Politicking all around

Councilman Randall Stone messed up and so did Mayor Mark Sorensen in his response

I returned from vacation last week to news that the local politicos were freaking out over City Council campaign finance reports.

I'm referring, of course, to Councilman Randall Stone's allegations that city staff purposely removed prior years' reports from the city's website and the implication it had something to do with the new conservative council majority. Funny thing is, the missing reports came to Stone's attention because a CN&R contributor had been searching for them. For some reason, Stone ran with that info to his public Facebook page and made a big stink about the issue, saying that “city staff” had, as he put it, “absconded campaign contribution reports.”

Never mind the fact that Stone misused the word absconded. His point was that the reports for many years had been hosted online at chico.ca.us and then, poof, they were gone. Moreover, in their place was a statement telling citizens the documents were available for viewing at the City Clerk's Office. Stone has a point. I can't think of a good reason to remove those types of reports, requiring the public to march down to City Hall to look at them.

Then again, as Mayor Mark Sorensen has noted, the documents in question are not part of a comprehensive list of campaign reports, but rather “a tiny and incomplete set of links to a small minority of reports from prior election cycles.” And boy, did Sorensen let Stone have it last week during the panel's regular meeting, during an agenda item regarding who should represent the city at the League of California Cities' annual meeting. Under normal circumstances, Stone, the vice president of the league's Sacramento division, likely would've been chosen as the voting delegate. Instead, the mayor spent 11 minutes lambasting him.

Sorensen said Stone hadn't done his research on the missing reports and didn't know what he was talking about. But he also said that what he'd posted on his Facebook page were “evil lies and slander.” (I think he means libel.) In any case, the mayor can't have it both ways. Either Stone's misinformed or he's malicious. Sorensen got one thing right: Stone shot from the hip. He should've waited for a full explanation and then asked the mayor to agendize discussion of establishing a records policy in the context of transparency. In fact, that should still happen.

Was Stone grandstanding, as the mayor charged? Hell yes. On the other hand, Sorensen, short of handing Debbie Presson the phone number of an attorney, pretty much encouraged the city clerk, who reports to the council, to file a lawsuit against the city. So, who's the one politicking now? That certainly isn't in the best interest of Chico. Not to mention, the highly professional Ms. Presson has been wholly vindicated.

Both councilmen handled this situation poorly.

Lastly, during his long-winded speech, Sorensen said the CN&R was looking into the reports for “political spin” and “probably a rehashing of how conservatives take in more money, as though that's a new story.” Note to the mayor: He should heed his own advice about people running their mouths when they don't know what they're talking about.