Who to watch in 2006

People likely to make a difference in the coming year

Greg Jones

Greg Jones

Photo By Tina Flynn

With this issue we finally leave 2005 behind (good riddance) and turn our sights to the coming year with an eye on those among us who we think are worth watching. For the most part, we consider new people moving into influential positions. From city manager to hospital CEO to director of the homeless shelter, these are the people whose decisions affect thousands and whose performance helps make or break our community.

This is a random list and inevitably we are leaving many off the list and including some that maybe won’t pan out. If you can think of someone we may have missed, please let us know. In the meantime, have a great new year.

New boss
Jones steps up to city manager position

The job of city manager in Chico is arguably the most important, and powerful, position in city government. The City Council is still made up of people in part-time positions, elected at large under the leadership of a weak mayor system—he or she runs the council meetings, sets the council agenda and cuts ribbons at new store openings.

The council relies heavily upon the city manager for procedural advice, city history and though elected officials are loathe to admit it, political advice in a town that is politically charged.

New City Manager Greg Jones steps into the job after just more than a year as assistant city manager to the out-going City Manager Tom Lando.

Jones was hired in Chico as an assistant city manager in October 2004, coming from the city of Concord, where he’d served as assistant city manager for 14 years. He was hired with the idea of eventually stepping into Lando’s job, but somewhere along the line, word got out that he was content to stay as an assistant and had no interest in the top spot.

Jones says today that was a misunderstanding.

“It came down to my sitting down with the council and making sure I could meet their expectations,” he said. “We did that, and we got things cleared up and now I’m on board and ready to go.”

Jones, 43, was born and raised in Ellensburg, Wash. and attended Central Washington University where both his parents worked. He said the town is similar to Chico—a university town surrounded by agricultural lands—and that Central regularly plays Chico State in basketball.

His wife, Betty, and he each have three children from previous marriages and all are now adults.

He learned about the job in Chico through a recruiting process, came here for an interview and realized what a great town this is.

Dan Neumeister

Photo By Devanie Angel

“I was surprised at the cost of living here in terms of housing,” he said. “Fortunately I came here from the Bay Area and so wasn’t too shocked by the housing prices.”

He said he has a style of management in which he sets goals, makes sure everyone knows the mission and then lets the people working for him utilize their talents.

“I’m pretty open to employee ideas and innovation. I always realize there are better ways to do things, so I’m open to that sort of environment.”

He says that environment is one that does not discourage people from taking risks.

“I don’t think anything happens without risks. I’m not going to chop anybody’s hand off for taking a risk—a reasonable risk.”

He recognizes change is at hand with the transition from Lando, noting the former city manager’s wealth of experience and knowledge. He is also keenly aware of the similar traits of value that are leaving with longtime Assistant City Manager Trish Dunlap

“Certainly we are going to experience some transitional issues because of the institutional knowledge that will be lost,” he said. “There is nothing we can do about that. I’ve told everybody that is just a fact and we are going to have to work through it and deal with it.”

Lando will still be around in consultant’s role to help on certain jobs, but Jones looks forward to making the job his own.

“I look at it as an opportunity, in terms of breaking free some things that are just institutionalized to the point where they have to be changed. We all create habits to give us time to do other things and free ourselves from making decisions every second of the day. I understand that.”

Still, he’s keeping things in perspective.

“This job is not an ego thing. I’m not feeling like I have to make my mark.”

Top dog
Enloe’s Neumeister foresees ‘culture shift’

From building an image to expanding a building, Dan Neumeister, the new chief executive officer of Enloe Medical Center, is in for a challenging year.

Larry Bassow and Connie Huyck

Photo By Mark Lore

“It’s kind of a humbling opportunity,” says Neumeister, who has been with the hospital for nine years. “I feel part of Chico. I love Chico.”

Enloe is an institution in transition. Former CEO Phil Wolfe stepping down effective Jan. 1 makes the hospital leaner, and likely adds to Neumeister’s 12-hour workdays. It also cleared the way in recent months to merge Enloe Medical Center and Enloe Health Systems, which had been operating separately. With the change came a new board, new bylaws and new energy.

