Interview #89: Santa Ana, CA Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez (with podcast)

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

Michele Martinez has been on the Santa Ana council for 12 years and is the current mayor pro tem. That means she runs the meetings when the mayor is gone, and it turns out that she has a significant philosophical difference on how to do things. We talk about her approach to public comment and the linguistic changes that have happened in her council chamber.

Q: You were first elected in 2006, which was also the year I created my first municipal affairs program, the “Planning and Zoning Commission Chronicles.” In retrospect, it was terrible. But can you think of any changes that have happened to the Santa Ana council meetings during these 12 years?

A: One of the first things that my colleagues and myself did was to get translation services for those that wished to come and speak before the council. Before that, our mayor would translate for those that would come and speak Spanish. We just thought that was kind of unfair.

Q: Was translation something he wanted to do or was he given that task?

A: Well by default, he knows Spanish fluently and as the mayor he would just do it because we had no one, nor did we ever dedicate the funding to pay for someone. If he weren’t there and there isn’t someone else to translate, a staff member or someone else in the public would translate on behalf of that person.

Q: One time, you and Mayor Miguel Pulido were absent and the other council members excused you but refused to excuse him. What does that mean–does an unexcused absence go on the mayor’s permanent record?

A: Obviously, he won’t get paid for that council meeting.

Q: Ah. Is the mayor frequently gone for important votes?

A: True. There are times where he doesn’t want to take action on certain items, so he won’t attend. I always give ample notice and I inform everyone why I can’t attend. The mayor chooses not to do that. He’ll contact the clerk very last minute and never give his rationale. The mayor doesn’t like controversy and I think everyone knows that about him.

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Santa Ana, CA Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez

Q: Well, I don’t like controversy either so–I’m kidding, I love controversy. That’s why I’ll bring up this: in December 2016 there was a meeting of four council members, including you and the mayor. The other three council members were absent. The subject of the meeting was disciplining the city manager. You needed four votes to put him on administrative leave and you coincidentally had those four votes. Were you sensitive to the perception that this meeting was about power and not process?

A: The mayor in this case doesn’t need four members of the council. He can do a special meeting at any given time without consent of the council. So the mayor chose to have that meeting. There’s been inconsistencies as it pertains to the process. We need to have some kind of protocol so there is no blame game and we’re consistent.

Q: Can you speculate why the decision to discipline the city manager could not have waited until a meeting with all seven council members?

A: Obviously it could. Yeah. The mayor chose to do it at that specific time because it benefited him.

Q: I just realized that when the mayor leaves early from meetings, he doesn’t hear all the public comments that he pushed to the end. Did you realize that?

A: Oh, yes. I realize it every single time. He does leave most times before public comment and I believe that’s wrong. We should all be able to listen, including the mayor.


Follow Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez on Twitter: @Michele714

Month in Review: March 2018

We are still technically in winter, so naturally we saw some dark and chilling moments at March council meetings–like the mayor who mused about active shooter training or the massive feud over a smoking ordinance.

But spring is so close, and we also experienced glimmers of warmth, including the playful rivalry between two mayors and one vocally-talented council announcer.

Not to mention that on the podcast, we had a delightful time–among other things–reviewing artwork for utility boxes!

To see which city council meetings were rays of hope, take a stroll through the March Month in Review.

And if you still are skeptical that March council meetings had sufficient intrigue, you clearly have not heard the case of the mysteriously-appearing park deck. BEHOLD THE DOSSIER:

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RECAP: Best of Podcast Interviews

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This week, we take a listen back to some of the spiciest, most compelling, and most art-filled interview segments in the past several months. If you have a friend who you’ve been dying to introduce to the magic of city council meetings, sit ’em down and have them listen to this!

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

This includes excerpts from:

Interview #72: Hamilton, ON Councilor Matthew Green (with podcast)

Interview #85: Aurora, CO Council Member Allison Hiltz (with podcast)

Interview #54: Cheyenne, WY Mayor Marian Orr (with podcast)

Interview #87: Pullman, WA Councilmember C. Brandon Chapman (with podcast)

Interview #82: Syracuse, NY Councilor Khalid Bey (with podcast)

#156: Denison, TX 4/2/18

It was only appropriate that a Texas-sized stemwinder of a prayer kicked off the Denison council meeting.

