Who to watch in 2014
Eight locals likely to make headlines this year
Last week, in our annual year-in-review issue, the CN&R looked back upon the most significant local stories of 2013. This week, in our first issue of 2014, we’re taking a look at some of the people we suspect will make headlines in the coming year.
A few of them, such as Undersheriff Kory Honea, who’ll be running for the position of Butte County sheriff in the June primary, are surefire newsmakers. The others show the promise of doing newsworthy things. They have diverse backgrounds and objectives and we look forward to watching their contributions to the community.
The chosen one
When Butte County Undersheriff Kory Honea began attending Butte College after high school, a career in law enforcement was far from his mind.
He was actually more interested in playing football, until reality and luck conspired to change his course. First, a year of playing offensive guard next to future Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Allen left him thinking he wasn’t cut out to be a career athlete. Then, he was offered a summer job working with the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, patrolling Lake Shasta by boat.
“It was one of those experiences that was kind of wasted on youth,” said Honea, whose name is pronounced “hoe-knee.” “Now, there’re some days I wish I could just be riding around Lake Shasta on a boat.”
Honea has so much on his plate, it’s impossible to fault the occasional daydream. As undersheriff, he is Sheriff Jerry Smith’s second-in-command, and oversees BCSO’s daily jail, patrol, investigation, services, courts and coroner operations.
“After we discuss what direction Sheriff Smith wants to take, he sets the course, and once that course is set, it’s my job to see that we get there,” he explained.
And with Smith’s recent announcement he will not seek re-election, the 43-year-old Honea has—with the sheriff’s full support and blessing—thrown his hat into the ring for the office, guaranteeing an especially hectic 2014.
Honea’s career with the BCSO has included stints as a jail guard and designated deputy for the Cohasset and Forest Ranch communities. He was drawn to the investigative side, and worked for many years as a detective.
In 2000, he joined the Butte County District Attorney’s Office as a special investigator. Honea pursued a law degree he then put to good use as the DA’s chief investigator and special deputy district attorney. He said his hybrid cop/lawyer experience and training gives him a unique perspective and skill set uncommon to most sheriffs.
The election aside, Honea said one of his office’s biggest challenges is dealing with changes to the criminal-justice system triggered by Assembly Bill 109, commonly known as prison realignment. “I think we really got ahead of the curve in working on mitigating impacts on public safety,” he said. “We’ve developed some positive programs that I think have the potential to change lives.”
He also said he and Smith will continue to pursue funding to renovate older portions of the county jail, increase beds to hold “those who pose a threat to public safety,” and better provide education and services that have been proven to help inmates successfully re-enter society.
Honea credited Smith with preparing him for the job. So far, Honea’s the only candidate to announce intentions to run for the office (applicants have a March deadline to file papers for the June primary).
“He’s a great boss,” Honea said of Smith. “He has allowed me to really expand my horizons, given me lots of opportunities to lead and help develop policy and procedures, and allowed me to help shape the direction we’re heading. But there’s still a lot of work to do, and I would love the opportunity to keep doing it.”
Mixing it up
For prolific local musician Scott Barwick, owner of the Origami Recording Lounge, creating, recording and performing music has long been a passion.
But his recently assuming concert-booking and sound-production duties at The Maltese Bar & Tap Room has opened an unexpected creative avenue for Barwick, who in turn is playing a hand in bringing about major changes to the neighborhood bar.
Since performing with the hippie jam band Jordhuga in the early 1990s, Barwick has seemingly dabbled in every imaginable musical genre. He wrote beats and rapped in the live hip-hop act Zzyzx; imitated heavy-metal guitar sounds on a keyboard with doom horror-soundtrack band Horror, Horror, Horror; and played guitar in the garage-rock band Candy Apple, to name just a few of his projects. Most recently, Barwick’s been making throwback sounds with Gentleman’s Coup, a ’60s-inspired psychedelic rock band.
Given his affinity for “the classics,” it follows that a visit to a San Francisco speakeasy-style bar last year sparked his interest in “this whole movement of getting back to how cocktails were made pre-Prohibition,” he said. A little more than a year ago, Barwick began researching how the cocktail world has changed since the Prohibition era and experimenting with making his own drinks.
So, when an employee of The Maltese recently approached Barwick about booking shows for the bar, he “started thinking that maybe it was my opportunity to expand on my passion for mixology.”
