When supervisors run amuck

For those of us in the news business, the last few months of covering the political soap opera going on inside the Butte County Board of Supervisors’ chambers have been nothing short of astonishing. Early on, every two weeks or so brought us a new level of slapstick policy-making, led by the spectacularly bumbling Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi. Lately this political sideshow has begun to entertain on an almost daily basis, which can be frustrating for those of us who work at a weekly paper. How to convey it all to readers?

Unfortunately, while we in the press may be amused by these events, they are a disaster for the general public. Not only have they forced an expensive referendum and taken up many hours of supervisors’ time that could have been spent productively, they are resulting in legal conflicts that, at a time when revenues are down, threaten to cost the county, and taxpayers, a small fortune.

This flap over redrawing the supervisors’ district boundaries has unfolded in a manner beyond what even the most cynical of political watchers could imagine. In spring, when the issue of the upcoming redistricting was first broached, a seemingly calm and coherent Yamaguchi expressed his desire that distinct neighborhoods be respected and not split into separate districts.

But then, in July, after four reasonable and balanced plans had been submitted for public scrutiny and comment, Yamaguchi revealed his Plan 5, whose convoluted lines fit the very definition of the word “gerrymander.” He called it his “return to fairness” plan, when in reality it was nothing more than an attempt to remove the core support of voters for the two female supervisors, Mary Anne Houx, a moderate Republican, and Jane Dolan, a centrist Democrat. The plan would also split the community of Chapman and in doing so deny some 9,000 voters the opportunity to cast a ballot in the next spring’s supervisorial election.

If Yamaguchi was so confident his plan was fair, why did he not share it during the three-month public-comment period? What mystifies us the most is that two other supervisors—Curt Josiassen and Bob Beeler—have chosen to get on the runaway Yamaguchi express, which is apparently engineered by political operative David Reade.

Last week the trio removed all pretence that their motives were anything but partisan politics when they held up the appointment of attorney Coleen Jarvis as a member of the public defenders team. The appointment of Jarvis, an unabashedly liberal member of the Chico City Council, was not politically motivated. She is seen simply as the most qualified candidate for the position, which defends children’s rights in court actions. But that didn’t stop the ugly tide of fanatical politics from spilling over into what should have been a non-controversial supervisors’ vote.

We can only wonder what other unfortunate, expensive and ultimately damaging actions will be issued by this swaggering supervisorial majority.

We call on Beeler, who we think has the potential to act with greater independence (Reade managed Josiassen’s campaign, after all), to break ranks and stop this political insanity before it goes any further.

Otherwise, as is always the case when politicians run amuck, the loser here will be the people of Butte County.