Interview #53: Liverpool, NSW Councilor Charishma Kaliyanda (with podcast)

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

Charishma Kaliyanda is in her first year on the Liverpool city council–a council which was rocked by threats, discord, and the potential for dissolution. However, things have calmed down considerably. We talk about how state governments can investigate what happens in city council meetings in Australia, plus she gave me a macabre piece of kangaroo trivia.

Q: Liverpool councilors also have full-time jobs, I’m assuming because the crocodiles aren’t going to hunt themselves down there. But you go to your job, then you show up for a council meeting for a few hours–do people get irritable the longer the meeting goes on?

A: Absolutely. Tiredness can result in people getting a bit crabby, but we’re also lucky that we’re fed before council meetings.

Q: They give you food!

A: Yeah! They figured out very early that if you feed the councilors, the likelihood of them getting grouchy can be staved off for a while.

Q: What grade of kangaroo meat do they feed you?

A: Well, we have a couple of vegetarians, so I think they’re avoiding the kangaroos. But it’s the good stuff. We don’t just pick it up off the road and throw it on the barbecue and serve it!

Q: [Laughs] That is everyone’s impression of Australians up here, by the way!

A: If you’ve ever been to the Australian Outback, you’ll find a lot of dead kangaroos on the road. They seem to get into lots of accidents with large vehicles.

CharishmaKaliyanda.jpg
Liverpool, NSW Councilor Charishma Kaliyanda

Q: The year before you were elected, the Liverpool City Council was in chaos. But one thing that threw me for a loop was learning that New South Wales Local Government Minister Paul Toole–which we don’t have an equivalent for in the U.S.–sent someone to sit in the council meetings to monitor misconduct. And even WILDER, he was deciding whether to disband the city council entirely! He can do that in Australia?!

A: Yes. It’s happened very recently to a different council. That’s what happened in this situation: the councilor would have put in a complaint claiming what happened was not in keeping with the code of conduct. That’s when a representative from the Minister of Local Government would have investigated. That seems like it was a pretty horrible situation to be a part of. The toxicity must have been building up and people went, “I’ve had enough.”

Q: Did Paul Toole send anyone to watch your early council meetings just to see if everything was okay?

A: Not that I can recall. It’s usually at the request of a councilor or the mayor or someone in staff because they have a concern about something.

Q: At the November 2016 meeting, there was a motion to drug test all the councilors and the mayor. Do you know what that was about?

A: Right before the election there was discussion around having an ice [methamphetamine] injecting room. [The motion was] a gesture about how anti-drug councilors are…we should submit ourselves to testing.

Q: During this interview, you have been very articulate and knowledgeable, so I’m curious: did you take any performance-enhancing drugs before we started talking?

A: Does coffee count?

Q: Well, it’s legal here but I don’t know what goes down in Australia. Is it legal there?

A: Yes, but I would classify it as a performance-enhancing drug! [Laughs]


Follow Councilor Charishma Kaliyanda on Twitter: @Ckaliyanda

#113: Guthrie, OK 6/20/17

Spirits were riding high in the Guthrie council chamber as Mayor Steven Gentling took center stage with a beaming gray-haired woman.

“Whereas Maxine Pruitt has displayed a true commitment for the city of Guthrie for 25 years,” he read from a plaque so shiny I could see my reflection through the TV, “and has worked for NINE mayors, I am honored to declare Friday, July 7 as Maxine Pruitt Day.”

Whoops and hollers erupted in the standing room-only chamber. The mayor flashed an ear-to-ear grin and Pruitt accepted his handkerchief to dab her eyes.

“I’m so overwhelmed,” she spoke haltingly between tears. “My father-in-law, he very seldom missed a council meeting. He loved this town. I love this town. I love everybody in it.”

She whirled around to the dais. “And council, you all are the best.”

gut3.jpg
What a gentleman!

City manager Leroy Alsup crept up to spring a second surprise on her. “Maxine collects paperweights,” he explained with a hefty key-shaped object in his hand. “So we got her a paperweight that has her name on the top and it says ‘Key to Retirement.'”

However, the good vibes promptly faded as the council turned to a subject even heavier than a paperweight: the old Excelsior Library.