The hospital is implementing its strategic plan, and Neumeister wants his legacy to include seeing Enloe make a “culture shift” to a patient-centered care model. “It creates a healing environment, a compassionate environment, less institutional-feeling [in which patients] participate as a team member, versus the old style where we would tell patients what we were going to do.”

“The No. 1 goal,” for 2006, he says, “is the Century Project"—the hospital’s $85 million expansion that would double its size on The Esplanade. Some have fought the expansion in the historic neighborhood, fearing traffic, loss of character and other problems. A “charrette” that invited citizens’ input, along with delays in the environmental impact report process, stretched out the construction timeline. Still, Neumeister says, revising the design to one that’s more neighborhood-friendly turned out to be “a very positive thing. We’ve ended up with a better project.”

Neumeister, whom unions labeled “Dan, Dan the hatchet man” years ago after staffing cuts, says he doesn’t take such criticism personally. Last month he barely blinked when the California Nurses Association and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West named him “Scrooge of the Year.”

He says he’d rather not “exacerbate things” by talking much about unions, especially the CNA, with which Enloe is currently in negotiations. Both the CNA and SEIU-UHW West have picketed and blasted the administration for paying its leaders top-dollar while housekeepers, nurses’ assistants and others employed by Enloe or its subcontractor, Compass, barely get by.

Neumeister says he’s committed to challenge last year’s close union election results, despite recent defeats in the appeal process. “All we really are looking for is a fair election, and that what our employees want is what our employees get.”

He does plan to put more attention toward “communicating better to our stakeholders,” even though he said Enloe probably won’t hire for a position it advertised as “communications strategist” for budgetary reasons.

“It’s always a challenge when we hear some of the misperceptions,” he says, specifically mentioning recent attention paid to the hospital’s infection rate, which has increased in some areas but by most accounts is still under the national average. “[We want to] be as transparent as we can about issues.”

Ultimately, he says, “We’re in the business of caring for patients.”

Greek to them
Greek advisers try to keep Greeks on the straight and narrow

It seems like the entire world has been watching Chico State University and Chico’s Greek community lately—for obvious reasons.

Since Matthew Carrington’s death in February of last year, local fraternities and sororities have struggled to shake the public’s perception of them as being nothing more than out-of-control drinking clubs. The university has since toughened its stance on how Greek organizations conduct themselves, compiling a list of 59 guidelines that must be followed in order to remain recognized by the school.

Chet Francisco

Photo By Devanie Angel

Now, after a semester of dormancy, recruiting and “Rush Week” will resume in the spring, but university officials say things won’t be the same.

“We don’t want to give the false impression that we’re where we need to be, but we’re on the right track,” said Connie Huyck, Greek life adviser at Chico State.

Huyck and Larry Bassow, who was brought in as a Greek life adviser in December, agree that change won’t happen overnight, but said it will be their job to keep the Greek system moving in the right direction.

“They’re all struggling with different [guidelines],” said Bassow, who was assistant director for residence programs at Chico State. ‘But what’s encouraging is they’ve all accepted this new world and they’re moving forward in it.”

Both Huyck and Bassow are firm—break the rules, you lose university recognition. So what’s to keep fraternities from becoming another Chi Tau, which wasn’t required to follow IFC or university rules?

Huyck said it’s in the best interest of Greeks to look after one another, explaining that one bad incident, even from an unrecognized organization, reflects poorly on the entire system and the university.

‘If you do 10 good things and one bad thing, the one bad thing is what everyone is going to hear.”

She said it’s in Greek organizations’ nature to want to be recognized. Phi Kappa Tau, kicked out of the IFC in April 2005 for making a porno film, is currently trying to regain its university recognition.

But there is also the reality that some groups may not want to cooperate. The Alpha Chi sorority was suspended last semester for promoting rush events. And Tau Gamma Theta was kicked out for recruiting new members.

Bassow said it could take years before things smooth out, and that the upcoming semester will be a good indicator of how things proceed.

‘Having some success with these rules over time, even a semester, is going to show those outside groups that this is where they need to be.”

