#113: Guthrie, OK 6/20/17

Spirits were riding high in the Guthrie council chamber as Mayor Steven Gentling took center stage with a beaming gray-haired woman.

“Whereas Maxine Pruitt has displayed a true commitment for the city of Guthrie for 25 years,” he read from a plaque so shiny I could see my reflection through the TV, “and has worked for NINE mayors, I am honored to declare Friday, July 7 as Maxine Pruitt Day.”

Whoops and hollers erupted in the standing room-only chamber. The mayor flashed an ear-to-ear grin and Pruitt accepted his handkerchief to dab her eyes.

“I’m so overwhelmed,” she spoke haltingly between tears. “My father-in-law, he very seldom missed a council meeting. He loved this town. I love this town. I love everybody in it.”

She whirled around to the dais. “And council, you all are the best.”

gut3.jpg
What a gentleman!

City manager Leroy Alsup crept up to spring a second surprise on her. “Maxine collects paperweights,” he explained with a hefty key-shaped object in his hand. “So we got her a paperweight that has her name on the top and it says ‘Key to Retirement.'”

However, the good vibes promptly faded as the council turned to a subject even heavier than a paperweight: the old Excelsior Library.

“There’s been quite a bit of history on this,” frowned the city manager. “Over a three-year period, the Friends of the Library have committed to certain steps renovating the building.”

Suddenly, Council Member Brian Bothroyd leaned forward, grabbing his microphone.

“What happens if, after year one, the terms aren’t met?” he inquired sharply.

“The city has the right to terminate with 60 days written notice,” the manager replied.

gut2.jpg
This is Dewey Decimal devastating

His answer set off Council Member Bothroyd on a forceful diatribe toward the Friends of the Library.

“I was requested to champion and make sure this building wasn’t gonna get demolished. And I did that,” he thundered.

“My goal was always to get y’all the key to the building, which I did. We surplused the building so I could hand you the keys on a silver platter! And it’s still sitting there.”

He gestured in outrage. “I wanna see you guys be successful. Leroy said it: the city has 60 days and they can retract the deal! I don’t wanna do that!”

“The city has some responsibility,” interjected Mayor Gentling hotly, “that we’re not turning over a building that’s set for failure.”

I don’t know what part of “key on a silver platter” the mayor wasn’t understanding. But Bothroyd reached into his bag of superlatives and pulled out a ringer.  “Again, when I’m championed to do something, I follow through. A hundred percent.”

If Council Member Bothroyd was a teensy touchy on the whole keys-on-platters ordeal, it may be because there was another issue knocking in his brain.

“I’m a straight shooter and I throw it on the table,” he ratcheted the folksiness to eleven.

gut1
“I put the pedal to the metal and tiptoe through the tulips, okay?”

“Let me tell you what happened the other night: I got about 40 calls and counting. They asked, how come I didn’t want to settle the Bruning case?”

His voice went high in disbelief. “I said, I voted no on the MOTION. The motion WASN’T to settle the lawsuit. The other part was a tax on you and I! THAT’S what I voted against.”

He waved his hand dismissively after venting. “So I don’t have to field any more phone calls on it.”

I’ll spread the word.

#112: Auburn, WA 6/19/17

As council members idly chatted while awaiting the mayor’s arrival, a little girl shuffled quietly to the middle of the chamber.

She planted herself in front of the dais and wiped her nose on a flowing blue skirt. After several moments of silent staring, she caught the attention of Councilmember Yolanda Trout-Manuel.

“Come on up,” Trout-Manuel called, waving to the staircase beside her.

The little girl bolted away wide-eyed. “Mommy!” she yelled. Then she whirled around and sprinted to the staircase. “I’mbusy!I’mbusy!I’mbusy!” she chanted, scaling the steps to the dais.

“DESTINY ROSE!” bellowed the mother as her daughter marched around the desk shaking hands with council members. “Come on,” she hissed angrily as the girl jumped into her front row seat and began kicking excitedly.

aub1
WARNING: Do not try to invite yourself onto a dais if you are not a cute little girl.

Mayor Nancy Backus gaveled open the meeting and the girl’s mother immediately slid behind the podium.

“My main concern is with the sex offender registry. Level 2 and Level 3 are required to give notifications. Why not Level 1?” she quizzed the council. “Someone I know is on that registry before I even knew he had contact with my daughter.”

