City Council

Commission gets new lease on life

In a time of budget shortfalls, the city is trying to save money any way it can. But at the City Council meeting Tuesday (Feb. 19), when city staff said the Human Resources Commission was no longer needed and should be disbanded, thus saving staff time, only two councilmembers—Larry Wahl and Steve Bertagna—supported the idea.

The other five councilmembers thought the commission still performed a useful function and welcomed a suggestion that it explore the possibility of expanding its duties considerably.

At issue was the commission’s new work plan. It presented 11 items related to duties the commission currently performs in monitoring and evaluating city employment policies and practices in terms of the city’s federally mandated equal employment opportunity plan (EEOP). Human Resources and Risk Management Director Dan Fulks said his department had met all of its EEOP requirements.

But the commission also has the mission of providing a community forum for the discussion of issues related to human rights and relations, and of making recommendations to the council “as a means of ensuring community harmony and understanding.” To that end, the commission’s work plan incorporated two additional items, one of which would expand its focus considerably.

The first item would simply change its name—to the Human Relations Commission, presumably—while the second would develop a plan “for becoming a community outreach forum on diversity and non-discrimination.”

Megan Thomas, a member of the commission for one year, read a long list of cities that had created such commissions, saying they had proved beneficial for promoting diversity and tolerance by sponsoring celebrations, providing forums for the community, and so forth.

She also argued that, “as long as the EEOP exists, the commission is one mode of implementation.” She urged the council not to close “this window into the hiring and firing practices of the city.”

Charley Turner, another commission member, said city staff was incorrect in saying the commission’s work on the EEOP was finished. “There are ongoing issues,” he said.

Bertagna and Wahl both were adamant that the council should follow the advice of city staff and disband the commission. “They have achieved their goals,” Bertagna said. “If the council wants to move forward [in terms of diversity], it can do it with other commissions.”

Wahl asked how much staff time the commission required and was told about 20 hours for each quarterly meeting. The employment system wasn’t broken, he insisted, “so there’s no need to fix it. Why not take staff’s recommendation?”

But Councilwoman Mary Flynn reminded him that few women and minorities had applied to serve on the General Plan Advisory Committee, which showed that more outreach was needed.

Councilman Scott Gruendl suggested that, in a time of budget crisis, the commission could remain useful in “re-engineering” the way the city compensates employees. And Mayor Andy Holcombe stated he believed the group’s EEOP duties were ongoing and valuable.

The council ultimately voted 5-2 to accept the work plan on condition that commissioners voluntarily develop a plan to implement the proposed expansion of duties.

In other council news, councilmembers embraced a proposal from Bertagna that the city Park Division and the Chico Area Recreation and Park District explore ways to work together to avoid overlap and save money.

“The concept,” Bertagna explained, “is to have the staffs meet to talk about areas they overlap, but with no consideration about who does what.”

The goal shouldn’t be merger, Councilman Scott Gruendl said, but rather a memorandum of understanding. Bertagna agreed, saying there was no intention of changing the structures of the agencies.

Bob Feaster, an assistant superintendent of the Chico Unified School District, told the council the schools had a role to play and asked to be included in the discussions. Councilmembers said CUSD would be welcome.

In a unanimous vote, the council selected Bertagna and Vice Mayor Ann Schwab to represent the city in the meetings.