Council : no disclosure

The Chico city councilmembers who receive hefty ($250 or more) campaign contributions from generous donors while running for office will not have to disclose that information publicly when that donor has potentially lucrative business before the council.

This week the council acted on an earlier suggestion by Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan to pass an ordinance requiring such disclosures on the record and before a decision is made any time within 12 months of the donation.

The donation would have to come from any person “who actively supports or opposes a particular decision.”

Councilmember Dan Herbert protested that such forced disclosures are “un-American” and would only work to intimidate the public and keep members from coming before the council to discuss public issues.

The idea of an accompanying penalty—up to $1,000 for the “willful act of non-disclosure"—made him sick, he said, based on the fact councilmembers are paid an average of only $60 per month.

Nguyen-Tan said he agreed with Herbert about the penalty involved, but Councilmember Scott Gruendl pointed out that only a willful act, “knowingly and with intent,” would trigger a fine.

Herbert called it an issue of integrity and said “$250 in this day and age is not unrealistic.”

“What is the purpose? What will this help serve?” he asked.

Gruendl pointed out that planning commissioners who’ve run for council but lost are by law precluded from voting within 12 months on projects connected to those who’ve gave a $250 donation to their failed campaigns.

Herbert said that was not a “comparison of apples and apples” and that the ordinance would “cast a cloud of mistrust” over the council. Again he called the proposed ordinance “un-American.”

Councilmember Coleen Jarvis shot back, “That’s the American way, to buy votes.”

The more liberal councilmembers—Jarvis, Nguyen-Tan and Gruendl—tend to gather their donations in smaller increments than the conservatives, who commonly get their biggest donations from the local building industry, people who sometimes appear before the council to appeal a Planning Commission decision on a subdivision.

In the end, Councilmember Larry Wahl made a motion to drop the ordinance completely, and he was joined by Herbert, Steve Bertagna and Mayor Maureen Kirk, who said she was uncomfortable with the message the ordinance would send.