“There’s been quite a bit of history on this,” frowned the city manager. “Over a three-year period, the Friends of the Library have committed to certain steps renovating the building.”

Suddenly, Council Member Brian Bothroyd leaned forward, grabbing his microphone.

“What happens if, after year one, the terms aren’t met?” he inquired sharply.

“The city has the right to terminate with 60 days written notice,” the manager replied.

gut2.jpg
This is Dewey Decimal devastating

His answer set off Council Member Bothroyd on a forceful diatribe toward the Friends of the Library.

“I was requested to champion and make sure this building wasn’t gonna get demolished. And I did that,” he thundered.

“My goal was always to get y’all the key to the building, which I did. We surplused the building so I could hand you the keys on a silver platter! And it’s still sitting there.”

He gestured in outrage. “I wanna see you guys be successful. Leroy said it: the city has 60 days and they can retract the deal! I don’t wanna do that!”

“The city has some responsibility,” interjected Mayor Gentling hotly, “that we’re not turning over a building that’s set for failure.”

I don’t know what part of “key on a silver platter” the mayor wasn’t understanding. But Bothroyd reached into his bag of superlatives and pulled out a ringer.  “Again, when I’m championed to do something, I follow through. A hundred percent.”

If Council Member Bothroyd was a teensy touchy on the whole keys-on-platters ordeal, it may be because there was another issue knocking in his brain.

“I’m a straight shooter and I throw it on the table,” he ratcheted the folksiness to eleven.

gut1
“I put the pedal to the metal and tiptoe through the tulips, okay?”

“Let me tell you what happened the other night: I got about 40 calls and counting. They asked, how come I didn’t want to settle the Bruning case?”

His voice went high in disbelief. “I said, I voted no on the MOTION. The motion WASN’T to settle the lawsuit. The other part was a tax on you and I! THAT’S what I voted against.”

He waved his hand dismissively after venting. “So I don’t have to field any more phone calls on it.”

I’ll spread the word.

#112: Auburn, WA 6/19/17

As council members idly chatted while awaiting the mayor’s arrival, a little girl shuffled quietly to the middle of the chamber.

She planted herself in front of the dais and wiped her nose on a flowing blue skirt. After several moments of silent staring, she caught the attention of Councilmember Yolanda Trout-Manuel.

“Come on up,” Trout-Manuel called, waving to the staircase beside her.

The little girl bolted away wide-eyed. “Mommy!” she yelled. Then she whirled around and sprinted to the staircase. “I’mbusy!I’mbusy!I’mbusy!” she chanted, scaling the steps to the dais.

“DESTINY ROSE!” bellowed the mother as her daughter marched around the desk shaking hands with council members. “Come on,” she hissed angrily as the girl jumped into her front row seat and began kicking excitedly.

aub1
WARNING: Do not try to invite yourself onto a dais if you are not a cute little girl.

Mayor Nancy Backus gaveled open the meeting and the girl’s mother immediately slid behind the podium.

“My main concern is with the sex offender registry. Level 2 and Level 3 are required to give notifications. Why not Level 1?” she quizzed the council. “Someone I know is on that registry before I even knew he had contact with my daughter.”

The police commander reassured her: “all registered sex offenders are supposed to be on the King County website.”

She frowned. “He is not there.”

The cop kept his poker face and steady tone. “When we get done here, I’d be happy to speak with you.”

No sooner was that matter resolved than a soft-spoken older woman approached the microphone.

“I’d like to say thanks for the quick follow-up on my concerns from last time,” she smiled shyly. “Also, um, I baked some cookies for you guys. They’re gluten free.”

Mayor Backus nodded approvingly. “That is very, very sweet of you, Mary.”

Wow, talk about going above and beyond the call of duty in Auburn! If the commander sorts out that sex offender issue in time, he could be on the receiving end of a box of Tagalongs next meeting.

aub2.jpg
But seriously: you couldn’t have left a little gluten in there?

“On Saturday, the Valley Civil Disturbance Unit was held at Renton city hall,” Mayor Backus updated council members. She added with a chuckle, “we were made aware of how elected officials can get in the way of law enforcement in a civil disturbance.”