The police commander reassured her: “all registered sex offenders are supposed to be on the King County website.”

She frowned. “He is not there.”

The cop kept his poker face and steady tone. “When we get done here, I’d be happy to speak with you.”

No sooner was that matter resolved than a soft-spoken older woman approached the microphone.

“I’d like to say thanks for the quick follow-up on my concerns from last time,” she smiled shyly. “Also, um, I baked some cookies for you guys. They’re gluten free.”

Mayor Backus nodded approvingly. “That is very, very sweet of you, Mary.”

Wow, talk about going above and beyond the call of duty in Auburn! If the commander sorts out that sex offender issue in time, he could be on the receiving end of a box of Tagalongs next meeting.

aub2.jpg
But seriously: you couldn’t have left a little gluten in there?

“On Saturday, the Valley Civil Disturbance Unit was held at Renton city hall,” Mayor Backus updated council members. She added with a chuckle, “we were made aware of how elected officials can get in the way of law enforcement in a civil disturbance.”

I presumed she wasn’t talking about chaining herself to a bulldozer, which she confirmed by rattling off all of the situations where council members need to duck and cover: “sit-ins, protests, protesters locked in ‘Sleeping Dragon,’ use of lethal munitions….”

Sleeping Dragon? That sounds more like a yoga pose than a restraint technique. Either way, I’d want to be far, far away when the dragon wakes up.

“Let law enforcement do their job,” she warned her colleagues.

aub3.jpg
“I did learn some SWAT techniques if we’re rushed by little girls again.”

“One final thing,” the mayor added. “Last month there were some comments made at the study session about actions taken to exclude council members from meetings and events.”

She gazed out sternly while addressing no one in particular. “Our staff goes above and beyond for EVERYONE. There is NO place in this council chambers for campaigning and I hope we can focus on the work of the city.”

With that cryptic message, the meeting ended. Hopefully, the offending party knows to stay in line–or else they might end up in Sleeping Dragon position.

#111: Sioux Falls, SD 6/13/17

When you think of South Dakota, you picture the lineup of four presidents gazing out from a mountainside. But after watching the Sioux Falls city council meeting, I’ll always picture the lineup of provocative public commenters!

“I’m a retired lawyer and full-time writer of nonfiction books,” announced a gray-haired man sporting a white Wilford Brimley moustache. “I want to talk about Senator R.F. Pettigrew. What would he think of his creation today?”

The commenter then traced a mesmerizing biographical journey through the life of Sioux Falls’s version of George Washington.

“He’s one of these people who could sit around a campfire and see a city in the making. He had a funny way of dealing with people standing in the way of progress: they were called ‘kickers’ and ‘croakers.'”

After listing several Sioux Falls mainstays that Pettigrew would’ve admired–schools, small businesses–the man reached an ironclad conclusion:

“One of the things that would make him especially proud is that his city, Sioux Falls, is far, far bigger than Yankton. He didn’t like Yankton.”

RichardFPettigrew.jpg
R.F. Pettigrew, seen here grimacing in the direction of Yankton

“It’s tremendous commentary,” gently interrupted Mayor Mike Huether at the five-minute mark, “but I need you to wrap it up.”

Secretly, however, the mayor no doubt wished for another history lesson. Because the next commenter sauntered to the microphone with an American flag t-shirt and a palpable chip on his shoulder.

“I want to apologize to the people that are watching this city council meeting,” he began, presumably not including me. (But just in case, apology accepted, fam.)

“When people come up to me in the grocery store and they talk to me about issues in this city, I apologize for bringing them up to the city council,” he continued with his arms braced squarely on the podium.

“I always ask ’em, why don’t you come and do it yourself? And they said, no, we watch how people are treated at city council meetings. You’re either chastised during the meeting or chastised at the end of the meeting. That’s true.” He frowned deeply and took his seat.

“Thank you, Tim. Appreciate it,” the mayor viciously chastised him.

sf1.jpg
Stay strong, patriot

Tim was replaced by an even more cocky complainant who aggressively launched into his grievances.

“After last week’s meeting, I sent you all a copy of the First Amendment. I thought maybe you could sharpen up on what it is,” he oozed with contempt.

“Tim said it best: why don’t a lot of people come up here to speak besides us five? Because they’re scared TO DEATH! They’re scared about repercussions. I hear it A LOT!”

He raised his voice an octave in closing. “We get yelled at. We get chewed out for doing what is our constitutional right!”

