Council’s missing links

Randall Stone lambasted over response to vanished documents

Randall Stone took fire Tuesday night.

Randall Stone took fire Tuesday night.

Photo courtesy of randall stone/facebook

A sore that had been festering for a week burst open at the Chico City Council meeting Tuesday (Aug. 4), when Councilman Randall Stone came under blistering fire for remarks he posted on Facebook challenging the city’s handling of campaign financial reports.

At issue was Councilwoman Tami Ritter’s motion to appoint Stone as the city’s voting representative to the upcoming annual conference of the League of California Cities. Stone was the voting rep last year and also is vice president of the league’s Sacramento Division.

A week earlier, however, on July 28, Stone sparked a heated controversy when he posted on Facebook a complaint about the city’s handling of past City Council campaign financial reports.

“Since a new City Council majority was sworn into office,” he wrote, “City of Chico staff members have arbitrarily and unilaterally (without vote of the public or Council) absconded [sic] campaign contribution reports from the City of Chico’s website.”

Calling the action “abhorrent and inexcusable,” Stone implied that the decision to “redact” a decade’s worth of campaign information from the city’s website was tied to the conservative council majority that took office in December 2014.

On Friday, July 31, City Clerk Debbie Presson, whose office handles the reports, informed council members that most of the reports were still on the website but inaccessible because the links to them were inadvertently removed last summer. Lacking staff to fix the problem, in October she’d put up a notice in red that the reports were available in her office.

Local business owner Michael Reilley said Stone was acting like “a bully on the playground” by going after Presson, and council watchdog Stephanie Taber said, “I only ask that you do not send someone [to the LCC conference] who is mean-spirited, egocentric, self-aggrandizing and a bully.”

But it was Mayor Mark Sorensen who had the most to say. Acknowledging that the city should have created a better reporting system years ago, he noted that the reports had to be entered manually and that Presson was doing the best she could with a reduced staff.

Stone’s charges, he said, were “utterly false and defamatory” and made after he waited only two hours for Presson to respond to an email inquiry. If he’d been patient, he would have seen that the files were quickly located and returned to the website. The city is in the process of implementing a new system, NetFile, that will automatically upload campaign finance reports, Sorensen said. There was no need to launch this “hate-filled diatribe personally attacking city personnel.”

“The entire episode is nothing less than an attempt to get press attention” as part of Stone’s re-election campaign, the mayor charged.

Asked following the meeting for a response, Stone said bluntly, “It’s horseshit.”

For nearly a decade the information was available, he explained. Presson knew in October that it was gone from the website, was asked to repost it, and didn’t do so. Now that he’s called attention to it, the information is again available.

Ritter’s nomination of Stone failed, 3-3 (Vice Mayor Sean Morgan was absent). Sorensen then nominated Councilman Andrew Coolidge to be the city’s LCC rep; the motion passed 4-2, with Ritter and Schwab dissenting but Stone voting aye.

In other council news: Council members voted unanimously to sell a house at 1413 Salem St. formerly used as a domestic-violence shelter. Vacant for five years, it’s become a nuisance in the neighborhood, noted Marie Demers, the city’s housing manager.

The council also voted unanimously not to waive a development-impact fee of $48,000 levied on a new CHP facility. The city needs the money, council members said, and besides, the facility’s owner is a private firm that will be leasing the site to the CHP.

The council also seemed to look favorably on an offer from local dentist Michael Jones to install a public-access entrance to the Bidwell Ranch property. It’s going to hold off until completion of a long-term management plan for the site, however.

Finally, council members voted unanimously to appoint Ken Rensink to replace Matt Juhl-Darlington, who has resigned from the Planning Commission.