Watching the Asheville city council meeting last month, I noticed the particularly steady guidance of Mayor Esther Manheimer. What was her deal? How does a first-term mayor run such smooth meetings?
In this interview, Her Honor told me about gaining confidence, her fascination with tribal customs, and when she ejected a troublemaker.
Q: Before you were mayor, you were a regular council member. How are council meetings different now that you’re in charge?
A: You’re of more of a facilitator. You’re making sure everyone has their voice heard. You can’t just space out. If you’re a council member, you can choose to just not know any of that.
Q: When you were a council member, did you avoid knowing the rules?
A: No, no, no. I love all things Roberts Rules. Especially with my anthropology major as an undergrad–tribal customs.
Q: What’s the most well-run city council meeting you’ve seen besides, obviously, the ones you run?
A: As a lawyer, I have appeared before many county commissions and city council meetings. I like a well-run meeting where the chair keeps the questions focused. Sometimes you can watch it unfold in front of you and they’re veering off into territory that’s not even in front of them and the chair is not controlling that.
Q: When you were just a council member, how did the mayor run meetings compared to your style?
A: She did not corral the troops ahead of the meetings, so it was a little more chaotic. I try to make sure we’re prepared.
Q: Your previous mayor was a city council member, then mayor. You were a city council member, now mayor. Do you ever look from side to side at a meeting and think, “which one of these people is coming for my job?”
A: Not DURING the meeting but…[laughs] I definitely wonder, are there other folks who want to become the next mayor of Asheville? And then I think, do I wanna run for mayor again?
Q: …DO you wanna run for mayor again?
A: I don’t know. I have three young kids. Politician, mommy–plus I’m a full-time working lawyer.
Q: It’s hard to have it all. Speaking of the other council members, do they act differently in private than they do on camera?
A: Oh yeah. Very different. I have the newer council members that are learning more about getting their voice and saying their opinion loud and clear in public. That’s a process every newly-elected person has to go through. And it’s a little scary.
Q: It’s also scary during public comment when people are calling you liars and con artists. How do you decide when to say something and when to just sit there?
A: We have gotten to know who is going to be constantly disappointed with us no matter what. To respond every time almost elevates the comment. I don’t think when we’re being told we’re liars, to say, “oh, I’m not a liar” is helpful. I won’t respond in those situations. Now, if someone is providing incorrect information, I will clarify it. Because there might be three people watching and so–apparently you’re watching, too. So, four people.
Q: Darn right.
A: The first time I had to throw somebody out of the meeting, I had him removed because he was directing his comments at staff and not at us. He was staring at the staff and I warned him several times that’s not appropriate.
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