“Very good, thank you,” Mayor Huether chewed him out.

sf2.jpg
Sioux Falls’s mayor, seen here screaming in the direction of Yankton

As councilors returned to the honorable business of legislating, something was clearly bothering Councilor Rex Rolfing.

“I have one observation,” he grimaced with arms folded. “It was sad to see the media leave directly after public input with seemingly no real interest in the real business of the city. It’s revealing to me, and I hope it is to the rest of the city.”

The mayor paused, then gestured to the back of the room. “Scouts, welcome,” he waved at the dozen Boy Scouts who were caught up in the middle of this awkward exchange.

#110: Dieppe, NB 6/12/17

Something seemed off about the Dieppe city council meeting.

At first, I figured that the glass of wine I was drinking had reacted poorly with the five glasses of wine I just finished drinking. But then I realized: the audio was out of sync. And the reason was shocking.

They were speaking FRENCH!

“Without further ado, dear colleagues,” an offscreen translator spoke for Mayor Yvon Lapierre, “may we have the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Lapierre shifted his eyes and cracked the tiniest of grins after no one from the audience accepted his invitation to speak. “It’s fairly calm tonight.”

So calm, in fact, that the creation of the brand new “Elsliger Street” passed unanimously without question or comment. The mayor, however, jumped in with une petite commentaire.

“Somebody during the week asked me, ‘Elsliger? Where does it come from?’ Well, it’s in honor of the woman who suggested the name Dieppe: Madame Agnès Elsliger.”

Huguette1930.grid-4x2.jpg
Photo not available. But this is probably what she looked like.

From here, the meeting veered away from honoring old ladies into talking about…drugs.

“To DieppeMAG, they put the phone number for people who find syringes or needles,” trumpeted Councilor Patricia Arsenault, brandishing a copy of the magazine with a bicycle-riding child on the cover. “All they have to do is call that number to make sure that somebody’s going to take care of those things.”

But in fact, there is no hotline to call for another looming menace: Mary Jane. (Or, in French, Marie Jeanne.)

“All this is going to become legal on the First of July, 2018,” Councilor Arsenault warned. “The Medical Society of New Brunswick says it would be nice if we could increase the age to 21 years old.”

Legal marijuana for people under 21? Healthcare for everyone? Canada truly is a backwards county.

“Lastly, as a little puff of fresh air,” Arsenault smiled, perhaps intending that very clever pun, “a young 17-year-old Acadian launched his first CD.” She held up another newspaper with the budding artist’s picture.

diep1.jpg
Imagine how many CDs he’ll put out with legal marijuana

“I hope that my shirt shows that it’s summer,” Councilor Jordan Nowland suddenly gestured to his Jimmy Buffet-style top.

“It would be a good idea to put EpiPens in public places,” he suggested. “Somebody who has an EpiPen–it can last for 20 minutes. This is where the second one, publicly accessible, would make a big difference.”

Between syringes, marijuana, and EpiPens, the city may soon have to rename Elsliger Street to “Medical Supplies Boulevard.”

dieppe2.jpg
Ready to luau

Mayor Lapierre glanced askance at Councilor Jean-Marc Brideau. “Why the laughter, Monsieur Brideau?”

The bearded councilor looked fondly at a Canadian police officer sitting up front with arms folded. “I’ve been five years on council and I’ve always complained that we didn’t see the RCMP in Dieppe,” he chuckled.

“So I have to say, this afternoon, I had to had to wait to get out of my yard because there was a patrol car that had stopped right there!”

Well, if Councilor Brideau ever needs a police escort, they know where to find him.

Final thoughts: I give 8 out of 10 bowls of poutine to the English translator. Maybe next time he can get 10 out of 10 by doing the characters’ voices.

#109: Saginaw, MI 6/5/17

Somebody, put up the balloons and the streamers! At the Saginaw city council meeting, we’ve got birthdays in the house.

“It is my honor to give this proclamation,” grinned Mayor Pro Tem Floyd Kloc as three stocky gentlemen from the Kiwanis Club clustered at the podium. “I’m also a member, so it’s quite special to me!”

“Be it resolved,” he read, that the city “does extend this expression of gratitude to the Kiwanis Club of Saginaw for their service over the past 100 years.”

A proud centenarian stepped forward. “One of our signature projects is buying dictionaries for all the third graders in Saginaw public schools. Last year we bought 386 dictionaries, I believe.”

