A communication problem

It’s time for the City Council to air out City Hall’s linen

There’s an interesting exchange in our Letters section this week—under the headline “Is the council losing control?”—between longtime local activist Emily Alma and two members of the Chico City Council, Mark Sorensen and Scott Gruendl.

We know Alma as a smart and thoughtful observer of public life in Chico. And we know the councilmen as equally smart and thoughtful civic leaders. What’s interesting about the exchange is how differently they see what’s been going on in City Hall since Brian Nakamura became city manager. That difference, we believe, speaks to the overriding problem here: a lack of communication.

To the best of our knowledge, the Gruendl-Sorensen letter represents the first time, outside of a City Council meeting, that council members have made an effort to explain what’s going on in City Hall. And they haven’t done much in the way of explaining matters in their meetings, either, even as a whirlwind of reaction has built up to the changes being made.

If anything, they’ve left it to Nakamura, who is hardly the most popular guy in town, to do the explaining. And he, who believes in ripping off the Band-Aid fast, not dragging out the pain, has had little to say. “My door is always open,” he insists, as if people who are afraid of losing their jobs are about to walk in and complain about it.

The councilmen talk about a “subversive whisper campaign emanating from City Hall,” but later say “The city employees we speak with support the change in direction, and recognize that challenges remain ahead.” Well, which is it, unanimous support or a whisper campaign? Or both? From our experience talking with city staffers, some support the changes, but many others feel deeply alienated from Nakamura, who they say has failed to communicate with them effectively.

Members of the public like Alma feel much the same way. They see respected veteran employees leaving with nary a fare-thee-well and new people being brought in at record high salaries, and they wonder what’s going on.

It’s time for the council members to become proactive for a change. Call a press conference. Hold a workshop and invite the public and staff to attend. Air out the linen. Too much has been going on behind closed doors; too many questions have gone unanswered. The council members may see how all these changes are benefiting Chico, but neither they nor Brian Nakamura has communicated that to the rest of us.