Mayoral switch tops contentious meeting
Chico City Council meetings are often more interesting when they go off script, and Tuesday’s (Aug. 6) was no exception, beginning with Mary Goloff’s surprising opening announcement that she was stepping down as mayor.
Struggling to hold back tears, she told a stunned overflow audience that she had “a health condition” that would require her often to be out of the area for testing and other treatments and unable to handle the mayor’s busy schedule. She said she’d made the decision “with a very heavy heart because I’ve really, truly enjoyed this honor and the challenge of serving as mayor,” but she needed to “put [her] family and health first.” She intends to remain on the council.
The council then voted unanimously (two-thirds approval was required) to put the choice of her replacement on that meeting’s agenda. Goloff moved to make Vice Mayor Scott Gruendl mayor, but Councilman Sean Morgan made a pitch for Councilman Mark Sorensen, saying it was he who exposed the “neglect, bad management and some cover-up” of city finances under the previous administration but had been mocked for his efforts.
Morgan was the lone council member to vote no on Gruendl’s nomination. Gruendl then nominated Sorensen to be vice mayor. That motion was approved on a 5-to-2 vote (with Council members Ann Schwab and Randall Stone dissenting).
The council then took a break to rearrange the dais, returning with Gruendl sitting in the mayor’s chair, Sorensen in the vice mayor’s chair, and Goloff in Sorensen’s former seat.
The first agenda item, a city budget update, is covered in Tom Gascoyne’s report (see “Righting the ship,” page 11). It was notable for the contingent of city workers, all dressed in red T-shirts, who showed up to protest the recent layoffs and what they saw as a trend toward outsourcing of city services while top city officials are enjoying unprecedented salaries.
One of them was Jim Nebel, an equipment mechanic and “proud city worker.” By laying off workers, he told the council, the city was making its employees the “scapegoat” for its financial problems, while City Manager Brian Nakamura was making $217,000 annually, more than the governor. “It’s up to you, the City Council, to take back the raises at the top,” he insisted.
Others questioned why the city needed an assistant city manager, at a salary of $180,000 annually.
One speaker, Sherri Quammen, noted that Nakamura has “a history of privatization—love ’em, privatize ’em and then leave ’em. … I don’t want a private company taking care of the park. We need to keep the power in people’s hands.” Many in the crowd applauded.
Later, two recently laid-off workers, Mary Fitch and Alicia Meyer, used the “business from the floor” segment to criticize Nakamura further, charging him with lying to the council and manipulating the media and staff (Fitch) and parachuting into town and privatizing city services without understanding the community (Meyer).
Whether this is just a temporary response to the changes at City Hall or a rebellion in the making remains to be seen. Nakamura continues to have the strong backing of the council members, with the exception of Ann Schwab.
Because the budget discussion went long, Gruendl moved several agenda items to the council’s Aug. 20 meeting. The council did have time, however, to acknowledge a shift in position by Police Chief Kirk Trostle.
Realizing, apparently, that the Mangrove Mini Mart and the Winchester Goose craft-beer bar had been sandbagged earlier when he blocked their ABC licenses, and responding to a public outcry, Trostle had reversed his position and agreed to support the businesses.
The chief explained that he’d changed his mind to give the council time to come up with a comprehensive policy regarding alcohol licenses.
Trostle also has come under fire for his long list of possible ordinances designed to control alcohol consumption in Chico. Morgan defended the chief, saying he was just trying to give the council lots of choices. Or, as Trostle himself put it, “It’s not my place to censor the options.”
Rob Rasner, owner of the Winchester Goose, which is going into the spot at 800 Broadway formerly occupied by Bustolini’s Deli & Coffee House, praised Trostle for his collaboration and “willingness to listen.” And Steve Schuman, who lives in the nearby Barber neighborhood, said the restaurant would be great for folks in the area who wanted a close-by place to grab a beer or a bite to eat.