Confirming the expected Tuesday evening (July 27), the Chico City Council appointed Michael O’Brien and Dale Bennett to fill the panel’s vacated seats.
O’Brien, the former city police chief recently appointed to head the county’s narcotics task force, and Bennett, a former city planning commissioner serving on the architectural review board, each received four votes—presumably from the four conservatives, though City Clerk Debbie Presson did not announce the balloting. Each had received four nominations for their respective seats, the most among the six finalists, with support from all the conservative council members.
Alex Brown, the council’s lone progressive, questioned candidates about homelessness, affordable housing and police training. Mayor Andrew Coolidge also had questions, including an exchange with Bryce Goldstein, a planning commissioner and transportation planner, about parking requirements.
The vote proved uneventful—Presson calling it “the quickest tabulation we’ve had.”
After receiving congratulations from several council members, city department heads and citizens, O’Brien told the CN&R that he’s excited. He and Bennett will be sworn in and start serving at the next meeting Tuesday (Aug. 3).
“I need to kind of let this sink in, because I did not have a lot of time to prepare, did not have a lot of time to think about it, other than we knew it was the right decision,” he said, referring to his wife and family’s support. “It’s a somewhat daunting task because of what’s going on in this community, but I think my experiences—particularly as chief, in crisis—will hopefully serve this council well, serve this community well, because I understand crisis leadership.
“I learned some tough lessons: some good things, some bad things. I think that experience, given our current dynamic, will lend itself to this position.”
O’Brien replaces Scott Huber, a progressive who resigned June 21 citing politically motivated harassment. His seat is at-large, meaning any eligible city resident could apply. Bennett (who declined to speak to the media) replaces Kami Denlay, a conservative elected in November to represent District 3; she resigned June 27 amid questions about her residency.
By city charter, the council has 30 days to fill a vacancy by calling a special election or by appointment. The conservative majority decided on the latter process at the July 6 meeting and drew 21 applicants—14 for the at-large spot.
Coolidge told the CN&R that he had a harder time narrowing down the nominees than with the final vote. Each council member could nominate up to two finalists per seat; he said many rated highly. Tuesday evening’s choice was clear to him.
“I said at the onset of this process that I was looking for people who were calm, come to it with an idea of just serving and not have necessarily thoughts about pushing forward with a political future, who seemed to be here for the city and not for themselves,” Coolidge said. “I think they both fit that bill … . I think we have some calm, sensible people up there [already], and I think these choices were calm, sensible choices that’ll help move us through the issues we’re facing and hopefully calm the tenor of the conversation, calm the environment for Chico.”
Goldstein, nominated by Brown, expressed disappointment. She told the CN&R that she didn’t anticipate getting appointed, based on the nomination totals, though embraced the opportunity to speak to the council on substantive issues.
“I think our community could definitely be represented better on City Council,” she said. “Right now, it seems like a lot of people who are invested in real estate and development interests, because of who funded the campaigns that they ran. Also, it seems like most of the council leans to the right politically, and we have a very diverse community politically, so that’s part why I’m disappointed they decided to appoint people with their same values.
“They should have tried to make sure the people they appointed have similar backgrounds and viewpoints to the people who were [previously] serving.”