“Every beginning has its ending and every ending has a new beginning. Help our leaders to know what to cling to, what to preserve, and what to let go of,” a woman in an Easter-Bunny-pink shirt requested from the heavens.

“Empower each one of them to use their unique gifts to create a beautiful life in our community. As they are guided by your holy spirit, our entire community will flourish.”

It was more important than usual that the prayer today be thorough, for the council was facing an issue that might usher in copious amounts of sin:

Whether to give a nightclub an alcohol and live music permit.

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Pray for cheap drinks

“One of the situations in the request is also the operating hours,” a staff member explained. “Proposed operating hours for this are Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.”

He quickly added, “this is inside the entertainment district. A nightclub use, live music, is appropriate.”

When I think “small-town Texas entertainment district,” I imagine rodeos and gun stores, not live music and dancing. Talk about pushing boundaries!

“We are the owners of the nightclub,” a couple announced at the lectern. “Here for any questions you may have.”

“Is this your first time to operate a nightclub?” Mayor Jared Johnson quizzed them.

“Yes. I’ve worked in nightclubs before off and on throughout the years,” replied the man confidently.

Councilmember J.C. Doty was surprised at how late the nightclub would keep the music cranking. “You’re requesting to be open till 2 a.m. I know some of the other places around close at midnight,” he observed. “Was there a specific reason why you wanted to stay open till 2 a.m.?”

“We’re only gonna be open three nights a week,” countered the owner, much to the chagrin of the Tuesday-night club aficionados. “I believe that’d be very important for our profit margin to have a couple extra hours per night.”

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Who closes at midnight??

“So being in the entertainment district,” the mayor mused aloud, “should there be an event on a Saturday afternoon that they could benefit from being open during that time, what would be the process for allowing them to do that?”

Mayor Pro Tem Kris Spiegel abruptly leaned forward to defend the tiny business from the heavy hand of big government.

“I guess I don’t understand why we’re limiting it to 8 [p.m.] to 2 [a.m.] Whether they open at 5 p.m. or 4 p.m., I don’t know why we care.”

The staff member seemed to back up the libertarian point of view, replying, “I’d have to request the ordinance. I’m not sure that we have to restrict their hours. I believe we request them to give us operating hours.”

The mayor, sensing a compromise between the open-anytime wing of the council and the eight-to-two faction, said, “if it’s the council’s pleasure, what they’re suggesting is to put in a number not to exceed five or six times a year to have different opening hours.”

He glanced to his left. “Mr. Pro Tem, does that make sense?”

Spiegel nodded. “Understood.”

After a moment’s silence, he continued, “does that mean you want me to make a motion?”

“That’d be great,” the mayor deadpanned to laughter, before adding ominously, “don’t mess it up.”

And just as the prayer said: the council knew what to preserve and knew what to let go of.

Interview #88: Greensboro, NC Council Member Justin Outling (with podcast)

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

Few people have had as eventful a three years on their city council as Justin Outling has had in Greensboro. From the infamous transgender bathroom bill to screening police body camera footage in a meeting, we relived some of the most contentious moments in his council chamber.

Q: I noticed that every council meeting, you bring in a courier. Is this a position of honor or does it go to the city employee who’s about to be fired or what?

A: I think definitely more of the former than the latter! Greensboro city council has had a courier for quite some time now and that person’s task is to provide council with notes either from staff or from persons in the gallery. It’s traditionally a city employee from one of the many departments who has the pleasure of spending four or five hours with us on a Tuesday. Human conveyor belt is probably an apt description.

Q: But if they drop a bunch of files on the floor, they’re not gonna walk in and be fired the next morning in the Parks and Rec department, right?

A: If the call were mine, they would not be fired. But that’s really the city manager’s call. So all couriers in Greensboro, beware: don’t drop the papers!