Dictionaries? As in, old-fashioned autocorrect? Classy move.

sag1.jpg
More importantly: are you buying the children Snapchat filters and fidget spinners?

The Kiwanis may have been turning 100, but I hope they know how to respect their elders–because an even more senior group was also blowing out candles.

“I represent the Plumbers & Steamfitters Union, Local 85. We turned 125 years old on May 1,” a significantly younger man informed the council.

“I am a little partial to Local 85,” admitted Council Member Michael Balls coyly. “My son attained his journeyman card through the plumbers union and he lives in a big beautiful home with a three-car garage and stuff like that.”

Balls nodded with the satisfaction of a proud dad. “It’s been real rewarding to him.”

sag2
“However, if my Father’s Day present this year isn’t a Porsche, I will disown him.”

As it turned out, Saginaw was about to witness another son do right by his dad.

But the circumstances were anything but cheerful.

“Proclamation in memory of Brent R. Smith, whose rich and abundant life came to a close on March 3, 2017,” read Mayor Pro Tem Kloc, standing to shake hands with a long line of bereaved family members.

The bespectacled teenage son then stepped up to the microphone.

“I’d much rather have my dad up here receiving this honor,” he said while family members folded their arms behind him.

“He was greatly influenced by his grandpa. They were best friends and they’re most likely hanging out right now as I speak.”

sag3.jpg
😥

“All of his hope and trust was in Jesus Christ,” he continued quickly, so as to avoid becoming too emotional. “He and my mom raised the three of us kids to be god-fearing Christians as well.”

While the audience stared silently at the floor, the boy punctuated his eulogy with plainspoken Midwestern piety:

“My dad did so much for so many people. There’s one thing that we know for sure in all of this: when my dad was standing before god, he heard the words, ‘well done, good and faithful servant.'”

From the back row, a slow clap began. Council Member Brenda Moore slapped the table and stared kindly at the Smith daughter.

“I came in with the young lady and I told her she was so beautiful. You are beautiful,” she repeated in a grandmotherly tone.

“And thank you so much–mom, family–for sharing your husband with the city of Saginaw.”

Then, ending the council meeting on a note of good fortune, she revealed: “I hope that you start to enjoy the sunny weather. I’m actually gonna plant a garden this year with the help of my friends. We’re gonna plant a garden!”

And with that, the cycle of life, death, and birth was complete in the span of a single city council meeting.

#108: Estevan, SK 5/29/17

Rare is the day that mail delivery gets in the crosshairs of a city council meeting.

But here in Canada, Estevan was dragged into a national firestorm over what everyone (me) is calling “Mailboxgate.”

“On August 17, 2015, Canada Post converted the city of Estevan to the self-serve mailbox model,” a gray-haired woman with the postal workers’ union ominously testified to the room of wary councilors.

“In an article in the Estevan Mercury on November 4, 2015, ‘not only were some people flustered with the loss of door-to-door delivery, but there were also concerns with the locations of the mailboxes. Some were upset to have the mailboxes in their yard.'”

Yes. In their yard–where ANY rabid moose or wayward hockey puck could attack without warning. And if you think I’m kidding about those deadly hazards…I am. But not about this:

“It has resulted in an increase in people who experience severe injuries as a result of slips and falls,” thundered the woman, “which HAVE occurred while attempting to access community mailboxes.”

est1.jpg
Look at these slippery S.O.B’s.

After painting this dystopian image of Saskatchewan’s murderous mailboxes, she concluded her blistering sermon by saying, “we’re requesting the reinstatement of door-to-door delivery in Estevan.”

Mayor Roy Ludwig scanned the room for questions. “Well, thank you so much for coming–”

“Can I ask when you would discuss this and when we would have an answer from you?” the woman immediately grilled him.

“I think this evening,” he replied in a slow monotone. “We’ll discuss it and we can get back to you probably tomorrow.”

He quickly perked up as she stood and gathered her belongings. “And you are more than welcome to stay! I always ask everyone–no one does,” he pleaded as she exited the room and councilors chuckled uneasily.

“Bye-bye,” he called after her.

est2
Mayor: “Please don’t leave me. They all leave me.”

But there was no time to mourn her departure, for a series of bombshells immediately sent shock waves as far away as Frobisher.

“One lady asked me this week regarding our plants…I know we have the new planter that will be going up on King Street,” Councilor Shelly Veroba began her inquisition calmly. “So she’s asking if there’s going to be a process for perennials versus annuals.”