I presumed she wasn’t talking about chaining herself to a bulldozer, which she confirmed by rattling off all of the situations where council members need to duck and cover: “sit-ins, protests, protesters locked in ‘Sleeping Dragon,’ use of lethal munitions….”

Sleeping Dragon? That sounds more like a yoga pose than a restraint technique. Either way, I’d want to be far, far away when the dragon wakes up.

“Let law enforcement do their job,” she warned her colleagues.

aub3.jpg
“I did learn some SWAT techniques if we’re rushed by little girls again.”

“One final thing,” the mayor added. “Last month there were some comments made at the study session about actions taken to exclude council members from meetings and events.”

She gazed out sternly while addressing no one in particular. “Our staff goes above and beyond for EVERYONE. There is NO place in this council chambers for campaigning and I hope we can focus on the work of the city.”

With that cryptic message, the meeting ended. Hopefully, the offending party knows to stay in line–or else they might end up in Sleeping Dragon position.

Interview #52: Raleigh, NC Councilor Corey Branch (with podcast)

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

Corey Branch is in his first term on the Raleigh city council and there is one simple thing that he’d like to receive at a council meeting. (Much to my chagrin, it’s not a flamethrower.) Plus, we talk about how you have to acknowledge criticism from citizens and move past it.

Q: Other than grievances, what have people given you at council meetings?

A: Handouts, shirts, mugs are the main things we’ve seen. Little pinwheels we’ve received for child abuse prevention. Those–

Q: I don’t see the connection there.

A: Yeah, they’re pink pinwheels. It’s a symbol for that. I couldn’t tell you how it started.

Q: Well, obviously you remember what the pinwheel was for, so it did its job. But if you could receive anything for free at a council meeting, what would you want it to be?

A: A thank-you. That for me, honestly, means so much because I know the time that me and my peers put in to serve. Sometimes it’s just good to hear that it’s appreciated because we hear a lot of what we’re doing wrong. It’s just good to hear someone say thank you.

Q: Mmm. I would have chosen those novelty glasses that you put on and it looks like your eyes are open but secretly you can sleep behind them, you know?

A: I know exactly the ones you’re talking about!

Q: Yeah, well that’s what I would have chosen anyway. That or a flamethrower.

corey.jpg
Raleigh, NC Councilor Corey Branch

When public commenters bring up the issue of race or refer to the other council members as “white folks,” do you feel they are excluding you? Or are they not speaking so much about “black v. white,” but really “citizens v. people in power?”

A: I think it’s a mix of both. People’s experiences play a major role in how they interact and how they may see things or express things. As for me, do I feel they’re talking to me or excluding me? I can’t speak for them. I just know every day for the last 39.5 years when I wake up, I’ve been a man of color.

Q: I don’t want to be the white guy who does this, but I watched an episode of Blackish recently, and–

A: [Chuckles]

Q: I know how this is coming across right now! But the father explains to the son about “the nod,” where if two black men walk past each other, they nod in acknowledgment. Do you get the sense that when people speak to the council, they telegraph to you, “hey, YOU should at least be on my side?”

A: Um, yes. I have to look at the situation, what’s going on. I’m fortunate that I can bring in some experiences that other council members have not [had]. If I feel there is a lack of equity, I need to be a voice. Speaking out may not be directly from that table. It may be a sidebar conversation.

Q: If someone was criticizing me because I was “white folks” or…or anything, “young people,” “left-handed people,” I would get defensive and tune them out.

A: I hear it and acknowledge it. We have to act like adults. That’s why earlier when you asked me what I wanted, I said a thank-you for these very reasons we’re talking about here.


Follow Councilor Corey Branch on Twitter: @Corey4DistrictC

#111: Sioux Falls, SD 6/13/17

When you think of South Dakota, you picture the lineup of four presidents gazing out from a mountainside. But after watching the Sioux Falls city council meeting, I’ll always picture the lineup of provocative public commenters!

“I’m a retired lawyer and full-time writer of nonfiction books,” announced a gray-haired man sporting a white Wilford Brimley moustache. “I want to talk about Senator R.F. Pettigrew. What would he think of his creation today?”

The commenter then traced a mesmerizing biographical journey through the life of Sioux Falls’s version of George Washington.

