I once passed through Galesburg on a train and thought, “Well, well, well: THIS place seems like they’d have some funky city council meetings!”
Like usual, I was right. I talked to the grand poobah of G-Burg, Marty Hobe, who reports on the city council for The Register-Mail. He told me about costumed performers, the Burgnado, and Galesburg’s survivalist mayor.
Q: How many people show up to city council meetings?
A: You can get quite a few people. We had the local humane society looking for its annual grant from the city. Every year, they flood the chambers with people who talk about cute little puppies they save.
Q: Do they bring in puppies?
A: No, they’ve never brought in a puppy!
A: Once–so, a historical figure from Galesburg was Mother Bickerdyke. She was a nurse in the Civil War. We built an overpass recently and the city council was deciding what they should name it. Our mayor said we should just call it the Seminary-Kellogg Street Bridge because it’s Seminary and Kellogg Streets it physically goes over. But someone dressed up in historically accurate garb as Mother Bickerdyke and addressed the council as Mother Bickerdyke, asking them to name the bridge after her. It was quite the performance!
Q: So…did she sway the votes?
A: Oh, yeah. It’s called the Bickerdyke Bridge today.
Q: Other than the ghost of Mother Bickerdyke, does anyone do public comment?
A: Not really. We have people who are frequently in the audience, but they won’t sit up to speak.
Q: Weird. What’s their deal?
A: I don’t know if they’re just dedicated civilians or–I know there was one woman who would come to meeting after meeting. Turns out she wanted to run for one of the open alderman seats, and she ended up winning.
Q: I heard things went sideways when they voted on the city manager’s raise. A 4-3 vote, right?
A: That was a bit of an awkward day, anytime you’re dealing with salaries. We’re not dealing with celebrity-type politicians. These are still real people.
Q: Marty, what is the Burgnado?
A: It’s a tornado drill. The city council sits in and the Knox County emergency response team, they role-play. It was a kind of a walk-through of what would happen should an F4 tornado come through and decimate Galesburg.
Q: What’s the city council supposed to do?
A: Mostly informing the public…one of the messages was just basically, “take the information back to your constituents and stay out of our way.”
Q: If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one of the city council members, who would you choose?
A: Oh, I have to play favorites?
Q: You absolutely have to play favorites.
A: Probably our mayor, John Pritchard. He’s a pretty funny guy. He likes to joke around a lot.
Q: Ah, so he’d be good company on an island.
A: Exactly. He wouldn’t be boring.
Q: Did he knock it out of the park during the Burgnado drill?
A: I think so. He’s got a lot of survival instincts in him.
Q: Do you think he could spear a fish in the water and cook it on a makeshift fire?
A: I don’t know how quick he is with a spear. I’d have to see that first.
Follow Marty Hobe on Twitter: @mhobe55