it turn out that "Local Solutions" is still working in secret or otherwise with Salzman to get him that 'third vote' on the Board of Supervisors, they will have to be stopped. Misunderstanding what they are about, and who they are really running is crucial.


  1. Probably could have stated his case a bit softer. He seems to never be one to say what you want to hear just for the sake of being PC. I wonder how I might feel if I were suggested to be less than honest about treatment pond capisity sales and values. Just to have everything I proposed vindicated as not only correct but fordward thinking. Then get insulted with a secret attempt at being fired. Maybe his wording was soft considering it all.

  2. The fight does seem to be more about who gets to buy the "carbon credits" than anything else.

    Ironically, my understanding is it turns out there's enough to go around.

    He's not stating his case "softer" he's laying out all his grievances in a public forum and asking for things to be kept private.

    I say again - it doesn't matter which side he is against, the fact that he sees sides, and goes after his directors in this way is not professional and should not be allowed.

    As an official spokesperson, acting in his official capacity, he should have kept it on a professional level.

  3. No disagreement there. Would the same hold true for the public FUBAR from a director?

  4. You can make comments before the closed session on Jan 8 which starts at 7 PM to the board re Marking or even some of the board's actions.

    FYI - I have heard Dunk does aspire to higher office - BOS. If Geist gets elected to a higher office he will run for her seat.

  5. You're making alot of assumptions there. More likely it would be John Corbett, who is eminently qualified and has run before.

  6. The MCSD board has been unable to make even simple decisions the last two years. It has beem embarrassing. The district voted by 80+% to fix this problem and support the manager and staff that made good decisions. Keep stiring the pot and all you'll get is a tired arm.

  7. You'll have to explain that more fully, because it is at odds with the statement that everything has been running smoothly. Most people don't care about the petty infighting by the Board, and I would venture to say that most are unaware despite Marking's statement that we are all aware.

    What - specifically - has been left undecided? Or not getting done.

    And, remember, if you're trying to say 80% voted against Coffman - he WITHDREW from the race BEFORE the election.

  8. Off the top of my head, the only issue that took a really long time to decide and involved some flip flopping was whether to sell capacity in a marsh to developers.

    Eventually, that issue was, in fact, decided.

    I would like to know what other issues were undecided or what business wasn't taken care of. It helps to get an outside perspective after one has sat through those long-ass meetings for so long.

  9. That is the issue that seems to be at the heart of this, Jack. Ironically, it turned out there was enough "carbon credit" for both CalTrans and others who need it.

    The only other thing i can think of that has drug out is the issue of whether or not this is an appropriate time to go for solar. Municipalities do not enjoy the tax rebates that regular people might, so the question has been - at what point does it pencil out to pay off before the equipment expires.

  10. Although not a necessary exercise, Mr. Markings views seem to be factually correct. Don't kill the messenger for poor timing. It has much less importance than it's getting.

  11. Sorry, but you've got, at best, a loose cannon.

  12. If Marking is a loose cannon I'll gladly take a boat load.


Comments are open, but moderated, for the time-being. Good luck.