It’s our first dip into the waters of Alberta and boy, what a fun time it was! I talked to Bev Esslinger, a councilor in Edmonton. We addressed accusations that the Edmonton council meetings are a “man cave,” and also discussed the seemingly-unrelated subjects of prayer and city hall security.
Q: Something caught my eye on the CBC. This is a story from January:
Do you agree with this characterization of your city council meetings as an “upscale man cave?”
A: I wouldn’t call it a man cave. The last time, we didn’t have that many women running for council. We’ve been really working on that in Edmonton to improve that. We’ve changed some of our policies to be more family friendly–it’s good for everyone if meetings end at 5:30 rather than going into the evening after a full day of debate. No one’s at their best when the meeting goes past that time.
Q: Something that was big at your city council was the 2015 Supreme Court decision saying that prayer at government meetings was not allowed. You didn’t seem to like this, but looking back at almost two and a half years without prayer, is it still a disappointment?
A: Absolutely. We used to start our meeting with a prayer from a different interfaith group each time. It was always a very nice part of the day. I thought it reflected the diversity we have.
Q: City council meetings are a business meeting, ceremony, and public forum rolled into one. Did it help you do your job to have someone give a prayer right before you heard about things like zoning?
A: It was a moment of pause to reflect on our community’s diversity. It was a moment where people got to wish us their best. Hey, we can all use more prayer!
Q: I’ll give that an amen. But one of the suggestions to replace the prayer was to have a “moment of reflection” when citizens would say what it meant to them to be an Edmontonian through a poem or a song. You were against it. Why?
A: It went from a prayer to something that could be very broad. I didn’t think it was the same thing at all.
Q: Perhaps you haven’t heard a poem about Edmonton that truly blew your socks off. May I read my poem?
A: Why not!
When I visit Edmonton, can I read that at a council meeting?
Q: …Okay, let’s change the subject. On September 22, 2015, a group of cab drivers protested during a meeting when you were deciding whether to allow Uber in Edmonton. Have you ever been concerned about your safety at a council meeting?
A: Not really. It’s disruptive–you can’t conduct a meeting. We don’t try to get into it with people. In this case, this large a group of people reacting…you can’t continue your meeting.
Q: You decided to beef up your security with metal detectors and a glass wall. Wouldn’t it be cheaper if the councilors carried guns?
A: That would not be Canadian.
Follow Councilor Bev Esslinger on Twitter: @