Two years in first person

On April 3, 2006, I walked into the Chico News & Review building for the first time. I filled out some paperwork, met the staff, looked over my office, then headed straight to a managers meeting. I didn’t exactly hit the ground running, but it was no leisurely stroll.

By the time my workday ended, at the very first CAMMIES showcase (jazz), I was wide-eyed and tired. I had some anxiety attacks the next day; the day after that, on deadline, I grappled with waves of panic and feared I’d screw up “the family paper,” long beloved by my future in-laws.

As I type this, my hands tremble. My heart races. My breathing is deep. I’m a bit dizzy. Sense memory stirs powerful reactions.

But it’s easy to pull out of the funk, because things have gotten a whole lot better.

The papers are thicker, thanks to a generous “editorial hole” and winning sales team. We got seven awards last year from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, a sign I haven’t totally screwed up the paper. I have a fantastic staff.

Also, I arrived at a great time. Elections, general plans, changes at City Hall, changes at County Center, sustainability, Artoberfest, the CAMMIES—lots of new developments, perfect for a new editor.

Looking back and looking around, here are some developments I see.

Enloe: One of my first get-acquainted meetings was with Dan Neumeister … literally hours before the medical staff cast the vote of no-confidence that signaled the end of his leadership. New CEO Debi Yancer and COO Mike Wiltermood have ushered in a new era, with a care model called Planetree and recognition of the service workers’ union.

Yet there’s still a lot of work to do, akin to treatment in the oncology center. Cancers—malignant remnants of unhealthier times—persist in the organization. “Sentinel events” (i.e. deadly complications) have caused setbacks. Yancer’s remedies resemble chemotherapy: deliberately aggressive, shocking to the system, vital for Chico’s lone hospital to survive.

City government: When I got here, the Chico City Council was tensely partisan. Scott Gruendl, then mayor, buffered his three fellow progressives and the three conservatives.

These days, the council is more collaborative, not just because of the 5-2 cushion, but also because civility has eclipsed sniping, and decorum on the dais has spread to the public podium.

City budget: Construction of a lavish downtown plaza suggested Chico was in great financial shape. Hah! Turns out the city had been plugging gaps with bubble gum, and soon there wouldn’t be enough Bazooka to hold things together. Now it’s getting attention—good deal.

Wal-Mart: The north Chico site will stay a golf course. The Paradise Gateway site remains undeveloped. The lot next to the Forest Avenue store is still vacant … for now. I’m relieved … for now.

Smog: Coming from Riverside, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Now I do, which I chalk up to declining air quality in ’07 and ’08 rather than rosy glasses in ’06.

Traffic: Seriously, folks, it’s not all that bad. (Ask me again in 2010.)

Stewardship: I know, the word sounds like a fuzzy platitude. But the regional leadership program I joined has shown me the importance of moving past artificial boundaries and barriers for broader benefit. That others feel as I do gives me hope for the coming years.