#168: Northville, MI 9/17/18

It was a historic day in the Northville council chamber–in the sense that history was the number one topic.

“It’s kind of prestigious to be on this,” prefaced a visiting architectural historian, flipping through a slide show about Northville’s spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

She flashed a boot-shaped map onscreen. “This is what the Historic District looks like when we started. The goal is to have the local and National Register districts match.”

Ah, who doesn’t love an audit! In this case, instead of sifting through hundreds of pages of documents, she sifted through hundreds of…buildings?

“We photographed all of the buildings, over 400. We developed historic significance–all of the things that make Northville Northville.”

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You’re gonna need a bigger list.

The historian cautioned that not all Northville memorabilia made the cut. “It has to be cultural,” she warned. “The hand of man has to be felt on it. That’s why rivers aren’t in a district, but a bridge would be.”

She gestured to a blank space in the center of the map. “This the ball field. It doesn’t have any history from over 50 years ago. It’s just a piece of ground, so that can’t be cultural.”

“What about the six mills that were there?” interrupted Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Darga.

“Are they there now?” the historian shot back.

“Their footings are,” retorted Darga.

“Well then,” the historian replied slowly, “that would be archeology. That’s not something that’s covered.

The mayor pro tem was horrified.

“Northville started on that ball diamond,” she insisted. “It’s because there was a mill there. We now just took the beginning of Northville out of the Historic District!”

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For shame!

The historian refused to back down. “Do you want to have archeology? I don’t think you can have archeology just for one plot. It’s gonna be the whole district.”

The consequence of that? “Anybody who wants to put in a new garden may have to consider” what lies below.

No one was eager to turn Northville into an excavation site for stegosaurus bones, so the baseball diamond issue was closed.

“Maybe I’m missing something here,” Darga said after a pause, “but we established a local Historic District in 1972. But now we’re trying to establish a NATIONAL–”

“You already have a national district,” interjected the historian. “We’re trying to make sure the boundary represents what’s here today. You don’t want to lose your district. And the Park Service will do that. They will de-list districts.”

This historic preservation business is ruthless. I imagine archeology is a cakewalk in comparison.

“I got a little lost,” Mayor Ken Roth admitted as the lights turned on and the projector turned off. “Our Historic District is listed…?”

“It’s both. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it’s a local Historic District,” the historian patiently reiterated.

“Okay.”

“The person who is the head of the National Register list is called the ‘keeper,'” she said.

“Seriously? The keeper?” Mayor Roth exclaimed. “That’s a real title?!”

“Yes! It’s much sought after,” she assured him.

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Where do I apply?

The council thanked the historian and switched to their regular business. The mayor requested a motion to approve the agenda. But suddenly, once he got it–

“All right, we will move on,” the mayor charged ahead before others on the dais stirred to halt him. He had forgotten to take a vote on the motion.

“I’m sorry. That was tricky,” he apologized, grinning. “We need the keeper!”

Podcast Recap: Second Anniversary Special

It’s an exciting week because we just wrapped up the second year of the City Council Chronicles podcast! In the past year, our episodes covered

3 countries 🌍

22 American states 🇺🇸

3 Canadian provinces 🇨🇦

And you can listen to the special anniversary episode on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

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Year two guests

Other stats from this year include:

  • 52% of guests were men and 48% were women

  • 76% of guests were council members and 12% were mayors

  • One-fifth of guests came from California and Ontario

While you are exploring past podcast episodes, take note of our special programming:

“Tear It Down,” an eight-part story about one small-town government plagued by mistrust and poor decisions.

“Best Thing, Worst Thing,” a yearlong documentary series exploring cities and towns in North America.

“A Higher Expectation,” one person’s account of how city council meetings can be meaningful.

One more thing: please support City Council Chronicles and the podcast by learning more about our sponsor, Dig Deep Research. They assist local governments in obtaining grant money and are eager to hear from potential new clients. Find out how they can help you today:

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Month in Review: August 2018

If ever there was a time to start following City Council Chronicles, it was August. And I’ll give you one hint why:

International #CityHallSelfie Day.

