Adam Paul is a city councilor-turned mayor who has had to deal with a series of crises–major and minor–at recent Lakewood council meetings. From the “rat house” to the brawl over a mayor pro tem, he explains how the council confronted the problem and moved on.
Q: I was pleasantly surprised to see at your June 25 meeting this year that you had some guests from Lakewood’s sister city in Australia. Was there anything that you had to explain to them about how your meetings worked?
A: Public comment was an eye-opener for them. It was a little bit foreign to them and [they] were surprised at some of the boldness of the community members in their comments.
Q: Did you get a sense of what their public comment is like?
A: Yeah, limited public comment and certainly in their system, from the queen down, kind of that proper Australian, proper English attitude toward it.
Q: When they’re not wrestling crocodiles and drinking Foster’s, I assume. What did you hope those Aussies took away from your meeting?
A: It was good for my council to understand that while we are literally a world apart, our issues are the same. That was a cool takeaway for me to see this is normal. These are the normal functions of local government. We’re not an outlier.
Q: This same meeting with the Australians, there was actually a bigger, more disgusting concern. When I say the words “rat house,” what does that mean to you?
A: Well, it’s taken on a whole new meaning. You know, in local government, we try to plan against storms and shootings and traffic accidents. You try to be prepared for everything. We were experiencing a quite sad situation. A family was dealing with some mental illness and a hoarding house. They had some pet rats that they were feeding and taking care of and it started to snowball into a terrible situation. We had to have all the rats killed, which is over 500, 600 rats, I think.
Q: At that meeting, neighbors stood up and described in graphic detail the feces, urine, and rat carcasses that they were dealing with because of this house. When you were listening to that, how did you feel?
A: I felt terrible. I mean, goodness. What a terrible ordeal. At the end of the day, I’m the mayor. The buck stops with me. Our first thing that we needed to do was contain it, get it stopped. This has been a learning process. There will always be something else that you don’t catch.
Q: Yes, and it’s unrealistic for you to know everything that’s going on in the neighborhoods before someone brings it up at a council meeting. But rats with tumors on their faces? And carcasses lying in yards? I mean, how was this happening for a year and a half and all of a sudden, it’s June 2018 and it’s a crisis?
A: If we didn’t act in a manner that we should have, we need to fix that and we will. But for some it was still too slow and we need to do a better job.
Q: Obviously, you don’t want people coming into the council meeting for public comment with every little situation for you eleven to address. But on the other hand, you don’t want someone’s house literally on fire and then coming in and telling you about it. Where have you given direction to city staff to say, “when a problem gets this bad, we should be talking about it in a council meeting?”
A: That’s why we’re there on Monday night. To hear that. When there comes a point where people don’t feel like they’re being heard or they don’t see things being affected, we’re the last remedy.
Follow Mayor Adam Paul on Twitter: @adampaullkwd