#171: Bellflower, CA 10/8/18

Like a well-choreographed symposium, Bellflower council members took turns sounding off on the events of the week, with everyone sharing an equal–and equally pleasant–slice of Bellflower life.

“The mayor’s prayer breakfast will be held Tuesday, October 9, at 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.” said Mayor Ray Dunton (naturally).

“Nominations for the 2019 BRAVO Awards open today,” chimed in Council Member Dan Koops. “Jim Abbott, a Major League pitcher, will serve as our special keynote speaker. Jim Abbott was that pitcher born with one hand.”

“The chamber of commerce will host the tenth annual Trick-or-Treat on the Boulevard on Friday, October 26,” finished off Council Member Ron Schnablegger, who even received a slight assist when Koops reached over and subtly switched on the microphone.

At this point, city manager Jeffrey Stewart piled on. “I wanted to ask the council if they would indulge us in a small presentation by the folks from Liberty Utilities.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 5.06.11 PM.png
Small but mighty

A man and woman strolled to the microphone with a message which–while not quite as important as the trick-or-treat–did catch the attention of one council member.

“I wanted to announce a free workshop on Saturday, October 27. It’s a drought tolerant plant landscape class,” the woman said. “We did set up for our customer service representatives to be available the second and fourth Friday of each month.”

“So how would a customer who’s not watching us here tonight know your available times?” Council Member Juan Garza pressed.

“We have a mailer that we sent,” was the answer.

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 5.06.27 PM.png
Psst. They just found out about it here!

It didn’t matter that the announcements ran long, since there was a lack of residents interested in commenting on any of the business the council raced through. At one point, Mayor Dunton joked about the light turnout.

“We got some quiet people tonight. That’s not a good state of the city, huh?” he chuckled.

But when the subject changed to RV permit fees, the heat turned up from “room temperature water” to “warm oatmeal.”

“What we’re seeking direction on are two questions,” said a staff member after outlining the brand new online permit store. “Whether the city will be absorbing any of the processing costs or passing them along to the customer. Secondly, whether the city will be absorbing the credit card transaction fee or passing it along to the customer.”

“I don’t think we’re talking a lot of money here,” the mayor muttered, glancing through the sub-$5 charges proposed on the screen.

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 5.14.56 PM.png
Speak for yourself

Council Member Koops scratched his chin. “I’m just concerned once we start things like this, it’s hard for us to revoke it. Do we look at everybody’s ability to pay? Or do we say, ‘we’re all in this together. We need to keep it equal for everyone?’ That’s what I’m struggling with.”

“I was on the fence myself,” agreed the mayor.

“This is about convenience,” the city manager argued. “The person doesn’t want to come into city hall.”

“So then should they pay for that convenience?” countered Koops.

“It’s not a lot of money either way,” reiterated the mayor.

“But once you start it–”

“You can’t turn it around,” finished the mayor.

There was a pause. Council Member Koops suddenly had an idea. “Why don’t we give it a year’s try and see how it goes?”

That was the magic compromise everyone had been looking for. With the stalemate resolved, the council adjourned eager for the next day’s prayer breakfast.

#170: Albemarle, NC 10/1/18

If there was any concern about the Albemarle city council’s attention to detail, their extensive combing of last meeting’s minutes laid those doubts to rest.

“Where it’s talking about the boarding kennel–it says boarding kennels are currently ‘now allowed’ in downtown,” Councilmember Chris Whitley read from the draft minutes. “Are they ‘now allowed’ or ‘not allowed’?”

“It should be ‘not allowed,'” replied city manager Michael Ferris.

Whitley nodded. He added, somewhat apologetically, “I promise I’m not going to nitpick in these things–”

“One other little correction,” interjected Councilmember Dexter Townsend. “Although I do concur with her comments, I think it was Councilmember Hall that congratulated Colleen Conroy on her win for ‘Dancing With the Stars’ instead of me.”

“And while you’re doing that,” Mayor Pro Tem Martha Sue Hall jumped into the fray of picked nits, “I congratulated Lisa on the play at Central School. It doesn’t make any difference to me but….” She trailed off, suggesting that it really would be nice to credit her for the item after all.

