Jack Durham: Thinking Outside The News

The faces of the citizens of Arcata should again be flush with pride now that City Hall has launched a grand experiment – the placement of a public toilet near the Plaza.

Hats off to the Arcata City Council for taking this bold move to provide a public privy for tourists and others who roam the city’s vibrant downtown. Hopefully, the Portland loo will provide the populace with an attractive, clean and convenient place to seek relief.

Or perhaps, as some fear, it will devolve into a hellhole resembling the toilets in the movie Trainspotting. It could become a  disgusting den of debauchery, with unspeakable horrors greeting all who enter.

Which one will it be? The answer: Nobody knows.

If the Portland loo works out like supporters want it to, then everyone wins. If it becomes a nuisance, then the city can rip it out, downtown will gain another parking spot and the city leaders will be wiser, having learned from the experiment.

More on Dan

The Dan Johnson controversy has turned out to be a great learning experience. Case in point: The October edition of Arcata High School’s Pepperbox student newspaper. The newspaper’s staff delved into the issue of plagiarism and the scandal itself. The students examined academic honesty from many different angles. Humboldt’s professional journalists could learn a thing or two from the Pepperbox crew.

Other beneficiaries of the experience were boardmembers who learned about responding to controversies in a timely manner and about how their serial e-mails and phone calls can constitute a Brown Act violation.

The only person who did not seem to learn anything from the experience is Johnson himself, at least based upon last week’s cover article by Ryan Burns in the North Coast Journal. Months after the scandal erupted, Johnson tells the Journal he doesn’t really understand the concept of plagiarism. Oh well. He’s a lost cause.

Despite all the ludicrous statements Johnson makes every time he opens his mouth, or puts pen to paper, the embattled boardmember is not without value to the district. It turns out that he is extremely helpful to district staff when it comes to construction-related issues.

As the owner of his own construction company, Danco, Johnson has expertise in this field and is able to provide valuable advice to NHUHSD staffmembers as they navigate their way through Measure Q projects at McKinleyville and Arcata High schools.  So he’s got that going for him.


McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD) President Dennis Mayo, a candidate in the upcoming election, got bent out of shape recently because the League of Women Voters didn’t consult with him when scheduling the Oct. 10 candidates forum in McKinleyville.

It’s true that the forum was hastily put together, and that candidates weren’t  given much advance notice, but they were all treated equally. All four candidates running for three open seats received certified letters in the mail inviting them to attend the forum.
The league doesn’t coordinate forum schedules with candidates. Doing so would be a logistical nightmare.

The league, however, needs to improve its communications. The Mad River Union was never notified about the forum by the league. The MRU obtained information about the forum from the league’s website.

The listed start time of 7 p.m. was different than the 7:30 p.m. start time that candidates were informed of in the letters they received from the league. People showed up at the forum and stood around for half an hour before it started.

MCSD motto

Speaking of the MCSD, the district has a new motto – A New Frontier in Government. Don’t laugh. It makes sense.

In the old days, communities would grow until they became big enough to incorporate and become cities. Up until the last several decades, McKinleyville was too small to incorporate. There was only a scattering of homes and ranches. Most people worked and shopped out of town.

Then, McKinleyville started growing. It now has more than 15,000 residents and a bustling commercial district. However, the laws governing incorporation would prevent the town from taking money from the County of Humboldt, unless the county agrees to give it away, which is unlikely.

Because of this, the only way that McKinleyville could incorporate is if it took on the additional responsibilities that come from cityhood, and then raised taxes to pay for them. Residents would, in this case, pay their existing taxes, and pay the new taxes. As MCSD Manager Greg Orsini has described the situation, it would be a form of double taxation.

The only advantage would be local control. But that advantage can be gained, to some degree, through other means. McKinleyville can assert itself and leverage its power. It can build political relationships and forge alliances with other lawmakers and governmental agencies.

This is exactly what the MCSD is now doing. It’s trying to gain more control and improve services to the residents without actually becoming a city. It’s a new frontier in government.


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