Targeting the mayor

Holcombe takes some flak—most of it errant

Chico Mayor Andy Holcombe has taken some flak lately for his appearance at a union-sponsored press conference a week ago. On one point, but only one, the critics are correct. Otherwise they’re blowing smoke.

At issue was Holcombe’s participation in a press conference Monday, Feb. 5, in front of Enloe Medical Center. It was called by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the group behind the one-day strike of hospital service workers set for that Wednesday. The strike was intended to protest the planned layoffs of 179 employees, most of them service workers. (Many will be rehired in reconfigured positions.)

Saying he was speaking as a citizen, not as mayor, Holcombe urged Enloe administrators to avoid a strike by sitting down with union representatives to negotiate the layoffs. The drawn-out conflict between the union and the hospital was a waste of money and was hurting the community, he said.

Holcombe’s critics have roasted him for sticking his nose in a private labor matter, abusing his role as mayor and being disingenuous in claiming he was just a citizen.

On that last point they’re right. As Holcombe himself has said, in another context, once you’re the mayor, you’re mayor 24/7. The mayor has more clout and always will get more attention than the guy behind the counter at Kmart. He can’t pretend otherwise.

That said, Holcombe has every right—some might say obligation—to use his clout as he sees fit, especially when it comes to an institution as important as Enloe. By taking a stand on such issues as unionization and patient care, he encourages others to learn about the issues and get involved. Those who don’t like his positions are free, of course, not to vote for him next election.

Those who say Holcombe shouldn’t get involved in a labor dispute between a private employer and its employees would have us think Enloe is no different than the video store or dry cleaners down the street. Yes, Enloe is a private business—but it’s also, as it proudly proclaims, a locally controlled, nonprofit hospital responsive to the community. More important, it’s the only hospital in town, which means its actions impact everyone.

All the more reason for community leaders to get involved and stake out positions.

What are Holcombe’s critics afraid of? That someone might agree with him? To us, that’s democracy in action.