Majority rules

Few minorities apply for commission seats

Assistant City Clerk Dani Brinkley (left) and City Clerk Deborah Presson count ballots of the applicants for city boards and commissions.

Assistant City Clerk Dani Brinkley (left) and City Clerk Deborah Presson count ballots of the applicants for city boards and commissions.

Photo By tom gascoyne

There is a photo on the city of Chico website recruiting applicants to fill open seats on the four city commissions and one board. The photo depicts 10 smiling adults, four men and six women of varying ethnic backgrounds.

In fact, the photo does not represent the current makeup of the city government or its citizen commissions.

The city’s website call for applicants reads: “The City of Chico supports diversity. Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities are encouraged to apply.”

But of the 60 who applied for the 18 open seats, only five come from what could be called a non-white heritage, with one African-American, one Hmong, one Middle Easterner and two Hispanics. And none of them made the cut when the City Council members voted at the Jan. 24 council meeting. Forty of the applicants were men, and of the 18 appointees, 10 were men and eight were women.

Two years ago the City Council deadlocked on appointing someone to take the vacant seat of Larry Wahl, who’d been elected to the Butte County Board of Supervisors. The politically divided council split, 3-3, over appointing Bob Evans, who’d finished just out of the running in the November 2010 council election. They also deadlocked on Sor Lo, a member of the Hmong community who’d been urged to throw his hat into the ring.

At a couple of meetings in which the matter was discussed, many members of the Hmong community were in attendance to show their support for Lo. In the end, recognizing a stalemate, Councilman Andy Holcombe changed his vote to support Evans.

A dozen years ago a man named Dan Nguyen-Tan, born in Saigon in 1974, was elected as the only ethnic minority ever to serve on the City Council. And the number of women who have served on the council and as mayor has steadily increased over the last 20 years.

One of those women, current Councilmember and former Mayor Ann Schwab, has been a major force in trying to get the city to recognize minority communities in Chico and encourage their involvement in local government. As mayor she helped launch the Diversity Action Plan, whose mission includes reaching out to minorities and inviting them into the fold. The plan is still being implemented.

“It takes a lot of trust and relationship building, I believe, with groups that don’t see themselves at the table,” she said in the wake of the recent board appointments. “I personally contacted the president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and asked her to make announcements to her constituents. I also made some contacts with the Butte County Hmong Association. I’ve been building those relationships over the past four or five years. I wanted specifically to make sure they were aware of the recruitment and possibilities.”

Schwab noted that applicants did include a range of ages, from a teenage girl to senior citizens.

“I think the assumption is that, if people can see themselves in those roles, they are more apt to make those applications. It’s a process that needs to be continually worked on,” she said.

City Clerk Deborah Presson told the council at its Jan. 24 meeting that there were only five applicants by the time the first deadline came up in early December. The deadline was extended by two weeks, resulting in “a couple more” applicants, and then extended again for a second time, Presson said, “and we were inundated with a total of 60.”

The Airport Commission, which meets four times a year, had four open seats and 15 applicants. One incumbent, Bob Koch, had moved out of the city, and Commissioner Robert Michels passed away while in office. The terms had expired for Commissioners Kurt Nathan and Charles Mueller. Nathan reapplied and was appointed, along with former Chico Mayor Karl Ory, BT Chapman and Gregory Sanger.

Six people applied for four open seats on the Architectural Review and Historic Preservation Board. In this case, three incumbents, Marci Goulart, Thomas Thomson and Dale Bennett, were joined by newcomer Clancy Callahan. The board meets monthly.

The Arts Commission, which also meets once a month, had 14 applicants vying for four open seats, including incumbents Geraldine Mahood and Ginny Crawford, neither of whom was re-appointed. The new arts commissioners are Angela Cook, Todd Hall, Kandis Horton and John Reed.

The Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, which also meets monthly, had 20 applicants for three positions. Incumbent Mary Brentwood was joined by Janine Rood and Andrew Traulsen. Not making the cut here was former Vice Mayor Tom Nickell and Andrew Coolidge, who came in fourth in last year’s City Council race for three seats.

Coolidge also applied for a seat on the Planning Commission, but didn’t make it there either. Those three open seats went to former Chico Mayor Mardi Worley, Toni Scott and Eleanor Anderson.

Coolidge didn’t deny his disappointment with the outcome.

“I’m a little surprised with the partisan nature of the vote,” he said. “I was really hoping for something else.”