Mayor Ludwig mulled it over. “That’s a fair question. I know people have been asking that.”

Wait, not even the mayor knows the critical floral selection process for Estevan? What if the city is attacked by radicalized allergens? What if lower Saskatchewan is invaded by hungry deer? WHO WILL DEPLOY THE FERTILIZER?!

“I think we need to get it out to the public as to why we choose the annuals versus the perennials,” Councilor Veroba warned sternly. Hear, hear, madam.

“I also had another inquiry,” she continued in wide-eyed disbelief. “People are curious about a clothesline bylaw. They’re saying there are people out there being stopped from hanging their clothes.”

She shook her head at this sad state of affairs. “I think it’s an urban legend. There’s no bylaw. So if you hear that, it’s just rumor.”

I should hope so. Canada is the land of the free and the home of the brave, so everyone is entitled to have the wind off McDonald Lake dry their britches on the line.

ver3.jpg
Vive l’undies!

“Councilor Veroba,” the mayor attempted to defuse the situation humorously, “were they suggesting we were airing our dirty laundry?”

Everyone chuckled. The postal woman shouldn’t have left early.

#107: Lynn, MA 5/23/17

Nothing could have prepared me for the shocking twist in this week’s Lynn city council meeting.

A mild bit of controversy confronted the council right out of the gate: whether to give one convenience store a wine and malt beverage license.

Witnesses rotated to the podium like they were on a carousel, impressively arguing their case in no-nonsense, rapid-fire succession.

“I’ve known the owners at least 60 years. They’re a reputable family,” a man in a tan suit nodded.

“I work in the area and think it would be an improvement. That’s it,” another man grunted.

“I really think we have enough liquor stores,” countered a woman wearing a crucifix around her neck. “I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel.”

“Too close. Very close,” a rival liquor store owner complained with arms crossed.

lyn1.jpg
Citizens of Lynn are nothing if not excruciatingly direct.

With each side fielding an equally compelling roster of testifiers, what would the council decide?

“This issue has come up a number of times,” a gravelly-voiced Councilor Peter Capano rubbed his eyes. “There’s just very strong neighborhood opposition, so I’d just make a motion to deny this.”

The rest of the council fell into line and unanimously shot down the license.

Council President Darren Cyr shoved his glasses onto his forehead and gazed across the chamber. “Any other business?”

“Motion to adjourn–” one councilor spoke up.

“No. I…no,” muttered Cyr strangely. “I wanna say something.”

From the back of the chamber, a man began speaking out of turn. Cyr instantly grew livid.

“HEY, JEFFREY! QUIET,” he screamed, slamming the gavel against the wooden desk. “IF I HAVE TO SAY IT AGAIN, I’LL ASK YOU TO LEAVE.”

Cyr braced himself on the podium. “As council president, this is probably the toughest moment that I’ve had,” he stared solemly at the ground. “I’m gonna ask Councilor Trahant to make a statement.”

lyn2.jpg
A statement? I don’t like the sound of this.

He sniffed, then continued in his thick Boston accent. “I’m gonna stand beside him because he’s my brothah. He’s my friend. I’ve known him since I was five years old. I respect him more than I respect any other man.”

Oh, god. What horror is about to befall us? This feels like something out of a mob movie where someone gets 86’ed.

Councilor William Trahant hugged a tearful Cyr.

“Well, this a tough way for me to get up here, but I gotta do what I gotta do,” Trahant nervously gripped the microphone. “As everybody knows, about six months ago I had a pretty bad heart attack. I’ve got a leak into my valve and I need a little more time to rest.”

The room was dead silent as Trahant glanced from face to sympathetic face. “I’m so sad I have to leave. You guys–” he began to cry as Cyr rubbed his back. “You guys did everything for me. You’re like family.”

lyn3
😥

Other councilors wiped their eyes. Trahant hung his head and searched for the right words.

“I just gotta get better. And I’m gonna get better. I love you very much.”

He received a standing ovation as he stepped down, hugging everyone on the trek back to his seat.

“May god have his hand on you, Billy,” called out President Cyr over the applause.

“Love you, Billy,” Councilor Brian LaPierre whispered.

Final thoughts: For easily being the saddest meeting I’ve seen, I give Councilor Trahant 10 out of 10 “Get Well Soon” cards.