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 11.51.24 AM.png
Credit where it’s due

Mayor G.R. “Ronnie” Michael glanced down at the public comment list. He called the name of the only man signed up, who slowly approached the podium.

“I believe you have pictures before you concerning the condition of trees on Richardson Street,” he began. “I’m scared to walk down through there. I don’t need a rainforest and that’s what it looks like to me.”

“Looking at this first picture,” the mayor interjected, “there’s a utility pole–

“Yeah, there is,” muttered Mayor Pro Tem Hall.

“–there’s a wire going across from right to left. Y’all have been fortunate not to have some ‘other’ things occur.”

The city manager attempted to reassure everyone that a live electrical wire was not booby trapping Richardson Street. “I’d bet that’s not a primary electric line or else you’d have outages,” he speculated.

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 11.50.25 AM.png
Oh good, just a secondary electric line

“We wanna clean the street up but we don’t wanna put our lives in jeopardy either,” the man shrugged.

“Did they ever pick up the mattresses down there?” Councilmember Townsend wondered.

“That’s another problem,” sighed the commenter. “With all that overgrowth, people feel like they’re at the city dump.”

Council members nodded, thanked him for coming, and promised that someone would do something about the rainforest and mattress repository.

Mayor Michael flipped the page to an agreement with Pfeiffer University. “Council, we have a section in our agreement with them that talks about reversion. The request is we approve allowing staff to remove the reversion agreement.”

Councilmember Chris Bramlett gave his best shot at making that motion. “I move that we assign our whoever-it-is to remove whatever-it-is.”

Other council members snickered as the mayor patiently reworded the statement into something more proper.

“Allow staff to work with the economic development attorney that drew the agreement to remove the reversion,” he elaborated.

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 11.50.58 AM.png
Thanks, Mayor Whoever-You-Are

It wasn’t the last clarification he would have to make. Minutes later, Mayor Pro Tem Hall asked if she could table the business park design contract until their next meeting.

“Council, do you have any problem with tabling it?” Mayor Michael asked, receiving no reply. “Okay, we’ll table it.”

“Is there a reason?” Bramlett exclaimed, holding his hands palm-up in an exaggerated shrug.

“Council usually gives a gentleman’s agreement to allow a council member to ask for a continuance,” the mayor revealed.

Bramlett flashed a gentlemanly thumbs up and a smile. “Still learning!”

#169: Van Buren, AR 9/24/18

Mayor Bob Freeman swung around to the front of the council dais and glanced down at his notes momentarily before turning to the two women at his side.

“In July of this year–make sure I’ve got this correct,” he instructed them, “–in July of this year, y’all had gone to a movie?”

“Yes,” replied each woman in turn.

“When you came outside, you noticed there was a gentleman–or, you noticed there was a truck that the engine was revving?” the mayor continued.

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes.”

“So you went to the truck–”

“We actually went around the truck,” one woman jumped in to steer the story in the correct direction. “I looked over because it was revving up so much. The gentleman had slumped over and I knocked on the window trying to see if he could hear me. He was unresponsive.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 10.28.29 AM.png
(S)heroes!

She indicated to the good Samaritan next to her. “I had her go get somebody to help. I went around to the driver’s side. Luckily it was unlocked. I pulled him out. She helped me with CPR.”

“You applied CPR,” Mayor Freeman picked up again now that the details were ironed out. “Revived him. Between your actions, you saved his life.”

After the photos and as the mayor plopped down in his seat, he remembered one other brave soul in the room.

“Alderman Swaim had knee replacement one week ago today and he’s here tonight. That’s why he did not stand for our pledge and we’ll say that’s okay!”

Alderman Alan Swaim raised a ringer and quipped: “I did not kneel either!”

That prompted a huge laugh from the room–perhaps from the topical humor and perhaps a window into Swaim’s own views on kneelers.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 10.29.35 AM.png
Truly presidential

There was something eating at Mayor Freeman. He started off inauspiciously enough by describing a meeting with the county sheriff’s department.

