Remember that prepared speech Planning Commissioner Lee Ulansey gave during the heated Feb. 20 Planning Commission meeting? (If not, no worries: We’ve posted the relevant section below.) Well, apparently the drama overflowed into an email exchange the following week between Ulansey and fellow Commissioner Noah Levy.
Ulansey’s statement, which came after hours of public outrage over the commission’s decision to delete language supporting a countywide trails system from the general plan, was largely concerned with chastising Humboldt County Supervisor Mark Lovelace over Facebook comments. And more than once Ulansey lumped Levy in with Lovelace, suggesting they had both spread untruths and encouraged violence.
This public shaming inspired Levy to write an impassioned 3,100-word retort, which he sent off at 3:44 a.m. the following Monday. Levy’s tonal gears upshift rapidly from collegial to aggrieved to indignant before settling into defiant.
Ulansey and Levy exchanged a few more emails before agreeing to meet in person. The LoCO obtained their digital tête-à-tête through a California Public Records Act request.
Before getting to that, here’s the video of Ulansey’s speech to refresh your memory:
Below is Levy’s email response, which we’ve edited for length and which Levy hoped would remain private. (The full six-page version can be found here.) All in all this exchange offers a fascinating peek into some of the personalities and emotions that underly government business.
I hope you had a restful and restorative weekend. The pace of our Commission’s work these past few weeks must be taking its toll on you, as it certainly has on me too.
I was half-expecting and certainly hoping that by now I would have received an email or something from you apologizing for what you said about me in the meeting Thursday night and recanting the assertions you made about me. As you probably have gathered, I am a very forgiving guy — too forgiving, most of my friends and colleagues would tell me — but I can’t forgive someone who doesn’t apologize. So I feel compelled to write to you now to tell you just what I think of your public words about me in that meeting. …
You’ve now told me, not once but twice in the short time we’ve known each other, your personal code when it comes to dealing with people. Best I recall, you said something like this: “Look, I give everybody the benefit of the doubt to start with. If you deal fairly with me, I’ll be loyal to you, I’ll be the best friend you’ve got. But if you stab me in the back once, watch out.”
Well, Lee, I have to tell you — your words that night felt a lot like a stab in the back to me. Which is why I was not only stunned to hear them, but also quite hurt, because I had actually believed you when you told me that was your code. … [Levy then reminded Ulansey what he’d said at the meeting.]
I believe you know good and well that what I wrote — and all I did, in my own personal online comments — was to explain accurately, in the form of a short summary of the issue, what had happened to the GPU’s former Goal of a countywide trail system, and to strongly encourage all segments of the public to get involved with the process while it was still ongoing. Encouraging misinformation? Inciting violence, for God’s sake?
Really, Lee — do you take me for such an idiot that I would not know what I had and had not written?
Now, I suppose it’s possible that you had not actually read what I had written when you made those remarks. If that’s the case, of course, it’s still reprehensible and inexcusable that you would publicly slur me as you did. … I suppose it’s possible that you simply were acting on the extremely erroneous hearsay of one of your cronies. … [Levy then reproduces his recent online comments.]
To this day, I still have no idea what you actually objected to in what I wrote, or why, because you didn’t tell me — you didn’t even tell me in public. Instead you told the public what you disliked about a rather selective couple of quotes that our friend Mark Lovelace wrote, and acted as though I had co-authored his remarks. …
Really, Lee, you should be ashamed, and I suspect you are. I suspect that’s why you would not look at me, would not make eye contact, as I stared at you aghast in the immediate aftermath of your concluding those remarks.
Earlier, you told me in private that while you may not be an expert on this or that, you think what you bring to your role is being a strategic thinker. I readily agreed with you, based on what I knew about your record in the past. But I gotta tell you, Lee — I have a really hard time figuring out your strategy here. It seems to me to be a big strategic blunder any way I look at it. …
It’s possible you were genuinely offended and shocked by some aspect of those two quotes of mine above — although, as I’ve noted, it remains a totally mystery to me what precisely you find fault with — while also being (more understandably) mad about what Mark had written; and so, in a pique of indignation, you decided to react in public with a poorly-worded outburst that tarred us both with the same crude brush. That seems possible, makes a certain emotional sense, but it’s the very opposite of strategic to have an unplanned emotional outburst in public, isn’t it? …
I suppose your goal might have been to try to take the opportunity to publicly paint me as being Mark Lovelace Jr., someone whose quotes could be literally interchanged with his, in order to… well, what? To reassure those folks who don’t like Mark that you were not going to play nice with the Commissioner Mark appointed? …
Or, I suppose, your strategy here could simply be one of intimidation — perhaps you decided to bully me in public as a way of sending a message to me that I ought to make sure my public comments in future echo what you think I ought or ought not to say. That strategy’s effectiveness, however, would depend on the notion that I tend to give in to intimidation. But I can assure you, Lee, I do not.