“He’s one of these people who could sit around a campfire and see a city in the making. He had a funny way of dealing with people standing in the way of progress: they were called ‘kickers’ and ‘croakers.'”

After listing several Sioux Falls mainstays that Pettigrew would’ve admired–schools, small businesses–the man reached an ironclad conclusion:

“One of the things that would make him especially proud is that his city, Sioux Falls, is far, far bigger than Yankton. He didn’t like Yankton.”

RichardFPettigrew.jpg
R.F. Pettigrew, seen here grimacing in the direction of Yankton

“It’s tremendous commentary,” gently interrupted Mayor Mike Huether at the five-minute mark, “but I need you to wrap it up.”

Secretly, however, the mayor no doubt wished for another history lesson. Because the next commenter sauntered to the microphone with an American flag t-shirt and a palpable chip on his shoulder.

“I want to apologize to the people that are watching this city council meeting,” he began, presumably not including me. (But just in case, apology accepted, fam.)

“When people come up to me in the grocery store and they talk to me about issues in this city, I apologize for bringing them up to the city council,” he continued with his arms braced squarely on the podium.

“I always ask ’em, why don’t you come and do it yourself? And they said, no, we watch how people are treated at city council meetings. You’re either chastised during the meeting or chastised at the end of the meeting. That’s true.” He frowned deeply and took his seat.

“Thank you, Tim. Appreciate it,” the mayor viciously chastised him.

sf1.jpg
Stay strong, patriot

Tim was replaced by an even more cocky complainant who aggressively launched into his grievances.

“After last week’s meeting, I sent you all a copy of the First Amendment. I thought maybe you could sharpen up on what it is,” he oozed with contempt.

“Tim said it best: why don’t a lot of people come up here to speak besides us five? Because they’re scared TO DEATH! They’re scared about repercussions. I hear it A LOT!”

He raised his voice an octave in closing. “We get yelled at. We get chewed out for doing what is our constitutional right!”

“Very good, thank you,” Mayor Huether chewed him out.

sf2.jpg
Sioux Falls’s mayor, seen here screaming in the direction of Yankton

As councilors returned to the honorable business of legislating, something was clearly bothering Councilor Rex Rolfing.

“I have one observation,” he grimaced with arms folded. “It was sad to see the media leave directly after public input with seemingly no real interest in the real business of the city. It’s revealing to me, and I hope it is to the rest of the city.”

The mayor paused, then gestured to the back of the room. “Scouts, welcome,” he waved at the dozen Boy Scouts who were caught up in the middle of this awkward exchange.

#110: Dieppe, NB 6/12/17

Something seemed off about the Dieppe city council meeting.

At first, I figured that the glass of wine I was drinking had reacted poorly with the five glasses of wine I just finished drinking. But then I realized: the audio was out of sync. And the reason was shocking.

They were speaking FRENCH!

“Without further ado, dear colleagues,” an offscreen translator spoke for Mayor Yvon Lapierre, “may we have the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Lapierre shifted his eyes and cracked the tiniest of grins after no one from the audience accepted his invitation to speak. “It’s fairly calm tonight.”

So calm, in fact, that the creation of the brand new “Elsliger Street” passed unanimously without question or comment. The mayor, however, jumped in with une petite commentaire.

“Somebody during the week asked me, ‘Elsliger? Where does it come from?’ Well, it’s in honor of the woman who suggested the name Dieppe: Madame Agnès Elsliger.”

Huguette1930.grid-4x2.jpg
Photo not available. But this is probably what she looked like.

From here, the meeting veered away from honoring old ladies into talking about…drugs.

“To DieppeMAG, they put the phone number for people who find syringes or needles,” trumpeted Councilor Patricia Arsenault, brandishing a copy of the magazine with a bicycle-riding child on the cover. “All they have to do is call that number to make sure that somebody’s going to take care of those things.”

But in fact, there is no hotline to call for another looming menace: Mary Jane. (Or, in French, Marie Jeanne.)

“All this is going to become legal on the First of July, 2018,” Councilor Arsenault warned. “The Medical Society of New Brunswick says it would be nice if we could increase the age to 21 years old.”

Legal marijuana for people under 21? Healthcare for everyone? Canada truly is a backwards county.