“Last Monday night, [I] went to the Facilities Commmitee meeting because they were discussing the rates that they charge municipal governments for inmates,” he explained. “Our rate has been $10 a meal. We haven’t actually paid $10 a meal until the last year and a half because we haven’t had inmates in the jail.”

He continued, “they are looking at raising that rate. I asked for an opportunity to see the numbers. We sat there through the committee meeting and we left and were later informed that they had gone ahead with an ordinance to raise the rate to $50 a day.”

The mayor frowned deeply. “What disappoints me is the fact that I asked to see the number and that was just ignored. There’s a piece of me that feels I’m being taken advantage of because I am a lame duck. ‘We can do it because the mayor’s leaving anyway.'”

“I’m not!” piped up Alderman Jim Petty to reassure the mayor whose team he was on.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 10.31.03 AM
Stick together!

After Mayor Freeman had vented, it reminded Alderman Darral Sparkman of something.

“Chief, I just wish you’d tell your officers–those deputies or whoever it is run up and down this highway do not turn on their lights, and they drive at light speed!” he railed. “We have been hit nearly three times!”

“Are you talking about our officers?” Mayor Freeman quizzed.

“No, the sheriff!” Sparkman exclaimed. “These guys never turn the lights on!”

It seems like the bad blood with the sheriff’s office runs deep in Van Buren. Let’s hope they clean up their act in time for the next mayor.

#168: Northville, MI 9/17/18

It was a historic day in the Northville council chamber–in the sense that history was the number one topic.

“It’s kind of prestigious to be on this,” prefaced a visiting architectural historian, flipping through a slide show about Northville’s spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

She flashed a boot-shaped map onscreen. “This is what the Historic District looks like when we started. The goal is to have the local and National Register districts match.”

Ah, who doesn’t love an audit! In this case, instead of sifting through hundreds of pages of documents, she sifted through hundreds of…buildings?

“We photographed all of the buildings, over 400. We developed historic significance–all of the things that make Northville Northville.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 9.28.16 AM.png
You’re gonna need a bigger list.

The historian cautioned that not all Northville memorabilia made the cut. “It has to be cultural,” she warned. “The hand of man has to be felt on it. That’s why rivers aren’t in a district, but a bridge would be.”

She gestured to a blank space in the center of the map. “This the ball field. It doesn’t have any history from over 50 years ago. It’s just a piece of ground, so that can’t be cultural.”

“What about the six mills that were there?” interrupted Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Darga.

“Are they there now?” the historian shot back.

“Their footings are,” retorted Darga.

“Well then,” the historian replied slowly, “that would be archeology. That’s not something that’s covered.

The mayor pro tem was horrified.

“Northville started on that ball diamond,” she insisted. “It’s because there was a mill there. We now just took the beginning of Northville out of the Historic District!”

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 9.29.07 AM.png
For shame!

The historian refused to back down. “Do you want to have archeology? I don’t think you can have archeology just for one plot. It’s gonna be the whole district.”

The consequence of that? “Anybody who wants to put in a new garden may have to consider” what lies below.

No one was eager to turn Northville into an excavation site for stegosaurus bones, so the baseball diamond issue was closed.

“Maybe I’m missing something here,” Darga said after a pause, “but we established a local Historic District in 1972. But now we’re trying to establish a NATIONAL–”

“You already have a national district,” interjected the historian. “We’re trying to make sure the boundary represents what’s here today. You don’t want to lose your district. And the Park Service will do that. They will de-list districts.”

This historic preservation business is ruthless. I imagine archeology is a cakewalk in comparison.

“I got a little lost,” Mayor Ken Roth admitted as the lights turned on and the projector turned off. “Our Historic District is listed…?”

“It’s both. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it’s a local Historic District,” the historian patiently reiterated.

“Okay.”

“The person who is the head of the National Register list is called the ‘keeper,'” she said.

“Seriously? The keeper?” Mayor Roth exclaimed. “That’s a real title?!”

“Yes! It’s much sought after,” she assured him.

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 9.31.45 AM.png
Where do I apply?

The council thanked the historian and switched to their regular business. The mayor requested a motion to approve the agenda. But suddenly, once he got it–

“All right, we will move on,” the mayor charged ahead before others on the dais stirred to halt him. He had forgotten to take a vote on the motion.