The university will also hold a new member training program next semester, which Huyck hopes will keep potential pledges from allowing themselves to be hazed.

Both Huyck and Bassow agree that despite all the good the Greeks do, it’s a volatile time with no margin for error.

Heather Schlaff

Photo By Alexis Harmon

‘If they make a bad decision, all of it gets washed away,” Bassow said. ‘Mak[ing] good decisions and tak[ing] care of each other I think solves 99 percent of our problems.”

Superstar supe
Francisco could make over CUSD

While some are still scratching their heads over why Chet Francisco would want to leave a growing, high-achieving SoCal school district for a smaller one with declining enrollment, a bare-bones budget and a mixed bag of test scores, the Chico Unified School District’s new superintendent is feeling optimistic about 2006.

During the interview process, trustees came back from Francisco’s previous district of eight years, Murrieta Valley Unified in Riverside County, fairly gushing. Francisco started work Oct. 1.

Francisco recently sent a delegate of CUSD administrators to Murrieta to see how programs were designed there, but hopes people don’t read too much into that. “I think that’s a very natural thing for people to be concerned about—that I’d come up here and try to do a cookie cutter,” he says. “Chico is its own district, its own community; it has its own history and its own needs and desires.

“The No. 1 thing that we’re addressing is the whole student-achievement area,” he says. “How can we work together better; how can we utilize our resources better?” While test scores, which typically follow socioeconomic lines, have been steadily rising in the CUSD, there are still schools that have been labeled “underperforming” by the government, and one, Chapman Elementary, is in its final year of “program-improvement” status, meaning the state could step in and take it over.

Also in 2006, Francisco wants to step up decision-making on Chico’s planned third comprehensive high school, including exploring legal options for the bonds approved by voters in 1998. Enrollment has dropped and construction costs have risen, leaving the “schools are overcrowded” debate ripe for a rematch. A workshop on the Canyon View High School issue is planned for February, with board action scheduled for March.

“I don’t think there really is an ideal size [for a school],” Francisco says. “You can make almost any size work if you have the right people who love and care about kids and believe in leading by example.” He’s also open to discussions of middle school-type concepts.

Francisco says he doesn’t plan to revisit decisions made before he came on board, including ending year-round education, closing schools and demoting Marsh Junior High School Principal Jeff Sloan (whose supporters have not approached him on the topic). And he plans to cooperate fully with the Butte County Grand Jury’s continuing investigation. “You go into a situation and you take it as it is,” he says.

“It’s difficult to be super-optimistic about budgeting in the state of California right now,” he acknowledges, adding that improving programs is the CUSD’s best bet for boosting enrollment.

Above all, Francisco says, he wants to see “kids learning and teachers working together to provide the best possible education.”

Armed with a $170,000-a-year salary, Francisco and his wife have bought a house in Forest Ranch and plan on sticking around. “My wife and I were ready for a full life change. [We thought], ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a university town.’ We decided, ‘Let’s do it.'”

Eyes on the Wal
Anti-Wal-Mart group ready to swing into action

Corla Bertrand

Photo By Devanie Angel

Heather Schlaff and other members of Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy, or C.A.R.E, have been waiting for years. Other than a few early Planning Commission meetings and a community screening of Robert Greenwald’s film Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, the group remains little more than an e-mail list. But that may be about to change.

The group, with more than 200 members, formed two years ago in opposition to the proposed expansion of Chico’s existing Forest Avenue Wal-Mart into a nearly 225,000-square-foot supercenter and the planned construction of a new Wal-Mart supercenter seven miles to the north, between The Esplanade and Highway 99 on what is now the Sunset Hills Golf Course.

Though news of the plans broke in October of 2003, neither project has commenced. Both sites have been undergoing full environmental impact reports in recent months, with a draft available for public review in the works.

At that point, when the results are public and a hearing date is set, the grassroots organization, based around the Web site, will shift into high gear.

“We would hope to get people to come [to the hearing], to send public comments by regular mail or by e-mail to your city councilors, to the planning commission members,” said Heather Schlaff, who helped to found the organization.

