Second & Flume: Busted

Two council members spin defensive narratives

Melissa Daugherty

I’ve never been more embarrassed for my beloved community.

Because, while the Chico City Council and administration have made some pretty big blunders over my two-plus decades here, nothing compares with the “resting environment” set up for local homeless people on what’s essentially a gravel tarmac next to the airport. (See “Will this fly?“)

The site’s amenities, if one can even call them that, include a shade covering, port-a-potties, picnic tables and unrefrigerated water tanks. Yet somehow the members of the council majority believe the place is fit for upward of 600 human beings in the middle of this particularly brutal Chico summer.

It is, quite frankly, an unmitigated failure. In a word, shameful.

I wouldn’t walk my dog at that site, let alone let him live there for any length of time. In my mind, the set-up closely resembles criminal negligence. Seriously. Were people to actually use it in this triple-digit heat—few have, for obvious reasons—I expect some would die. At best, we’re talking massive liability. It doesn’t matter that the site is temporary.

Mind you, the only reason any type of respite space has been attempted is because a federal judge blocked the city from further evicting people from public parks until such time that a suitable alternative location is established. I can’t imagine this is what he envisioned.

Indeed, the aforementioned accommodations are not going over well with the public, which accounts for the crickets coming from the council majority, Councilman Sean Morgan excepted. The former mayor has been busy pointing fingers. Last Friday (June 25), he went on the defensive, in rage-and-fear mode, in a letter to constituents.

Charging that “powerful forces are working against our community,” Morgan lamented that the county threatened to withhold the money it had earmarked for the creation of the site and that it will not provide behavioral health services at the location. He also chided service providers, who he said “are having none of it.”

“What is happening? We are under attack!” exclaimed Morgan.

The veteran councilman is desperate for the public to believe the fiasco at the airport is somebody else’s fault, but it turns out there are numerous omissions in his narrative.

The next day (June 26), Butte County Chief Administrative Officer Andy Pickett shot back with a detailed press release to set the record straight. The city and county had met months ago to discuss solutions, the document explains, and the Board of Supervisors had pledged a half-million dollars toward the creation of a site for resting and sleeping. But that commitment was based on, among other things, a location in the core of the city that had climate-controlled pallet structures, along with shower and laundry facilities.

You know, something hospitable to everyday life.

Moreover, according to Pickett, once the federal lawsuit was in play, the city declined to share its plans. Officials at the county seat found out about the location and amenities—or lack thereof—when the city revealed them to the public. And that site is, as Pickett put it, “not suitable in many respects for the county to provide mental health and social services, which are key components of the solution.”

Speaking of getting busted, there’s a bit of that going around. Sunday (June 27), just six months into her tenure, District 3 City Councilwoman Kami Denlay tendered her resignation.

In her announcement, Denlay claims she made the decision out of concern for her family. She implies that people had come onto her private property. She uses the words “loitering” and “surveilling.” By whom, she doesn’t say, though she makes a vague reference to an encounter with a “reporter.”

To be clear, none of the CN&R’s reporters or editors went onto her property.

Yet we were working on a story about her residency in the days prior to her resignation. Once we’d gathered enough information, there is definitely a chance we’d have come knocking. That’s what reporters do in these situations. And newsflash: It’s perfectly legal.

It so happens the door we’d be knocking on isn’t in Chico—it’s in Red Bluff. That’s where Denlay and her husband purchased a house back in December, though the couple took her name off the title shortly thereafter. Interim Editor Jason Cassidy has the receipts on that maneuver, among other tidbits, all of which is public record. See “Out of bounds?” for the full story.

About Melissa Daugherty 75 Articles
Melissa Daugherty is an award-winning columnist and editorial writer who started her career as a higher education reporter at a daily newspaper. Daugherty spent 17 years at the CN&R, eight of them as editor-in-chief. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is her super power.

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