Divided council leaves Jarvis seat empty

In the end, they couldn’t all just get along.

With late Chico City Councilmember Coleen Jarvis’ framed portrait and a single pink rose resting atop the dais, the council stalled 3-3 on whether to fill her vacant seat by appointing her husband, Michael Stauffer, to serve the remainder of her term.

The council also deadlocked on two other suggestions by Councilman Dan Nguyen-Tan: appointing local volunteer and Jarvis friend Mary Flynn or former vice mayor Jim Fletcher. Nguyen-Tan said he had a list of seven or eight potential appointees but soon heeded Councilman Dan Herbert’s warning that “we could be here all night.”

Although the vote split neatly along conservative-vs.-liberal lines, Herbert said he resented any implication that his vote was political.

“With all due respect for Michael, I don’t know him very well,” said Herbert, adding later that he wouldn’t agree to appoint even the most conservative replacement. “It’s not a personality issue; it’s a philosophical issue.” Voters should select the next council member, he said.

His assertion drew jeers from some in the audience, while others hushed the hecklers and urged Mayor Maureen Kirk to call order.

Jarvis married longtime partner Stauffer just days before her death, and friends said it would have been her wish to have him fill out her term. Stauffer, a retired businessman who was described as a mellow, soft-spoken sort, told the council he’s “well-versed in what’s going on in the city” and promised not to run for office in the November general election.

Nguyen-Tan said that appointing someone who shared Jarvis’ values would have honored both her memory and the will of the voters. “I just thought that we’d do the right thing. It’s very disappointing,” he said.

Kirk pointed out that, after a former council forced an expensive special election following the death of Ted Hubert eight years ago, it learned from its mistake, so when his successor, Bill Johnston, died in 1999, members voted to appoint Cheryl Lange, who held conservative views similar to Johnston’s.

“We’re talking about a five-month appointment; 10 meetings,” Kirk said, saying to appoint Stauffer would be “a good-faith gesture.”

Since the council couldn’t agree, it can call for a special, mail-only election, but the earliest it could be held is Oct. 19, said City Attorney Dave Frank, who added that the victor would likely be certified in time to attend only one or two meetings before being succeeded by a candidate in the Nov. 2 general election. City Manager Tom Lando, differing from Frank in his interpretation of the city’s charter, said the law would allow for the seat to simply remain vacant until early December, when winners of the general election would be seated. Jarvis would have been up for re-election, along with three of her peers on the council.

Councilman Scott Gruendl called the split vote “embarrassing” and “disgraceful” and said that having a six-member council would “essentially paralyze this community.”

"We aren’t going to be paralyzed," Councilman Steve Bertagna countered. "If anything, it forces six individuals who have got to make decisions to work together."