What were they thinking?

The wacky, ill-advised and unfathomable moments of 2013

Members of Orchard Church feed needy folks.

Members of Orchard Church feed needy folks.

file photo by CN&R staff

Hooker Oak stump gets torched

In an act of vandalism, the stump of the Hooker Oak tree—the namesake of Hooker Oak Recreation Area in Bidwell Park and a true Chico relic—was set aflame during the night of March 1.

Annie Bidwell, wife of Chico founder John Bidwell, named the gigantic valley oak after English botanist Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1887. For a time, the tree was thought to be the biggest valley oak in the world; however, when a storm felled it in 1977, it was discovered that it was actually two trees that had grown together.

The stump was badly damaged by the fire. At the time, Parks and Natural Resource Manager Dan Efseaff said, “It’s hard to believe an important piece of Chico history is falling apart right in front of our eyes through this thoughtless act.”

WWTT poster boy or ‘one of us’?

In less than a year since assuming the congressional seat long held by Wally Herger, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) has made a number of dubious political moves.

While setting up house in January, he chose Mark Spannagel—his former campaign manager who’d served as the fall guy in an ugly 2012 campaign tactic of using a fake, possibly libelous website to discredit opponent Sam Aanestad—as his chief of staff.

In Washington, LaMalfa voted with other conservatives to shut down the federal government over their disapproval of the Affordable Care Act, then met with protesters at the World War II memorial to express his disgust over the monument’s closure. He voted to gut the food-stamp program, stating poverty programs are the responsibility of churches and citizens, while accepting millions in government farm subsidies over the years (27,457, or 11 percent of his constituency in Butte County, rely on the food-stamps program). He’s also supported “healthy forest” legislation that actually relaxes lumber laws, and is such an adamant climate-change denier that he received a tongue-in-cheek Unicorn Award from political group Organizing for Action.

GOP guru Karl Rove.

photo by CHicago Public Media via Flickr

Since such confusing actions are a staple of his decade-plus political career (last year, he graced this section for claiming abortion causes cancer), the real question is: What are North State voters thinking?

Facebook feud

On Nov. 9, a Saturday, Chico City Councilman Randall Stone fired off an email to Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle, informing him that Officer Todd Boothe had posted racist pictures on his Facebook page.

“[I]t is my concern that this perspective has transcended free speech and become a procedural issue (job performance),” Stone wrote to Trostle. “I originally stumbled across Officer Boothe’s Facebook page early Tuesday morning after he posted a profane comment to my public Facebook page (nonthreatening, but very public).”

Boothe called Stone incompetent and an asshole, and most of the racist postings Stone “stumbled across” on Boothe’s page were posted in 2009. Stone said in his email to Trostle that he was concerned Boothe’s posts could jeopardize the safety of his fellow officers. On Nov. 10, Stone sent the email to the local media, and the next day, TV’s Action News Now broadcasted the story.

The Police Department is conducting in internal investigation, and Peter Durfee, president of the Chico Police Officers’ Association, has called for Stone to step down from the Police Community Advisory Board. This is all taking place while the city negotiates a new labor contract with the CPOA.

No free meal?

At an Oct. 15 Chico City Council meeting, Councilman Sean Morgan objected to the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission’s issuance of a permit allowing a church to feed the needy at City Plaza. Orchard Church, headed up by Pastor Jim Culp, had been conducting that outreach each Sunday evening at that location for more than five years without any complaints from the public. However, a park ranger, who spotted the group last summer, informed the congregation its gatherings required a permit.

Morgan said a “disturbing chain of events” had led to the permit being granted and felt the council’s power had been usurped by the commission. He wanted to appeal the decision himself. However, doing so would preclude him from discussing or voting on the matter as a council member. Hotel Diamond owner Wayne Cook, whose business is less than a block away from the plaza, ended up filing an appeal.

Charanjiv Singh, owner of Mangrove Mini Mart.

file photo by CN&R staff

On Nov. 19, the day the appeal was to be heard by the council, Culp and city management came to a compromise: The handouts could continue but had to take place outside of the Chico Municipal Center. That move, which remains controversial, removed the need for the church to obtain a permit.

A booze-debate casualty

When Charanjiv Singh purchased Mangrove Mini Mart back in January 2012, he was under the impression that he would have little trouble obtaining a license to sell beer and wine at his convenience store.

But in May, the Chico City Council voted 6-1 to deny Singh’s application for an offsale beer-and-wine license. The council was under pressure from Police Chief Kirk Trostle, who—following the string of alcohol-related student deaths and Chico State’s Call for Community Action released in January—publicly stated the city should stop granting new liquor licenses entirely.

