Let us pray

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but I have to question the way the city is honoring those who died in New York and western Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001. What is the point of parking military vehicles in Children’s Park? What is the connection? Parking fire trucks and police cars there, I can understand. But a Humvee and what, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle? Who’s directing this event, Karl Rove? Then we learn that Chico City Councilmember Dan Herbert held a Christian prayer service in the Chico City Council chambers. We didn’t get the memo. While I appreciate the sacrifice of time, expense and energy required to send prayers to New Orleans (and nobody prays harder than Herbert) I gotta wonder about the concept of separation of church and state here. Later that same day, at the regularly scheduled City Council meeting, the invocation by the Neighborhood Church’s hip-looking Andrew Burchett asked that God bring peace to the city of Chico through the police force and then ended his spiel by invoking the name of Jesus, a no-no according to state law.

At that same meeting the council took up the matter of proper behavior (by audience members) and signage at council meetings. In recent times the council, with Vice-Mayor Maureen Kirk serving as the swing vote, has tended to vote more liberal than conservative. This development has the conservatives justifiably concerned. And what really chaps their hides is when the liberals cheer and gloat over their victories. So a group of conservatives, using Chamber of Commerce letterhead, wrote a letter to Mayor Scott Gruendl asking him to put the matter of civil disobedience at meetings before the council. Architect Steve Gonsalves perhaps said it best when he told the council that if it takes steps to “lessen the emotional tension, it will allow you to reach better decisions.” We assume he means decisions that favor the conservatives. The council voted to control behavior by installing a zero-tolerance policy for behavior the mayor deems inappropriate. (Used to be troublemakers got a warning before getting tossed.) The conservatives also wanted to ban signs and banners from the chamber, arguing their presence was obstructive and intimidating. The council voted to require that all signs and banners be relegated to the back of the chamber. Finally the council voted to require that those who want to speak to a certain item first sign up to do so. The idea is that rather than a line—some people are afraid, apparently, to have to stand in line in front of or behind someone with a differing opinion—the clerk simply will call the name of the person next on the list to speak.

That sign-in procedure, while practiced elsewhere, may have some legal problems, according to First Amendment attorney Terry Francke. He told Glenn County Publisher Tim Crews: “I’ve never been able to find any cases dealing exactly with forced speaker identification. But the underlying principles are quite clear. There are a number of U.S. Supreme Court cases declaring the First Amendment’s protection for anonymous political speech in various contexts. About the only behavior bordering on uncivil that night was Councilmember Herbert’s angry threat to walk out if the meeting went past 10 p.m. and audience member Karen Laslo’s refusal to sign the sign-up sheet the council currently uses to keep track of who speaks at the meetings.

This Friday night, Sept. 9, from 6 to 10, the folks fighting the construction of a parking structure at Wall and Second streets will meet at the Women’s Club for a fund-raising silent auction.

The Chico branch of the American Red Cross is still alive, just moved to 633 Orange St. from its old office on The Esplanade. The office is accepting donations of money for the utter devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and needs volunteers for office work. The office is open Monday through Friday, 10 to 5 and Saturday 9 to 1. For more information call 891-7572.