Interview #20: Mesa, AZ PIO Kevin Christopher (with podcast)

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

If you saw the Mesa city council meeting review, you’ll recognize Kevin Christopher as the announcer of a HUGE agenda. But did you know he once reported on city council meetings? He did–and he has the stories to prove it!

Q: You were a journalist covering city council meetings in the early 1980s. How were meetings different in the ’80s other than, obviously, uglier eyeglasses?

A: Yeah, and interesting hair and fashion! I think the biggest change is the technology. Nowadays, it’s very easy to find out the agendas.

Q: Were there always a lot of spectators?

A: I think because [Midwesterners] have deep roots, they tend to be a little more passionate about issues. We always had pretty good crowds. Madison had like 20 aldermen–for a population of about 250,000–

Q: Wow! Chicago has 50 alderman, and they certainly have more than double the population of Madison.

A: Even that’s huge. Fifty people! Cincinnati had nine. Mesa has seven.

Q: What do you think is the ideal number of city council members?

A: I think seven or nine is good.

Q: When you started in Cincinnati, Jerry Springer was there. Did he stand out at all during council meetings?

A: He was pretty colorful. He was very charismatic and personable and I think that’s what was very appealing.

Q: You’ve sat through city council meetings in Cincinnati, Madison, and Mesa. Take me down the list–who stuck out?

A: I think the most memorable was a woman in Cincinnati. It wasn’t her real name, but she went by Fifi Taft Rockefeller. She claimed to have affairs with presidents and Winston Churchill. She’d be at city council almost all the time.

kevin-christopher
Mesa, AZ Public Information Officer Kevin Christopher

A: Generally you put like a three-minute limit on people to speak. And in Madison, they didn’t do that. I’m thinking, “no wonder these meetings go six and seven hours.”

Q: They had no time limits?

A: No! I thought that was insane.

Q: It is! Other than running egregiously long meetings, how did council members treat you in the media?

A: As long as you were fair, they treated you very well. I remember in Cincinnati, they all enjoyed the microphones and cameras. If it wasn’t a particular hot button issue being debated at the time, they would get up in the middle of the meeting and you could go to the back of the room and talk.

Q: For your current job in Mesa, you read the entire agenda–45 items–and it took you eight whole minutes to get through. Do you prepare for that? Do you do vocal warm ups?

A: I look it over. There’s a few tricky–with restaurants and things that are in Spanish. My favorite of all time: a liquor license application for “What the Hell Bar & Grill.”

Q: Are there any memorable moments from Mesa?

A: When I first came to the city, we had one council member, Tom Rawles, who decided back in 2007 he was not going to stand for the Pledge of the Allegiance. So he kind of pulled a Colin Kaepernick. This was a protest against the war in Iraq. All of a sudden we started getting these people showing up at meetings and criticizing him. He actually got police protection for a few days to be safe. I’m not sure what he’s doing now.

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