Call for tolerance and acceptance

Stonewall Alliance holds its first-ever City Council forum

City Council candidates answer questions about acceptance and tolerance.

City Council candidates answer questions about acceptance and tolerance.

Photo By tom gascoyne

The fifth Chico City Council candidate forum in the last month took place Monday (Oct. 22) in the council chambers. This one was sponsored by the Stonewall Alliance of Chico, whose mission is to foster an accepting environment for the gay and lesbian community.

Jim Peck, pastor of the Congressional Church of Chico, kicked things off by announcing it was the Stonewall Alliance’s first ever council candidate debate. He said that of the 11 candidates, three—Toby Schindelbeck, Bob Evans and Sean Morgan—had declined the invitation and Dave Donnan had accepted and then cancelled. Donnan had tickets to the San Francisco Giants playoff game.

The seven who participated were Mayor Ann Schwab, Andrew Coolidge, Randall Stone, Tami Ritter, Kimberly Rudisill, Dave Kelley and Lisa Duarte, making her first appearance at a forum.

“Please do not make any assumptions,” Peck said of the missing candidates. “They had conflicts in their schedules and have been very cordial to us.”

About 100 people nearly filled the council chambers for the event that was moderated by Chico State Political Science Professor Charley Turner. Candidates gave a one-minute introduction before answering questions prepared by the alliance and then two from the 60 submitted by the audience.

The self-descriptions by the six candidates who’ve attended the other forums are by now pretty well known: financial adviser and affordable-housing builder (Stone); mayor and local business owner (Schwab); purveyor of the Chico Home and Garden shows (Coolidge); director of local social agencies including (Ritter); substitute teacher and mother of four (Rudisill); and architect and eight-year planning commissioner (Kelley).

Duarte, heretofore a mystery candidate, said she is a 24-year worker in the veterinary field and would represent the average working person in Chico.

The first question asked what candidates would do to make Chico more attractive to the LGBT+ community.

Coolidge said the council needs to focus on local jobs and economic development. Rudisill said Chico’s existing diversity makes it a great city and that it is a very tolerant community and that “Chico’s unemployment rate is not that bad.”

Ritter said the city, acting with the university, could bring more technological jobs, and that “tolerance is needed for the LGBT community.” Kelley said “good diversity is all about respect and acceptance,” and said he grew up with a deaf brother whom society in many ways looked down upon.

Duarte said everyone wants to be accepted and that the city “needs to create jobs that pay better than just working at Walmart.” Stone mentioned the city’s Diversity Action Plan, which was adopted last year in the wake of a number of local hate crimes. The plan, he said, “lacks specifics, especially for the LGBT community.”

Schwab said, “Respect, acceptance and tolerance equal celebration and understanding and inviting under-represented groups to the table.”

The next question brought up public safety and the concern by members of the LGBT+ community that Chico police have not taken seriously enough incidents in which people were targeted because of their sexual orientation.

Ritter said to her understanding the problem lies in “defining hate incidents and hate crimes and how they can be prosecuted.” She said more sensitivity training for officers may be warranted. Kelley said he thinks there should be more officers on the streets and called for pension reform to make that financially feasible.

Duarte said “Everybody deserves the right to feel safe,” and called for better education of the Police Department. Stone brought up an incident that happened in his home when a 17-year-old broke in and “stood over our bed and threatened my wife.” The youth was charged with trespassing rather than attempted sexual assault because the latter would be harder to prove.

Schwab said hate crimes are more difficult to prosecute. The police, she said, are taxed with increasing crime, but that they need to develop a sensitivity to hate crimes. New Police Chief Kirk Trostle, she said, “is sending out a message of tolerance.”

Coolidge said there should be zero tolerance for any hate crime. Rudisill said everybody should feel safe and “if police officers need additional training, so be it. There is no excuse why [hate] crimes should not be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We are all human beings.”