Thursday, September 1, 2011

"Czar" Chapman

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

At the first meeting of the Board of Trustees of Fullerton (later called the City Council), Charles C. Chapman was named Mayor. During this meeting, it was decided to rename Northam Avenue to Chapman Avenue. Given his enormous business interests and land holdings, Chapman does not appear to have been a humble man.

Among the other decisions made at this meeting, it was declared unlawful in Fullerton to “whoop, haloo, yell or in any way disturb the peace, drive or ride any animal through the street in a furious manner, cut down any trees or shrubs or dig up any soil without permission of trustees, have any female clothe herself in male attire, or any male clothe himself in female attire, and travel about or appear on the pubic streets; and for any vagrant to be within the city limits without visible means of support. It was made clear ‘all women of ill-repute, and all common drunkards shall be deemed vagrants.’” (A Pictorial History of Fullerton, pg. 80)

Edgar Johnson, editor of the Fullerton News at the time, often described Chapman as “Czar” Chapman, mocking his apparent god-complex. In a 1906 article entitled “Trustee Amerige Grossly Insulted by Czar Chapman, the ‘Great I Am’—Hot Meeting,” Johnson wrote:

“Czar Chapman also intimated that the city would be better off without Mr. Amerige (co-founder of Fullerton). How is that, coming from the chairman of the board? Amerige is the only member of the board that has the backbone to offer an opinion or express himself or to speak to the people, and when he dares to express his honest opinion, he is grossly insulted by a little czar who is worshipped by a few weaklings in Fullerton.”

Sounds like a heated meeting indeed. It reminds me of the way our current Mayor treats Council Member Quirk-Silva, who is often the lone dissenting voice, when she disagrees with him. I think it is important for the mayor of a town to see himself or herself as a public servant, and not a czar or god. He or she exists to serve the people, not the other way around. He or she should welcome dialogue and dissent, for that is the backbone of democracy.

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