“I’m sorry. That was tricky,” he apologized, grinning. “We need the keeper!”

#167: Oskaloosa, IA 9/4/18

A flurry of confusion threatened to derail public comment after a man with a ponytail and shorts leaned into the microphone and quietly began his remarks.

“I came in tonight to speak about the resolution to sell–”

“We can’t hear you!” interrupted one council member.

“Speak up a little more,” coached another.

“Hey, Kyle! That microphone doesn’t work. That’s just for the tape,” shouted a third over the crosstalk.

The man at the lectern swung the microphone away from his face and restarted his statement, prompting another fusillade of instructions from every possible direction.

“Let’s get you on TV!”

“We’re still gonna want you to speak into it.”

“We still want you to speak into it so that people at home–”

“Gotcha,” the man responded calmly to cut off the furor. “It’s on TV, too? I didn’t know they still recorded this.”

“You’re live right now!” exclaimed a council member, causing the audience to burst out in laughter, with some smiling knowingly at the camera staring them in the face.

“Cool,” the man nodded. “I was behind the camera like a decade ago.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 11.08.34 AM.png
Oh, how the lenses have turned!

Moving into the substance of the meeting, Mayor David Krutzfeldt outlined a tricky scenario that stemmed from a meeting several weeks prior.

“The city council discussed the potential sale of several city owned properties,” he prefaced, one of which was 207 North G Street. “An appraisal of the property had been completed with a value of $33,000.”

“In August,” he continued, “staff received a letter requesting to purchase the lot for $10,000. His justification for offering less than the appraised value is that there are significant costs to make the lot developable.”

“At this time, the motion is to set the public hearing.”

City manager Michael Schrock cautioned the council, “it’s not always about the dollar amount. It’s about the plan and the concept. He’s presented a letter saying, ‘hey, I know you have this. Will you sell it to me?’ We’ve done that before.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 11.10.05 AM.png
The Art of the Deal

“We don’t have to make a decision in two weeks, do we?” quizzed Council Member Steve Burnett.

“No,” replied Schrock. “We’re required to hold a public hearing for any disposal of property. Say, ‘okay. Anybody that’s interested, come on in.’ You could have a third party show up, which we’ve had before. We had people basically outbidding each other in the audience.” Some council members chuckled at the imagined chaos.

Schrock clarified: “that wasn’t ideal.”

“So the public hearing–Wendell would be there with his bid and somebody else could show up and bid on it as well?” an incredulous Council Member Bob Drost reiterated.

“But we’re asking for more than dollars,” interjected Council Member Tom Walling, attempting to tamp down the expectations of a free-for-all in two weeks. “The more complete the proposal is, the higher the likelihood something gets approved that night.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 11.11.13 AM
Bring blueprints, people

There was a minor commotion from the back of the room. The mayor raised his eyebrows. “Wendell, if there’s something you think the council needs to know–?”

The man with the plan was all at once at the lectern. “I’ve been here for six and a half, almost seven years. I don’t plan on going anywhere else. It makes sense to me to try and control my investment,” he announced firmly–perhaps firmly enough to scare off the competition.

With that, the hearing date was set. May the bidding begin!

#167: Iola, KS 8/27/18

A tall, thin young man strolled up to the lectern as council members patiently folded their hands and arms in front of them.

“I am the coordinator for the Libertarian Party of Allen County,” he announced. The introduction was entirely plausible, as his baseball cap and tan shorts were consistent with a minimal government/minimal dress code philosophy.

“Since this is only my second meeting so far, I’m a little lost. What is the purpose of a public hearing?”

Mayor Jonathan Wells leaned forward to help. “Generally, public hearings are to allow the public input on a specific issue–usually on things like budget or whenever we are doing a demolition or condemning a house.”

“I see,” nodded the lanky libertarian, despite this intrusion of Big Government into his comment time. “I would like to start off with reading a bit from the city code.”

He turned to his notes and quoted city policy to the silent council members. “In chapter one, article five: ‘the objective of the investment program shall be to aggressively manage and invest all public monies to relieve demands on the property tax and reduce the cost of public services.'”

