Improving the City Council

Readers propose a couple of worthwhile steps

Two letters to the editor this week (see “Counseling for the council,”) suggest that some good could yet come from the Chico City Council’s muddled effort last month to fill an empty council seat.

Noting that the process was “an ordeal” and that Bob Evans’ appointment was “a messy stop-gap measure,” Steve Scarborough proposes that the council adopt an ordinance holding that, when a council position comes empty within 180 days of an election, it be filled by the next highest vote-getter in that election. Actually, a charter revision would be needed, but it’s an idea worth considering.

Writer Wayne Edwards chooses to address the long-term issue of diversity on the council, the lack of which was a major argument in support of Hmong-American candidate Sor Lo. He suggests that those council members advocating for greater diversity “recall the idea of dividing the city of Chico into [council] districts. … Wouldn’t districts truly provide the best citizen representation on the council? It seems obvious that it would.”

Currently, as Edwards notes, council members are elected at large in a “top vote-getters win” method. It’s implied that this favors candidates who are like most of the voters—that is, white, middle-class and middle-age, like the current council members.

If, on the other hand, south Chico, which has a high concentration of both Hmong-American and Latino residents, were one of the council districts, a person like Lo would stand a better chance of being elected. (That chance would be improved even more were the Chapman neighborhood brought into the city.)

We’ve long held that having council districts would be an improvement over the current system. Since candidates would have to reach a much smaller number of voters to get elected, it would foster a less-expensive and more face-to-face style of campaigning. And it would create a stronger bond between residents and their representatives.

If council members are sincere about fostering greater diversity among themselves, they should consider Mr. Edwards’ suggestion.