Damage control

Paul Zingg pushes that rock uphill

“It’s not a pretty, or encouraging, picture.”

That’s how Chico State President Paul Zingg described the university’s financial crisis in a budget memo emailed to the campus community on July 12. Reading between its lines, I saw a man struggling to stay optimistic in the face of relentless negative news and, as the university’s head cheerleader, trying mightily to rally the team in the face of devastating budget cuts.

Just in the last 18 months, Zingg notes, the campus has taken a $30 million hit. And if Gov. Brown’s tax measure doesn’t pass in November, it will take another $10 million hit, its share of a $250 million trigger cut.

How does an executive deal with such damage? You couldn’t pay me enough.

It doesn’t help that the CSU trustees this week voted to up the pay, using local foundation funds, for three new campus presidents. The increases are infinitesimal compared to the CSU’s overall budget, and besides most presidents got no raise (one even got a reduction). But voters respond to symbols, and the action could hurt the tax measure’s chances.

Harsh words: Councilman Mark Sorensen is a conscientious man, and his criticisms of the city’s budgeting process delivered at City Council meetings are a valuable contribution to the discussion. But I’m dismayed by a letter to the editor, published first in the Chico E-R and now in this issue of the CN&R (see page 6), in which he harshly criticizes the city’s finance director, Jennifer Hennessy.

She’s a bureaucrat, not a policy maker. It’s inappropriate, I believe, for a council member to criticize her in this public fashion. That’s why employee evaluations are done behind closed doors.

Not surprisingly, Sorensen doesn’t agree. “What am I supposed to do, sit down and shut up?” he responded when I phoned him.

I pointed out that he already has a forum, his council seat, and that his criticisms should rightly be directed toward Hennessy’s boss, City Manager Dave Burkland, or Sorensen’s fellow council members.

Sorensen is understandably frustrated. He’s convinced city officials, including the finance director, are failing to confront the fiscal crisis Chico faces. And, as a member of the conservative minority on the council, he can’t get traction for his ideas. Still…

Friends of the river: We have a story in our Newslines section this week about John Merz, who is retiring from his position as head of the Sacramento River Preservation Trust, an organization he founded that has led the way in protecting our great river. It’s healthier now than it’s been in decades, and John’s work is much of the reason for that. He fought against riprapping and for allowing the river to meander, and his steady, calm advocacy has paid off.

But I want to put in a word for his wife, Carole Ross, as well. Without her support and willingness to sacrifice financially, John wouldn’t have been able to do his good work. They don’t think of it as sacrifice, of course. For them, it’s all about love, which is why so many people love them. And that’s priceless.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.