They rebuilt this city

What if Chico City Council members got more than $15 per meeting? Should 18-year-olds be allowed to run for council? How about having an elected mayor, with veto power?

The City Council-appointed Charter Review Committee has been meeting to discuss these and other potential changes in the document that governs how the city is led. In May, the members will bring their recommendations to the council, hoping for a modern charter that will see the city through the next 10 to 15 years.

The committee membership is rich with city history, including a former mayor and a retired deputy city manager. It’s chaired by retired City Manager Fred Davis, who was leading the city when the charter was first drafted in the 1960s.

One of the most controversial ideas is to greatly raise councilmembers’ pay. Committee member Mike Candela surveyed 10 California cities with populations similar to Chico’s and found that most of them pay their councilors about $500 per month, plus various benefits.

Former Mayor Georgie Bellin remembers when the bill for her council-night babysitter exceeded her meeting stipend and said the city could draw a broader pool of candidates if there were better compensation.

The committee, which didn’t reach a decision, considered whether citizens who in the past have turned down council raises might agree to allow the members to set their own salaries if they don’t go beyond a state-imposed cap.

On a later item, the committee realized within seconds that no one there had an interest in moving to a “strong mayor” system, even if the elected major had no greater powers than the councilmembers, and almost moved on without discussion. But someone suggested they at least hear the idea out, and they tabled the discussion for later.

In another move, the committee decided by informal vote not to impose term limits.

The committee will also consider whether someone can serve on the council or commissions if they technically live outside the city but own property or do substantial business in Chico.

The members will recommend continuing to elect councilmembers at large rather than create geographical districts. Even though Chico has grown and changed from the days when most of the councilmembers lived within a few blocks of one another, members agreed it’s not big enough to carve into potentially divisive districts. The sole dissenter was Bob Ross, a Chico State University political science professor, who said a disadvantage of the current system is, “one does not need to receive a majority of the vote. People can get elected with 10 or 11 percent of the vote.”

But Ross successfully championed the idea of lowering the age requirement to run for council from 21 to 18. While some members balked at the idea of someone young and inexperienced vying for a seat, in the end it was the irony of being able to vote and be drafted that resulted in a narrow vote of 5-4 in favor of lowering the age.

The committee will meet again on March 12.