A guide to your civil servants

[A quick look at the policy-makers who set the rules in Butte County]

Photo By Tom Angel

Here’s how it works. You’ve got these people who every four years or so ask for your vote so they can represent you at different levels of government.

You’ve got your Chico City Council, Butte County Board of Supervisors, state Assembly and Senate and the U.S. Congress.

Chico will most likely be your home for the next four to 50 years (depending on your major), and some of the decisions made by the City Council or the Board of Supervisors could have a direct impact on your life in Chico. And you can petition these people face-to-face with your concerns and problems.

It is not quite as easy at the state and federal level to grab your representative by the lapels and say, “Listen here, Bub.”

For the most part, the City Council and the supervisors deal with land-use issues—how and where the city should grow and how to pay for it. But they also pass local laws and ordinances that may affect the citizens’ habits and daily routines.

This year the council has discussed and passed, in concept at least, an ordinance to protect the city’s trees from roaring chainsaws and another to shield its citizens from aggressive panhandlers.

Other ordinances in this town were written, at least in part, based on the behavior, real or imagined, of students: laws such as the noise ordinance, which is aimed at controlling neighborhood parties; a law prohibiting open containers on the street; the glass bottle ban during certain holidays; and the failed attempt a few years ago to clear Chico’s front porches of broken-down couches and weathered LA-Z-BOYs.

So what can I do, you ask? Keep abreast of the news, national and local, and get involved. Go to City Council meetings (in fact, that may come up as a class assignment) and—here’s a novel idea that scares the pants off some local politicians—register to vote and then do so when the time comes.

With all of that in mind, let us now introduce you to your local representatives, beginning with the Chico City Council:

Maureen Kirk is the city’s mayor, which means she gets to pound the gavel at council meetings and tell people when their three minutes of addressing the council are up. Elected in 1998, Kirk is in her second term, having been re-elected last year. A gentle and well-mannered woman, Kirk seldom snarls, shouts, pouts or belittles members of the public or her colleagues. Kirk is the council moderate, though she’s suspected by the far right as being a straight-up liberal and the left sees her as too often in camp with the conservatives. In her real life she is a dental hygienist. Consider her a friend to the students.

Coleen Jarvis was elected in 1996 after a vicious, libelous mud bath in which she was smeared as a lying communist welfare mother. (Local politics can be highly entertaining, especially if you like the kind of combat offered by the WWF.) Jarvis is an aggressive and articulate advocate of the city’s traditional liberal concerns. Recent health problems slowed her temporarily, but she is back on track and feisty as ever. Conservatives sometimes accuse her of not being civil (read: “ladylike"). In other words, she speaks her mind. An attorney, Jarvis works in the county’s public defender program. She is also a supporter of students.

In his first try at public office, Steve Bertagna received the most votes in the council race of 1996. He won by stressing his family’s deep roots in the area. He didn’t do quite as well in 2000 but was re-elected. He’s been mayor and was a natural at the job due to his wit and love of the spotlight. A verbal gaffe last fall—insulting use of the word “Jew"—damaged him politically at the time, but he’s seemed to bounce back. He’s for the most part conservative and made a run for county supervisor last year but lost in a close race. Like Jarvis', his term on the council expires next year. Bertagna is a mortgage broker and runs a car stereo store called All Around Mobile Sound.

Dan Herbert was the mayor between Bertagna and Kirk, perhaps the most distinguishing thing we can say about him, other than he was first elected in 1998. A banker for most of his working life, Herbert more recently got involved in the real-estate game by becoming CEO for Sheraton Real Estate Management, which rents to many, many students. Herbert’s a nice guy who means well but lacks the imagination to vote outside strictly conservative parameters.

Dan Nguyen-Tan (pronounced win-tawn) is the smartest and probably most open-minded of the councilmembers. He’s not afraid to challenge the status quo by questioning sacred cows or casting an unpopular vote. Like Jarvis and Kirk, he’s one of the students’ best friends on council. He runs an investment company. He was born in Saigon in 1975, came to the States as an infant and is a graduate of Harvard. He’s funny, articulate and takes his job as public servant seriously. Student-friendly.

Larry Wahl is a former Navy pilot and current owner of the UPS Store. A straight-laced conservative, Wahl in his first year on the council didn’t realize he wasn’t allowed to vote on matters that could affect the values of property owned by him or his wife or those things that could affect his business. He knows now and takes care to disqualify himself from such issues. He is a champion of keeping the Chico branch of the public library open longer hours. He was elected in 2000 after serving as a planning commissioner. Don’t question this guy’s patriotism, ‘cause he just might question yours.

The newest member of the council is Scott Gruendl, a clear thinking, non-demonstrative politician who is definitely a friend to students. As the new guy on the council, he is still getting his feet wet and learning the ropes about how to deal with the rest of the council. His background is in planning, and he works as a human resources administrator in Glenn County.

The City Council meets the first and third Tuesday evenings of the month beginning at 7:30 and occasionally holds special meetings.

Representing you at the county level, depending on where you live in town, is one of the two most experienced and smartest of the five-member Butte County Board of Supervisors. Most likely Jane Dolan is your supervisor, since her Second District covers most of studentville (west Chico). Her east-Chico cohort is Mary Anne Houx. Both are responsive and care about their constituents. Their numbers are in the phone book, or see them in action at a supes’ meeting at County Center. Those meetings take place every other Tuesday beginning at 9 a.m.

Rick Keene, a former Chico City Councilmember, now represents Chico in the state Assembly. You call a state assemblyman if you have a really big problem that needs a lot of attention. Protecting your porch couch from the furniture police won’t qualify. Keene’s a traditional conservative who believes government should provide only those services private industry can’t or won’t provide. And ever since he’s been elected to state office, he refuses to return our calls.

In the state Senate, Sam Aanestad, an oral surgeon from Grass Valley, looks out for locals. He, too, is a social and fiscal and conservative. One of his positives is that alphabetically he is the No. 1 state senator.

In Congress you have Wally Herger, a nice man who since 1986 has somehow balanced his propensity for low-profile ineffectiveness with local name recognition come election time to keep his congressional seat. Of course the fact that he represents a heavily conservative, Republican district that the Democrats don’t dare challenge doesn’t hurt. It’s a neat trick, but don’t expect him to do much for you unless you own a lumber mill or run an agribusiness.

Trading card - Diana Van Der Ploeg, President, Butte College