I ♥ free speech

Newbie councilman threatens CN&R with a lawsuit

Last week, we printed our annual “Whom to watch” issue, featuring a handful of folks we think will be newsmakers this year, including the city of Chico’s newest City Council members—Reanette Fillmer and Andrew Coolidge, neither of whom had ever held public office.

In his interview with CN&R staff writer Ken Smith, Coolidge noted that one of his biggest challenges as a politician is developing thick skin. I’ll say it is. During last week’s City Council meeting, Coolidge stated that he was suing this newspaper. This all goes back to my Dec. 11 column (“Strategy”), in which I wrote about the night Coolidge was sworn into office—namely, that he has ties to Chico Scrap Metal and his very first motion during his very first meeting was to agendize discussion on whether to allow that business to remain on 20th Street. For a little background, in 2006 Chico Scrap Metal was given five years to vacate its property because its practices do not fit in with that part of the community. In 2011, it was given an extension of three years that would end on Dec. 31, 2014.

In that column, I noted that Chico Scrap Metal’s operations polluted the south Chico property (for more on that see a letter from the Department of Toxic Substances Control on page 6). Its owners were ordered to pay $700,000 in fines by a Butte County Superior Court judge, and attempts to fight the court’s order have been shot down at the appellate level.

Despite the generous extension, the owners came back at the eleventh hour, on the very night Coolidge was sworn in, with the intention not of asking for additional time to vacate that location but for the business to stay indefinitely.

Coolidge made his motion without mentioning his ties to Chico Scrap Metal’s owners, George Scott and his daughter, Kim Scott, who now runs the family business. But the omission didn’t escape me, and I laid it out in this space. Coolidge did public relations work for a political action committee formed by the elder Scott back in 2010 to unseat Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey in retaliation of those pollution charges.

The day after that column hit stands, Coolidge emailed me, threatening a libel suit. He CC’d his father and sister, both attorneys. And at last week’s council meeting, he said false statements about him in this newspaper were the subject of pending litigation.

But here’s the deal: There were no false statements about Coolidge.

So, what’s the issue here? I think it’s simple: Coolidge is attempting to bully the CN&R. Maybe he thinks doing so will shield him from further criticism. Maybe he hasn’t accepted that being a politician means having his every political move scrutinized by his constituents and the press. Maybe he’s not familiar with something called the First Amendment. Newsflash: This paper has a long history of watchdoggery, and neither I nor this paper’s staff will be intimidated by a newbie council member’s baseless litigation threats.

Here’s another fun fact: In 2012, Kim Scott gave the maximum campaign contribution of $500 to Coolidge during his unsuccessful bid for a council seat at that time.

Coolidge admitted as much during last week’s council meeting (he left out the dollar figure), when he awkwardly read a bizarre prepared statement. He could have avoided that altogether by copping to all of this before making that first motion. Instead, he got busted. And the funny part is it appears he expected that to happen. In his interview with Smith, Coolidge stated he had not yet seen the column that he now alleges libeled him. However, amazingly, he guessed that I’d written about his connection to Chico Scrap Metal. Priceless.

In emails to me, Coolidge seems to be under the impression that I don’t like him. But, really, none of this is personal. It’s politics. It’s free speech. It’s criticism. Actually, come to think of it, as far as journalism goes, Coolidge is terrific.