Q: At one meeting, your Republican state representative came to defend the controversial North Carolina transgender bathroom bill. Do you as council members have to watch what you say about higher level politicians in meetings to avoid them retaliating against you?

A: I think there is a lot of strategy that one has to undertake in moving the ball forward and working with state legislators who do have the power to make your life difficult and act against the interests of the city. There are definitely occasions where you have to exercise restraint and do what you think is best for the city, not necessarily what’s best for your sanity.

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Greensboro, NC Council Member Justin Outling

Q: In the summer of 2016, there was an incident involving a white police officer who used excessive force against a black man and it was captured on body camera footage. Your council decided not only to release that video, but to do it at a council meeting, on camera, with a full room of onlookers. I can imagine council members in other cities going, “what? Why would you ever do such an emotionally-charged, embarrassing, or uncomfortable thing in a council meeting?” 

A: Allowing the citizens to actually see what happened and giving them an opportunity to express their frustration, their disappointment, and their hopes for the future–through that incident, it helped bring some members of the community closer together. It perhaps wasn’t the best for council members’ egos in terms of hearing a lot of unpleasant things from members of our community who were hurting like we were.

Q: As the footage was playing in that council chamber, I’m not sure what you were expecting to happen, but did it happen?

A: Yeah, I was expecting to see a lot of hurt on people’s faces, and that’s exactly what I saw. And it’s the same images I saw on the faces of my colleagues the first time we saw it in a closed session.

Q: Do you see a divide on your council between people who consistently think about what the proper role is for council members, and then others who are better at reacting to the mood of the room?

A: I think there is a divide. I would not characterize it as being better to reacting to the mood of the room. I think some people are much more willing to tell folks what they want to hear, notwithstanding the merit. The reality is that I’m an elected member of Greensboro city council. It is not about me feeling good about what I say and what I do.


Follow Council Member Justin Outling on Twitter: @JustinOutling

#155: Richfield, MN 3/27/18

When the sheriff shows up in cowboy movies, it’s a sure sign the bad guy is going down.

“To make sure he got here in time, [he] hustled the vice president out of town so he wouldn’t be late,” joked Richfield Mayor Pat Elliott, welcoming the top cop to apparently the second-most important event of his day.

The sheriff stared down his nemesis: a slide show on the computer. “Which do you think it is? Arrow to the right?” he mused aloud. “Up-down?”

Everyone waited patiently while he solved the mystery of the puzzling PowerPoint. “Help,” the lawman murmured, proving that sometimes even heroes need heroes.

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I believe in you.

Finally he got the hang of it and opened with a bit of trivia.

“I will not ask you, Mr. Mayor, what are the names of the three rivers that flow through Hennepin County. But I know you know the Crow, the Mississippi, and–what’s that last one?” he stumped himself.

“Minnesota,” Mayor Elliott replied, acing the rivers pop quiz.

But between those rivers lay a festering problem, and the sheriff turned on the rhetorical lights and sirens for his nearly 200 opioid overdoses.

“If I had 162 homicides in Hennepin County last year, I’d bet that it’d be in the front page of the Star Tribune or on the 4, 5, 9, 10, 11–all news channels in between. But it’s not.”

As frustrated as he was by the drug deaths, the sheriff was also irritated at himself for the crime of third-degree long-windedness.

“I promised you, Mr. Mayor and council members, eight to ten minutes. I took eight minutes and 35 seconds. I went a little bit over.”

As he surrendered the lectern, Mayor Elliott welcomed a former mayor who had since risen to the ranks of the elite.

“Commissioner [Debbie] Goettel, it is good to see you! You’re back in your stomping grounds,” he gushed. “I hope you have some words of wisdom for us yourself.”

“There are some pretty startling facts that he didn’t share with you,” she countered, dodging any happy wisdom and instead beelining to the opioid wisdom.

“They are disproportionately affecting our younger folks. Anywhere from the age of 15 to about 45.”

After waiting a beat to digest the news, Council Member Edwina Garcia confessed, “we still miss you.”

“I beg your pardon!” exclaimed the current occupant of the mayor’s seat.

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Mayor brawl!

