#136: Berkley, MI 10/16/17

No sooner had the cameras turned on than Mayor Pro Tem Steve Baker made an aggressive opening bid.

“I’d like to suggest that we move the ‘communications’ before the closed session. So that as we move into closed session, we can just adjourn–” he gazed to the audience with hands outstretched “–without holding these folks here all night.”

Multiple council members simultaneously assented. “Seconded by several people all at the same time,” Mayor Phil O’Dwyer observed dryly.

Speaking of the audience, a substantial number of chairs were filled–and for good reason. Tonight, there was a LOT the good people of Berkley needed to get off their chests and on the record.

“I’m a physician. I come today not with my physician hat on,” a balding man with glasses but no hat whatsoever introduced himself, “but my president’s hat for the Berkley Rotary Club. Every year we have an annual pancake breakfast.”

He brandished a colorful poster. “I’m leaving some flyers. I did not bring any tickets to sell.”

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Yum.

However, I quickly realized what he was “selling” was indeed not pancakes, but rather the very existence of the Rotary itself.

“I’m concerned that our club may be going away,” the man frowned and looked from face to face. “We normally have about 25 members. Every year it’s been dwindling. People move. People retire. People die.”

A woman behind him stroked her chin. A man in a white moustache looked stricken. The speaker continued:

“We’re down to six members, which is a pretty sad state. In the past from Berkley, we’ve had city managers, we’ve had police chiefs, we’ve had librarians. We really have no members representing the city.”

He stood rigidly and delivered the heartbreaking news directly at the mayor. “If we don’t have a successful pancake breakfast, the six members are going to go away. So I’m pleading with the city that we can get some representation in our club.”

Whoa. Normally, people come in to ask city councils for money or services. In this case, he just needs somebody–anybody–to show up. This isn’t some obscure quilting club; it’s the Rotary. If it falls, who will look after the city? The Neighborhood Garden Coalition?

I don’t think so, mayor.

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His message of “our death will be on your hands” isn’t exactly an uplifting call to action.

Whatever the fate of Rotary, his cry for help resonated with the next commenter–the man with the moustache–who was listening closely.

“Proud citizen of Berkley,” was his gruff identification. “We need more citizens to step up. Volunteer. Such as the Rotary Club. The Parade Committee. The Beautification Committee.”

He kept it to all of 30 seconds. “Step up and help. Thank you.”

As if some invisible composer had orchestrated the whole thing, the next woman was spearheading the aforementioned Holiday Parade Committee. And I’ll give you one guess at what the Committee needs:

“Like everybody else, we’re looking for volunteers to help us on our parade staff,” she announced. “We would like to extend an invitation to our mayor and city council when Santa Claus will be given the key to the city.”

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Who needs keys when you use chimneys?

“You are assuring us tonight,” interjected Mayor O’Dwyer in his authentic Irish brogue, “that Santa Claus will be there?”

“Absolutely,” she nodded solemnly. “We’ve gotten word from the North Pole that he will be coming down Twelve Mile and he’ll be greeting all the little children–and adults.”

Have him stop by the Rotary afterward!

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#135: Springdale, AR 10/10/17

“Before we proceed,” Council Member Kathy Jaycox stopped the meeting cold in its tracks, “could we recognize some guests in the audience? They’re here because they are trying to earn badges.”

Mayor Doug Sprouse relaxed. “Sure. Would somebody like to tell us who’s here?”

The Boy Scout troop leader stepped to the microphone and ordered his young charges to their feet. “Gentlemen, if you’d like to stand. They’re working on their communication merit badge.”

“Okay,” the mayor replied, doing a little drumroll on his desk and smiling. “I don’t know how much communication you’ll learn from THIS bunch, but we’ll try!”

As soon as the Scouts settled back in their seats, the council took up the titillating issue of an emergency replat of the Sunset Industrial Park Phase II subdivision. Things went smoothly on the first roll call vote. But suddenly, the staffer at the lectern barreled ahead without warning.

“The next item is a–” she announced, before the mayor halted her for a necessary second vote.

“I’m just in a hurry!” she chuckled as the next roll call rolled on. “I’m doing my part to make it short!”

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Communications lesson: keep it short, but wait until people are done voting.

Now, under normal circumstances, updating personnel policies is hardly a mouth-watering affair. But today? Let’s just say: don’t judge a book by its heavily-tattooed cover.