For now, Schlaff and C.A.R.E. volunteers will stick to fostering awareness and adding names to their growing e-mail list.

C.A.R.E hopes to shed light on Wal-Mart’s alleged unfair business and labor practices, gender and racial discriminations and the potentially harmful effects the supercenters would have on local businesses and the community.

C.A.R.E’s focus is not on eliminating the existing Wal-Mart, but rather stopping the corporation’s sprawling expansion plans.

“It’s not a matter of closing Wal-Mart,” Schlaff insists. “One exists here, one exists in Oroville, one exists in Willows, one exists in Red Bluff. No one is being deprived of shopping at Wal-Mart.”

The group does want the community to know the real cost to taxpayers, cities, foreign factory workers, and Wal-Mart’s own underpaid employees. C.A.R.E. lends out free DVD versions of a Wal-Mart documentary for individual screenings as part of its campaign.

“It’s a matter of educating people on what it’s really all about. That there’s really more than just a low price involved,” Schlaff said.

Encouraged by recently successful bans and lawsuits against Wal-Mart, Schlaff maintains, “It’s always important to speak up.”

Home again
Bertrand fills big shoes at the homeless shelter

Wally Herger

Corla Bertrand’s search for “meaningful work” led her to the Torres Community Shelter three months ago.

She took over for Tami Ritter, who stepped down as executive director in July 2005 after five years that included seeing the shelter built in March 2003. Bertrand knows “powerhouse” Ritter has set a big example, but Bertrand is happy to bring “a new face, a new approach to things.”

This year should bring a new building to the shelter on Silver Dollar Way, allowing it to house more people, add a dining area and provide meals via a commercial kitchen, rather than just a warming kitchen. “The space is awesome,” Bertrand says, looking over architects’ renderings. “It’s going to be so much more functional.”

The new building, funded by the city, grants and donations, will mean more services as it will also provide office space for social service agencies that clients without transportation currently have a hard time accessing. There will even be a medical exam room.

“We hope to put it out to bid by early March,” Bertrand says of the project that will double the shelter’s size.

The shelter’s staff of eight and its board (which has a new mix of volunteers) have been meeting to refine the nonprofit’s vision for the future.

Bertrand says homelessness has always been an issue of concern for her, and there’ve been times when she herself has lived from paycheck to paycheck, but it really hit home while she was attending graduate school in San Francisco last year. “The homelessness in San Francisco is so in-your-face that it was hard to ignore,” she says. “Here [in Chico], homeless folks are largely invisible.”

They stream into the shelter starting around 4:30 to get a hot meal and a bed for the night. With the winter rains, the number of people seeking shelter has risen to at least 50 per night.

For Bertrand, some elements of her new job have come as a surprise. For one thing, there’s a lot of administrative matters to deal with, so she isn’t able to mix much with the shelter’s clients. Still, she’s been taken aback by how many families with young children rely on the shelter. “There a large percentage of folks here who are working and really trying to put their lives together.”

Bertrand’s professional background includes spiritual counseling and hypnotherapy and her office includes representations as diverse as Buddha, Christ and Kuan Xin, the Chinese goddess of mercy.

She hopes to use her skills to build more and broader relationships in the community, and build on already-accepting church connections.

“I’m delighted to be here,” she says. “I really feel like it’s a blessing to me.”

Career politician
Will Herger mark second decade as congressman?

Christine Fulton

Photo By Jason Cassidy

The day after Wally Herger was elected to the state Assembly, after serving three years on the East Nicholas school board, he told the Marysville Appeal Democrat why he believed he won the seat: “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. People are sick and tired about what’s been happening here in the last four years. They’re sick and tired of the professional politicians.”

That was in 1980.

Twenty-six years later, and barring an unanticipated announcement of retirement, a scandal of DeLayian proportions or a viable Democratic candidate with the unlikely combination of money, charisma and support from the party, look for Wally Herger, R-Chico, to get re-elected for the 10th time to Congress this mid-term election year.

Herger is a stalwart conservative, a team player for the Republican Party and devoted supporter of his president. He voted for a budget that in his words curbed “wasteful spending,” on programs like welfare, Medicaid and student loan programs. He endorses legislation to build fences along the U.S.-Mexican border. He supports the war in Iraq, saying if we weren’t fighting there we’d be fighting in America.

