Interview #86: Indianapolis, IN Councilor Michael McQuillen (with podcast)

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

Michael McQuillen is the Republican District 4 councilor and minority leader on the Indianapolis-Marion County city-county council. Despite his council’s long name, he tries to make quick decisions on votes, including the difficult ones involving unseating the council president. We talk about those occasions, his perfect attendance, and more.

Q: I hope it is not too late in the year to congratulate you for winning a perfect meeting-attendance award in 2017. Why does the Indianapolis council prefer to honor people who attend all of the meetings instead of my preferred method of shaming people who miss any meetings?

A: That’s actually my crowning achievement for 2017, so we can’t take that too lightly. But seriously, I think it’s something that’s been done for 40, 45 years and I’m just caught up in the minutiae of it now.

Q: You’ve been on the council for ten years. How many of those years have you had perfect attendance?

A: I’m probably about a 50-50 hit or miss. But I generally hit all the council meetings, occasionally will miss a committee meeting here and there.

Q: Okay, gotcha. Well it actually was five out of the ten, and I appreciate you pretending like you didn’t have that memorized. Very convincing! In your second year on council, Republican Council President Bob Cockrum decided to alternate the adjournment between his vice president and the minority leader, rather than have the minority leader do it always. How strongly do you feel about being in charge of that part of the meeting?

A: Being the minority leader, there are very few bells and whistles that that person gets to use. The reading of the memoriams at the end of the meeting is one of the very few. As you point out, that has been my responsibility for the last several years now on council. I don’t know where it would rank in the hierarchy of importance in the council meetings, but I do enjoy brushing up on tricky last names sometimes when I’m on camera.

Q: Sure. I mean it’s ceremonial akin to the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance. So would you be pretty protective if someone tried to take that away from you?

A: I guess I probably would. Again, it’s one of the few things that puts the spotlight on the minority party for just a very few minutes at the end of the meeting.

Indianapolis, IN Councilor Michael McQuillen

Q: Earlier this year when the council was choosing whether to retain the council president or elect a challenger, the vote stayed open for a really long time. Do you recall what was going on that took people that long to decide?

A: I’ve never understood in the ten years that I’ve been on the council why some councilors, especially if they know how they’re going to vote on an issue, sit there and wait to hit the button and be perhaps the last person. That’s great if you want to be on the news as the councilor that “made the decision” on how the vote goes. It’s not really true that that’s the way it works, but sometimes that’s how it’s perceived. My personal philosophy has always been to hit that red or green button immediately and move on.

Q: Is that something you’re obligated to do as the leader of the caucus? Or might that be why you’re the leader of the caucus: because you’re so darn decisive?

A: Good point. I do try to throw the button down fairly early for that reason. But also again, I just don’t want to be the last man standing. A few years ago there was a vote on overriding the former mayor’s veto. I was the only person to hit a red button that night. It was 24-1. But it was kind of lonely sitting there at the end of the 60 seconds the board was open and having one lonely, little red button up there.

Follow Councilor Michael McQuillen on Twitter: @mike_mcquillen 

#153: Pullman, WA 3/13/18

“I’ve sorta got it figured out,” mused Mayor Glenn Johnson after the roll call was complete. “If I start with ‘present,’ then everyone else goes ‘here.’ And if I go with ‘here,’ everyone goes ‘present!’”

It was an intriguing conspiracy theory–made even more intriguing when no one issued any denial. But what was undeniable was that the mayor’s booming radio voice made his mundane announcement about the Irish Feast twice as tantalizing.

“They have corned beef and cabbage, salad, hot bread, pie, and coffee for a mere seven bucks,” Johnson rattled off in a cadence not heard since the days of Cronkite.

“Dave at one time went to Ireland just to get the right corned beef recipe,” he gave an avuncular nod. “And the pie is top of the line, I’ll tell you that.”


Before I could even reserve my tickets for the Irish Feast, the mayor added with sizzle, “with that, it’s time now for arts in Pullman!”

“This is a picture of our fab new building,” the art museum director bragged, flashing the looming structure onscreen for the room to admire. She then lasered in on her main purpose: to get the council on board with a creative district in downtown Pullman.

“I’m hoping that with the Downtown Coug–I’m calling it the Downtown Coug. It’s not the official name,” she cautioned. (It was probably for the best; “Downtown Coug” is, I suspect, a type of fetish I am not willing to Google.)

“I don’t know personally if I’m 100 percent [for] making Pullman an ‘arts district,’” Councilmember Al Sorensen winced.

This man is not into Downtown Coug.

“It’s a creative district,” the museum director gestured excitedly. “If it was just about art, I’d be out there throwing statues up. You know me!”