“So, if someone’s trying to apply for a position,” Council Member Colby Fulfer mused, “we can still use discretion based on someone’s physical appearances or sources of income that could be questionable? Could we discriminate?”

“It depends,” replied Mayor Sprouse matter-of-factly. “We do have positions where we can have those requirements. They would be the obvious ones like personal appearance.”

Council Member Mike Overton threw up his hand and grumbled, “not in all departments can we have people looking at Jo-Jo the tattooed man!”

Wow. I would be more worried that a grown man chooses to go by “Jo-Jo” than the fact he has tattoos.

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I associate myself with these reactions.

At this point, Mayor Sprouse, who had apparently been sitting on a powerkeg of exciting news all meeting, finally lit the fuse. “As we’re looking at possible fire stations with a bond issue, I would really like to go look at one,” he prefaced.

“The best one sounds like it’s in the Kansas City area. I think it would be great to go up there and look at that.”

Field trip! I love car rides. Which brings up an important question: I am invited, right?

“We’ll just go when the most people can go,” Sprouse glanced around. “I know that the press will be invited.”

That’s me, baby! If the mayor is a man of his word, City Council Chronicles will happily ride shotgun on the party bus.

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Real talk: I’ll only go if the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette isn’t invited. 

“We would leave 7:30, 8 in the morning,” he continued, diminishing my interest slightly in this excursion. Immediately, crosstalk ensued as council members simultaneously tossed out their availability.

“What about the 23rd?” hollered one voice. As the mayor scanned his schedule, other council members nodded in agreement.

“I’ll have to cancel a couple of meetings, but I can move those,” the mayor assented.

“What could be more important than being with the council, mayor?!” Council Member Overton joked. The mayor pursed his lips and bobbed his head without further reply.

Final thoughts: I’ll see you guys on the 23rd.

#134: Iowa City, IA 10/3/17

Mayor Jim Throgmorton couldn’t avoid it. He had to address it. And within the first minute, he joined thousands of other mayors at council meetings across the country in saying:

“I want to express our profound shock and grief about the mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas.”

He frowned deeply. “Will this sequence of mass killings never end?”

After ordering a minute of silence, the mayor looked up, attempting to lighten the mood.

“Sometimes transitions can be very awkward,” he acknowledged with an avuncular grin. “We have two proclamations.”

Now, if the first proclamation were for “Clowns and Balloon Animal Appreciation Week,” it might have indeed been an awkward transition. But in reality, the segue was far more muted from gun horrors to…Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“How do you move forward when the one place you are supposed to be safe is no longer?” a woman stood at the lectern and gave a heartfelt acceptance speech for the proclamation. “When everything about your life has been controlled in every way?”

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The rhetorical questions were strong today.

Because Columbus Day was fast approaching, the next proclamation naturally declared–well, not what you’d expect for Iowa:

“Iowa City is built on the homelands of the indigenous peoples and the city is dedicated to opposing systemic racism,” Mayor Throgmorton read. “The city encourages other businesses, organizations, and institutions to recognize Indigenous People’s Day.”

Being a business, an organization, and an institution, City Council Chronicles will up the ante and declare next week Indigenous People’s WEEK. Ball’s in your court, Iowa City.

Moving on to the student representative from the University of Iowa, he informed the council that “we held our first town hall to figure out what topics they had on their minds. The topic was voted on via Twitter poll–we’re millennials, how else would we do things?” he took a small dig at his generation.

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Some of my best college memories were Twitter polls.

He added, in the college spirit: “real quick shameless plug for my fraternity’s philanthropy. We are hosting a 0.1K on October 15.”

Several people giggled at the premise, but he continued wryly. “I understand that’s a far distance and y’all aren’t trained for it. We’ll have a watering hole at the halfway mark.”

“Do you think it’s gonna take that long to run it?” quizzed Council Member Susan Mims facetiously.

“It might,” the student deadpanned, prompting chuckles.

The mayor sat up as he remembered something. “Hey Ben, I’d like to note that on November 28, I’m going to be visiting with student government.”

“You will!” Ben agreed.

“Yeah. I’m looking forward to that.” His brow furrowed and he raised his voice. “BUT IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!”

“We’ll have a cupcake for you,” Ben insisted. “Do you prefer Molly’s [Cupcakes] or Scratch [Cupcakery]?”

“Molly’s,” hissed several council members and folks in the audience. The mayor was forced to acquiesce to the seething mob.

