Amber Waldref and I had a very deep discussion about the regular public commenters (there are tons) at her meetings, an incident involving a presidential walk-out, and her approach to getting the audience on her side.
Q: How would you describe council President Ben Stuckart’s style of running your meetings?
A: It’s easy to criticize, but if you had to do it yourself–because I’ve had to–it is difficult. You have to have a strong constitution and you can’t be afraid of calling people out. I take a little bit softer approach than council President Stuckart does. I don’t know if that helps or hurts me.
Q: When you run the meetings, how do you handle it?
A: It’s all about preparation. Usually you’re given at least a couple days notice so you can get your head in order and research agenda items–make sure you understand where things might go astray and check in with council members to make sure no one’s going to throw in a crazy motion at the last minute.
Q: When you said you take a “softer” approach, that word, when you connote it with being a woman, it’s like, you’re a better listener, you’re more “motherly”–or whatever it conjures up. Is that what you meant?
A: I think it’s just the tone of your voice and the sincerity of your statements. If someone comes up and gives a comment, [say] “thank you” instead of giving a sarcastic, “NEXT!” They may be a difficult person to listen to. They may have something they’ve said a thousand times and you’ve heard it. But you just smile and in the tone of your voice, sincerely say, “thank you for your comment.”
A: You still need to be firm. I think it’s how the tone of the meeting can be set by just making a joke at the beginning or making light of something–getting the crowd to chuckle and getting them on your side. Those are some tricks I use.
Q: What are we talking about here? Knock-knocks? Limericks?
A: I usually use self-deprecating humor. Or, “oh, since council President Stuckart is out, I’m going to be nice to all of you. Haha!”
Q: [Laughs] So, is what you’re talking about not so much “kindness” but “acting?”
A: No, I think it’s about a state of mind. It’s probably easier for me because I don’t have to chair [the meeting] every week. If you were president every week, it’s hard to have that approach. I think you’re at an advantage if you’re only doing it every three months. People maybe have a different perspective on you.
Q: It’s like a substitute teacher: you might think you could get away with things or you might wish you had that teacher all that time.
A: Yeah, I want to be the cool substitute teacher.
Q: [Laughs] One of these meetings you should just put on the Minions movie and forget about the agenda! Are things any different in the small conference room that your meetings are in now versus your old council chamber?
A: It’s a more intimate space. We’re on the same level as the people speaking to us. Which I appreciate. It creates a more casual atmosphere. I think that’s why people are speaking out of turn. There’s plusses and minuses.
Follow Council Member Amber Waldref on Twitter: @amberwaldref