“I mean we,” Garcia quickly clarified, referring to the royal “we.” “Not necessarily sitting right here,” she jabbed at the mayor.

I don’t know who would win in the battle of the mayors. But I will admit: the high point of the meeting was when Mayor Elliott revealed the catchy slogan for “council member announcements.”

“On to ‘Hats Off to Hometown Hits,’” he said.

In his Hometown Hit, the mayor offered the most striking analogy of the day. “Anytime you get a special verdict form that comes back that’s in your favor–this is gonna sound a little strange,” he admitted, holding up an official document. “But when I get one like this, it’s akin to the birth of a child. We got one this past week.”

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Boy or girl?

But Council Member Maria Regan Gonzalez used her Hometown Hit to once again ground her colleagues. “This morning we met with our congressman, Congressman Ellison. The opioid crisis, we did talk about that.”

Well, I think we know what Richfield Public Enemy Number One is. Citizens, let’s run these opioids out of town like they are the vice president.

Interview #87: Pullman, WA Councilmember C. Brandon Chapman (with podcast)

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

Brandon Chapman is a first-term council member and (apparently) a seasoned art critic. We explored his opinions on utility box paintings and discussed what he is still getting used to in the council meetings.

Q: Brandon, from what I understand, you are a longtime listener of the podcast, including before you ran for city council. Is that right?

A: That is correct. I’ve always had this interest in all things municipal. I don’t even know what I googled or what I put into the iTunes search. So I started listening and I thought, he’s bringing the humor, which is important. And of course, really good interviews. Plus me! It’s truly comforting to realize that my city is not nearly as dysfunctional as some other ones.

Q: I wouldn’t call any city dysfunctional. They are all like my children in that I would give them all up for adoption if I could. But what has City Council Chronicles meant to you as a council member? And I’d ask that if you are going to cry, please do it directly into the microphone.

A: Right. You’re listening to them and they’re coming up with the same kind of issues that maybe your city is facing, but they’re tackling it from a different way. And you hear something and you’re like, “oh, I’m not sure I ever thought about that. But maybe that’s a possible solution!” So for me, it is a huge educational opportunity. You could even call it a professional development opportunity for city council members.

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Pullman, WA Councilmember C. Brandon Chapman

Q: Recently in a meeting, you guys selected artwork to go on utility boxes. Is that normal city council business in Pullman?

A: Yeah, I wasn’t expecting to become an art expert overnight! It was a crash course. And I think I’ve learned quite a bit.  We got to move toward even evaluating the art–that was a real shock to me. We only have one utility box that’s wrapped. It was decided that they looked ugly. It looked better than just the metallic, just the gray. But it was also, you know, very lifeless, I thought. And so this call was put out [to artists] and I was fully expecting that there would just be a presentation, but they asked the council’s opinion.

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Q: For this first painting, “Woman Who Travels,” you said it would make a nice mural. Do you still believe that?

A: Yeah, in order to understand this, you need to see every part of this painting, of this drawing. And if you wrap it around a utility box, I don’t think it’s going to leave the viewer with enough to come up with their own definition of what it means to them. To me, I started looking at this thinking, a recognition that I’m still growing. Have to understand things like white privilege and male dominance and patriarchy.

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Q: The painting most council members seemed to approve of was “Starry Lentils.” First of all, I thought “Starry Lentils” was another porn star who had an affair with the president. But it is this landscape of Eastern Washington. It is super colorful!

A: It’s obvious artistry that’s borrowed from Vincent Van Gogh, from Starry Night. Van Gogh painted from behind the window of this asylum and that almost alluded to a detachment or a loneliness. There’s a world out there, but it’s untouchable. And the starry lentils would be, it’s in the open. There’s nothing holding you back. The world is for your taking.

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Q: Were there any council members who gave their opinions on the art and you were like, “ew, is that your taste? I’m never going with you to pick out wallpaper!” 

A: Well actually, I think most of the council members had the same opinion. So they’re a bunch of copycats! I started it! I was the first one.


Follow Councilmember Brandon Chapman on Twitter: @cbrandonchapman