Undemocratic and rude

Council members’ chatter made a mockery of hearing process

The Chico City Council’s second and final budget hearing Tuesday evening (July 7) was disturbing, though not because of the result. No, the problem was some council members’ behavior.

As occurred at the council’s earlier, all-day budget discussion on June 16, the most urgently debated issue was augmentation funding for the Chico branch of the Butte County library—whether to give it $55,000 more than the $133,000 City Manager Dave Burkland had proposed.

At the June 16 meeting, council members had voted 4-3 not to provide the extra money. They quickly made it clear Tuesday, before any of the many red-shirted library supporters in the audience had a chance to speak, that their 4-3 split was going to hold.

This time, the staff report—which comes first in the hearing process—lasted a full 90 minutes, mostly because several of the council members were arguing among themselves and rambling on in defense of stances that they should have kept private until after the public got to speak.

As a result, the folks they should have been listening to—including a couple of children who eventually spoke—were forced to sit and listen to them blather for an hour and a half and absorb the fact that this exercise in small-town democracy they’d given up their evening for was a waste of time.

The council members are good people, but sometimes they need to husband their words more. There’s far too much thinking out loud and self-justification going on. Mayor Ann Schwab needs to put some limits on the verbal free-for-all that council discussions too often become.

Most important, council members should be more respectful of the folks who come before them. Telegraphing their votes before citizens have a chance to speak is not only undemocratic; it’s also rude.