That’s right, we picked the top 10 city council selfies and showcased them to the world! But we had plenty of other serious news to cover, too. Have you heard of the mayor with a rat infestation?

Or the seven city council members who blocked an anti-discrimination measure?

That is some pretty serious fare. But you can also find more lighthearted segments with the council member who reenacted a medical drama and a role-playing exercise for teen engagement.

To engage yourself in a whirlwind of activity, check out the August Month in Review.

And if you aren’t a big reader, you’re in luck, because we’ve got images galore like this one:

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Interview #103: Louisville, KY Council President David James (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

David James is a longtime Louisville Metro councilman who became president this year. We talked about an odd twist to the oath of office, how council members spend money in meetings, and about the sexual harassment proceedings against a former councilman.

Q: On January 11 you became the new council president. And I hope you’ll forgive me when I say that the more interesting part of that meeting was when your clerk was sworn in a few minutes later. This was part of the oath:

Do you further solemnly affirm that since the adoption of the present constitution, you have not fought a duel with deadly weapons, nor have you sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have you acted as a second in carrying a challenge?

How big of a problem is dueling in Kentucky that it has to be part of the oath?

A: Apparently back in the day it was a huge problem in the state of Kentucky and they have left that as part of the oath that everybody takes throughout the state, I guess for historical and cultural purposes.

Q: You used to be a police officer. How many times would you break up a duel by saying, “hey. Hey! If you don’t cut it out, you’ll never be sworn in as a municipal officer!”

A: It never happened! I don’t think anybody would listen to me anyway.

Q: We could talk about dueling all day, but this program is about city council meetings. The Louisville Metro council is a smorgasbord of intrigue that makes the Minneapolis city council look like the Branson board of aldermen! Can you explain what “neighborhood development funds” are?

A: Each council member receives $75,000 a year in neighborhood development funds that they get to assign for different purposes. Whether that is to help a nonprofit, or if that’s to put in lighting in a railroad underpass, or if that’s to fund some other organization doing good work in the community.

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Louisville, KY Council President David James

Q: So if you had an organization that, say, produced quality audio content about city council meetings and they wanted to apply, and there was a council member or even council president who supported that cause, how would I–I mean, that organization, get some of that easy cash–I mean, neighborhood development money?

A: You apply for the grant. You have to list your board members and what you’re going to do with the funding. And it’d be up to the council member to introduce it and council would vote on it yes or no.

Q: In the meetings, when council members distribute money through NDFs, it’s like a slowed-down version of an auction. Is it that spontaneous when it happens in a meeting?

A: People have already signed on for X number of dollars by the time it gets to that point. They come to the council meeting as a last opportunity to join in on that. Once we have voted on it, you can’t add any more money to it. It’s the last opportunity.

Q: It’s like going door to door as a Girl Scout selling cookies, and your mom just gets the rest of the orders at her office that day to backfill it.

A: That’s it. There you go.

Q: There is this overtone of salesmanship in these NDFs and it can take the form of guilting people into spending money.

A: Oh, absolutely.

Q: I get that this is politics and you have to be a bit of a cheerleader, but does any of this seem more theatrical than it needs to be?

A: No, not really. You’re just advocating for the particular cause that you believe in.


Follow Council President David James on Twitter: @CouncilmanJames

#167: Oskaloosa, IA 9/4/18

A flurry of confusion threatened to derail public comment after a man with a ponytail and shorts leaned into the microphone and quietly began his remarks.

“I came in tonight to speak about the resolution to sell–”

“We can’t hear you!” interrupted one council member.

“Speak up a little more,” coached another.

“Hey, Kyle! That microphone doesn’t work. That’s just for the tape,” shouted a third over the crosstalk.

The man at the lectern swung the microphone away from his face and restarted his statement, prompting another fusillade of instructions from every possible direction.

“Let’s get you on TV!”

“We’re still gonna want you to speak into it.”

“We still want you to speak into it so that people at home–”

“Gotcha,” the man responded calmly to cut off the furor. “It’s on TV, too? I didn’t know they still recorded this.”