She added, “we’re moving away from coal. We’re moving away from gas. We don’t have the Big Five anymore. We don’t have cars.”

Wow, I had no idea Pullman was once a coal-gas-carmaking hub. By all means, reinvent yourselves! Councilmember Ann Parks heartily agreed.

“We don’t really have an identity in our town and I think it could be something we could be known for.”

But I would argue that Pullman, as of this writing, already has an identity: as the home of politicians moonlighting as art critics.

“In 2016, we wrapped the utility box that you see here in the photo with art,” a staffer explained, displaying a colorful photo of the masterpiece. “And we have gotten just rave reviews about that!”

But two more utility boxes were in line for a makeover and the council would now get to review the cream of the crop submissions.

“The colors appear a little more muted than they actually are in the art,” she hedged as council stared at the vivid landscape titled “Starry Lentils.”

This screams “utility box.”

“I like the drawings more than I like the photography. I think that we have more possibility to make it pop,” noted Councilmember C. Brandon Chapman. “I like the ‘Starry Lentils.’ I think that could be just cheerful.”

“When the artist says he likes people to come up close, we’ve already had a utility box hit by a car,” quipped the mayor to laughter.

The staffer nodded after noting council member preferences. “Okay, so we have very strong direction on ‘Lentils.’”

“That’d be a great mural!” exclaimed Chapman, pointing to a black and white pictorial of a woman in various costumes. “That’d be really fantastic on one of these spaces where we just have a lot of concrete. I think you could tell a story better that way than if it were wrapped.”

Save it for the new Downtown Coug, folks!

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

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

First-term council member Allison Hiltz has already seen a ton in her first three months: a bicycle shop in distress, sexual harassment training on the rocks, and an uproar involving the Girl Scouts. Listen for all the details!

Q: There’s this image of city council meetings that they are the place you go if your back is up against a wall and you need to plead your case to somebody. On February 5, there were over half a dozen people who came to beg that your city council save the Second Chance Bicycle Shop, which was about to be evicted.  Were they correct to come to you in a meeting to ask for help?

A: Yeah. I think it’s always correct to come and talk about the community at council meetings. That’s what city councils should be. That’s our job to know what’s happening in the community and to help.

Q: Do you get the urge to drop everything and figure out how to help these folks out?

A: I always want to drop everything and fix everything but then I have to stop, take a breath, and just work on getting the right people on it.

Q: Right, you’ve got to pace yourself. You’ve got a four-year term! I heard you are a lifelong Girl Scout. Is that correct?

A: Yes!

Q: Nice, nice. Same here. What was the idea that the Girl Scouts had for the Aurora city council?

A: It was to protect the health and safety of minors who are in cars with people who are smoking.

Q: This proposed ordinance came up at the January 22 meeting. At one point, Council Member Bob LeGare said the ordinance was trying to “legislate the action of stupid people.” You took offense to his use of the word “stupid.” How do you respond to the argument that Bob LeGare may simply have been “telling it like it is” while you were being “politically correct?”

Aurora, CO Council Member Allison Hiltz

A: You know, I still stand by that comment. I understand that we live in a political world where you can just say whatever you want and call people the names that you want. I do think that as an elected official, you’re held to a higher standard. It is up to us to maintain a level of professionalism. I think once you start calling names over one action, why not start calling everyone else a name for whatever action they have?

Q: Was it the word that bothered you or was it the judgment behind that word being leveled upon people for some behavior?

A: It’s the judgment. No one’s saying that smoking in a car with children is a good idea. But it’s also not our job as council members to start judging the individual actions of people. Once you start passing judgment on people, it just goes into a whole different way of legislating that is not my preferred way.

Q: How surprised were you that between the first meeting with the Girl Scouts’ ordinance and the second meeting, the rhetoric had shifted to opposition?

A: I think it was easy for some to forget that these are 12-year-old girls. There was a lot of conversation about some things that I think maybe were not necessary to have said so vehemently and sternly in a public setting to 12-year-old girls. I would have much preferred those concerns to have been made to those Girl Scouts in a one-on-one context. It’s easy to forget sometimes that the people you’re talking about are real human beings and also 12.

Follow Council Member Allison Hiltz on Twitter: @AllisonHiltz 

Month in Review: February 2018

It was a tall order to pack a months worth of city council action into only 28 days, but February pulled it off. We welcomed new blood to a city council and saw one person walk away from the job mid-meeting.

We also had a busy podcast schedule, talking to people who are doing wonders for helping their constituents understand the meetings, as well as those who are frustrated by how opaque their council truly is. Plus, we got one promise to video stream council meetings by December!

