Candice Quarles is a first-term councilwoman, active tweeter, and experienced YouTube host whose council is home to some uncommon traditions, including a dependable beverage supply and a rotating meeting ambassador. We discussed one particular meeting that turned out many commenters who had strong opinions about renters.
Q: At the beginning of the DeSoto council meetings, Mayor Curtistene McCowan introduces the meeting “ambassador.” Listen, I understand how politics works. Let me pull out my checkbook here–okay, how many thousands of dollars in campaign contributions do I have to make to get one of these prestigious ambassadorships?
A: [laughs] It is volunteer. It’s one of the city employees. It’s just an opportunity to highlight them and the work that they do and also letting the residents know: if you have a public comment, this is who you go and see.
Q: How much competition is there to be an ambassador?
A: I wouldn’t say there’s any competition!
Q: Can I apply to be an ambassador?
A: You have to be a city employee. That’s the candidate pool.
Q: [sigh] This is looking less appealing by the minute. You know, there is a phrase I’ve heard people use to describe DeSoto, and that is the “All-America City.” What does that mean?
A: All-America City is a designation. In 2006, there was a formal proposal from the city, there’s an application process, it was a competition. We were awarded that designation and it has a lot to do with the amenities you offer as a city. A lot of cities strive for it. If you come in our city, you’ll still see that logo.
Q: Since DeSoto is clearly superior to cities that have not won the award, is there any trash talking you’d like to do to those lesser cities? The Elkhart, Indianas or Memphis, Tennessees that couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag if their public works budget depended on it?
A: Trash talking? No, but head to head, pound for pound, my city I certainly uplift and let you know anytime, anywhere that I’m from DeSoto!
Q: I noticed that you posted this on Twitter:
How did this gravy train of beverages get started?
A: So on the DeSoto city council, we are 100 percent volunteers. We do not receive any pay. A lot of times, I’m coming to council meetings after a full day of work. Sometimes the meal that we get, we might bring it to council work sessions. [Other times] the staff has a meal. It could be Outback Steakhouse. It could be Boston Market. But my favorite part of the meal is a cold Coke. They place that at the desk and I just really appreciate it.
Q: Well, nothing is more all-America than a can of Coke and a hunk of meat from a steakhouse. Free soft drinks and meals are not the only bequeathals of yours at city council meetings. Why was getting a changing table in the men’s room in city hall important for you?
A: Young families are coming to the city and young families might visit city hall. Why would we have a changing table only in the mom’s restroom? Maybe mom is the one in the meeting. Or mom is the one doing something where she can’t go to the restroom and change the baby. If you were a working mom or a young family, it’s important. Once you’re past that phase, you probably don’t think about it. But I was in that phase.
Q: On February 7, 2017, your council was considering a rezoning request for an apartment complex on Pleasant Run Road. Many commenters who spoke against it were highly disparaging of renters–that we don’t need “those people.” “They” are dangerous. If I had heard this in any other city, I would assume it was coded language about race. But DeSoto is about 70 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic. What do you think they were really talking about?
A: Like you said, it is a majority-minority community. I wouldn’t say it’s just race. I would say it’s always class and race. It’s multi-layered. Maybe that’s their experience with the people they have rented with, but that’s not always the case.
Follow Councilwoman Candice Quarles on Twitter: @CandiceQuarles