My lunch with Andy II

Just over a month ago, Andy Holcombe kindly agreed to appear in the sequel to “My lunch with Andy,” a column version of My Dinner With Andre. Welcome to the premiere!

He and I had a spirited discussion. Chico’s mayor played a central role in several controversial matters last year. This being a re-election year, I was curious how he’d answer for them.

Firefighters’ contract: Amid worries about budget shortfalls, last spring the council unanimously approved a six-year pact with annual raises totaling 27 percent.

Why did he vote for it? Predictability for long-term planning, he said, as opposed to increases linked to a formula based on comparable cities’ wages (120 percent of the average).

Why not just address the formula? “We wanted to get away from formulas, from my view, and we did.”

But with recessionary signs already evident, how did this seem like a good deal? Unions statewide monitor what their counterparts get, influencing the formula as well as recruitment and retention. Besides, Holcombe said, “I think our firefighters and police earn every penny they get.”

Speaking of police officers, doesn’t their “me too” clause compound the expense of the fire deal? Reticent to discuss talks in progress, he noted how “it’s no secret that we’re hoping our unions will understand the long-term benefit to themselves as well as the community to try to temper their requests while we go through this transition.”

Did the firefighters temper their requests? “To a certain extent…. Changing the formula system and who was covered by the contract [and who wasn’t—i.e. three battalion chiefs], those are two structural changes that are positive for the city.”

Disorderly events ordinance: The council has been criticized by some and praised by others (the CN&R included) for re-evaluating this polarizing addition to the municipal code. Holcombe made sure the review happened … yet …

The lawyer/mayor voted for an ordinance that drew letters from lawyers saying it’s bad law—what does the lawyer/mayor say? “My take is there’s the ordinance and the perception of the ordinance … I’m not a constitutional scholar, but I don’t think it was unconstitutional, though there certainly are ways to make it tighter.

“What was supposed to be something better for the police and the community became an albatross, frankly, and was [portrayed as] an example of police abuse of discretion and malevolent enforcement. But the intent from the police side and the city side was the exact opposite, so the whole thing became something it wasn’t, from my view.”

What if the ordinance had been specific from the get-go? “I still think there would have been a problem… The Santa Barbara ordinance shows you can single out a specific type of event, like student parties, but to me that’s divisive and not the way to go.”

Planning Commission: The mayor found himself drawn into a furor over commissioners’ M.O. and planners’ morale, which he (like we) considered “a non-issue.”

So is it even worth talking about? “It’s germane to say [whether] the planning process can be streamlined,” he said. But: “Planning by its nature is controversial, so to focus on the people and try to politicize the people is wrong and, I think, detrimental to our city’s health.”