All shook up

Confusion reigns during first meeting of new-look City Council

City Clerk Debbie Presson swears in Councilmembers Sean Morgan, Randall Stone, Kary Ory and Ann Schwab.

City Clerk Debbie Presson swears in Councilmembers Sean Morgan, Randall Stone, Kary Ory and Ann Schwab.

Photo by Howard Hardee

It was pretty much a given, heading into the Chico City Council meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 6), that Vice Mayor Sean Morgan would become Chico’s new mayor. The only real question was: Who would replace him?

First, the council underwent a shakeup. As per the results of the election on Nov. 8, City Clerk Debbie Presson swore in four council members—incumbents Morgan, Ann Schwab and Randall Stone and newcomer Karl Ory. Ory replaced Councilwoman Tami Ritter, a fellow progressive who placed fifth and lost her seat after one term on the dais.

The next order of business was appointing Mayor Mark Sorensen’s successor. Chico operates under a weak mayor system, which means he or she does not wield the power to veto votes by the council or individually appoint or remove city officials. The mayor is appointed by the council, rather than the public, and serves a two-year term.

General consensus was that Morgan, who received the most votes (11,385) and raised the most money (more than $60,000) during his campaign for re-election, was in line for the position. And, sure enough, Sorensen nominated fellow conservative Morgan and the council voted unanimously in approval.

Following a long break for applause, Morgan said, “Thank you—all of you.”

Selecting the vice mayor followed the same process, but it wasn’t nearly as quick and clean. Ory nominated left-leaning Schwab, a former mayor who is beginning a fourth term on the council, and his motion was seconded by Stone. Morgan nominated first-term Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer, but his motion did not receive a second.

However, that slipped by unnoticed and Presson moved along. “All right, any more nominations?” she asked.

Hearing none, she called the roll for a vote on Schwab, and confusion ensued: Sorensen cast the deciding vote in her favor, but Presson announced the opposite—that Schwab’s nomination had been rejected by a 3-to-4 vote. The audience shouted to correct her, and she was taken aback: “Mark voted yes?”

Sorensen paused and said, “That was not my intent.”

Presson called for a do-over and, this time, Schwab’s nomination was rejected by a 3-to-4 vote down party lines.

That left the door wide open for Fillmer, who was elected vice mayor 6-1 with Schwab casting the nay vote.

Following the ceremony, the seating arrangement was switched around and, for the first time, Morgan led discussion of the evening’s regular agenda, offering a glimpse of how the new council will work together. Tensions arose as Ory abstained from three separate votes—one to accept annual financial reports, and two related to the adoption of the California Building Standards Code. On the first item, he explained he was “reluctant to act on any significant financial report that hadn’t been reviewed by a committee.” Regarding the building codes, he said he abstained “because I’m a newbie.”

Fillmer took a jab at Ory. “We’re here to vote,” she said.

“I don’t understand the comment made by the vice mayor,” Schwab said. Breaking the silence, Morgan said, “OK, let’s move on.”

The council will do so without Ritter, a progressive who often advocated for the humane treatment of homeless and mentally ill members of the community. She reflected on her term during a brief interview outside of the chambers.

“The most important thing was keeping the discussion alive on how to approach issues surrounding homelessness,” she said. “I don’t feel like we have the housing options available that we should, and I wish that we had made more progress.” Similarly, she lamented the council’s failure to address Chico’s oversaturation of outlets that sell alcohol, an issue she tackled repeatedly during her four years on the dais.

Now, with more free time, Ritter says she’ll focus on her nonprofit, Chico Youth Court, and hasn’t yet considered whether to run for public office again in the future.