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Partisan crowd

“The Englert [Theater] has done it again,” Council Member Terry Dickens informed his colleagues breathlessly. “They’re bringing Arlo Guthrie! It’s pretty exciting that we get somebody of that quality here.”

“Terry?” Mayor Throgmorton leaned in and cheekily made reference to a Guthrie song, “where can you get everything you want?”

Dickens didn’t miss a beat. “The Englert!”

The mayor was disappointed his joke didn’t land. “No! You can get everything you want–”

“One of his great songs, yes,” Dickens nodded without taking the bait.

Final thoughts: For the record, the answer is “Alice’s Restaurant.”

#133: Anderson, SC 9/25/17

There are two things that are universally beloved: cute babies and the fire department. And the Anderson city council meeting had plenty of both.

“I’m gonna ask Chief Bratcher to come up with his wife,” Mayor Terence Roberts beckoned the interim fire chief to the stage.

City staff, meanwhile, wheeled around in front to ogle the talkative toddler bouncing on his dad’s knee.

“Sometimes we get so busy and the chief was doing such a good job being the interim chief, we kind of forgot to recognize him,” the mayor smiled sheepishly.

“I’m going to do the oath of office and I think his wife is going to have a role in this too.”

He looked down at his script and quoted the oath. “I do solemnly swear–”

“I–” began the chief before his quick-thinking wife nudged him to raise his hand. Immediately, he sprung his right arm upward. The mayor was right: she saved the swearing-in!

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Good rescue

After accepting his badge and shaking hands with the city council, the chief invited eight of his men to the front for their own promotions. The baby gurgled and cooed while they all stood silently and were pinned with their shimmering badges.

Now came an interesting assembly line: with eight council members plus four city employees, a whopping 96 handshakes were performed in the space of minutes. The microphones picked up a rapid-fire volley of “congratulations, congratulationscongratucongratcongrats.”

If they could handle that onslaught, they can certainly handle a three-alarm blaze.

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Stay close, boys–there’s a lot of wood here.

As the mass of family, friends, and–tragically–the baby mobbed the exit, the police chief strode to the lectern. He had his eyes on a new set of wheels or two.

“The Interceptor is very handy,” he praised his preferred secondhand purchase. “It’s something different from what we already have. That vehicle will be equipped with lights and a siren.”

His other wish list item was a Dodge Ram. “That vehicle will be an unmarked vehicle,” he explained. (Oh, crap–should I have printed that? Forget I said Dodge Ram. It’s…a Suburu Outback. Yeah.)

“The old cars that you put up for auction,” Council Member Beatrice Thompson raised her hands quizzically, “is anybody buying those?”

The chief let out a light chuckle. “Yes, ma’am. I’m really surprised. We had one of the cars and I drove it from the PD on its last journey. I gave it some gas and it coughed.”

Council members laughed. Then the chief hit them with the punch line. “I believe that car sold at auction for $1,300. I was amazed.”

Murmurs of astonishment flitted across the room. I’m surprised as well: a sentient, coughing police car?! I’d empty my savings account for that modern-day Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

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*cough*

But it was the fire department that had the last word.

“We’ve had interest from citizens about the Veterans Parade,” city manager Linda McConnell reported to the council. “You will remember the group that normally put on the Veterans Parade was unable to do so last year. Our own Fire Chief Randy Bratcher rallied the troops and the parade went off without a hitch.”

Apparently, all that previous time spent not being sworn in was put to good use because, she disclosed, “Randy and his group are once again spearheading that effort, which is scheduled for Sunday, November 5.”

To reassure citizens, she added, “the chief’s wife is assisting with that as well.”

Whew! The parade is in capable hands, indeed.

#132: Albert Lea, MN 9/25/17

“It’s encouraging,” Mayor Vern Rasmussen, Jr. quipped after the Pledge of Allegiance, “to not see anybody kneel down tonight.”

That topical humor prompted guffaws from the audience. But faster than you could say “land of the free,” he reached for his proclamation on the splash pad community celebration.

“I think we have a little presentation,” he glanced toward the proud line of ladies responsible for this aquatic masterpiece.

Suddenly, city manager Chad Adams jumped in with a message: stall.

“My computer’s still configuring. If you want to do the check presentation?” he said with a frown.

One woman in a flowing sweater approached the mayor. “This is a check to the splash pad for $28,000,” she announced.

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Do spend it in one place.