He met with the bar’s owner, Angela Lombardi, who, in addition to wanting Barwick’s help with promoting concerts, expressed interest in his proposed menu of classic cocktails.
“To me, the bar was missing the opportunity to pull in this demographic of the people who want a quality drink. They’re not coming out to binge drink; they just want a tasty cocktail,” Barwick said, pointing to the recently opened Winchester Goose and The Argus as examples of local establishments catering to connoisseurship.
Upcoming drink menu aside, there have already been noticeable changes at The Maltese. The shuffleboard table that used to run the length of a wall has been replaced by swank booth-seating (the booths themselves are reupholstered relics from the now-defunct Towne Lounge), while the sound and lighting systems have been beefed up significantly for shows, due largely to the addition of equipment from the Origami Lounge.
And though Barwick was hesitant to get specific, he said much broader changes to the building itself are on the near horizon, hinting at a possible remodel sometime in mid-2014.
Meanwhile, Barwick has begun familiarizing himself with tending bar at The Maltese in preparation for an upcoming weekly happy-hour appointment with local jazz-fusion group Bogg. The bar will use the happy-hour show (Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m.) to roll out a new drink menu that will include Barwick’s classic cocktails and house-made ginger beer.
City Hall insiders
Mary Fitch, Alicia Meyer and Quené Hansen
Since last August, three former city of Chico employees—Mary Fitch, Alicia Meyer and Quené Hansen—have been making waves during City Council meetings. The trio has challenged information coming from City Manager Brian Nakamura and certain council members, primarily Mayor Scott Gruendl and Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen, who’ve accused certain city employees—both rank-and-file and management—of financial mismanagement.
But the three former city employees say that the city leaders’ narrative of events isn’t so clear-cut, and they are determined to set the record straight, even if they have to do so in three-minute increments during the “business from the floor” segment that comes at the end of each meeting. That’s what two of them, Fitch and Meyer, did on Aug. 6, the month after the first round of sweeping layoffs at City Hall. Both of their jobs were casualties of the cost-cutting measures, and they were giving their take publicly for the first time.
During her three-minute allotment of speaking time at the podium, Fitch, an administrative analyst who worked for the city for a decade, accused Nakamura of lying to the public—and to the council in particular. She said she’d wanted to speak up for months, but had kept silent to keep her job. “This is about finally telling the truth. … There is corruption in this new organization. There have been lies directly told to this council during public meetings,” said Fitch, who’d accepted a layoff notice rather than “bumping” down to a lower-paying job.
Alicia Meyer, a financial-planning manager who had worked under four city managers, including (for a short time) Nakamura, followed Fitch at the podium. Without naming names, she ripped into former City Manager Tom Lando, whose overspending practices, she charges, in large part led to the city’s current straitened budget. She described some of the cost-cutting measures adopted by Lando’s successor, Greg Jones, who lasted only a short time in the position, and then spoke about former City Manager Dave Burkland, who had inherited a budget nightmare that was worsened by the Great Recession—an economic downturn that has lasted far longer than expected.
That led her to Nakamura, whom she lambasted and accused of attempting to privatize certain city functions, before taking the council to task for allowing the new city manager to do some of the same things the panel has said got the city into its current financial mess.
“Is contracting out for solid waste, info systems, city attorney, safety and who-knows-what-else going to grow Chico’s economy, or some other community?” Meyer asked. “And how do some of you [council members] face yourselves in the mirror, after whining about previous city managers who weren’t keeping you informed while allowing a current manager to ask for forgiveness, rather than permission? Did that new assistant city manager end up below the salary cap after all?”
That last question was in reference to the council’s approval of salary caps for department managers, including the $26,000 increase from the previous assistant city manager’s salary.
During a council meeting on March 5, Councilwoman Ann Schwab had asked Nakamura why, in his report asking council to approve salaries for his newly configured departments, the maximum ranges had not been included. “I just have not seen the transparency in this process,” she said.
During the same meeting, Nakamura said that the caps did not automatically mean applicants for those posts would be compensated at the top rates. However, the next morning, the Press-Enterprise newspaper announced that Mark Orme, the new assistant city manager, who worked in the same post under Nakamura in Hemet, had been hired. His salary: $185,000. His salary in Hemet: $180,000.
