Consensus census

Fiction 59
A quick count indicates our short-story contest drew about 400 entries. We’ll unveil the winners in the March 22 issue.

In my last column, part of the Feb. 22 Entrepreneur Issue, I shared a dual-direction interview session between Martha Wescoat-Andes and me. Chico’s economic development manager is collecting opinions about the local business environment, and she shared her own.

Here’s where I left off: We need to seek alignment within the City Council and among city administrators, in policy-making and implementation, in order to get the long-range plans that will lead to improving the economy.

That’s a tall order, I noted—and here’s why.

When it comes to politics, Chico has two loudly partisan camps. The progressives prevailed in the most recent election, increasing their 4-3 advantage to 5-2. Next year, that could shift—the council terms of Mayor Andy Holcombe and Vice Mayor Ann Schwab expire, as do those of conservatives Steve Bertagna and Larry Wahl.

Many Chicoans sense that we are at a pivotal juncture. The city is working on a general plan just as Butte County is doing the same, and this planning will shape the future of Chico. The 2008 election falls smack-dab in the middle of this process.

As Chamber of Commerce president, Jim Goodwin has witnessed Chico’s “long history of political swings” with both joy and (as in 2006) disappointment. He views politicking as a game, “and some people play it better than others. That’s a tactical reality that doesn’t always reflect the makeup of the community.”

So the makeup of the council is always subject to change. Even if, as Wescoat-Andes said, the seven incumbents all agree about the importance of economic development, there’s no guarantee of consensus in the next biannum—or the biannum after that.

“Each of us has our own convictions,” Goodwin reflected, “and if someone is operating from the conviction that we shouldn’t develop land, that will become their overriding concern. Conversely, if someone believes jobs are more important to the health of our community, they’re probably going to err on the side of greater impact on land than someone else would.”

I wish I had the optimism of Holcombe, who “ran on a platform of being a problem-solver and a consensus-builder.” He feels that macro issues will get “institutionalized” by their inclusion in the general plan. “All are subject to review, I suppose,” he said, but “hopefully the big picture won’t get micromanaged every two years.”

That’s possible, of course. Future councils may stay the course, despite gnawing gnats of negativism. That would be a departure, though—squeaky wheels tend to get oiled, even if just enough to quiet them through Election Day.

Goodwin and Holcombe do agree that consensus is a worthy goal. Maybe there’s hope after all …

Welcome news: The CN&R family is growing by one. No, not a baby—this bundle of joy is Melissa Daugherty, who’s joining us as Special Sections/Projects Editor.

You may recognize her name—Melissa wrote for The Orion at Chico State, then headed across town to the Enterprise-Record in 2003. She will oversee the editorial staff’s special issues, such as Goin’ Chico and CAMMIES guides, plus contribute her byline to regular issues.