Keep it brief, please

Council members should apply standards of succinctness to themselves

The most dramatic moment at last week’s special Chico City Council workshop on solving the problems associated with homelessness came about an hour in, when Mayor Mary Goloff solicited public comments for the first time.

Council chambers were packed, and audience members had listened patiently as some of the front-line folks working on the problems, including Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle, described how they saw the situation and what their organizations were doing to improve it.

As was explained, the meeting was organized around discussion of four main areas, beginning with “public safety,” then moving on to “safe streets,” “downtown and plaza programming” and “walkable community.” Each would have a public-comment period.

Twenty-one people had submitted cards indicating they wanted to speak on the public-safety topic. Goloff, looking out over the sea of faces, knew that if so many people took the usual three minutes to speak on all four topics the workshop would take forever.

So she announced that she was limiting speaking to just one minute. It was not a popular decision. People who had prepared three-minute speeches had to edit them on the spot. Groans of displeasure broke out.

Still, the first few speakers were very effective, making cogent arguments in under a minute. Twice audience members applauded, a no-no at council meetings, and twice Goloff asked them not to applaud, in “the spirit of giving everybody a chance to be heard.”

Then Chris Nicodemus strode to the lectern.

Nicodemus’ deep animus toward the liberal members of the council is well known, via his many letters to the editor and frequent appearances at City Council meetings. This time he was especially harsh.

Calling Goloff’s decision “underhanded and bogus,” he accused her of making it so she wouldn’t have to consider “issues that you don’t want to hear”—an odd charge, given that it was Goloff who had convened the workshop.

Nicodemus then charged that it was the council’s failure to get tough with transients and “send them back where they came from” that had turned Chico into a “magnet city on the transient highway. … Why you allow Chico to become a human dumping ground, I just don’t understand.”

This so upset Goloff that she immediately rose from her chair, saying “I’m going to take a break,” and left by a side door. That occasioned yet more grumbling, along the lines of “We get a minute, but she takes a break?”

You’ll find a letter to the editor from Nicodemus in this week’s Letters section. In it, he accuses Goloff of using her position “to stifle the voice of democracy,” calling her decision “a thoughtless gesture.”

I figured she was just trying to get through a meeting that threatened to last too long for human endurance. But it’s true, as critics often charge, that some council members, including Goloff, don’t always apply standards of brevity to themselves. They should take lessons from Councilmen Mark Sorensen and Sean Morgan, who quickly say their pieces and shut up. It’s a sign of respect, and those of us in the audience appreciate it.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.