Alberto Garcia prefers “recovering councilor” to “former councilor,” which is appropriate because he had a lot to recover from. We talked about the two explosive issues of his final year in office: trash hauling and divisive comments by one of his colleagues.
Q: Alberto, we are talking two months after your council term ended, meaning you can say whatever you want. No, consequences, baby! Tell me–and please use as many F-bombs as you’d like–what is something you’ve been keeping bottled up inside about the Westminster council meetings?
A: If I was on council, I would go with the, “we have a wonderful team. We have great staff.” And all that is true.
A: But I cannot begin to describe to you how long these meetings were. I can tell you, many times that was not absolutely necessary. Sometimes you just say, “come on, we’ve talked about this for two hours. Let’s vote!” There is a cartoon I saw once in which Donald Duck and Porky Pig run for city council. Donald Duck wins. Then in his very first council meeting, he looks up at the clock and it’s 2 a.m. And the mayor says, “now on to agenda item number two.” And that is how I felt frequently!
Q: [Laughs] Well, Westminster has audio, but no video, of its council meetings. So I have no idea what your council chamber looks like, but let me attempt to describe it based on what I’ve heard. If I say anything that’s not accurate, please stop me right away.
Q: Here we go: fully-nude can-can dancers. Burmese pythons. Air thick with hookah smoke. Heads of councilors who lost reelection mounted on the wall–
A: I’m still waiting for you to say something inaccurate.
Q: Perfect. Are you going to talk to your former council colleagues about getting on the same page as every other civilized municipality–plus Hoboken–and video steam these meetings?
A: I am going to raise this issue in the coming days about why we insist on staying in the past and not showing full transparency.
Q: One of the big issues from earlier last year was how the city was thinking about switching to a single trash hauler instead of the 13 or so trash hauling companies that operate now. Were you surprised that Westminster residents were massively protective of their garbagemen?
A: In the four years I was on council, that’s the thing that surprised me the most. I did not realize people’s affinity went: their parents, their children, and their trash hauler.
Q: How hard was it for you, the government, to focus on the facts when people were showing up to the meetings channeling Ayn Rand, talking about liberty and economic freedom?
A: I think that was our biggest mistake: “this is the right thing to do. It’s about sustainability, protecting our environment.” We had to go back to the very beginning and try to convince people that recycling is even necessary! This is a community that does not like change. There is a fear of change.
Q: One of your colleagues, Bruce Baker, made controversial comments during several meetings in a row. If you had been in his position, ideological outlier on a council, would you have adopted his approach?
A: Something I admire is that Councilor Baker did not mind voting no. If I was on a council, I would not take his tactics of attacking my colleagues. If I did not get the outcome I wanted, I would still feel comfortable voting no.
Follow Alberto Garcia on Twitter: @AlbertoinWesty