What were they thinking?

All the things in 2018 that made us go, ‘Huh?’

Former Stonewell Alliance Center Executive Director Thomas Kelem.

Former Stonewell Alliance Center Executive Director Thomas Kelem.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Bad news board

For five years, Thomas Kelem led the Stonewall Alliance Center. He was a well-liked leader known for helping the nonprofit expand its scope of services and programs for the LGBTQ community.

In May, however, Stonewall’s board of directors dismissed Kelem from his post as executive director, shocking the Stonewall family. The decision to fire him, over a “confidential personnel matter,” came just five months before his planned retirement.

For 10 days after that move, the board was silent about its decision, sowing mistrust and anger among Stonewall’s members, who showed up in force at a community forum to criticize the organization for lack of communication, representation and transparency.

Stonewall eventually righted its ship: Most of the board resigned. The two remaining members, with the help of longtime volunteers, established a new board, brought in a clinical counseling services director and center coordinator, and managed to pull off Stonewall’s annual Chico Pride celebration.

Retroactive revolt

Cities have been grappling with how to regulate vacation rentals since the explosion of services like Airbnb and VRBO about 10 years ago.

In 2017, the city of Chico cited a couple for such a rental, saying they weren’t allowed. After the homeowners sued and a judge ruled that the city had erred, officials changed course. In 2018, they amended city code to include the aforementioned type of properties in the section calling for the collection of transient occupancy taxes (TOT)—a fee historically paid by hotel, motel and bed and breakfast operators. Here in Chico, that tax amounts to 10 percent.

That about-face took place last spring and, with about 200 vacation rentals operating in Chico, the city was poised to bring in an additional $140,000 to $160,000 in TOT funds per year.

Vacation rental owners soon found out, however, that the city intended to retroactively tax them for the past year of business, many receiving notices in the mail with hundreds to upward of thousands of dollars owed.

After the CN&R covered the issue—including in an editorial calling the retroactive grab a “shakedown”—the City Council directed City Manager Mark Orme to facilitate an appeals process, with the intent to work with folks to waive fees prior to Sept. 1.

Toadies together

District 1 Rep. Doug LaMalfa has no shame when it comes to supporting President Trump. But one particular event that stuck out in 2018 was when LaMalfa brought Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare to town as a featured speaker at his high-dollar re-election campaign fundraiser.

Here’s a reminder of who he is for those of you thinking, Devin who?

Doug LaMalfa

photo by Ashiah scharaga

Nunes is the Trump sycophant who is infamous for having met secretly on the White House grounds with members of POTUS’ team to view documents allegedly confirming the president’s claim he’d been wiretapped by the Obama administration during the presidential campaign—a conspiracy theory debunked by U.S. intelligence officials.

Nunes, one-time chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is accused of repeatedly taking steps to shield the president from the investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 general election. Even Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham called on him to recuse himself from the matter.

That LaMalfa would bring him to town speaks volumes.

Wisdom of the mayor

Last spring, Sean Morgan, who was Chico’s mayor at the time, appeared on local TV news lambasting the efforts of a group that spends each Sunday afternoon at City Plaza, providing food for and fellowship with homeless people.

“They don’t have the moral high ground,” Morgan told a reporter. “They’re hurting these people by empowering them.”

It’s likely Morgan’s statement was a sort of trial balloon—to test the waters on how it would go over if he and the other conservatives put forward policy prohibiting food distribution at the site. Based on further comments by the mayor in that interview, in which he mimicked some of the pushback from the community, he knew his comments would offend people.

“Oh, you’re outlawing homelessness. Oh, you rotten person. Oh, we’re just trying to feed people. We’re just trying to do the right thing,” Morgan whined.

Well put, we say.

Bikini baristas

Bottoms Up Espresso

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

In August, local coffee drinkers learned they’d soon be able to get a show with their blended mocha. That’s because the Java Detour signage at the drive-thru stand at East First and Mangrove avenues had been replaced with the promise of something much more risqué: Bottoms Up Espresso, featuring bikini-clad baristas.

Local parents and prudes immediately took to social media to condemn the place before it even opened. Their efforts appear to have, at least in part, worked—while the coffee stand is still in business (somehow—it always seems slow), Bottoms Up’s Chico location has neither a Yelp nor a Facebook page, and the franchise owner has avoided being named in the news. While the proprietors seem to have thin skin, the young women working for them are still showing plenty of theirs.

Drive-thru snafu

Back in July, a handful of business owners appealed a use permit approved by the city zoning administrator for a Subway drive-thru in a retail strip on Nord Avenue across from Safeway (and the existing Subway sandwich shop, which wanted to move).

