Council puts Evans on ice

Will hold off selecting Wahl’s replacement for a month

There was a telling moment at the Chico City Council meeting Tuesday night (Jan. 4). The council was discussing how to fill outgoing Councilman Larry Wahl’s seat, and the name of the fourth-place finisher in the Nov. 2 council election, Bob Evans, kept coming up as the best person for the job. Each time it did, a number of people in the audience applauded.

Finally, Mayor Ann Schwab, impatient with the interruptions, asked all those present—chambers were about two-thirds full—who supported Evans to raise their hands “and get it out of your systems.” Instead of quietly raising their hands, about 40 or 50 people stood up, cheering and clapping.

Evans may have finished out of the running on Nov. 2, but he hasn’t stopped campaigning for a minute since then. He’s been working to generate support wherever he can in an effort to convince council members to appoint him to fill out the remaining two years in Wahl’s term, and Tuesday he brought much of that support with him.

The council had three options: appoint someone that night; set up an application and selection process; or call for a special election. According to the city charter, the council must select someone within 30 days or hold a special election. There seemed to be consensus among council members to avoid the expense of an election.

So the question really was whether to appoint someone that night—namely Evans—or set up a selection process, accept applications and choose among them at the council’s Feb. 1 meeting.

No sooner had the matter been opened for discussion than the newest council member, Mark Sorensen, moved to appoint Evans, citing his business experience as longtime manager of Lifetouch, his community involvement, the fact that he campaigned and “clearly wants the job,” and his receiving more than 10,000 votes.

Councilman Jim Walker seconded the motion, saying Evans, who shares Wahl’s conservative views, would bring ideological diversity to the council. He cited Abraham Lincoln’s decision to appoint former political rivals to his cabinet, as described in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, “knowing they would disagree but would have a good dialogue.”

Councilman Andy Holcombe said that, while Evans was an excellent candidate, he wanted to see who else was interested in the post and preferred to set up an appointment process.

Schwab noted that it was unusual to be entertaining a motion before the public had a chance to speak and then opened the public hearing on the matter, but not before noting that she knew of “12 people who said they would be interested in the position.”

The first person to speak, local architect and city Planning Commissioner Dave Kelley, strode to the lectern and proceeded to throw his hat in the ring, saying his six years on the commission was “an asset and attribute other potential applicants don’t have.”

Several people stepped forward in support of Evans, who they said was fully qualified, had gone through the rigors of a campaign and had won strong public support in the recent election.

Local developer and Democratic Party activist Randall Stone said that coming in fourth in a “pick-three” election was statistically meaningless, and regular council attendee Benson urged the council to get “the best possible range of choices” by opening up the process.

For his part, Evans said the obvious—that he was still interested in being on the council. He’d enjoyed campaigning and learned a lot about Chico, he said. And he’d be willing to go through a special election—“really, that’s the fairest way to go.”

Maybe so, but that’s not the way it went. Ultimately Schwab, Holcombe, Gruendl and Flynn voted to create a selection process and make the final decision on Feb. 1. Their reasons varied, but they all agreed that they wanted to see what their choices were and not be hurried.

Schwab equated the selection with the process of selecting Dave Burkland to be city manager. They thought he was an excellent candidate, but by throwing it open to others, they “confirmed he was the best candidate,” she said.

Interested candidates are asked to submit a one- or two-page letter of interest to City Clerk Debbie Presson before noon Friday, Jan. 14. The council will “interview” candidates at its Jan. 18 meeting and make a selection on Feb. 1.