Commission appointments go smoothly

More chippy: City Council approval of the police contract

Who made it?
Commission/board appointments by the Chico City Council (*two-year term; incumbents in italics; number of votes in parentheses):
Airport: Charles Mueller (4), Kurt Nathan (6)
Architectural Review: Marci Goulart (7), Ken Husby (7), David Kim (7)
Arts: Gary Baugh (5), Ginny Crawford (7), TJ Glenn (7), Carin Hilgeman (7), *Lucille Wanee (7)
Human Resources: Miguel Alfaro, Andrea Dunn, Ann Schulte (all by acclamation)
Park & Playground: Mary Brentwood (6), Aaron Skaggs (6), *Jane Turney (5), Jamison Watts (5)
Planning: Kathy Barrett (5), Dave Kelley (6), Mark Sorensen (5)

Mary Flynn remembers vividly the night she went for a seat on the Chico Planning Commission. Sitting in City Council chambers, feeling confident, she was surprised when a council with a stronger conservative presence than today’s voted her down.

The tables were turned Tuesday night (Jan. 20), with Flynn—midway in her first council term—on the dais as part of a 6-1 progressive majority. The temptation for payback was there, she admitted to the nearly full chamber, but “I don’t think of this seat as a partisan seat.”

She continued: “That’s not how I want to make decisions. I want to make decisions that are best for the community. I want people who take risks, are willing to speak up and provide dialogue.”

And so it was that, on the day when Barack Obama and his “cabinet of rivals” entered the White House, Chico commissions got filled with a range of individuals, including a planning commissioner who’d been denied three previous times and had run against each of the council members considering him.

That man: Mark Sorensen, edged out for council seats in 2006 and 2008. A business owner (ACC Satellite) and chairman of the Chico Chamber of Commerce, he’s made pointed critiques of the prevailing progressives—going so far as running in an opposition slate. Yet, for Sorensen, the fourth time was the charm.

“Throughout all of it,” he said via e-mail, “I believe that I have demonstrated the willingness, desire and ability to think through the issues facing my little home town in a positive and constructive fashion, and the desire and to complete due diligence in search of intellectually honest, reasonable and rational answers—and not shoot from the hip.”

Jim Walker, elected to the council in November, said Sorensen “really earned my respect during the campaign. He comes really prepared. He put himself out there. He received the endorsement of both newspapers [the CN&R and the Enterprise-Record] the past two elections. I feel he’ll work well with the mix we have now on the Planning Commission.”

That mix includes Kathy Barrett and Dave Kelley, incumbents who got reappointed. Barrett, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Butte County, had served just over a year after coming in as a replacement; Kelley, an architect, has been the commission’s vice chairman, and Vice Mayor Tom Nickell said he’d make a fine chairman.

The last candidate eliminated was Robert Evans, a retired plant manager who’d been nominated by five council members and got votes from all seven in the first two rounds. On the third and final ballot, in which council members couldn’t raise their hands more than three times each, Evans did not get the support of Nickell or two of his nominators, Flynn and Andy Holcombe.

“Kathy’s just gotten the chance … and she’s really thoughtful,” Flynn explained afterward. “Part of what I heard her say [in the interview round], when it came to the Chico Volkswagen decision, ‘In hindsight, I feel I’d vote differently.’ She particularly referred to economic development—she hadn’t really filtered her thought process through that.

“To me, that shows a lot of reflection.”

Flynn had been a driving force in the council’s adoption of what Mayor Ann Schwab calls “a more intentional process"—interviews and discussion at a one meeting (Jan. 8 special session), voting at a later meeting (Jan. 20).

“I’m very pleased with the process,” said Schwab, echoing the sentiments of Flynn, Nickell and Walker. “It allowed more thoughtful appointments to boards and commissions. They’re more balanced, and I think they’ll have a more balanced decision-making process.”

Rather than a reaction to criticism, she said, “it’s more a sign of the times. After this presidential election, people want to be more engaged in the political process, and I think we reacted to that.”

Along with Sorensen, other notable new appointees included Chico State student Aaron Skaggs to the Bidwell Park & Playground Commission, Chico Airfest organizer Charles Mueller to the Airport Commission and artist Gary Baugh (a former CN&R designer) and architect TJ Glenn to the Arts Commission.

Earlier in the meeting, the council ratified a new labor agreement between the city and the Chico Police Officers Association. CPOA members had been working without a contract since 2007, and the new deal—approved 6-0 with one abstention (more on that later)—runs through 2010.

The officers received a 4 percent raise retroactive 13 months, none beyond that. The city agreed to up its contribution to the Retirees Medical Trust (from $200 per officer per month to $250 this year and $300 next); the officers agreed to pay 25 percent of their health-insurance premiums.

Left unclear, though, was the exact impact on the city budget. Councilman Larry Wahl pressed for specifics, but Human Resources Director Teresa Campbell did not have all the figures handy, and Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy had been excused from the meeting after the closed session for health considerations.

Wahl told the council that he would “withhold” his vote until he had the amounts and calculations he’d requested—a decision Schwab translated as abstaining. Afterward, she explained why she didn’t share his reservations.

“I know this contract will meet or exceed the salary part of the city’s deficit-reduction goal,” the mayor said, reiterating Campbell’s report to the council. “The finance director was in closed session; she indicated such. I believe in the integrity of the Finance Department. We received, a month ago, a report on the city audit, and an independent force found no discrepancies. They found our department was sound.”

Nickell, meanwhile, said he’d gone over the contract “with a fine-tooth comb” and was satisfied. “There’s no ‘me too’ clause in there like they had before,” he noted, referring to a provision linking terms of the CPOA contract to the firefighters’ contract. “I looked at all the vacation time, the CTO [comp time] policy, and call-back [schedule provisions]—it was all in line with what we had when I was with the Highway Patrol.”

Wahl, he said, “tried to make an issue of items not of importance.” But the vice mayor did relate to the concern for specifics expressed by citizen speaker Stephanie Taber: “She’s a watchdog, and I respect her. In terms of transparency, we’re not hiding any costs.”