“You’re live right now!” exclaimed a council member, causing the audience to burst out in laughter, with some smiling knowingly at the camera staring them in the face.

“Cool,” the man nodded. “I was behind the camera like a decade ago.”

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Oh, how the lenses have turned!

Moving into the substance of the meeting, Mayor David Krutzfeldt outlined a tricky scenario that stemmed from a meeting several weeks prior.

“The city council discussed the potential sale of several city owned properties,” he prefaced, one of which was 207 North G Street. “An appraisal of the property had been completed with a value of $33,000.”

“In August,” he continued, “staff received a letter requesting to purchase the lot for $10,000. His justification for offering less than the appraised value is that there are significant costs to make the lot developable.”

“At this time, the motion is to set the public hearing.”

City manager Michael Schrock cautioned the council, “it’s not always about the dollar amount. It’s about the plan and the concept. He’s presented a letter saying, ‘hey, I know you have this. Will you sell it to me?’ We’ve done that before.”

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The Art of the Deal

“We don’t have to make a decision in two weeks, do we?” quizzed Council Member Steve Burnett.

“No,” replied Schrock. “We’re required to hold a public hearing for any disposal of property. Say, ‘okay. Anybody that’s interested, come on in.’ You could have a third party show up, which we’ve had before. We had people basically outbidding each other in the audience.” Some council members chuckled at the imagined chaos.

Schrock clarified: “that wasn’t ideal.”

“So the public hearing–Wendell would be there with his bid and somebody else could show up and bid on it as well?” an incredulous Council Member Bob Drost reiterated.

“But we’re asking for more than dollars,” interjected Council Member Tom Walling, attempting to tamp down the expectations of a free-for-all in two weeks. “The more complete the proposal is, the higher the likelihood something gets approved that night.”

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Bring blueprints, people

There was a minor commotion from the back of the room. The mayor raised his eyebrows. “Wendell, if there’s something you think the council needs to know–?”

The man with the plan was all at once at the lectern. “I’ve been here for six and a half, almost seven years. I don’t plan on going anywhere else. It makes sense to me to try and control my investment,” he announced firmly–perhaps firmly enough to scare off the competition.

With that, the hearing date was set. May the bidding begin!

Interview #102: Jefferson City, MO Mayor Carrie Tergin (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Carrie Tergin is famous for her “selfies with the mayor” and is therefore the foremost authority to appraise our International #CityHallSelfie Day Top 10 List. On the podcast, we welcome her back to talk about city hall art, and then discuss one time her own council meeting took a series of unexpected twists.

Q: Mayor, where would you like to start?

A: I have to tell you, these top 10 selfies are just exquisite. We have Waldo, Florida and it was his first selfie! Mayor Louie Davis, to share your very first ever selfie on #CityHallSelfie Day–and he may or may not know this–the requirement is that he’s gonna have to send regular selfies. He can’t just do the one. We wanna see that continue, so don’t disappoint me.

Q: I am inspired that it is never too late to start taking selfies!

A: Absolutely. And the “Where’s Waldo?” I mean, you can do so much with that. Number eight, we have Cary, North Carolina. I have to say, I’m going to give this a number two on Mayor Tergin’s list. Why? Because she has a Snapchat filter. Wow! And a bitmoji on top of it. If you don’t know what either one of those are, you’re gonna have to get with the program!

Q: Has Jeff City ever had a Snapchat filter to your knowledge?

A: Oh, as a matter of fact we have. Shame on me for not taking a selfie with it. Uh-oh. That’s our challenge: figuring out how can we elevate our selfie game? Congrats, Lori. You are my number two choice.

A: This next selfie in Maryland, which is the multi-angle selfie–a selfie within a selfie within a selfie, so basically the “infinity” city hall selfie–that would be my number one. I mean, you can’t hide. When you talk about transparency, when you talk about open government, I don’t know how you can get any more open than that. If you look in there, you’ll just be looking really to infinity to see all of the infinite selfies that are shown in this picture. Really good job on all the action.

