Mayor promises better public dialogue
The Willows City Council could be turning over a new leaf.
Although Jeff Cobb was already holding the gavel Tuesday when he was unanimously selected to serve as mayor in 2013, he did promise to lighten the meeting's tone from what it has been in the past year.
As vice mayor, Cobb took over in November when former Mayor Vince Holvik vacated his seat, and also in prior meetings in Holvik's absence.
The meetings have seen their share of heated exchanges between the council and public, mostly over the nonrenewal of Police Chief Bill Spears and complaints lodged against City Manager Steve Holsinger.
Tuesday saw more of the same, but it was Cobb in the beginning who admitted things needed to change.
"We're going to do things a little differently than we have in the past," Cobb said. "We really do want to hear what people have to say."
He showed the kind of decorum he requested from the public, and though he did time comments, he allowed the public to have their say, even a tearful Stephanie Southam, whom he cut off early at the last meeting.
Like most of Spears' supporters, Southam seemed resigned to the loss of him as police chief, but made one final pitch to the council to negotiate a new contract.
She was called a hero after her last attempt, but said that wasn't what prompted her to face the council a second time.
"I don't want to be a hero," said Southam, a mother of four. "I just want to be heard."
Buddy Brackensick also seemed resigned to Spears' fate, although he and others said they didn't see how the city will save money in the long run, especially while paying the Glenn County Sheriff's Office for the extra manpower.
Orland police Chief J.C. Tolle said Wednesday that as much as he would like to help Willows, his department was not in a position to assist beyond mutual aid.
It was something Spears had tried to tell the council in August.
"To me it was a vendetta," Brackensick said. "The council got duped."
City officials maintain the savings by letting Spears go will be $86,000 in the remainder of 2012-13 fiscal year.
According to Finance Director Tim Sailsbery, Spears salary was $95,292 annually, plus $76,274 in benefits.
Dahl's new salary is $74,364 plus $64,886 in benefits.
The difference is about $32,300, with the rest of the savings to come from not filling Dahl's sergeant postion, officials said.
Spears has offered a 15 percent reduction on a new contract since learning he was losing his job, and said he would continue to work on patrol as needed, holidays and during events like Lamb Derby, PAL carnival, Christmas parade and other special events with no added compensation.
"I think they got me pretty cheap," Spears said later.
Although members of the Willows City Council have changed over the years, uproars from the public are nothing new, officials said.
Former Mayor Terry Taylor-Vodden, who was selected as vice mayor on Tuesday, recently recalled the public's anger over the appointment of newcomer Bob Shadley as chief of police in 1981, instead of the internal promotion of a Willows officer.
Vodden said people marched to the microphone, just as they did on the Spears issue, demanding the council change its position.
Shadley ended up serving Willows until 1999, and then served as Glenn County sheriff until his retirement in 2004.
Even former Councilwoman Rose Marie Thrailkill, who has been highly critical of the manner in which the council has treated the public in the past few years, said she understands how tough it is to sit on the dais.
Still, she acknowledged how much City Hall has changed.
"We use to have an open door policy," she said.
Cobb, 46, a California Highway Patrol officer, was first elected to the council in 2010, in a four-candidate race for two seats.
The controversy at the time — which prompted his running — was weed abatement, an issue that cropped up when dozens of Willows homeowners were billed as much as 30 times more than in previous years.
City officials acknowledged at the time that mistakes were made, but said the real problem was the program itself.
On Tuesday, with the program fixed and the controversy all but forgotten, the council disbanded the weed abatement committee at Cobb's urging, almost as a testament that controversies come and go.
The council also disbanded the highly criticized budget sub-committee, who members proposed in August the nonrenewal of Spears as police chief.
Holsinger said if the council wished to continue, it should make the budget committee one that is subject to the Brown Act.
Cobb, who was a member, said he did not want the committee formalized.
Councilman Gary Hansen, whom Spears will replace on Jan. 8, agreed.
"It served its purpose," Hansen said. "It got us to where we need to be."
Hopeful the controversy is behind them, city officials said it's time to move forward.
Looking at Spears, Councilman Larry Domenighini said, "Bill, it's time to take your place on the dais next to us."