Michael Stauffer (pictured) was standing in front of Flo’s Café on Fifth Street early in the morning last week, pointing a set of keys at the maroon Subaru station wagon parked on the street. He was trying to lock the doors via remote control. He told me one beep from the horn meant locked, two unlocked—or vice versa. It wasn’t cooperating so he had to walk up and check the door of the car that belongs to his late wife Coleen Jarvis, the city councilmember who died May 21 at age 46. He felt a bit sheepish driving the car. “You probably shouldn’t take a photo of it—might look bad,” he said with a shake of his head. Having lived with Jarvis the last 10 years, Stauffer is well aware of how politics sometimes plays out in Chico. He’d been busy the previous two weeks handling the unpleasant but necessary business of death. His home had been filled—inside and out—with family, hospice workers, friends and well-wishers. Now, for the first time in a very long while, he was alone. “It’s hard to sleep,” he said. Still, he seemed remarkably upbeat. He wanted to announce that he would seek the appointment to fill the empty council seat. He would not, if selected, seek election in November. The term officially expires the first week of December. The council will take up the issue at its June 14 budget meeting, beginning at 6 p.m.
Included in the family’s press release announcing Jarvis’s death was the suggestion that the remaining council members appoint Stauffer to the seat. The release said Stauffer had Jarvis’s “blessing” to do this. Councilmembers Steve Bertagna and Dan Herbert both remarked that they thought it inappropriate to discuss such matters so soon. They both said it made them “sick.” Turns out, the couple never really discussed the matter directly. “We didn’t talk about ‘when you die,’” he said, so the subject never really came up. “People asked if I wanted to run [should she not be able to] and I said no. I did talk to her about that, that if she were here I was not going to run.” Jarvis and Stauffer did each independently talk with friends and in that roundabout way it was established that Jarvis wanted him to fill the seat. “I had her blessing if I wanted to,” he said. “I feel like the city and the people who voted for her deserve to have Coleen’s representation continue.”
Stauffer is 56, was born in Kingsville, Texas, which is south of Corpus Christi, and comes from a family of oil men. But that’s about as far as his parallels with our current president go. At an early age his family moved to Houston, where he was raised and in 1968, after a few years at Texas A&M, he moved to Santa Monica to work for the Trinity Buckle Company. He was drafted by the military in 1970. He was stationed in Monterey and after he got out he moved to Oakland and with two partners started Basic Tool Supply which made buckles and fasteners for mountaineering equipment. The company worked out of a warehouse at the Oakland Airport and eventually employed 300 people. For the next 17 years he lived in Danville. He sold his interest in the company and eventually met Jarvis through a mutual friend and former Paradise resident, Ralphie Herman. Stauffer made a bundle of money off the sale of his company, but you wouldn’t know by his dress or demeanor. “As my income increased, my lifestyle stayed the same,” he explained. He is a handyman and a fisherman, and politically a “pragmatic” independent. “I’ve voted in every election since I was able to,” he said. He more recently registered as a Democrat, he said, because he wanted to vote in the primary elections.
Don’t expect a smooth appointment process. It will take four votes, meaning councilmembers Dan Nguyen-Tan, Scott Gruendl and Mayor Maureen Kirk need to be joined by one of the three other council members. Bertagna and Herbert have each signaled less-than-enthusiastic endorsement for Stauffer and Councilmember Larry Wahl, contacted this week, said he hadn’t thought about it. “I really don’t know [Stauffer],” Wahl said. “He always stayed in the background.” Wahl said he had no candidates of his own in mind.