by Dave Waddell and Leslie Layton
After Mayor Sean Morgan cleared the raucous Chico City Council chambers Tuesday night, Chico police officers barred ChicoSol News Director Dave Waddell from re-entering the meeting – the only member of the local news media who was barred.
Officer Jeff Durkin told Waddell he lacked the proper press credentials to regain entrance to the chamber – despite Waddell showing him his driver’s license and his ChicoSol business card. Durkin stood with another officer, Drew Cooper, outside the frosted glass doors to the council chambers. On multiple occasions a television reporter opened the door and communicated amicably with Durkin, before it closed again — with ChicoSol journalists still on the outside.
Inside the chamber, an attorney representing the city of Chico advised the council that it could exclude members of the public if they were disruptive, but members of the press, under California’s Brown Act, should be present.
Before he shut things down, the mayor’s ire was drawn on several occasions by vocal opponents of the city’s so-called “sit and lie ordinance.” Scores of citizens spoke out – many with considerable passion – both for and against the ordinance.
Morgan called three recesses trying to quell outbursts before halting the public meeting altogether, after opponents, led by Steve Breedlove, began an orchestrated chant.
Upon Morgan’s order, police officers in attendance moved quickly through the chambers telling everyone to leave. Karen Laslo, a freelance photographer shooting the meeting for ChicoSol, said she was told by a city staff person that she couldn’t stay because she wasn’t writing an article.
Later, peering into the council chambers from the outside, Waddell and Laslo could see multiple cameras being operated by other news media present.
Councilman Karl Ory was particularly upset that the chambers had been emptied and mentioned that community members had “worked all day” to avoid disruptive action by sit-lie opponents. But Ory said Morgan should re-open the chamber and give the audience members another opportunity.
A confusing discussion then took place as council members struggled with what they could and should do and as tempers on the panel flared.
Councilman Andrew Coolidge moved to proceed with consideration of a new “sit and lie” ordinance, a motion that passed 4-3. Council members Randall Stone, Ann Schwab and Ory were opposed.
Stone said he supported the clearing of the council chambers, but warned that the council majority had over several years sown discord in the community. He said the sit-lie ordinance was the resurrection of an “old dog,” a “waste of time” and “political shenanigans.”
As news director of ChicoSol, Dave Waddell has produced in-depth reports on Chico Police Department, including on the shootings of Desmond Phillips and Tyler Rushing in 2017.
ChicoSol Editor Leslie Layton is a professionally-trained journalist who has worked in the field for several decades.