John Taylor Chapman is a city councilman in Alexandria–not, as I initially thought, the former child star on Home Improvement. We talked about how he learned to tie a bow tie, the thing that bugs him the most about council meetings, and about a controversial city council meeting in 2016. (You will want to listen to the whole episode because we get pretty in-depth about that incident.)
Q: How did you first learn to tie a bow tie?
A: I hate to say it, but I think it took me about 25 minutes of watching YouTube videos after I bought my first bow tie. I was determined to wear it that day and tie it myself.
Q: There’s no shame in going to YouTube for advice! Forty years from now, we won’t even have parents. Kids will be raised by a series of memes and cat videos.
A: [Laughs] That’s probably true!
Q: Let me run a couple scenarios by you. Say you’re going to a city council meeting and there’s going to be a big hearing about downtown redevelopment. What bow tie do you wear for that?
A: Most likely–I have three different red bow ties. One is a plain, solid red one. That’s my go-to. Then I have one that has polka dots and one that has stripes.
Q: Let’s say that an asteroid has hit Alexandria. The mayor and the other council members are dead. You have to carry on the work of the city council. Oh, and everyone else is a zombie. What bow tie do you wear?
A: I used to have a bow tie with the seal of the city. If that were the case, I would summon my powers to get that one.
Q: Recently, someone in the audience had this to say about you at a council meeting:
Public commenter: Why don’t y’all [council members] get out and see what people are complaining about? Chapman, he come. We went to Goat Hill. And he took care of [the problem].
When someone at a city council meeting calls you out for doing a good job, how important is that to you?
A: Honestly, I think it’s one of the best feelings that someone on city council can have, whenever you are recognized for work that you’re doing. Especially when it’s not passive work. Getting down and working directly with folks is what I think our job is all about.
Q: What kind of behavior do you see at city council meetings that frustrates you?
A: I know I suffer from this from time to time: we have folks who like to talk. I think stories are good to follow up with points, but I think there can be a point where there’s too much storytelling and not enough direct decision making.
Q: When you hear the mayor say [at a contentious city council meeting] that you should be able to criticize staff in public, what do you think of that?
A: I…I think it brings on a very bad vibe. It leaves your staff feeling dejected because you’ve gone out of your way to embarrass them in public. We’re supposed to be one team. I don’t think we get quality staff–and keep quality staff–if we take on a culture where we are belittling them in public.
Follow Councilman John Taylor Chapman on Twitter: @