Council vs. mayor

Oroville majority censures retiring Dahlmeier, faces legal repercussions

Oroville mayor Linda Dahlmeier does not plan to seek a third term.

Oroville mayor Linda Dahlmeier does not plan to seek a third term.

CN&R file photo

When Linda Dahlmeier first ran for mayor of Oroville in 2010, she saw the need for culture change at City Hall. She criticized “political games and petty grandstanding” on the dais by council members while promoting government that’s “collaborative, productive and trustworthy.”

Just ahead of taking the gavel for her inaugural meeting, Dahlmeier told the CN&R: “We shouldn’t be able to sit up there talking smack in the microphone. It’s going to stop; it has to stop. Fight nicely. We don’t have to agree, but if you have something to say, say it nicely.”

Some 7 ½ years later, the situation is similar—perhaps worse.

The council has fractured, now with a 5-to-2 rift. In the minority are Dahlmeier and Scott Thomson; in the majority, Vice Mayor Janet Goodson, Jack Berry, Marlene Del Rosario, Linda Draper and Art Hatley. Goodson’s term runs through 2020, but she already has declared her intention to run for mayor in November when Berry, Del Rosario and Hatley would need to seek re-election.

The majority has flexed its weight, most conspicuously on cannabis. They’ve had a series of 5-to-2 votes supporting legalization of commercial activities. Those deliberations proved contentious, both in comments from the public and on the council (see “Drama at the dais,” Newslines, Jan. 19, and “Pushing forward,” Newslines, Feb. 22).

The divisiveness hit a new level last Tuesday (July 10) with the majority-driven censure of Dahlmeier. The quintet passed a resolution declaring that the mayor violated the city’s ethics code with her conduct toward employees and the council; specifically, that she “disrespected” staff, “created a hostile work environment” and “falsely accused individual [c]ouncil members in open meetings of conspiracy and collusion against her.”

Tom Lando, the former Chico city manager serving as Oroville’s acting city administrator, explained that the censure has “no ramifications on the mayor’s power or duties.” He described it as “simply a resolution that the majority of the council disapproves of the mayor’s behavior.”

Dahlmeier continued to lead the meeting per usual. The council, however, has faced repercussions.

Censuring Dahlmeier was not on the agenda circulated in advance. The majority requested its inclusion the morning of the meeting; their majority vote led to the addition as an “emergency item.” Del Rosario told the CN&R that the city risked employees resigning without immediate action.

Dahlmeier, who refuted assertions in the censure, said the council members who pushed the censure violated the Brown Act, California’s open meetings law, by discussing the matter—not an actual emergency—without proper notice. According to the state Attorney General’s Office, the act defines an emergency as “a crippling activity, work stoppage or any activity that severely impairs public health, safety or both.”

Bobby O’Reiley, a council candidate, made a similar Brown Act claim. He wrote a letter to the council last Thursday (July 12) calling the censure “the culmination of a discussion in closed session of a matter which the [Brown] Act does not permit to be discussed in closed session.” He also challenged the so-called emergency. O’Reiley demanded the council rescind the censure or he’d sue.

The council held a special meeting Wednesday morning (July 18)—called the previous day, with Dahlmeier preparing to leave town on a scheduled trip—to address, in closed session, the potential litigation. They decided to call a special meeting for 9 a.m. Friday to deliberate in public.

Del Rosario said Monday that the prospect of the lawsuit limited how much she could speak. According to the councilwoman, four city employees have quit in the past few months; she’d spoken with two, and they said they’d left after “confrontations with the mayor.” Others on the council spoke with the others.

“We felt we needed to support our employees,” Del Rosario said. “They believed, from what one of them told me, that we were supportive of what the mayor was doing because we were silent, so we felt obligated to speak up to keep other employees from quitting.”

Oroville has a distinct municipal set-up: The mayor—elected city-wide—and council directly oversee not just the city administrator but also each department head. By a five-sevenths vote, the council hires (or fires) managers. Within this system, Dahlmeier said it is appropriate for council members and the mayor to offer constructive critiques along with praise.

Addressing the censure specifically, she said: “Have I made mistakes? Sure, I have. But I try to continue to do right by the city.” She did not deny accusing council members of “conspiracy or collusion”—indeed, records of public meetings document her doing so. However, the inclusion of the wording “against her” implies she accused her colleagues of a personal attack she says she never made.

Until now, perhaps.

Dahlmeier traced the current rift to an issue before her 2014 re-election campaign, when Draper was part of the advocacy group Save Oroville Trees that fought PG&E’s removal of 200 sycamores, elms and oaks by Oroville Cemetery (see “Last tree standing,” Newslines, Feb. 12, 2015). The cannabis debate widened the divide.

If the censure has a political motivation—as Dahlmeier intimated, contrary to Del Rosario’s stated reason—the action could prove moot: The mayor told the CN&R she does not plan to seek a third term.

“It has nothing to do with this,” she said. “With 15 grandkids, I’m going to take a respite for a little while and enjoy my family.

“I might write a book about city politics.”