Pressure is on Wahl

The City Council’s only conservative needs to work harder if he wants to be effective

Although more than 16,000 Butte County ballots remain to be counted, it seems unlikely that Chico City Council candidate Mark Sorensen will be able to overcome the 328-vote edge two-term incumbent Councilman Larry Wahl enjoys in the contest for the fourth seat.

That’s unfortunate for the conservative constituency with which both men are aligned—and, we believe, for the community as a whole. Sorensen is a smart guy who would bring fresh energy to the job and provide the kind of well-argued and -researched conservative perspective that the council, with its six-member liberal majority, desperately needs.

Wahl is an officer (retired Navy) and a gentleman, and he has stood strong on issues that matter to him, such as Police Department staffing and funding the Chico library. But overall he has not been an effective councilman, especially in recent years. He tends to be critical without providing alternatives and doctrinaire when nuance is needed.

Plus, his stances sometimes buck reality. That was exemplified at the Nov. 4 council meeting, when he seemed to believe that the 14.5 city positions eliminated to reduce the city’s budget deficit for 2008-09 were all in the Police Department. City Manager Dave Burkland had to correct him and point out that only seven police positions had been cut. Someone for whom police staffing is a core issue should have known that.

As a conservative minority of one, Wahl will need to be at the top of his game to have an impact. That means he’s going to have to work much harder than he has in his current term, mend fences and craft subtle arguments if he wants to move the rest of the council in his direction. We hope he succeeds. The city will be a better place if he does.