For weeks, it looked like Singh would be an innocent casualty of the booze debate—he estimated the loss to business would force him to close the store within six months—but the council eventually reconsidered its initial decision and ended up approving Singh’s application.

Rove leaves reporter hungry

On May 11, CN&R staff writer Ken Smith went to a fundraiser for state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), a buffet-style breakfast with Republican political strategist Karl Rove.

Though the event was advertised on the radio, and Smith had made arrangements to attend and pay the required $75 “donation” (which came with a copy of Rove’s latest book, Courage and Consequence) with a Nielsen staffer, he arrived to be told that, as a member of the press, he was not welcome.

While the legality of this move was questionable, there’s no question that restricting press access doesn’t help the GOP’s public image or Rove’s snaky reputation.

Chico Junior High School.

file photo by CN&R staff

Big talent cut loose

Back in May, after the sale of TV stations KHSL and KNVN, the new owners, GOCOM Media of Northern California, dismissed longtime and beloved local morning anchor and weatherman Rob Blair.

Blair was co-host of the Wake Up! morning show and was the station’s most popular personality. His fans were shocked and saddened by the move and many of them promised to boycott the stations.

Fortunately, Blair landed on his feet. In June, he moved to Southern California with his husband, Michael, and the two are pursuing new opportunities. Despite his departure from Chico, Blair retained his title of “Favorite Local Personality” in the CN&R’s annual Best of Chico contest.

Good riddance, ‘Tell It’

Chico Enterprise-Record editors were asleep at the wheel back in August, when they published a “Tell It to the E-R” item calling for the city of Chico administrators’ and City Council members’ heads to be placed on spikes in the new downtown roundabout.

That threatening comment was printed on Aug. 22 and was perhaps the final straw in a long line of questionable commentary that’s been printed in that anonymous, reader-generated column over the years. E-R Editor David Little took a lot of flak for printing the item and, in September, ended up sacking the column, one he inherited when he joined the paper in 1999.

Allegedly caught exhibiting

In late January, an off-duty Chico park ranger jogging through Bidwell Park near Cedar Grove saw a man masturbating; her report to Chico police led to the arrest of 24-year old Ryan McDaniel of Paradise.

An image Chico Police Officer Todd Boothe posted on his Facebook page.

Turns out, in December 2012, police had begun investigating multiple reports—dating back months—of a man exposing himself to women in the park. Though McDaniel ran away after being spotted by the park ranger, he was located and questioned by CPD detectives. After further investigation, he was arrested on Feb. 14 and charged with six counts of indecent exposure and two counts of disorderly conduct.

They’re in the money

The city made some new hires at the top of the pecking order this year after bringing on City Manager Brian Nakamura, former city manager of Hemet, as the city manager last August. Nakamura was offered a salary of $217,000 a year by unanimous vote of the Chico City Council. That’s about $40,000 more than his predecessor, Dave Burkland, was paid.

In March, the City Council approved the hiring of Mark Orme as assistant city manager at a salary of $185,000 a year, about $27,000 more than that of his predecessor, John Rucker, who mysteriously stepped down in January. Orme and Nakamura had worked together previously, filling the same managerial roles in the Riverside County city of Hemet.

The City Council then hired Chris Constantin out of San Diego as the new finance director in the wake of Jennifer Hennessy’s decision to move to Temecula. Constantin came in at $130,000 and was bumped up to $160,000 two months later, when his title changed from finance director to administrative-services director. His salary is now about $30,000 more than what Hennessy pulled in.

Altogether, taxpayers are paying $97,000 more a year for the three new hires, whose initial message to the council was that the city is broke.

Middle-school mishandling?

The Chico Unified School District stirred up a bit of a ruckus among parents late this year after announcing a decision to move sixth-graders out of elementary schools and into middle schools comprising sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, beginning in the fall of 2015.

In addition to the fact that some parents voiced objections to sixth-graders attending school with seventh- and eighth-graders, some were upset that the first they’d heard of the plan was on the TV news and/or on Facebook. Many felt caught off-guard by the decision they believed should have been made in a more transparent way.

The issue did come before the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees in October, but few parents took notice and attended the meeting, and thus many were shocked when they found out it was a done deal. The district notified parents on Nov. 4, via letter, days after the TV station carried a story about the decision.

“It makes me feel like I can’t trust the district. I mean, is there anything else in their pipeline that they’re not telling us about?” one parent said of the CUSD’s handling of the decision and the announcement concerning it.