Much to my chagrin, the check was not the gigantic, Publisher’s Clearing House-sized prop. Rather, a normal, deposit-ready slip that was quick to hand over.

Too quick.

“The slides aren’t coming up yet,” said Adams in exasperation. “Do you want to just talk about the fundraising?”

Another woman stepped to the podium and revealed the eye-popping total: “the fundraising cash value is approximately $152,000.”

But before you call that a lot of money, the economic development director stepped forward to provide the play-by-play on a major deal that had Albert Leans abuzz.

“In January, we signed a nondisclosure agreement so we could start working with the client,” he recalled mysteriously, only disclosing that Client X was seeking a “distribution center.”

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Blink once if it’s Amazon.

“In February, a contingency of us went to Saint Paul and pitched to the company,” he continued. Their response? Thanks, but no thanks.

However, “we submitted a revised proposal. The company was impressed and got us back into the running. We were in the final three.”

He braced himself on the podium to conclude with what councilors unfortunately knew already.

“It came down to Austin [Minnesota] as the preferred site and Albert Lea being runner-up. All of us are disappointed. The number one thing we’ve been hearing is we need to provide tax breaks and incentives.”

He looked slightly annoyed as he dismissed the naysayers. “We provided a VERY robust incentive package. We were gonna do water and sewer extensions. Cash. Waive permit and review fees. Tens of millions of dollars.”

Wow. Mister, if you’ve still got those tens of millions ready to go, I’m happy to locate the first-ever City Council Chronicles distribution center in Albert Lea. My only other requirement is a nearby splash pad, which–hey! You’ve got it!

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I could store SO MANY city council meeting reviews here.

But the director had one more point to make–apparently on the heels of some tumult in the community. “The negativity behind the scenes online…people see that. Be careful what you put out there.”

Councilor Jason Howland was still devastated and turned to the hotshot state executive in the audience. “Any idea why Austin ended up being chosen?”

The man shuffled to the microphone with his hand in his pocket. “Anything I state at this point is speculation,” he prefaced. “The site in Austin has great visibility from the interstate. Folks put value on getting that free advertising.”

(Again, City Council Chronicles has no such demand. Only tens of millions of dollars in cash.)

“I just want to show you a couple of photos,” broke in the city manager, who at last got the splash pad slideshow functioning. It was a nice reminder to be thankful for what the city does have.

#131: Mobile, AL 9/19/17

You can’t simply snap your fingers in municipal government and make things happen. But you can sure as heck show up to public comment and TELL people to make things happen.

“It’s really long overdue and it’s something I want to get done,” a woman clad entirely in white ordered Mobile council members. “We need to get this done.” (“This” being renaming Glennon Avenue to “Dr. Yvonne Kennedy Avenue.”)

“I talked with Councilman [Levon] Manzie this morning,” she narrowed her eyes at him. “We’re going to have Dr. Kennedy’s name on the pole?”

“Yes, ma’am,” acknowledged Manzie.

“We’re also going to have Glennon Avenue on the pole?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“We wanna put a permanent plaque and–can I have my way with this? Doing what I want to do?” she inquired.

“No, ma’am!” Manzie exclaimed.

“I love having my way!” she threw up her hands and chuckled.

“I think Councilman Manzie hears you loud and clear,” intervened Council President Gina Gregory as the woman retreated in satisfaction.

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The lady’s got vision!

Success! Could there be anything more slam-dunk than a street named after a scion of the community?

Yes: Christmas.

“I’ve always enjoyed Elfapalooza,” a kindly man in a pink shirt smiled. “I’ve never actually put on my pointed ears and gone down in my tights. And, uh–”

“I’m visualizing that right now,” President Gregory deadpanned, prompting raucous laughter.

“Maybe if you give ’em the $40,000, I’ll do that this year!” the man replied.

“Might be worth it,” Gregory considered with a smirk.

He was, of course, referring to $40,000 proposed to revive the “North Pole Stroll.” It was a hot topic for a cold season, and Council Member John Williams was ready to wrap that present.

“This payment will be for holiday events and decorations,” he cheerfully made the motion.

But just as Christmas needs a Santa Claus, it also needs a fiscally-responsible Grinch.

“We’ve been assured that they’re going to have a robust Christmas celebration in downtown,” Council Member Manzie protested. “We don’t know what those activities will cost, so I’m a little hesitant.”

He added, logically, “if it’s a great success, the expectation will be that we need to continue [payments]. I would hate to start something and not continue in perpetuity.”

