From flap to kerfuffle

There won’t be a dull moment leading up to November’s election

One of the pleasures of watching Chico politics is seeing minor flaps morph into major—and entertaining—kerfuffles. That’s what happened recently after City Council candidate Toby Schindelbeck accused Councilman Scott Gruendl of a conflict of interest.

It all started at the March 6 council meeting, when discussion turned to hiring a recruiting firm to vet candidates to replace retiring City Manager Dave Burkland. To everyone’s surprise, Gruendl recused himself from voting on the matter, saying he “may or may not apply for the position.” At that point he had not decided, he said during a phone interview this week, but he wanted to keep his options open.

The next day the Enterprise-Record’s Katy Sweeny reported the incident. Gruendl said when folks at Glenn County offices, where he is director of health services, read her piece, “all hell broke loose over here.” He decided right then not to seek the Chico job, he said.

Two weeks later, at the March 20 council meeting, Schindelbeck stepped forward during the public-comment period. Noting that Gruendl had recused himself once, he asked why the councilman was still participating as a member of the Policy and Procedures Committee. It’s a conflict of interest, he charged.

After the meeting, Gruendl caught up with Schindelbeck at his car and told him he’d made his decision and no conflict existed—though he now acknowledges he didn’t actually say he wasn’t applying for the city manager job, believing it was none of Schindelbeck’s business.

Contacted by phone, Schindelbeck said it wasn’t at all clear to him that Gruendl, whom he described as “very confrontational,” wasn’t applying: “He said his application hadn’t been filed yet.” Council gadfly Juanita Sumner took up the issue in her NorCal blog, “Ad Hoc,” stating that Gruendl had threatened Schindelbeck, a charge that elicited some silly but nasty comments from a couple of her fans (Gruendl “is practicing to be a Nazi”).

Then, on March 27, a man named Bill Smith, whose email address is, sent an email to Councilman Andy Holcombe that amped up the threat level. If the City Council ignored the conflict issue, someone—he didn’t say who—“may ask for a higher level investigation into the Council’s actions, AKA the California Attorney General’s Office.”

Holcombe forwarded the email to Gruendl, who wrote Smith, stating, “No one has asked me what decision I have made …, which is that I have no intent to apply.”

On Tuesday (April 3), the E-R published a letter from Schindelbeck stating that Gruendl “shouldn’t be involved with formulating the rules that will be used to fill his vacated seat” on the council. Schindelbeck indicated he’d lodged a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

That same day, Gruendl said, Smith contacted his employers in Glenn County saying that he was gunning for the Chico city manager job. “Now he’s tampering with my employment,” Gruendl said angrily.

Finally, at the council meeting that night, Gruendl did what he probably should have done long ago: He publicly stated he was not seeking the city manager job.

End of kerfuffle. Maybe.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.