I may have mentioned that I am a fairly forgiving guy, but I do not like to be bullied, and I do not respond to intimidation because I believe very strongly in the correctness of what I am trying to do on this Commission.
In my long work in this field I have learned to stand up to people far more intimidating than you when I believe I am in the right. And your crude mischaracterization of what I had said makes it very easy to know I am in the right on this one; it might have been harder to be sure if you had responded to my words with honest, accurate objections and arguments.
Anyway, as I may have mentioned, I am a fairly forgiving guy. … So I will make what I think is a pretty generous offer: First, I will offer to talk this over with you in person before our next meeting. That’s generous for me because I really have no time to offer you (other than these hours in the middle of the night), but I would sacrifice some further amount of the work hours I’m committed to, or the precious little time that’s left over for my family, if you would like to get together to discuss this before Tuesday night.
Second, I will offer you a chance to go on the record in public in our meeting Tuesday night and correct the record concerning your remarks about me in Thursday’s meeting. The record needs to be corrected, one way or the other. I would prefer it comes from you. If you choose to amend your remarks and apologize publicly, and graciously, for having mischaracterized what I had written about our Feb 18 meeting, I will be happy to accept your apology publicly and drop the matter. But if you do not, I will have no choice but to go on the record myself, and call you out on this one. That choice is really entirely up to you. …
I really do not want to go to war with you, Lee — I think that would be extremely unproductive and unfortunate for all of us. But you did cross a line Thursday night, and the onus really is upon you to correct that situation so that we can work together as respectful colleagues going forward.
Ulansey responded at 9:48 a.m. the same day, Monday, Feb. 24, with a warning about public records and a terse suggestion that they meet in person:
As you may or may not be aware email correspondence sent or received by planning commissioners is unquestionably a public document and disclosable through a CPRA [California Public Records Act] request.
I will not have a written discussion of this type when I’m not confident that confidentiality can legally be maintained. Notwithstanding the legal question, but with respect to our havering a private conversation; you made mention of the fact that I am generally hesitant to trust someone after my confidence has been violated.
However, considering the importance that I perceive to our community and as a courtesy to our mutual friend I am willing to make an exception in this instance if you will commit that you will enter the conversation with an open mind and without the preconditions and threats specified in your note. It would be quite easy for me to generate a comparable list of demands and provocative statements however I have found that most discussions quickly dissolve when one side or the other has predetermined and intractable requirements. Should you still desire to meet you can most certainly assume and expect the same requirement of openness and willingness to listen from me.
As I’m sure you realize, my time is just as valuable to me as yours is to you, but like you I am willing to dedicate myself to this effort and will commit the time necessary for a complete discussion. Assuming it is still your preference to meet please let me know when would work best in your schedule and I will do my best to accommodate it. I have previously scheduled meetings today at noon and at five that I cannot cancel otherwise I will reschedule any of my other commitments.
Levy responded a couple hours later:
Thank you for your prompt reply to my email. I consider it a quite gracious response to my overlong and obviously deeply felt email to you, and I appreciate that.
While it is frustrating to still not understand what exactly you found so objectionable in my remarks, I do understand and respect your preference not to engage in a discussion of it by email.
Moreover, I appreciate the fact that you indicated a real willingness to find a time to meet with me in person to discuss this, which I agree would be the best way to hear each other out and see if we can understand where each of us is coming from. …
[Here Levy laid out his schedule and possible meeting times.]
As far as my feelings about your public remarks about me last Thursday — I intend to let the matter rest as a public matter until after we can discuss it privately in person.
And, finally, here’s a Ulansey email from 1:40 that afternoon:
Thank you for your note. I truly and greatly appreciate your revised tone and tenor and consider it to be a significant indicator that we might ultimately be able to resolve our respective concerns and differences.
While the issue between us arose as a result of our being on the commission I very much consider it to be personal in nature and distinctly not county business. Your strongly worded preference that I not disclose your correspondence indicates to me that you feel the same.
Please be aware that I regularly receive CPRA requests for my email correspondence. Again, please be aware that I certainly will never willingly allow anyone to view our correspondence, it is however likely that we both will be legally compelled to do so at some time. Moreover, while email is a wonderful tool I think most of us have found from time to time that our intentions are misconstrued when there is no allowance for intonation and the back and forth of a conversation. I think we both would prefer that there be no possibility of further misunderstanding.
I would certainly be happy to meet with you on Thursday at 4:30 or even earlier should your schedule allow for it. Unfortunately due to an important family event I will be unable to attend tonight’s meeting where I would have otherwise suggested that we at least begin our conversation. I thought I was going to be able to reschedule but as you know well, daughters are special people…
In the meantime I’ll look forward to a lively and hopefully positive discussion and outcome.
Ulansey says he considers the matter personal and not county business, though the disagreement concerns comments made by county officials, about county officials, during a public meeting. Regardless, the end of this particular discussion may remain obscured — unless it resumes in another public forum.