In the months since their initial statements, Fitch and Meyer, along with Hansen, who quit her job in the Capital Projects Services Department, have unleashed criticism after criticism of Nakamura and his tactics inside City Hall. Among their many complaints, they accuse him and his team of not responding to their requests for public records, breaching personnel rules during layoffs to retain favorite employees, a lack of transparency, and forcing out key managerial staff with vast institutional knowledge. And, in addition to being vocal at council meetings, the women have started a blog—www.truthmatterschico.com—at which they expound on their accusations.
At certain points, the trio’s communications at meetings spurred heated responses from certain council members, especially Gruendl, who has called the women “disgruntled former employees.” However, during recent meetings, the three have apparently made a breakthrough, as evidenced by Gruendl and Chris Constantin, the city’s new administrative-services director, both acknowledging that a group of former employees, which included Fitch and Meyer, had successfully helped to staunch “the hemorrhaging,” as the women put it, of one of the city’s enterprise funds.
As for their future, Fitch, Meyer and Hansen say they will continue to shed light on any missteps the current administration makes.
Putting a fresh face on outreach
Since Katrina Djberof took over in mid-February as publicist and workshop coordinator for Cultivating Community North Valley—the local “partnership of organizations working to strengthen our community through local food,” as it is described at its website, www.cultivatingcommunitynv.org—there has been a heightened vibrancy to the communications coming from the organization.
Not that its work and outreach was not attention-worthy before—far from it. But the 37-year-old Djberof—who is also the market manager for Massa Organics, and has an extensive background in organic-food education and marketing, as well as a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in environmental anthropology—has brought added flair and savvy to the way that CCNV presents itself to the community. Its colorful, eye-catching posters for its 2014 series of seed-saving workshops alone are enough to make one stand up and take notice.
“I was instrumental in defining CCNV’s mission,” Djberof said, “and creating a brochure”—an impressive glossy tri-fold that outlines the educational programs (workshops, garden workdays, mobile cooking demonstrations, and so on), services (such as community-garden consulting) and resources (e.g., bulk garden-supply store) that CCNV offers. Among other useful information, the brochure lists CCNV’s community partners: the GRUB Education Program, Chico State’s Organic Vegetable Project, healthful-food and -lifestyle promoter cChaos, and the Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion (CNAP) at the university.
“We’re doing a seed-saving series—a series of six workshops,” Djberof said. “We’re partnering with our regional seed-breeder, Kalan Redwood, of Redwood Seeds [in Manton], to offer this succession of workshops, starting in January and ending in August of 2014.” The series begins with “Seeding Cool Season Crops” on Jan. 25, which will be held in the Heartseed Greenhouse at the GRUB Cooperative on Dayton Road (cost is $10, or free for those who are income-eligible).
“We are also planning a workshop in March or April promoting small-farmer scholarships,” in which attendees will learn “how to set up farmers’-market booths” and will be walked through “the marketing psychology, regulations and standards” in the process of setting up a mock farmers’-market stand, she said.
“My hopes out of this seed-saving series are to shed light on the community garden network that exists here in Chico,” Djberof said. “We want to teach people how to plant a garden with seed-saving in mind.”
The current food-gardening and seed-saving movement “is kind of like going back to the values of our grandparents—like victory gardens,” she said. CCNV’s workshops are “an important way of revitalizing the community and getting people involved.”
A year at the helm
Today (Jan. 2) marks Chris Moore-Backman’s one-year anniversary as the executive director of the Chico Peace and Justice Center. The calm, well-spoken 42-year-old—whose name made the news during the recent cold snap when he worked with the Chico Homeless Action Team to facilitate the use of the CPJC as a nighttime warming shelter for some of Chico’s homeless population—sat down recently to talk with the CN&R.
“Whether we’re talking about the homeless or about [the U.S.’ racialized system of] mass incarceration, we’re talking about an undercaste,” said Moore-Backman, a Gandhi scholar whose ongoing work on the Bringing Down the New Jim Crow radio-documentary series, a CPJC “core program,” is widely known (go to www.prx.org/series/32471-bringing-down-the-new-jim-crow to access).
“Michelle [Alexander, the author of the book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, upon which the radio series is based] argues that people felonized in our country are primarily of color. The criminalization of homeless people just because they’re poor resembles that in many ways.
“These are the groups that that are equivalent to the untouchables in India.”
