A brouhaha to end brouhahas?

Can Chicoans make any significant political change without fighting over it?

Should the Chico City Council have a policy—or, rather, a different policy—for filling vacancies on the panel? It’s a question worth asking, given the brouhaha that occurred in January, following the resignation of Councilman Larry Wahl. Remember that? When Sor Lo and the Hmong community were pitted against Bob Evans and the conservative white contingent?

The issue came up at last week’s council meeting because Evans, whom the council eventually chose to fill Wahl’s seat, had asked that the panel discuss changing the replacement policy. As he put it, “The process is divisive, it’s very political, and it’s not good for the community.” He said he wanted to form a committee and research how other cities do it and come up with a policy that covers most situations.

Councilman Andy Holcombe pointed out that the city had a policy, that it was in the city charter, and that changing the charter would require an election. (The policy gives the council a month to choose a replacement; failing that, an election must be held.)

As far as Holcombe was concerned, what happened in January wasn’t a brouhaha, it was “a community dialogue.” He added that he was “loath to limit the discretion of future council members.”

Ultimately, the council voted, 4-3, to appoint an ad-hoc committee to research the matter. I couldn’t help wondering, though: If a charter change designed to end the divisiveness does end up on the ballot, won’t it be just as controversial and divisive as any other charged political issue in Chico? Maybe Holcombe is right: It’s all just “community dialogue” and democracy in action. Maybe we should learn to enjoy it.

Toot Your Own Horn Dept.: I’m pleased to report that the CN&R did pretty well in the latest Better Newspapers Contest sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. It’s the most prestigious contest in the state and the only one we regularly enter, so please pardon me for bragging just a little.

We competed in the category of large weeklies (circulation of 25,001 and up) against such papers as the SF Weekly, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Metro Silicon Valley and the Roseville Press-Tribune, not to mention our sister paper, the Sacramento News & Review.

The CN&R took home a first-place plaque in the category of Environmental or Ag Resources Reporting, for Tom Gascoyne’s Dec. 9, 2009, report, “Ramsey in the crosshairs,” about a group of local businessmen angry about the district attorney’s vigorous prosecution of environmental laws and their effort to unseat him in the next election.

The paper also took home a second-place plaque for its editorial pages, as well as “certificates of achievement” as a finalist in six categories: general excellence; public service (for our 2010 series on backyard chickens); investigative or enterprise reporting (for Leslie Layton’s Aug. 12, 2010, story about charter schools, “The new segregation”); arts and entertainment coverage; and special issue (for Goin’ Chico 2010).

Altogether, the CN&R took home awards in eight categories, about half as many as we entered.