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Students’ political power is slipping out of their hands

Photo+credit%3A+Diego+Ramirez
Photo credit: Diego Ramirez

Photo credit: Diego Ramirez

Photo credit: Diego Ramirez

Grayson Boyer

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The Town and Gown committee is one of the most useful methods of political participation Chico State students have, yet knowledge of Town and Gown isn’t readily available to much of the student population. Furthermore, the structure of the committee is shifting and eroding what little political power the student body has.

These committees are a staple of college towns throughout the U.S. Although the structure varies from city to city, the common layout splits the power between the “gown,” or the university, and the “town.” Within Chico, this has traditionally been shown through the chair positions, with the Mayor as the Chairperson and the AS President as the Co-chair.

This committee and its unique structure has been highly beneficial to Chico State since its inception and has had a huge effect on the student lifestyle. Most notable is the “Intervention Chico” program that the committee established in the mid-2000’s as an attempt to actively combat Chico State’s party school image.

The program was successful and largely cooled the intensities of the old party culture. The university’s website describes the establishment of the “Response Cost” ordinance which holds property residents financially accountable for repeated police response to loud parties, in addition to “Intervention Strategies,” “Compliance Checks” and “Party Dispersal Operations.”

These strategies are commonplace for the police now but at the time they were a novel way to tackle what was an extremely deadly problem for students.

Town and Gown’s actions in the mid-2000’s made Chico a safer place, revamped the university’s image and breathed life into the student body. The fact that this was a collaboration between the Associated Students and City Council should be a matter of pride for the college, the students and the town.

One would think that something that has so much power over student culture would be closely observed by the student body. Yet somehow Town and Gown operate mostly unnoticed.

Committee meetings are sparsely attended by only acting members and the odd few onlookers. This is highly distressing, as the minutes for the most recent meeting on Oct. 30 describe extremely serious issues, such as students targeted by panhandlers and the safety of student housing.

This low interest could be because there’s little information publicly available on the committee. The top search result found when you Google “Town and Gown Chico State” is an antiquated web page from an earlier version of the university’s website, made over 10 years ago.

The only updated web page on the college’s website is hidden in a sidebar in the Student Affairs section and contains only four links: information on Chico’s noise ordinance, a direct link to the entirety of the City of Chico’s ordinances and links to articles written on Town and Gown.

The page does not describe the committee’s purpose or describe when and where meetings are held. To find the information and understand its relevance would require knowing exactly what Town and Gown are, which prevents the average uninformed student from participating.

This is highly dangerous as the committee is a thing of power, specifically power over students. It can do great good for people, but when eyes are directed away from power it is more likely to mutate against the cause it was created for.

An email was recently sent out by Mayor Sean Morgan to the various members of Town and Gown and other relevant parties. It describes a new format for the committee with an “appointed facilitator” who acts as the new chairperson. The chairperson then reports to a “steering committee,” made up of “the City Manager, the University President and the Mayor’s appointee to [the] steering committee.”

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Email sent by Chico Mayor Sean Morgan Photo credit: Grayson Boyer

This change in format breaks with years of tradition in Chico’s committee. It removes the AS President from the co-chair and therefore removes students from their position of power.

As shown in the minutes for the most recent committee meeting, concerns raised about the new format and were dismissed because “there were, in fact, no significant changes to the format other than the appointment of a chairperson position.”

This contradicts the email that was sent out by the Mayor and fails to mention the steering committee that the new chairperson reports to.

It’s bad enough that students are diluted from the power structure in the new Town and Gown format. It’s terrifying that the change went completely unnoticed by the general student population.

The email claims this change was made in the name of efficiency, which very well could be so, as the committee handles a large influx of important safety topics and has a limited amount of time to get everything finished. However, it is a huge change in format for what has historically been a source of great pride for all the parties involved and it’s a change that shifts power away from students.

Fortunately, University President Gayle Hutchinson is on the steering committee and will surely keep the direction of Town and Gown aligned with university interest, but that doesn’t give justification to the lack of transparency in the system.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding Town and Gown, there’s no excuse for letting something with so much positive potential slip out of the fingers of the students. Town and Gown meet quarterly, and the next committee meeting is scheduled for January. Perhaps it’s time for students to reassert themselves in city politics.

Grayson Boyer can be reached at the [email protected] or @Gray_boyer on Twitter.

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Students’ political power is slipping out of their hands