Q: I appreciate all of your critiques. I think everyone who entered this competition was a winner, even though they didn’t know I was turning it into a competition! We do have to get back to the serious business of council meetings in Jefferson City. On March 5, I noticed that you could not have a meeting due to the lack of council members. When did you find out that was the situation?

A: Well, sitting there waiting for the council meeting to begin and looking at the clock and starting to say, “where is this councilman and that councilman? Is everybody okay?” And then realizing that “oh, this person did say they were going to be out of town.” At the time I thought, what do you want me to do? You want me to sing? You want me to entertain you? We’ve got everybody here, so how do we have an entertaining time without actually conducting any city business?

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Jefferson City, MO Mayor Carrie Tergin

A: That particular night, though, we were also waiting on the crew for the U.S.S. Jefferson City. We have a submarine that is named for our city. We had crew members that were in from Hawaii visiting their namesake city. They had planned to stop by that evening. The cool thing was, even though we had no official business, we were able to spend quite a bit of time with the crew members, have them talk about their experiences. We were able to focus that entire time on our military and all they do for our country. In that moment of panic that “we don’t have a quorum and what are we going to do,” it was almost like it was meant to be, really. It was one of those moments that turned out to be one of my favorite council meetings ever.


Follow Mayor Carrie Tergin on Twitter: @CarrieTergin

#167: Iola, KS 8/27/18

A tall, thin young man strolled up to the lectern as council members patiently folded their hands and arms in front of them.

“I am the coordinator for the Libertarian Party of Allen County,” he announced. The introduction was entirely plausible, as his baseball cap and tan shorts were consistent with a minimal government/minimal dress code philosophy.

“Since this is only my second meeting so far, I’m a little lost. What is the purpose of a public hearing?”

Mayor Jonathan Wells leaned forward to help. “Generally, public hearings are to allow the public input on a specific issue–usually on things like budget or whenever we are doing a demolition or condemning a house.”

“I see,” nodded the lanky libertarian, despite this intrusion of Big Government into his comment time. “I would like to start off with reading a bit from the city code.”

He turned to his notes and quoted city policy to the silent council members. “In chapter one, article five: ‘the objective of the investment program shall be to aggressively manage and invest all public monies to relieve demands on the property tax and reduce the cost of public services.'”

He looked up. “I would really like to emphasize the relief on property tax and to reduce the cost of public services. I would appreciate if the council keeps in mind my desire for lower taxes.”

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Look at all the tax money wasted on those extravagant folding chairs.

“I’ve seen in the officially-approved minutes of the special meeting on July 16, Council Member…Murick–”

“MYrick,” corrected Eugene Myrick.

“–mentioned a private trash service, to which administrator [Sid] Fleming noted that having heavy trucks on our streets that the government does not control may be more damaging.”

He delivered his bottom line. “As a libertarian, government control of anything is fundamentally and philosophically threatening to me.”

Before the council could thank him for traveling on the fundamentally-threatening government streets to the fundamentally-threatening government building to broadcast his views over fundamentally-threatening government cameras, they leapt ahead to discuss another possible menace: people.

“Do we really need two recreation directors? AND an administrator assistant?” Council Member Myrick quizzed. “I’m not saying, ‘cut ’em. Get rid of ’em.’ But once that position becomes open, can we just not fill that again?”

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I seem to remember the city code mentioning reducing the cost of public services….

But Council Member Aaron Franklin pumped the brakes on the HR Express. “I think we’re approaching this from the wrong direction,” he frowned. “We need to focus on staffing the city with the right people in the right places for the right reasons. And not look at this as, ‘we need to cut things across the board.'”

He urged everyone to check their libertarian impulses. “I know that everybody wants to cut. But if we go into a study trying to find the result we’re looking for, we’re gonna have failed before we even start.”

“The intention of this is not to get rid of anybody that is currently employed,” Council President Nancy Ford maintained. “It is just if there is a vacancy, determine whether that needs filled. That shouldn’t upset anyone. If they’ve already all picked up that workload and split it among them, you know, that’s part of having a job!”

That’s true. And if the city ends up being short-staffed, there is at least one person willing to come in and read the city code for free.