Wrapping it up

Supes finish wacky year with relative normalcy

See you next year: The next Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled for Jan. 8.
After months of lawsuits, lawyers and endless redistricting discussions, the Board of Supervisors returned to a semblance of normalcy Tuesday—just in time for the last meeting of the year.

The meeting came back to the bread-and-butter issues the board usually deals with—library funding, the awarding of a sand mine’s environmental-impact report, an agreement to hire eight new correctional officers. In somewhat of a surprise move, though, the board punted on the politically sticky issue of appointing public defenders.

First off, the board agreed to support—in theory, at least—a group of county library supporters’ effort to establish a task force to bolster the library system but blinked when asked for more than $1.4 million to make that happen. Even former Chico City Manager Fred Davis, who presented the plan to the board, laughed when he uttered the figure.

“Now, I know you have tons of money just lying around in surplus, so I know we’ll get it,” he said, laughing. “Yeah, right.”

The board, which had just listened to a bleak financial forecast for 2002, laughed with him but voted unanimously to establish the task force anyway and endorse its efforts to nab grant money for the library system.

Also on the agenda was an item postponed from last week’s meeting, awarding a public defender contract to Chico City Councilwoman Coleen Jarvis. These are usually routine appointments proposed by the Public Defender Consortium and rubber-stamped by the board—until Jarvis’ name was presented last month. She’s been a vocal progressive for years and on the opposite end of the political spectrum from the current board majority.

That three-member majority, acting on complaints that the contracts ($121,000 a year) were suddenly too lucrative, agreed to put off Jarvis’ appointment until the board could study the contract awarding process. They asked County Counsel Bruce Alpert to write an opinion on the legal implications of the appointment, and Tuesday that opinion recommended that the court system (which funds the contracts and supervises the attorneys) should make all appointments for the three “juvenile dependency” public defenders’ positions.

In the end, the board followed Alpert’s advice and agreed almost without discussion to hand all appointments of Juvenile Court public defenders over to the court system.

It was presented as politically neutral, but the politics behind the decision were obvious. Denny Forland, the executive director of the Public Defender Consortium, said that the public defenders had been considering lobbying that the court system take over the appointments since “months before Jarvis’ name came into the mix,” but they hadn’t decided how to frame the discussion.

He predicted that the panel of judges from Superior Court would easily approve Jarvis’ contract. She did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

The board also agreed to award a contract for a disputed environmental-impact report on a proposed silica mine in Cherokee to a Redding firm. Department of Development Services Director Tom Buford had recommended that Sacramento firm ESA get the contract, even though the company’s $285,000 bid was $60,000 more than that of SHN, which is based in Redding. He said that ESA was simply larger and could provide a more complete report than the smaller SHN.

Interim CAO Larry Odle recommended that, because SHN had the lowest bid, it should get the project—to which mine representative Jim Wallace agreed. However, ESA representative Matt Zedar said that his company’s bid could have been so much higher than SHN’s because it hadn’t been provided with all the backup materials on the plan that SHN had been given.

Regardless, the board—with only Jane Dolan dissenting—agreed that the contract should go to the lowest bidder. Zedar didn’t oppose the motion.

The board also agreed—without comment—to hire eight new correctional officers for the Butte County Jail, bringing the staffing level up to the state’s recommended level. According to a staff report on the issue, the jail has been understaffed for years and has maintained minimum staffing levels only by requiring officers to work overtime—at an increased cost to the county.

The new hires will cost the county $70,000 more than anticipated next year.