Civil shepherds

So the Chamber of Commerce, the Building Industry Association and the Chico Economic Planning Corporation want to muzzle enthusiasm at Chico City Council meetings. In a letter to Mayor Scott Gruendl those groups suggest, among other things, that the city ban banners and signs from being displayed inside council chambers and make members of the public cease and desist from “shouting, interrupting or generally bullying” speakers at the podium. Actually, a vast majority of the derision I’ve seen is directed at certain council members. Shouting is very rare—it’s usually more of an “Oh come on!” The noise that more often than not interrupts the proceedings is a spontaneous applause of agreement by supporters of the speakers at the lectern. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the mayor (whoever he or she may be at the time) bang the mayor’s gavel—made from the actual wood of the old Hooker Oak tree—and say something like, “I have to ask you to hold your applause, otherwise we’ll never get through this item.” And that generally works to settle the crowd for the rest of the meeting—though there is the occasional smattering of applause by those who just can’t contain themselves.

People in Chico get pretty excited about matters of community concern here. And that is a great thing. It’ll be a sad day in Chico when widespread interest wanes and people stop caring about the city’s direction because it’s just not worth the effort. Hence we have lively debate at most council meetings. Issues split along fairly predictable lines here. And the most controversial issues are almost always related to growth. It’s fair to say that the Chamber, the BIA and CEPCO are generally in favor of growth and spend large amounts of money to promote it. The slow- and anti-growth people (with the exception of Kelly Meagher) can’t put their money where their mouths are when the debates occur, because they don’t have any. So they are forced to express themselves verbally (or by slapping the palms of their hands together in rapid succession) to let their feelings be known. And then the gavel comes down and we get on with the meetings.

As for the “general bullying,” if anyone is guilty of that, it’s Councilman Dan Herbert, who doesn’t shy away from telling certain members of the public that their comments really chap his hide. And that is his right. If people don’t like it, vote him out of office. Herbert is free to say, like Dick Shawn’s character “Sylvester” in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, “Man you’re really buggin’ me,” to anyone who, well, bugs him at a council meeting.

The letter, signed by Jim Goodwin (Chamber), Rick Coletti (BIA) and Ken Lange (CEPCO), also suggests that city staff “be prepared at all times to address factual misrepresentations that may occur in testimony offered by a member of the public.” I think what they mean here is that, when somebody says something like, “We shouldn’t build houses on the Bidwell Ranch property,” someone from city staff should pipe up and say, “Yes we should.” This stems from a meeting last spring when a member of the public said something to the effect that Annie Bidwell had deeded Bidwell Park to the citizens of Chico and we should honor her gift by not building on nearby Bidwell Ranch. A little later in the meeting, Herbert said he would like to correct that statement and point out that Annie never deeded Bidwell Ranch to the city. Of course the fact that his “correction” was not an accurate portrayal of what was said was lost, and the “misrepresentation” was used for weeks afterwards to try to discredit the don’t-build-on-Bidwell-Ranch folks.