“Lastly, as a little puff of fresh air,” Arsenault smiled, perhaps intending that very clever pun, “a young 17-year-old Acadian launched his first CD.” She held up another newspaper with the budding artist’s picture.

diep1.jpg
Imagine how many CDs he’ll put out with legal marijuana

“I hope that my shirt shows that it’s summer,” Councilor Jordan Nowland suddenly gestured to his Jimmy Buffet-style top.

“It would be a good idea to put EpiPens in public places,” he suggested. “Somebody who has an EpiPen–it can last for 20 minutes. This is where the second one, publicly accessible, would make a big difference.”

Between syringes, marijuana, and EpiPens, the city may soon have to rename Elsliger Street to “Medical Supplies Boulevard.”

dieppe2.jpg
Ready to luau

Mayor Lapierre glanced askance at Councilor Jean-Marc Brideau. “Why the laughter, Monsieur Brideau?”

The bearded councilor looked fondly at a Canadian police officer sitting up front with arms folded. “I’ve been five years on council and I’ve always complained that we didn’t see the RCMP in Dieppe,” he chuckled.

“So I have to say, this afternoon, I had to had to wait to get out of my yard because there was a patrol car that had stopped right there!”

Well, if Councilor Brideau ever needs a police escort, they know where to find him.

Final thoughts: I give 8 out of 10 bowls of poutine to the English translator. Maybe next time he can get 10 out of 10 by doing the characters’ voices.

Interview #51: East Point, GA Council Member Alexander Gothard (with podcast)

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

East Point’s council meetings are a roller coaster on top of a rocket ship on top of a volcano. Alexander Gothard has been a head-down, studious council member, but even he has earned the ire of mayors in those meetings. All I will say is: listen to the whole interview.

Q: I get the impression from your council meetings that Mayor Jannquell Peters gets impatient with you all because she wants to do things quickly. Is that why there is so much tension?

A: I wouldn’t say that. I would say just a difference of opinion on issues–that’s what made [things] divisive. The mayor wanted to get it done and the council members wanted to say, “wait, let’s look at this. Let’s make sure it’s as efficient as possible.” The mayor didn’t like that. We definitely respect each other and we have a good time.

Q: Well, it appears that the council members get along fine, but collectively, you don’t like the mayor. So it’s teams of 8 v. 1. Am I wrong here?

A: That’s interesting you should see it that way as an observer. The mayor is strong-willed. I do think that the city has a better image since she has been mayor. Yes, she tries to run an efficient meeting. But council members aren’t always going to agree with the way she runs it. In terms of the animosity, I don’t think it’s anything personal. I think it’s healthy to have disagreements.

Q: If you think it’s healthy to disagree, you’ll REALLY like what we’re going to talk about next, which is Earnestine Pittman, your former mayor. I saw something that blew my mind: on August 5, 2013, you were in your second year on the city council. About two hours in, you made a motion. The mayor immediately went on a rant about how it was a terrible idea. When you tried to argue, she threw you out of the meeting. What did you do after you left the chamber?

gothard.jpg
East Point, GA Council Member Alexander Gothard

A: I honestly went to get a drink. I remember that very well. It was surrounding Center Park repair. There was no way that I was going to sit there and just let that item be skipped over. It was unfortunate, it really was.

Q: Do you wish the other council members had come to your defense?

A: No, they didn’t have to. When I was removed, I thought she was totally wrong. But being about the people–because that happened, the Center Park residents the very next meeting, I think eight residents came out to speak on behalf of that park. So despite me being kicked out, it was beneficial to the cause I was advocating for.

Q: Did Mayor Pittman ever apologize to you?

A: No. I told her how upset I was. She didn’t apologize and I didn’t expect her to.

Q: Did she at least understand your side of things?

A: No.

Q: Mmm. If there’s one thing you could change about your council meetings, what would that be?

A: I’ll tell you something interesting: the new city of South Fulton, for anything to go on the agenda, the mayor has to approve it. I’m glad we do not have that in East Point.

Q: So you wouldn’t do anything that gives the mayor more control?

A: I would not.


Follow Council Member Alexander Gothard on Twitter: @CouncilmanAG