Last-minute bombshell

Oroville City Council candidates’ forum bland—until final moments

ISSUES? WHO’S GOT ISSUES?<br>Candidates for Oroville City Council gather at a forum Tuesday (Sept. 30) largely devoid of controversy. Left to right: Thil Chan-Wilcox, Jim Prouty, Jack Berry, Bill Coots, Steve Harvey, Al Simpson and Dave Pittman.

Candidates for Oroville City Council gather at a forum Tuesday (Sept. 30) largely devoid of controversy. Left to right: Thil Chan-Wilcox, Jim Prouty, Jack Berry, Bill Coots, Steve Harvey, Al Simpson and Dave Pittman.

Photo By Robert Speer

For 84 of the 90 minutes of a forum held Tuesday (Sept. 30) for Oroville City Council candidates, it was difficult to tell whether the seven aspirants disagreed on anything. Then one of the two incumbents present, Jim Prouty, used his last speaking opportunity to throw a bombshell—and suddenly it was obvious that a deep division existed among the candidates.

Pulling out a two-page printout of council votes during the past two years, Prouty charged that fellow incumbent Jack Berry, who was sitting immediately to his left, had voted “no” 53 times, while he (Prouty) had voted “no” only once.

“One member is trying to kill this council,” he charged, suggesting also that Berry was bringing along two other candidates—Steve Harvey and former Councilman Al Simpson—as part of a slate seeking to get rid of top city staffers.

Time was up, so Berry, Simpson and Harvey could not respond. After the forum, Berry, a retired police officer seeking a third term, acknowledged to the CN&R that the three men “have the same thoughts” about city issues. Saying Prouty was “acting like a cornered dog,” he said he and his fellow incumbent “fundamentally disagree” on some important issues, including annexation of Southside Oroville and leapfrog development.

Berry believes some way should be found to annex Southside—a largely black, low-income neighborhood just outside city limits. Residents want to be annexed and, for the long-term health of the city, should be.

He also said that too many of the development projects proposed are poorly planned and opposed by Oroville residents.

Berry said he and Councilman Art Hatley form a minority that is willing to question staff about projects and say “no” when it’s appropriate. Too often, he charged, staff wants to “stuff things down our throats,” expecting councilmembers to rubber-stamp their decisions.

Berry denied that he wanted to get rid of city officials, but he does want them to do their jobs better.

Interviewed after the forum, Prouty, a business manager seeking a second term, charged that Berry and his supporters “don’t want growth” in Oroville and don’t support city staff. “A majority of the council thinks staff is doing a great job,” he said.

As for development, he’s proud that he’s supported every subdivision proposed, even the 2,400-unit Oro Bay project west of the airport. He wants the city to have a good reputation for development, he said, and worries that Berry’s nay-saying is harming it. And he said the reason he is able to vote “yes” on every proposal is because city staff is doing a good job of planning.

He too would like to annex Southside. “I would love to do it,” he said, “but we don’t know how to do it.” Providing city-level police and fire services would cost $1.5 million, money the city does not have, he said.

None of this was discussed during the forum, nor were other salient issues broached, such as the recent legal tussle over development fees with the Feather River Recreation and Park District.

All the candidates praised the city’s ability to balance its budget and said Oroville was getting a bum rap image-wise. They lamented continuing problems with blight, especially downtown, and said the council needs to support local businesses.

Macro issues such as global warming and dependence on foreign oil weren’t part of the discussion. Oroville wants to grow, and fast, and nobody seemed worried about reliance on the automobile.

There was concern about infrastructure, however. Oroville is served by three different water districts and a sewer district, SCORE, in which it is only a minority partner. That makes it harder to plan for growth, especially if one of the districts doesn’t want to go along, Simpson pointed out.

In addition to being a former councilman, Simpson is a retired Oroville Fire Department employee. Harvey is a Caltrans engineer whose specialty is bridge design and construction. Also running are retired Fire Chief David Pittman; businessman Bill Coots; and 17-year Planning Commissioner Thil Chan-Wilcox, who said her family settled in the area in 1867. She is the only woman and the only member of a minority group in the race.

The Oroville Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored the forum and prepared the questions asked. The emcee was chamber Director Claudia Knaus, who explained that the eighth candidate in the race, incumbent Councilman Mike Howard, was not present because of health problems. He will not be campaigning, she said, but his name will remain on the ballot—a situation that prompted one wag to quip that Howard’s campaign slogan should be, “If I survive, I’ll serve.”