Never a dull moment

You may have noticed that California has earned a reputation as perhaps the most politically volatile (if not the kookiest) state in the union. Don’t expect any less from the politics that play out in Chico and the rest of Butte County.

Newcomers may be surprised by the passion locals exhibit on all sides of issues related to land use, political elections and bond measures. But the fact is that the more impassioned the populace, the more likely the town is worth shouting about.

Chico is no exception.

The city is led by a seven-member City Council; each member serves a four-year term. Elections are staggered every two years—three seats up one cycle and four the next. Campaigners are often boisterous and bold, and often raise $20,000 or more to gain a position that pays $600 a month.

Chico generally elects top-notch people to fill these seats, and these people are accountable to their constituents—which amounts to everybody within city limits; councilmembers are elected at large and thus do not represent separate geographical districts.

Obviously, councilmembers also have day jobs, which means they have to cram for the detailed discussions that arise at the semi-monthly meetings. And, as if that weren’t enough, they also serve on subcommittees and make up the Chico Redevelopment Agency, which acts on projects to stimulate property-tax revenues and improve the city’s finances.

The Chico City Council has a weak-mayor system, meaning the mayor is not elected to that office by the voters but rather is appointed by the elected City Council and possesses only figurative power. He or she handles the gavel to control the meetings, polices the behavior of other councilmembers and cuts ribbons at public functions. An appointed city manager administers the day-to-day functioning of city government.

Along with the City Council, Chico is governed by the Butte County Board of Supervisors. Most of the county offices are in Oroville. Two of the five elected supervisors represent Chico because of its relatively large population. Like City Council meetings, the supervisors’ meetings can be heated affairs, marked by political posturing, hidden motivations and passionate debate for what is best for the people who live here.