Three strikes

There’s more to the story of how the lefties sacked an effort to increase campaign coffers

Those pleased that the Chico City Council sacked the idea of raising the limit on campaign contributions to council candidates should note the nuance in that decision. It easily could have gone the other direction, allowing members of the council to accept individual donations of $1,000, instead of the current cap of $500.

Mayor Sean Morgan brought the issue before the council despite having raised more than any of his rivals in 2016—about $64,000—and taking the top spot in his bid for re-election.

About 30 people showed up at the council chambers to voice opposition to the mayor’s proposal. Their rationale varied, but the broad takeaway was that throwing more money at candidates is antithetical to democracy (see Howard Hardee’s report on page 8).

Still, Morgan wasn’t swayed.

What put the brakes on was a series of so-called “substitute motions”—a procedure that takes precedence over the motion on the floor and has become somewhat routine since Councilman Mark Sorensen first used the tactic back in March. In this case, after Morgan made a motion to double the spending limit, Councilman Randall Stone called for a sub-motion to put the issue to a vote of the citizenry. During a roll-call vote, conservative Sorensen joined the liberals by voting aye to letting voters make the call.

Still, Morgan’s original motion remained on the table—meaning, even though the issue would end up in voters’ hands in 2018, the council could vote that night to immediately raise the donation limits, thus expanding the coffers of the candidates in the next election. However, Councilman Karl Ory chimed in with another sub-motion, this one calling for Morgan’s proposal to not take effect until 2020.

Morgan attempted to first call a vote on his original motion—to raise the caps—but was instructed by the city attorney, Vince Ewing, to address Ory’s sub-motion. The first vote came from Councilman Andrew Coolidge, who voted “aye.” That gave the lefties the majority they needed; the rest of the conservatives, Morgan included, followed suit.

Morgan’s original motion should have been dead at that point. But City Clerk Debbie Presson gave it new life by saying the record (hers and the assistant clerk’s) showed that Ory’s sub-motion was to forestall the outcome of the 2018 vote on campaign contributions until 2020, not in reference to Morgan’s move to immediately impact campaign spending.

From my view, the city clerk was in error. The panel was talking about Morgan’s original motion when Ory very clearly stated, “I would like to make a substitute motion that your proposal not take effect until the 2020 election.”

Ory pushed back on Presson’s take—noting that a review of the minutes would counter her narrative of events. Backing him up was Coolidge, who made it clear that he had understood Ory’s intent—voting on Morgan’s motion was moot, he said.

Ewing urged the council to move forward on Morgan’s initial motion. Though Ory balked, Morgan took the opening to give it another go. That’s when Councilwoman Ann Schwab chimed in with yet a third sub-motion, “that any action we take tonight would not be effective until 2020. That’s very clear.”

The vote: all ayes, including a “yes” from a very perturbed mayor.