Out of bounds?

Councilwoman resigns amid rumors of residing elsewhere, after a councilman quits citing politically driven harassment

Former Chico city councilwoman, Kami Denlay. (CN&R file photo)

In the course of six days, the Chico City Council went from seven to five, as two members resigned amid purported harassment stemming from criticism of their residency.

On June 21, Councilman Scott Huber submitted a resignation letter to the city, and six days later (June 27), Councilwoman Kami Denlay did the same.

While the City Council prepares to address the vacancies—by special election or appointment—at its next meeting, controversy surrounds both resignations, but Denlay’s in particular, as questions remain unanswered about her city of residency.

Huber resigned after first quitting an out-of-state summer job, citing politically motivated harassment of his employer that turned to targeting his wife’s employer. The councilman, who lost his local job during the COVID-19 pandemic, had taken the temporary position in Jackson, Wyo., and had purchased plane tickets to return to Chico for the two council meetings scheduled this summer.

A social media campaign by the local Citizen’s for a Safe Chico political action committee criticized the councilman leaving the Chico area to work. In the wake of the PAC’s email blasts and Facebook ads (which included an online link to the Wyoming business), Huber, a Chico homeowner, said that both his new employer and his family were harassed online.

“Because of these attacks,” he said in his letter, “I have had to resign the position that I worked for months to secure, and that I depended on to get my family through this year.”

In a statement released after Huber’s resignation, Safe Chico condemned the online harassment. “To be clear, we don’t think it’s right that some people took it upon themselves to contact his employer,” it read.

Denlay shared her resignation on her City Council Facebook page (which has since been deactivated), and in the attendant post she also referenced harassment of her family, stating that “certain members of the community have taken it upon themselves to investigate where my young family lives.” In her letter, she pointed to surveillance and being “watched through glass in doors,” presumably at her family’s home, and her four children being “frightened by what they’ve experienced” as her reason for stepping down.

Former Chico city councilman, Scott Huber. (CN&R file photo)

Chico City Clerk Debbie Presson told the CN&R that Huber had every right to accept the seasonal position. “There are no rules that would have precluded Mr. Huber from working out of state,” she said.

The circumstances around Denlay’s resignation are less clear-cut

Tehama or Butte?

Questions of where Denlay has lived were brought to the attention of the CN&R in the days prior to her announcement. This newspaper received multiple independent tips regarding residences connected to Denlay, most involving allegations that the then-councilwoman had been living outside of her district—residing in Red Bluff—while serving on the Chico City Council.

The CN&R obtained documents from the Tehama County Clerk and Recorder’s office confirming that Denlay’s husband, Joshua Klingbeil, purchased a house in Red Bluff in December of 2020, one month after Denlay was elected to represent Chico’s District 3. Filed with Tehama County the same day was an Interspousal Grant Deed for the property, signed by Denlay, transferring sole ownership to her husband.

In her post, Denlay addressed the rumor directly: “Does my family have property outside of Chico? Yes. … Do I have somewhere in my district to live to fulfill my duty as a city council member? Yes!”

On her Candidate Intention Statement form filed with the city last July leading up to the 2020 City Council campaign, Denlay listed an address for a condominium in central Chico that is within District 3. The current resident confirmed that Denlay has not resided there since at least April, when the tenant’s mother purchased the property.

However, according to Presson, as of Denlay’s resignation, the freshman councilwoman had not updated her residence information.

According to Chico municipal code, councilmembers are required to reside in “the geographical area making up the district from which he or she is nominated to be elected.” Denlay has not disclosed details of where in District 3 she currently lives (as of publication, she had not responded to interview requests).

Records the CN&R obtained from the Butte County Clerk-Recorder’s office show Denlay having updated her voter registration less than two weeks ago (June 18), listing her current mailing address at the Red Bluff home and her residence address at a house in Chico, still in District 3.

As part of its investigation, the CN&R interviewed neighbors of both of these addresses (never directly interacting with any member of Denlay’s family).

Of those interviewed near the Chico residence listed on her voter registration—a north Chico house with neglected landscaping left to die in summer sun—one neighbor said he had seen Denlay at the address; others reported seeing college-age people living there as “roommates.”

Meanwhile, according to multiple neighbors of the Red Bluff home, the residence is occupied by people matching the description of Denlay and her family. In addition, sources with knowledge of the move told the CN&R that the family has been living in Red Bluff.

House? Home?

Earlier this week, Presson explained via email that the city verifies a candidate’s residence in a district via the Butte County’s Election Office.

“The Election Code is specific,” she said. “Before they can even take out nomination papers, they are required to sign a document that states their current address in the district in question; that they are 21 years or older; and that they are a registered voter at the address that was provided. We then call the county for voter registration verification.”

Beyond the voter registration test, any other guidelines for residency for public office are “driven by election code,” Presson said in a follow-up interview.

California Election Code has requirements for defining a residence, which for voter-registration purposes means “a person’s domicile”: The domicile of a person is that place in which his or her habitation is fixed, wherein the person has the intention of remaining, and to which, whenever he or she is absent, the person has the intention of returning. At a given time, a person may have only one domicile.

Once a candidate’s initial residence is verified, Presson said that the city doesn’t police whether a council member remains in their district. “I don’t send out updates saying, ‘If you have a change of address, let us know.’ We never have.”

Members of Butte County Democratic Party, Democratic Action Club of Chico and the Stand Up For Chico PAC gather in front of the Chico Municipal Building on June 28 to call for an independent investigation of the allegations surrounding former Councilwoman Kami Denlay’s place of residence. (Photo by Jason Cassidy)

The CN&R also recently received tips questioning Denlay’s history of residence at the condominium she’d listed at the beginning of her campaign. One neighbor in the complex, Jesse Svetlich, told the CN&R that, in the three years he’s lived there, the only time he saw Denlay at the residence was handful of visits between one month before and shortly after the 2020 election. He never saw her husband or children there or at the nearby swimming pool.

Svetlich, who worked as a volunteer on the campaign of Steven Breedlove (a District 3 candidate who lost to Denlay in November), lives in an upstairs unit with a balcony that overlooks the address that Denlay claimed.

“We’re out on the porch often,” he said. “We recognized her when she started coming.”

Shortly after the election, Svetlich said, “she no longer came around the complex. We assumed it was a campaign headquarters.”

In her online post announcing her resignation, Denlay alluded to the fact that she used “decoy addresses to protect the privacy of my family,” but didn’t elaborate as to which addresses might’ve been use to that end.

The day after Denlay’s announcement, the Butte County Democratic Party and Democratic Action Club of Chico held a joint press conference in front of the Chico Municipal Building to call for an independent investigation of “serious allegations … raised about whether [Denlay] registered to vote at a false address and whether she was qualified to represent her district … [and] what other council members knew about her residence status and when they knew it.”

The local Democrats also urged the council to call for a special election to fill the two vacancies on the panel instead of opting for appointments made by the five remaining members.

“The Council will be addressing the resignations/vacancies at its next meeting of July 6,” said Presson by email.

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