Back in the chair

One of the perks of being editor of the CN&R is getting to write a column each week, which is why you see my mug and a new title in this space. I’d been interim editor since Evan Tuchinsky left a month ago, but last week company President and CEO Jeff vonKaenel and I agreed on terms and scrubbed the “interim” from the title, freeing me up to claim the column space.

It’s good to be back in the editor’s chair. As some of you may know, I was editor here from 1991-96 and senior editor from 2000-05. For the past three years I was news editor, a job I really enjoyed because it’s journalism without the managerial sludge that comes with heading up a department.

But a news editor has limited clout when it comes to changing the paper, and I’ve long wanted to make some changes. Now I’ll be able to do so. I hope they’re good ones—and reckon you’ll let me know if they aren’t.

The editor’s desk is in the second-floor corner office—hence the name of this column—overlooking the junction of Second, Flume and East First streets. It’s a crazy intersection, with cars coming from five directions. The office windows provide a panoramic view of the frequent fender-bender action below.

Looking out these windows is like viewing Chico-in-microcosm: Things flow along fairly smoothly, if a little eccentrically, until a crash takes place or a fight breaks out. Now they’re my windows on the world. I’ll do my best to let you know what I see.

Speaking of fights, one played out last week in the pages of the Chico Enterprise-Record. It began on Thursday (July 30), when the paper carried a front-page, top-of-the-news story headlined “Commissioner’s Wal-Mart memo called Brown Act violation.” The guilty planning commissioner? None other than Jon Luvaas, the E-R’s favorite whipping boy. The person doing the calling? None other than the E-R’s own attorney, San Francisco-based Rachel Matteo-Boehm.

The day before the commission was to decide on the Walmart expansion plan, Luvaas sent 16 pages of documents to city Senior Planner Zach Thomas, asking him to pass them along to the other commissioners as part of their Walmart packets. They constituted a detailed legal analysis—Luvaas is a veteran land-use lawyer—of why the proposal was inadequate under California law.

Luvaas had cleared his action with City Attorney Lori Barker, who determined it was not a violation of the state’s open-meeting laws. He said he wanted to give the commissioners time to read the material. It wasn’t exactly something they could read during a bathroom break, after all.

E-R Editor David Little, in a follow-up Sunday op-ed piece, said Luvaas “should know better.” Really? Better than Barker, an expert in laws affecting local government? And who says Matteo-Boehm is necessarily right, other than Little?

We’re as big on open meetings as anyone, but this is a dueling-attorneys story. If the E-R wants to know who’s right, Barker or Matteo-Boehm, it should put its money where its mouth is and take the case to court. Let a judge decide. Otherwise, it’s a matter of opinion, and Luvaas did nothing wrong.