Herger turns 61 this year, but has said he has no plans to retire. No wonder. If he did so right now, he would not be eligible for an immediate full pension. But he’s close. According to the rules of the Federal Employees Retirement System, a member of the house who is at least 50 and has served 20 years (25 years for those younger than 50) is entitled to an immediate and full pension upon retirement.

Herger, despite enjoying a safe haven in a very conservative Northern California, is a big raiser and spender of campaign contributions. Since 1989 Herger has raised $5.5 million and spent $4.8 million, according to the Web site opensecrets.com. Half of that money has come from Political Action Committees, 94 percent of which have been business—as opposed to labor—based (4 percent) PACs.

Herger’s top contributors in that time have been the National Association of Realtors ($64,250), American Maritime Officers ($45,500), Farmers’ Rice Cooperative ($28,150), Americans for Free International Trade ($28,000) and the American Medical Association ($27,650).

According to the Web site OnTheIssues, Herger’s voting record shows he strongly opposes a woman’s right to abortion, civil rights protection based on sexual orientation, federal funding for health coverage, linking human rights to trade with China, reduced use of coal, oil and nuclear energy and reduced spending on the Star Wars missile defense program.

Herger strongly favors prayer in public schools, privatizing Social Security, the death penalty, mandatory three-strikes sentencing, expanded free trade, greater military spending and decreased taxation on the wealthy.

Look for Herger to get elected for another two-year term this election year.

Be prepared
Christine Fulton and Crux Arts Collective start the new year in a new location

If you read the CN&R’s year-end issue last week, you may have come across the mysterious words of 23-year-old Crux Artist Collective director Christine Fulton: “Please expect nothing, but be prepared for something.”

The nothing/something Fulton is referring to is the newer and much bigger location Crux will soon occupy in downtown Chico. If all goes as planned, on Feb. 1, nearly one year after the cooperative arts venue’s birth in an aluminum warehouse in south Chico, Fulton and her energetic Cruxters will begin revamping a 6,000-square-foot portion of the auto warehouse maintained by New Autos Inc. (on Broadway between Sixth and Seventh streets).

With her graduation from Chico State’s art studio program just days behind her, Fulton has taken over for founding Crux director Terry Dote, and with her passionate cohorts Weston Thomson and David Sutherland, she is kicking off a career in the field by expanding Crux into what promises to be one of Chico’s most bustling arts locations.

“This is a serious job for me,” Fulton said on a recent afternoon as a rainstorm tapped across the aluminum roof of what will soon be the former Crux space. “My dad’s always owned his own business, so I’ve always seen people just doing their thing, setting their own everything.”

Originally from Sacramento, Fulton worked in Dad’s pawn shops during her teens before moving to Chico for school at 18. Dad also has a background in home improvement, and he’ll be bringing his experience to town to help with the Collective’s preparation of the new space. A process Fulton hopes will take about four weeks.

“It’s an old warehouse, but it’s pretty inside,” Fulton said. “It’s got these gigantically tall arched ceilings and it’s got eight skylights in it.

“I haven’t worked out my lease or anything yet, but the new guys that are going to be the landlords for some reason they’re really fabulous. They really like the idea.”

In addition to renting out several 10-foot-by-10-foot artist studios, the current Crux space has become one of the more active all-around arts venues in town, hosting not only visual arts exhibitions (such as the recent Chico Women’s Center’s annual Erotic Art Show), but also a wide-range of eclectic multi-discipline happenings mixing music, art and performance. If all goes as planned, the new location will be able to facilitate the Crux mission of “building an artistically active community” even more, with additional studios, a large stage and performance space, and eventually a community work space and shop area.

“I’m hoping people will be like, ‘Oh, this is place where I can do something of my own and create something,'” Fulton shared, adding, “We want people to come pitch ideas to us for events, especially if we’re going to have a large space where we can actually do more than one thing at a time.

“It’s just going to be a whole new world down there. We’re just going to go for it.”