‘Horse pucky’

Councilman is mostly talk and little action

If Larry Wahl wanted to differentiate himself from his counterparts on the Chico City Council, he couldn’t have done it more forcefully than he did last meeting, when he declared the city budget “flawed; I’d go so far as to say it’s built on a house of cards.”

Wahl went on to say the plan relies on shaky assumptions and makes risky cuts from public safety that wouldn’t be necessary with other options. He’d expressed most of his points previously, so it wasn’t surprising that he stated them again last Tuesday (July 1), ahead of the ratification vote—nor, for that matter, that his colleagues voted the other way.

His argument was moot, but not mute, which is precisely why he made it. Where better to politick than at the podium?

Of the two conservative councilmen, Wahl is the only certain candidate, since Steve Bertagna likely won’t seek a fourth term. (Maybe we’ll know for sure Monday, the start of the nomination period.) Progressives swept the ’06 election, and national politics suggest a left-leaning November, so Wahl has some momentum to blunt.

Let me defend him for a moment. I don’t think he was grandstanding. That implies a deviation from the norm, and Wahl has sincerely disagreed with the council majority throughout his second term. He’s cast himself as the contrarian who isn’t afraid to speak up when he sees taxpayers’ money getting thrown around.

Except, of course, when he’s throwing it around—I offer no defense for that.

Within 15 minutes of his budget stance, he voted for the city to continue supporting the Chico Branch Library to the tune of $171,000 a year. Why should the cash-strapped city fund a county operation? Good question—posed not by Mr. Conservative, but by the woman who’d upbraided him about the budget, Mary Flynn.

Wahl likes the library. He also likes the air show, and hiring police officers, and for staff to keep City Council rooms open so community groups can use them for free.

Let’s see, $171,000 here, $10,000 there, $500,000 here, OT expense there—that’s “a house of cards”!

I value the library and police officers, and I think it’s worth a few thousand a year so the public can use a public building. These services enhance our quality of life, which is a good reason to fund them. But, then, I don’t draw his hard lines—I don’t pontificate about legal fees and court legal action an hour later. Most important, I’m not in charge of city money.

Here’s the oddest thing: Wahl is on the Finance Committee. That’s the panel that explored and vetted budget-balancing options. Why didn’t his ideas surface there?

They did, Wahl said—they just got “glossed over or not seriously considered” by Flynn and Chairman Scott Gruendl, and not researched thoroughly by city staff. “You can only kick the water so long,” the minority member conceded.

“Horse pucky,” Gruendl replied. “We talked about them for months … [and] nothing prevented him from asking questions. A question from a councilmember guides staff activity.”

Flynn: “My frustration with Larry has been, through this whole process, that when we have the opportunity to discuss options in committee, he never asks staff about them, but when we get to council, they get refuted. If you have a tangible solution, let’s get it researched.”

City Manager Dave Burkland, trying to remain neutral, nonetheless confirmed that staff researched any proposal that came up in committee meetings—“I don’t remember anything that wasn’t.”

Whether events prove Wahl right or wrong, methinks he doth protest too much and propose too little.