To see which city councils are doing well and which ones are way behind the times, take a look at the February Month in Review.

And if you heard that nothing innovative ever comes out of a city council meeting, I implore you to read about this little girls revolutionary new homeless shelter:


Interview #84: Vancouver, BC Councilor Andrea Reimer (with podcast)

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

Andrea Reimer has been a councilor since 2008 and has witnessed a significant rise in points of order at her council meetings. We talk about why that is, as well as why some speakers acknowledge indigenous territory.

Q: In the Vancouver council meetings, I noticed a lot of people acknowledge that you are on native territory. Are you obligated to do that?

A: We have a formal protocol that the chair of the meeting needs to acknowledge we are on the unseated homelands. But it’s up to each speaker to decide how they want to engage with that. It would be a rule for the mayor or myself when I’m chairing. For Vancouverites, though, who come to speak to council, it’s totally up to them. Many people do make that acknowledgement.

Q: You posted this last year:


Is blood sugar any different now than it was when you got on council in 2008?

A: The main goal of the chair is to get people out of that room by 3:30 in the afternoon. If they don’t, we hit the low blood sugar zone. We do have a brand new council member who just joined us in October who has introduced some activities such as slapping desks. We see that in our parliament–I don’t know if you guys do that in your national government. But we generally don’t do that at municipal council because we’re sitting maybe ten feet away from each other at most. We don’t really need to slap tables to signal that we’re happy or unhappy with something!

Q: I have not seen a city council raise the volume of points of order that I see in Vancouver. Why do you think that is?

A: On my first term of office, 2008-2011, I think we might have had one point of order in the entire three-year period. Then one of the individuals was elected and suddenly we skyrocketed up in number. And then another one, Councilor [Melissa] De Genova, got elected in 2014 and she can do that many before lunch in some meetings. So I think it’s just, different councilors have different styles. Your president’s really into Twitter. We have a councilor who’s really into points of order.

Vancouver, BC Councilor Andrea Reimer

Q: I heard that last year, a lady fainted in your public comment. Is that true?

A: Oh, yeah. We’ve had a few. We’ve had fainting. We had a medical emergency. We had a fire once while I was chairing. I was the only one who didn’t notice it because it was happening behind me!

Q: Has anyone called point of order on that fire?

A: You know, it’s funny. Those were never points of order! We actually completed the council meeting outside. I’m such a stickler for rules because I’d hate for all of the decisions to be overthrown because some procedural breach happens. I made us go outside and formally adjourn the meeting correctly.

Q: During a public hearing about a proposed development in Chinatown, I heard there was some poor behavior. What did you see that concerned you?

A: It sounds like there was some attempts to intimidate [speakers] either verbally or in one case, physically. We definitely heard booing. Probably the most difficult moment for me was we had two members of the Musqueam nation, one of the three indigenous nations, who came up to the microphone to speak and they were booed by a crowd that had used indigenous issues to try and justify their case. It had such a deep-seated disrespect for the issue. I talked to the organizers and they’ve since reached out to the individuals involved on the Musqueam and I understand there has been reparations made. They’ve apologized.

Follow Councilor Andrea Reimer on Twitter: @andreareimer 

#152: McMinnville, OR 2/27/18

Right away, McMinnvillians knew something special awaited at the top of the council meeting–almost as special as me calling them “McMinnvillians.”

“Because we’ve had a last-minute change in agenda, we’re going to ask for Chloe to come up and speak to us for about ten minutes,” announced council President Kellie Menke, “on the matter of a prototype that she has built.”

The 11-year-old Thomas Edison took her seat at the witness table in the vast gulf between the council dais and the audience.

“Could somebody help her get the microphone just a little closer?” requested Menke, noticing that the mic was not prepped for a much shorter human than normal.

“I am here as a support for Chloe,” clarified the woman to her left. “I’m her teacher.”

Field trip!

“This project started in my language arts class. We watched a video on CNN for kids. There was a woman in San Francisco who created a mobile shower unit for the transient population,” explained the teacher. “We were talking about one day very soon, they’re gonna be the leaders of McMinnville.”

So, like any teacher looking to stimulate young minds, what did she do?

“I offered extra credit for anyone who came up with a creative solution.”

Chloe launched into a breakdown of her brainchild–a concept simple to understand, easy to visualize, and with a catchy name.

“The Wheel-A-Bed would be like a small–not necessarily a house, but like a shelter,” she described. “The idea is to make a small, about 7′ x 2′ x 2′ box-like shelter with a hollow inside. It would consist of a blanket or small mattress and small microwave for cooking food. The light bulb would be an LED light. The shelter would be solar powered.”

