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Conservatives appoint O’Brien, Bennett to fill council vacancies

Michael O’Brien (left) and Dale Bennett accept congratulations Tuesday evening (July 27) after their appointment to the Chico City Council. (Photo by Evan Tuchinsky)

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.”

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2 Comments

  1. “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).” O’Brien was afraid to run because his record as a failed Police Chief would be made public and and he would have no way to defend his very poor record. It has been said that when the going gets tough the tough get going. O’Brien got going alright ….he left the job and now claims he brings leadership to the Council. I hope an unelected person cannot be a leader in a Democracy. He represents the District Attorney he took orders from. He had the opportunity to run and choose not to.
    He brought violence to rental communities very near the Police station . He most of all denied Renters the right to call the Police or take action to defend the property they live on. He knows nothing about how complex housing issues are. REMOVE HIM before he does more damage to Chico. He admits his job was to take orders not to inform the Council about problems caused by their proposed guidelines. He admits his he is good at following orders but, says nothing about what he contributed to solving problems. He is a foot soldier and not a General. He is not an elected representative of the people and never has been.

    Recall petition for this poor choice is in order. We have no way to know who will be giving him his orders this time.
    Give him his walking papers. The district attorney and the other people, of course unnamed; who suggested he run are interfering with Chico Politics to further their own agenda and he is a PROXY vote for their agenda.

  2. Who is running Chico; the DA, the CPD, the Police Union? The DA tells the former chief to apply for a council seat and the council gives him the position. O’Brien says he brings “leadership,” who is he kidding? During his short tenure as chief four civilians were killed in officer-involved shootings. Is that leadership? The DA appoints O’Brien, who is enjoying a six-figure pension, to lead BINTF which is a paid position. Isn’t it a conflict of interest for the DA to arrange two positions for his former cop colleague? The CPD already controls 50% +/- of the cities scarce tax dollars. Does CPD have a blank check to up that budget? Is Chico a police state? Who is running Chico? Come on people of Chico, wake up!

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