Finances the main concern of the seven contenders for Chico City Council
The filing period is over, and the candidate pool is complete. Seven people—two incumbents, three new faces and two previous contenders—are vying for three open seats on the Chico City Council. The November election is shaping up to be an interesting race—one that has the potential to shift the balance of power long held by progressives to the conservative camp.
The CN&R checked in with each of the candidates to find out what they believe are the hot-button topics of the season and why they think they’re up to the job. All but one were contacted via email; the other, Rodney Willis, was interviewed by phone.
The most common theme for all the candidates is fixing the city’s financial problems. With a new city manager, assistant city manager and city attorney, as well as a city in financial crisis mode, the council has a lot on its plate for the new year. Over the coming months, we hope to shed light on each of the candidates. Here’s a quick primer introducing everyone.
Anyone who follows the council has a pretty good idea of the incumbents’ political positions—Mayor Scott Gruendl is generally considered a progressive and Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen a conservative. Gruendl, however, has disappointed some of his longtime supporters with certain budget-related votes during his third term in office.
Gruendl, who serves as director of the Health and Human Services Agency for Glenn County, said one of the reasons he’s running for re-election is he doesn’t want to abandon the city in these tough fiscal times.
“There was simply no way that I was going to walk away from the city under the circumstances, as my institutional knowledge and experience are needed,” he said. “Yes, I have apologized and taken responsibility for what’s happened, but I am committed to correcting the situation.
“The city failed to pay down deficits and unauthorized internal borrowing ruined our cash position. The council responded appropriately by hiring our first-ever external city manager, who then proceeded to right-size the organization,” he said, referring to the recently departed Brian Nakamura.
Sorensen, who was appointed as city administrator for Biggs two years ago, has been a reliable conservative during his first term. He is running for re-election because of a “desire to continue with guiding the cleanup of the city’s financial issues and return the city to a sound financial footing, including reallocation of financial resources more toward the core city functions of police, fire, roads, infrastructure and parks.”
He said there have been a “variety of long-running fiscal missteps that will take years to recover from, and can only be resolved with years of properly understanding the challenges and the long-term and consistent pursuit of corrections.”
The three women on the ballot, Forough Molina, Lupe Arim-Law and Reanette Fillmer, all are first-time candidates and longtime Chicoans.
Molina was born and raised in Chico, where she lives with her husband and four children. For the past 20 years she has taught middle school in Oroville, and, an avid cyclist, she serves on the Chico Velo board of directors.
The major problems facing the city, she said, are public safety, economic growth and sustainability. As such, the council has to work with city staff, the police and fire departments, businesses, nonprofits and unions.
“[We] must enhance economic competitiveness and promote clean industry,” she said, and “keep Chico compact to stop urban sprawl.”
Fillmer also grew up in Chico, where she’s worked as a human resources director since graduating from Chico State with a degree in public administration. She said her HR experience in labor relations and bargaining give her a unique perspective as a candidate.
She said she is running for council because of her deep concerns about Chico’s future.
“The council majority has depleted the city’s budget reserves and passed smoke-and-mirror budgets designed to cover up their financial mismanagement,” she charged.
The most pressing problems facing the city are finances, crime and a lack of jobs. She said if elected she will work to “prioritize funding for essential services and reject proposals that will put Chico further in debt.”
She said there is a pressing need to enforce laws that “discourage the damaging transient problem that is driving away commerce and hurting our quality of life.”
Arim-Law moved to Chico 14 years ago. She is the married mother of three. For the past six years, she’s worked as the youth director for Trinity United Methodist Church and is a recent Chico State graduate with a degree in political science.
She, too, says the city’s finances are its biggest problem.
“Our parks are closed, our kids have limited recreation, flights are decreasing at our airport and our streets are filled with homelessness,” she said. “We need to come together as a community and figure out a sustainable solution to solve our problems and move our city forward.”
Two candidates who are making a reappearance on the council ballot are Rodney Willis, who ran 10 years ago, finishing 12th in a field of 13, and Andrew Coolidge, whose bid for a seat two years ago was unsuccessful.
Willis has worked in the nursing field for the past 23 years, initially as a certified nursing assistant and more recently as an emergency medical technician.
Willis moved here with his family from Phoenix when he was a boy and after graduating from Chico High School, served 15 years in the Navy. He said he decided to run again because the council has acted with a lack of oversight on matters like the budget.
“We would not be in this debacle if Gruendl and the rest of them would have had the foresight to have a rainy-day fund put away,” he said. “I just want to make Chico better because my mom is here, I’m here, my daughter and son live here and now my grandchildren live here.”
Coolidge moved here 20 years ago from the Yuba County town of Loma Rica to attend Chico State. He serves on the Butte County Fair Board and has a public relations firm that puts on, among other events, the Chico Fall Home and Garden Show. His solutions to the city’s financial problems include entering into a contract with Chevron to implement the “Chico Green Growth Program,” which he says could save the city as much as $200,000 annually through energy savings and water conservation.
Coolidge says he is running to secure the future of his two young children.
“I would like them to be able to live and work in a community which will provide opportunities for them,” he said.