With everybody in the U.S. and Humboldt getting geared up for election season, we thought it would be fun to take a look at when the Fortuna Volunteer Fire District decided to circumvent the normal voting process and completely cook the books in order to get more public tax monies. Hats off to the FVFD – it sure took some creativity and gumption to blatantly disregard the need for transparency while raising Fortuna’s fire assessment by 500% at the same time.
You see – even while ignoring the actual amount of the assessment – there are several reasons that this entire process smells extremely fishy. (The stench has not improved with time and perspective, unfortunately.) You can find a copy of the “ballot” here.
First off, let’s look at a statement made at Fortuna’s September 7th, 2015 town meeting, by Plan West, a firm that the Fire District paid $30,000 to “guide and advise” the tax measure. The spokesperson for Plan West said it would have cost $25,000 for the Fire District to have an official ballot drawn up by the elections office. The Fire District decided this was much too expensive (despite having spent more than that amount on a consulting firm that guided them towards co-opting the need for an official ballot.) Meaning that, the FVFD used an un-official ballot that was unsanctioned by the elections office.*
* You may recognize the elections office as the entity that is supposed to oversee fair voting practices.
Next, lets also mention that the votes were weighted – in favor of people who own more property. That’s correct – if you have more dirt credited to your name than those who are lacking massive land holdings, then you had more say in the outcome of this vote than your neighbor. Totally equal, right?
Then there’s the whole lack of secrecy for people who were encouraged to turn their ballots in at a town hall gathering. From LoCO: You know, in case your mind gets changed at the meeting.
But let’s take a look at the way the ballots were counted. Even if the form, distribution, and collection of the ballots was questionable, i.e. complete and utter bullshit, then it’s good news that they were counted in an official and transparent manner…by the Humboldt League of Women Voters? What the f***?
To be fair, that’s not a knock against the esteemed HLoWV. They are a totally groovy organization in THC’s book. We just question how the FVFD arbitrarily decided the HLoWV was the most qualified to count the ballots. We also wonder how much the the FVFD pressured the good ladies of HLoWV to conveniently misplace “No” votes in the waste bin.
Perhaps we can just chalk up this voting miscarriage to the Fire District being too cheap. Paying $25,000 for legitimate ballots is a big expense for a volunteer fire department – which is going to use part of the funds from this tax to pay its volunteers for their time.
(Also, see “Volunteer.”)
Shit. But at least we can take solace in the fact that the FVFD wasn’t running around like the mob, influencing the voting public with threats and the like, right?
Well…not so much. On October 1st of 2015, we happened across this damning letter from Alan Mendes, a Fortuna resident, which he submitted to the Times-Standard. THC strongly encourages you to read the whole thing – Mr. Mendes raises some excellent points. We’d like to highlight this comment from the letter:
“Weeks ago, my 80-year-old mother was email harassed concerning her negative comments about the fire tax. On Sept. 21., a close friend, after writing his concerns about the tax to your newspaper, was also harassed.”
Yikes. The Volunteer Fire Department is harassing old women in order to influence the vote? Sounds like some real strong-arm intimidation tactics to us. But wait…there’s more! Also from Mendes’ letter:
“If the members of this community question the credibility and transparency of the “fire tax,” they should be able to do so without retaliation, but this is not the case.”
Needless to say, all of the shady factors involved with this tax measure are unfortunate, particularly for a Fire District that claims – on their website – they are dedicated to the ideals of “honesty, integrity, bravery and compassion.”
In closing, THC will ask you the same thing that Mr. Mendes (THC’s official hero of the week): “…what should be more important to the Fortuna citizens — an official ballot through the elections office or to question the honesty and integrity of the fire chief of the Fortuna Fire Department?….Decide for yourself.”
The Humboldt Consequential