The logistics were problematic, to say the least. Creating a drive-thru would eliminate parking spaces and prevent delivery trucks from accessing existing businesses. Plus, cars would have to loop in front of a heavily trafficked pedestrian route for students who live in the apartments behind the businesses. Not to mention the fact that the intersection closest to the proposed drive-thru is already so congested it’s slated to become a roundabout.

The Chico City Council saw the light and nixed the use permit. (Then-Councilman Mark Sorensen and Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer apparently thought the Subway plan was solid, however, and voted to let it move forward. What were they thinking?)

Former Chico Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer.

Photo by howard hardee

Double trouble

Former Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer spent four years as a representative of our fair city—and each year she’s made the CN&R’s “What were they thinking?” compilation.

While there are many memorable gaffes from which to choose, a couple stood out in 2018, the second and last year of her term as vice mayor.

First: Fillmer’s decision to appear in a campaign ad for Rep. Doug LaMalfa in which she besmirched one of her own constituents—congressional candidate Audrey Denney. Not a smart move. It even led to her losing her job at a local agricultural lending company.

Then: As if that wasn’t bad enough, Fillmer decided to sue her workplace and publicize the whole drama in a story in Redding’s daily paper.

As we reported, her lawsuit likely is meritless. So, what did she accomplish? Infuriating a large portion of Chico, losing employment and putting up red flags to prospective employers.

Do you know the way to the exit?

An audience member inside the Paradise Performing Arts Center captured on video the moment when legendary American singer Dionne Warwick walked onto the stage in street clothes and announced that she would not be performing the show scheduled for that night, March 29. With North Valley Productions owner/promoter Steve Schuman standing at her side, she told the story of her good friend Sammy Davis Jr. giving her the advice to always give your all in a performance, even if there’s an audience of only one but always get paid first. Warwick said she had not been paid as promised, and so, for the first time in her career, would not go on.

Schuman then announced to the sparse crowd—the low attendance was presumably the reason he didn’t pay Warwick—that they’d be refunded the cost of their tickets.


Doin’ the paw-scootin’ boogie in a screenshot from Butte County Sheriff’s lip-sync challenge video.

Meanwhile, out here in the boondocks

It may seem cynical to fault anyone for dancing and singing with their friends and co-workers, but dang … this is too cringe-worthy to ignore.

This past summer, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office answered the lip-sync challenge, a public-relations stunt that law-enforcement all over the country took part in. In a video posted to YouTube, personnel from the sheriff’s dispatch, K-9, marine, corrections and air units put Butte County’s most redneck foot forward by singing and (kind of) dancing along to Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” Cheesiness and embarrassing representation aside, the allocation of so many resources (including a boat and helicopter!) in an effort to polish the image of law enforcement tarnished by widespread discrimination in its ranks was a pretty tone-deaf move.

Drama on the dais

If Chicoans thought their City Council was fractured, they only needed to look south to Oroville for a more volatile panel. In July, things came to a head when five members, including Vice Mayor Janet Goodson, passed a resolution to censure the mayor, Linda Dahlmeier. They argued she’d violated the city’s ethics code with her conduct toward employees and the council; specifically, that she “disrespected” staff, “created a hostile work environment” and “falsely accused individual council members in open meetings of conspiracy and collusion against her.”

Dahlmeier, who denied the allegations, fired back that, because the resolution wasn’t on the agenda, it violated the Brown Act. So, the five called two emergency meetings (one of them in closed session) and ultimately rescinded the censure and then voted to reinstate it.

Then, in October, District Attorney Mike Ramsey addressed the Oroville council and accused the same five of violating the Brown Act in a separate incident. Each could be charged with a misdemeanor, he said.

Former Chico Police Sgt. Scott Ruppel.

Photo by Ken Smith

Not guilty? Seriously?

A few months ago, the CN&R covered the trial of former Chico Police Sgt. Scott Ruppel over an incident in which he choked a man in custody named William Michael Rowley.

The incident was discovered and charges against Ruppel filed after investigators with the Butte County District Attorney’s Office viewed the video footage captured by another officer’s lapel camera to bolster their case against Rowley.

The video shows Ruppel—a veteran officer—grabbing Rowley by the throat and thrusting him back with great force. The footage is damning, but further bolstering the case against the cop was a fellow CPD officer who testified that the maneuver can inflict serious harm and is not approved by or taught within the department.

But this is a two-fold example of “What were they thinking?”

Not only does it apply to Ruppel, it also should be asked of the DA’s office. The DA-approved jury included a criminal justice student who said he wants to pursue a career in law enforcement, a former officer of 25 years, and a man who stated he was acquaintances with several Chico police officers.

The end result: Ruppel was found not guilty.