Political theater

Chico’s City Council meetings are in good hands

Last Tuesday (Aug. 6), I missed one of the more exciting City Council meetings in recent memory. My not-quite-2-year-old son got a fever that evening, and former CN&R Editor Robert Speer was kind enough to pinch-hit for me. There, he had a front-row seat to Chico’s political theater—a particularly emotional episode.

I missed the first part of the meeting while tending to my kiddo. But after I got him settled, I hopped on my computer (I don’t have cable, believe it or not) to stream it live from the city’s website. To my surprise, Vice Mayor Scott Gruendl was leading the meeting, and doing it rather effortlessly.

Makes sense, since Gruendl has been mayor before.

It wasn’t until the next day that I learned how Mary Goloff had resigned as mayor, giving a tearful farewell to the post she’d held for the past eight months. She nominated Gruendl for the mayoral position (only Councilman Sean Morgan cast a dissenting vote), and Gruendl then nominated Councilman Mark Sorensen for the vice-mayor position (Council members Ann Schwab and Randall Stone dissented).

I was sorry to hear Goloff resigned the post for medical reasons—and I wish her well—but I think that she made the right call. Not everyone is cut out for being mayor—the person who leads council proceedings.

The position isn’t easy. From a reporter’s perspective, the best candidates for mayor have the following traits and skills:

Time management. This is especially important during the public-comment portion of City Council meetings. People tend to ramble, going over their three-minute speaking allotment. The mayor’s job includes cutting them off (politely) when that happens. A good mayor knows the procedural process inside and out, and how to keep meetings on task.

Thick skin. Criticism from the public is part of the job. Eye rolls, audible sighs and defensive posturing aren’t productive—they’re disrespectful.

Stamina. Sometimes meetings are going to go long. They often start after a long day of work for everyone—the council and the public. A good night’s sleep the previous night—and coffee—may be in order.

Patience. Again, some of the speakers are going to be annoying—and the meetings annoyingly long. An internal dialogue that includes F-bombs is understandable. Just don’t say them out loud.

I’ve become a bit of a local-politics junkie over the years. I went to my first City Council meeting about a dozen years ago, when I was taking a public-affairs-reporting class at Chico State. And I’ve kept a close eye on them ever since—including the couple of years I covered the council as the CN&R’s news editor.

As someone who sits through those meetings, I have a vested interest in seeing them run smoothly. I remember being relieved when Ann Schwab took back-to-back terms as mayor. She did an excellent job. And in watching Gruendl take control of the last meeting, I’m fairly certain the gatherings are once again in good hands.