Moore-Backman compared his earlier experience working in a migrant-resource center—which “received migrants who were exited from the United States”—in the Mexican town of Agua Prieta (across the border from Douglas, Ariz.) to his current New Jim Crow work: “My experience with those people [deported Mexican migrants] being criminalized for crossing that line in search of work and money to send home to their families connects to my work now … raising awareness about mass incarceration in the U.S., particularly the disproportionate targeting of communities of color in the war on drugs. …
“Basically, what I’m trying to do is create a bridge for our community of Chico to the growing national movement to dismantle mass incarceration.” In addition to the PRX-distributed radio series, Moore-Backman also oversaw a four-session New Jim Crow study circle this past year, during which “Chicoans got together to have face-to-face, heart-to-heart dialogue about race and criminal justice in the U.S. and in our community.” Along those same lines, the CPJC brought Susan Burton—an African-American ex-felon who founded the wildly successful A New Way of Life Reentry Project in Southern California—to speak at the CPJC’s annual dinner in October, an event that attracted, in Moore-Backman’s words, “a wonderful turnout of people of color, of young people, of families.”
“Mass incarceration is arguably the worst human-rights crisis we face as a nation today,” Moore-Backman said, adding that “taking on mass incarceration has powerful implications for other movements, whether they relate to food justice, militarization, the environment, health care. …
“Historically, the Peace and Justice Center has been focused on anti-militarization kinds of work, but my feeling … is that all the movements that we would hope would succeed in countering the forces of empire—whether that’s anti-military or environmental or other movements—if we remain a divided community with this enormous proportion of people of color trapped by the prison-industrial complex, we won’t be able to build movements powerful enough to actually turn this thing around.
“We need all hands on deck—so ending mass incarceration, to me, is a prerequisite for building the needed movements.”
Look for the CPJC’s new Alternatives to Violence Project workshop series, which will begin sometime this month.
New cultural sheriff in town
The first thing that jumps out about Stephen Cummins upon meeting him for the first time is that he wears cowboy boots. Though he came to his new job as director of Chico State’s University Public Events from his former gig as director of performing arts for College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., an affluent suburb of Chicago, Cummins is originally a Texas boy. He grew up in Lubbock, “home of Buddy Holly,” he pointed out. “I grew up listening to Joe Ely,” he added, listing the honky-tonker along with fellow Lubbock natives The Maines Brothers Band as two of his “dream” bookings.
Cummins’ rootsy background came as a welcome surprise in the man who has ridden into town to try to fill the very big shoes of retired UPE Director Dan DeWayne. For 13 years, the much-loved promoter was the face of Chico Performances—the primary job for the director, whose responsibilities also include overseeing the KCHO public-radio station, the University Box Office and Laxson Auditorium—which has been the standard-bearer for bringing world-class performing arts to this college town.
Of course, given the fact that Cummins is currently overseeing a season curated by his predecessor, we have yet to see what he’ll do in that role. “I’m sort of in an information-gathering stage,” he said.
Meanwhile, while he books the next school-year’s calendar of events, and as he and his wife Sunday and their 11-year-old daughter have gotten settled in Chico, Cummins said he’s been busy meeting people in an effort to get to know the city and to assess its needs. In addition to picking the brains of DeWayne and previous UPE Director Pat Kopp, he’s made the rounds in the community, meeting with the Downtown Chico Business Association, the Chamber of Commerce and even fellow producers such as Bob Littell of the Sierra Nevada Big Room.
But he did give some general ideas about what’s in store.
“I’ve probably got 20 events already lined up,” he said, citing the usual diverse range of acts that Chico Performances is known for: classical, world, jazz, Americana and other forms of music; dance programs; and theater, an area of the arts that Cummins—who has a master’s degree in theater—was particularly excited about in the next season.
“We’re working on a theatrical event that I think will be fantastically different than what people have seen before,” he said.
And though there are no confirmations during these planning stages, a few tantalizing possibilities were written on Cummins’ dry-erase-board wish list—including comedian Mike Birbiglia and another Texas boy, Willie Nelson.
As part of putting together an eclectic schedule, Cummins said he wants to try to fill any needs that aren’t being met in the community, including performances that are geared toward students, something that has been challenging for the university, especially given the absence in the last few years of the Associated Students’ A.S. Presents program.
“That’s the challenge—looking at future seasons—how do you program for all demographics?” Cummins said. “When I was hired, they said, ‘How do we get more students to Laxson?’” His answer was twofold: program to them and discount the price.
Asked what his hope was for his future with UPE and the performances he brings to Laxson, Cummins’ message was simple: “I hope people will take a chance.”