Council Member Fredrick Richardson attempted his own Scrooge impersonation. “Sometimes we need to leave well enough alone,” he grumbled.

“I think,” he softened, “we need to go back with the Christmas parade. It brings joy in the hearts of all.”

President Gregory called for a vote. It failed. The man in the pink shirt would not be wearing his elf ears and tights after all (although we can mark that in the “good news” column.)

Yikes. If the Mobile city council said no to Christmas, what would they say “yes” to?

“On Wednesday, I had the honor of being interviewed,” announced Council Member Manzie. “Michael Karlik runs a website and podcast called City Council Chronicles.”

“He came up with some new catchphrases for District Two. I promised I would play it in the meeting, but I can’t get it to function here,” Manzie admitted, trying to recall the catchphrases. “‘District Two: We have a Hardee’s.’ ‘District Two: Walk on the wild side!'”

“Well, Michael,” Gregory mused, “I’m guessing you’re watching….’Seventh Heaven?'” She glanced around as her colleagues giggled at her own district catchphrase.

“‘District Seven…Heaven.’ You gotta rhyme!” she insisted.

Council Member Richardson leaned into his microphone. “Did you get that, Mike?”

Yes, sir!

#130: Florence, OR 9/18/17

Warning: if you are easily triggered by unrelenting happiness and optimism, proceed with caution.

“Wendy, thank you for 15 years of service,” city manager Erin Reynolds smiled warmly at the planning director while brandishing an award.

“Her husband is here tonight,” Reynolds stared out to the audience as a man lumbered forth. There were light giggles as he proceeded to pull the master-of-all husband moves: he stood beside her holding a bouquet of roses.

“He does the recording of our city council meetings, but he’s also her husband,” the city manager explained as councilors clumped together for a photo. Ah, yes: it’s fitting that the man thoughtful enough to bring flowers is also the unsung caretaker of the council feed.

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SMOOOOOOOTH

As the husband took his place behind the camera (“nice flowers” someone grunted), he swung it to the projector screen on the wall.

“We’re about 500 people away from 5,000” likes on Facebook announced Reynolds, proudly scrolling through the city’s carefully-curated page.

“I’ve got a couple fun swag items for the 5,000th person,” she teased.

Folks, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Get over here and claim. the. swag. Also, Florence? If this review gets you to 5,000, I expect commission. Just a water bottle, t-shirt, or a street named after me. Something easy.

But the fun didn’t stop there: Miller Park is getting a facelift and the public works director was positively stoked.

“Miller Park’s a great facility. It just needs to be amped up.” He went all-in on the sell. “It’s a HUGE community destination. Regional draw!”

With glittering scenes of an urban utopia on the screen, he revealed the pièce de résistance. “With this new concession stand, if a group wants to come in and have a movie night, there’s a popcorn machine, soda machine.”

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I now want my commission to be a popcorn machine. Love you, Florence.

After the whirlwind tour of Miller Park 2.0, the meeting turned to what could have been a sticky topic: the performance review of the municipal judge.

“How does it feel down there?” Reynolds joked as the judge slid behind a low table. He chuckled nervously in response. But it quickly became apparent that His Honor had zilch to worry about.

“It’s the recommendation,” disclosed Mayor Joe Henry, “to implement an increase to the monthly retainer of 2.8 percent.”

The pay raise sailed through. But just as quickly, another employee landed in the hot seat.

“We’ve heard a lot from Mike tonight,” Reynolds glanced at the public works director. “He has the challenge of being in the public eye. He does end up taking some heat that he doesn’t enjoy.”

There was nervous fidgeting. Where was she heading with this?

“I think you can all trust in the work that he does,” she pivoted. “So with that, happy birthday, Mike!”

There were several “ahhs” and boisterous applause as the tension dissipated.

“He didn’t know I was going to do that!” boasted Reynolds.

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Quick, bring the roses!

From beneath her desk, she produced not a cake, but a hunk of wood in the shape of Oregon gifted to the city. She thrust it into the hands of Mayor Henry for a picture.

“If you crop it like this, you can get the detail,” Councilor Joshua Greene leaned over and gestured. Inspired, he jumped in front of the dais and held up his phone.

“There you go,” he clicked blissfully away. “One more.”

Flowers, a pay raise, birthday wishes, and the perfect picture. What more could you want from a city council meeting?*


*My swag