A new way to choose board and commission members, and the mayor’s passive aggressive Facebook post

For years, going back to at least 2008, the Chico City Council discussed adopting a new system for choosing people to serve on certain city boards and commissions, one in which each council member, upon his or her election, would appoint a nominee. The proposed direct-appointment process was controversial because of concerns that it would result in partisan choices rather than individuals who were best qualified or equipped to serve the city as a whole.

In September 2014, the new process passed with a mix of bipartisan support—progressives Tami Ritter and then-Mayor Scott Gruendl joined conservatives Sean Morgan and then-Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen in voting aye. Councilmembers Ann Schwab and Randall Stone, along with then-Councilwoman Mary Goloff, cast the dissenting votes.

Dave Kelley, a former planning commissioner, twice appeared before the panel to voice concerns about potential cronyism. The second time around, in 2015, during the public’s first look at the new process, Kelley pointed out that Sorensen and Reanette Fillmer’s appointments to the Planning Commission (Bob Evans and Dale Bennett, respectively) had given money to their campaigns. In other words, there was a perception of favoritism.

That could have been a deal breaker. The catch with the new system is that the appointments are still subject to a vote of the full council. But that disclosure didn’t convince anyone to vote nay. All seven council members, in a vote on all of the appointments together, approved the lot (three members of the Planning Commission and three members of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission). That changed last week when a challenge arose for the first time.

It came from Sorensen—the biggest advocate for the new system. He didn’t want Tom Barrett, Councilman Karl Ory’s pick for park commission, to serve on that panel. Sorensen noted that Barrett had been on the Planning Commission in the past and had been censured, but he didn’t go into detail on what spurred the censure. I’ve never met Barrett, so I can’t speak to his temperament, but in doing research through CN&R’s archives, I learned that the controversy stemmed from him using the word “bullshit” in an email exchange with a Chico resident back in the mid-aughts.

Sorensen made a motion for approval of all of the appointments with the exception of Barrett. What’s funny is that it passed along party lines. That means Councilman Andrew Coolidge joined Sorensen, and so too did pottie-mouths Morgan and Fillmer, who’ve dropped an F-bomb and S-bomb from the dais, respectively. I guess only board and commission members are subject to censuring.

Speaking of Morgan, I can’t write about Chico’s ultra-conservative new mayor this week without mentioning that on Saturday, the day of the Women’s March on Washington, which turned out to be the biggest day of protest in U.S. history, he posted to Facebook a piece from a far-right website headlined “A guide to basic differences between left and right.” Here’s just one of the nuggets I found there:

“Family Ideal:

Left: any loving unit of people

Right: a married father and mother, and children”

Morgan’s passive aggressive response to the demonstration in Chico was offensive to many of his constituents and unbefitting of his position.