Valid counterpoints

Before I criticize someone or something, I make a point to talk with the person in question before the column goes public. Partly, that’s a courtesy to keep someone from getting blindsided—I try to treat others the way I’d like to be treated. Mainly, I want to make sure I haven’t omitted a major fact or slant. Nothing erodes a writer’s credibility faster than a statement or misstatement that makes him or her look like a schmuck.

So, before signing off on the final draft of this issue’s In My Eyes, I spoke at some length with Mary Flynn and Martha Wescoat-Andes. Flynn is the Chico city councilwoman who chairs the Economic Development Committee; Wescoat-Andes is the city’s economic development/redevelopment manager. They have been the champion and catalyst, respectively, for the “Resolution supporting the City’s Strategy for Strengthening the Economic Base for Chico”—deep breath—unanimously approved by the council.

The resolution was a year in the making (though, as Wescoat-Andes pointed out, did not take a full year in itself to complete). I find most of its truths to be self-evident, and thus I wonder if the city needed to start from scratch rather than use other cities’ strategies and plans as a springboard. Or, to coin a yummy analogy: Do we need to harvest wheat and make our own flour, when we can buy a bag at the store, fold it into our unique recipe and make holiday cookies more quickly and cheaply yet just as good?

“I don’t think we could get agreement with an off-the-shelf product,” Wescoat-Andes replied. “Off-the-shelf doesn’t work here. To get something to work for Chico, we need to get people together.”

Flynn: “Intel doesn’t say, ‘Let’s get a business plan from Cisco.’ They say, ‘Who are we and how can we be the best we can be?’

“This work is important enough that it’s unique to Chico.”

Even if the result isn’t unique to Chico?

“When you’re going to be strategic and move in a direction long-term, you don’t move without an investment on deciding where you want to go,” Flynn said, continuing the corporate-world example by equating the city’s work to a business plan. She sees this document as a necessary foundation and the process as a means of “stopping and taking inventory.”

For Flynn (and Wescoat-Andes, too), a key element of the strategy is the role of the city in economic development. “We have to take charge of it,” the councilwoman said, “we can’t think we’re magically going to grow.”

The status quo, she explained, comprises allocating money to outside groups (i.e. CEPCO, the Chamber of Commerce, the DCBA), getting reports back on what they’ve done and allocating more money the following year. “We haven’t as a municipality taken any responsibility,” Flynn said—better to reverse that equation and ask, “Who would like to bid on servicing the priorities the city is setting?”

I absolutely agree. Strategy and accountability are important. I keep coming back to the way we arrived at those conclusions in the resolution, since they are part and parcel of the new paradigm at City Hall. From seeds planted by Tom Lando, cultivated by Greg Jones and getting harvested by Dave Burkland, the city has taken a long-range approach to planning (i.e., the 10-year budget outlook) and emphasized empowerment with accountability (i.e., the animal shelter).

“Economic development means different things to different people,” Wescoat-Andes responded. “Chico is very diverse in perspectives in looking at the economy and the role of the city.”

Business, education and government sectors are distinct, she said. That’s just one aspect.

“I think we needed to go through this process because we have very diverse opinions and we can get caught up in those differences. It’s important to see where we do agree.”

That, she said, was an essential part of the council’s 7-0 support of the resolution. The resolution is important because it shows potential investors and businesses that the city sees its role as “assisting private investment”—not impeding, nor replying on public investment.

“I see us more as a catalyst bringing people together,” Flynn said, speaking of City Hall. “In order to do that, we had to do this [strategy process] first. This is part of what will make Chico a business-friendly place.”

Point taken. Actually, points taken, since I see enough validity in their views to share them. They may not have changed my mind, but if they’ve changed yours, that’s a positive manifestation of open, honest debate.