7′ x 2′ x 2′? That seems rather…casket-sized. But as Chloe pointed out, better this than a real casket.

“Homeless people need a shelter to keep them away from thieves, diseases, rain, criminals, and I think you get my point,” she said. Like a shrewd salesperson, she did momentarily acknowledge the device’s weakness.

“One con is the fact that the Wheel-A-Bed does only fit one person. It would be hard to think of just one way to fund a project like this. I know that my aunts, uncles, and grandparents would probably love to donate.”

“May she come up to show you her prototype?” inquired her teacher.

“Oh, we’d love to see it! Yes!” gushed council President Menke.

Tiny House? More like “Slender House.”

Chloe walked slowly across the room, holding up the shoebox-sized model with wheels.

“Very creative!” “Very nice!” complimented the councilors.

“Good job, mom and dad!” exclaimed Menke.

It was certainly a unique prelude to a council meeting. But this isn’t San Francisco, after all. I don’t see how McMinnville–the Paradise of the Pacific Northwest–could benefit from Chloe’s alternative sleeping chamber.

“I can understand the resistance of having RVs, campers, and cars parked in people’s residential neighborhoods, but the people living in these vehicles are still considered homeless,” pleaded the next commenter. “They are still people but are choosing a different lifestyle than most.”

“I’m also here to speak to the RV ordinance,” admitted another woman. “I am really concerned about the fines.”

Hmm, maybe the Wheel-A-Bed is more relevant than I thought….

“On March 21, we are going to allocate a certain portion of our workshop time to vehicular camping,” President Menke reminded everyone.

Well, Madam President, I know an 11-year-old visionary who I hope you invite!

Interview #83: Grande Prairie, AB Councilor Dylan Bressey (with podcast)

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

Dylan Bressey is in his first term on the Grande Prairie city council and he came to my attention for obvious reasons. We talked about all the work he puts into his council meeting recaps, plus he gives prospective council commenters some advice on how to keep things relevant.

Q: I noticed that during your swearing in, unlike other councilors you did not say, “so help me, god” nor did you put your hand on a religious text. So, sir, are you excited that you are going to hell?

A: [Laughs] You know, it’s actually quite the opposite. I’m a member of the clergy and something that I’m very conscious of is I’m very uncomfortable with religious politics. I really intentionally asked not to take my oath on a Bible, taking seriously Jesus’s words not to do that.

Q: Interesting. That hasn’t brought you any bad luck or hellfire since then, has it?

A: Well, it hasn’t yet, but we’ll see what my eternal destiny might hold because of it.

Q: On February 10, someone tweeted at you

To which you responded, “I disagree about the hashtag, but council feels a lot like school, so I could get behind #bresseyforvaledictorian.” In what way does your council feel a lot like school?

A: Every week it feels like I’m getting hundreds of pages of documents that our administration is asking us to read. I’m digging through online databases. And I’m even writing a lot of papers. I do a lot of blogging. So I really am treating this like school.

Q: On your website, you really set the bar high for what city council members can do to explain everything about their jobs to their constituents. This thing is an encyclopedia for what, why, and how the city council does its business. How long does it take you to write up a summary of a given council meeting?

Grande Prairie, AB Councilor Dylan Bressey

A: As I’m processing it, I’d say it takes me probably an hour and a half to just do the writing. And then I get somebody to proofread it, I tweak it, I post it on the website.

Q: Some council members tweet out their feelings about council meetings. Others put it on video. I’m sure there’s at least one guy in Vermont who uses puppets or something. What is the advantage in writing out, beat by beat, the proceedings of a council meeting from your point of view?

A: I really don’t like this thing we have going on today where we seem to talk about less and less information more and more passionately whenever we talk about government. It really helps me learn the materials. There’s been quite a few times where I’m writing a blog post and I get halfway through and I realize as I struggle to explain it that I don’t really understand what I just wrote. So I have to study again, call, ask a few questions.

Q: Part of your website is the FAQ. You offer to give people tips on preparing a presentation for council. Let’s say I’m a homeowner in Grande Prairie and my problem is–this being Canada–my neighbors are playing Celine Dion loudly at 4 a.m. and throwing empty maple syrup bottles on my lawn. I want the city to fine them. How do I convince the council to take this problem seriously?

A: Well, I think you’ve already got a good start there. You’ve got a clear problem and you’ve even got a solution you’re suggesting to us. Something we struggle with is sometimes people aren’t able to clearly frame their concern and how they’d like the city to act on it. And that’s hard for us to take a cue from. So coming in with specifics is good.

Follow Councilor Dylan Bressey on Twitter: @DylanBressey