Editorial: Council telegraphs agenda

Was city manager the fall guy for policy missteps?

What happened to Mark Orme? Technically, Chico’s now-former city manager resigned and was replaced in the interim by Police Chief Matt Madden. But it’s clear from the reporting by CN&R Contributing Editor Evan Tuchinsky (see “Quit or fired?” and “Chico city manager out“) that there’s more to the story. Put the pieces together:

Orme did not leave by choice, unless that choice was quit or get fired. He wanted to stay. That was obvious during the second special meeting the City Council held to review his job performance, where he stood in a prayer circle while the council discussed his fate in closed session, and by what the council decided—to have City Attorney Vince Ewing negotiate Orme’s resignation in lieu of termination.

Council members can talk about negotiations being a two-way street and the confidentiality of personnel matters. Actions speak louder than their words, and their motives seem just as obvious.

The Warren v. City of Chico lawsuit put the council conservatives on blast for their policies regarding homelessness, and the settlement hasn’t eased the pressure. Their backers vent frustrations with social media posts and speeches at council meetings. Often, Orme and Ewing are targets, blamed for the settlement. Critics complain about resources going into the Pallet shelter site and delays in enforcement of city ordinances.

The council conducted evaluations of Orme, Ewing and City Clerk Debbie Presson in the closed session at its March 15 meeting. The next Monday (March 21), Mayor Andrew Coolidge called a special meeting on Orme’s performance, which led to the second meeting that Friday (March 29) where the sides parted ways.

Timing is everything. This is an election year. Someone’s head had to roll.

Madden didn’t know the promotion was coming. The conservatives bypassed Deputy City Manager Jennifer Macarthy, and their laser focus also speaks volumes. Placing the police chief atop the city hierarchy tells citizens—especially supporters—what the majority prioritizes, particularly in regards to the settlement. Enforcement. Law enforcement.

The city will look for a long-term replacement, but not imminently. We wouldn’t be surprised if the conservatives already have someone in mind—say, Mark Sorensen, former mayor of Chico and nine-year city administrator of Biggs?

The council had a strategic planning session March 13 where they learned about taking ripple effects of decisions into account. There, the council sent a message to department heads, including Orme, that the city needs to change its culture for employees. It’s ironic and telling that council members ignored their own words.

1 Comment

  1. EDITORIAL “WAS CITY MANAGER THE FALL GUY FOR POLICY MISSTEPS?” Well said. It is also said that “You dance with them what brung you”. So sad. An official who only barely survived 5 years at the helm of the police department remains while a man who actually survived 9 years during even harder times, and actually tried to solve problems, of an even harder job… is let go.
    Thank-you for weighing in on this issue.

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