He looked up. “I would really like to emphasize the relief on property tax and to reduce the cost of public services. I would appreciate if the council keeps in mind my desire for lower taxes.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 12.11.30 PM.png
Look at all the tax money wasted on those extravagant folding chairs.

“I’ve seen in the officially-approved minutes of the special meeting on July 16, Council Member…Murick–”

“MYrick,” corrected Eugene Myrick.

“–mentioned a private trash service, to which administrator [Sid] Fleming noted that having heavy trucks on our streets that the government does not control may be more damaging.”

He delivered his bottom line. “As a libertarian, government control of anything is fundamentally and philosophically threatening to me.”

Before the council could thank him for traveling on the fundamentally-threatening government streets to the fundamentally-threatening government building to broadcast his views over fundamentally-threatening government cameras, they leapt ahead to discuss another possible menace: people.

“Do we really need two recreation directors? AND an administrator assistant?” Council Member Myrick quizzed. “I’m not saying, ‘cut ’em. Get rid of ’em.’ But once that position becomes open, can we just not fill that again?”

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 12.17.05 PM.png
I seem to remember the city code mentioning reducing the cost of public services….

But Council Member Aaron Franklin pumped the brakes on the HR Express. “I think we’re approaching this from the wrong direction,” he frowned. “We need to focus on staffing the city with the right people in the right places for the right reasons. And not look at this as, ‘we need to cut things across the board.'”

He urged everyone to check their libertarian impulses. “I know that everybody wants to cut. But if we go into a study trying to find the result we’re looking for, we’re gonna have failed before we even start.”

“The intention of this is not to get rid of anybody that is currently employed,” Council President Nancy Ford maintained. “It is just if there is a vacancy, determine whether that needs filled. That shouldn’t upset anyone. If they’ve already all picked up that workload and split it among them, you know, that’s part of having a job!”

That’s true. And if the city ends up being short-staffed, there is at least one person willing to come in and read the city code for free.

#166: Prairie Village, KS 8/20/18

“Last week, as you all know, I went to Washington, D.C.,” Mayor Laura Wassmer casually mentioned her Kansas and Nebraska mayors’ powwow at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“We had quite a dog and pony show,” she continued, gingerly stepping around all of the names she was dropping. “Kellyanne Conway talked a bit about working to help the opioid crisis. Ben Carson talked about affordable housing.”

She paused. “They made the point over and over, there are a lot of great things happening at the White House that is not being reported by the media–and asked that we pass that along.”

Consider it passed! Just think of all the people who haven’t pleaded guilty! Everything’s great!

And you know where else great things were happening? Right there in the Prairie Village council meeting, where it was a very big week for city administrator Wes Jordan.

“Wes, this is a very big week for you!” Mayor Wassmer glanced slyly over to him. “Not only is it your birthday on Thursday, but SOMEBODY has been with Prairie Village for 30 years as of Wednesday.”

“Woo-woo!” came an anonymous catcall as applause broke out.

The mayor went down the line of compliments, from the professional–“I think of how conscientious he is”–to the…intimate.

“There’s the perfect hair. The forever perfect hair,” she observed, although the video quality was not good enough to independently confirm. “We have your favorite ice cream cake in the back. And more importantly–”

Mayor Wassmer disappeared under the desk for a moment, then emerged brandishing a giant, shiny blue object.

“–your own Prairie Village street sign!”

“Speech! Speech! Speech!” yelled Council Member Brooke Morehead.

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 10.52.16 PM.png
The hair! Show us the hair!

The only thing standing between the council and ice cream cake was a tiny bit of official business. Namely, a resolution “in support of the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” It seemed like the kind of routine measure that would pass without a fight.

But then the fight began.

“I will vote no because I’m not comfortable placing our city under international law when the U.S. Senate refuses to ratify the treaty after nearly 40 years,” announced Council Member Morehead defiantly.

“By passing this resolution, it could be mistaken that we are endorsing its tenets on civil rights, reproductive rights, and gender relations.”

“There are probably places where men are discriminated against, arguably,” Council Member Dan Runion echoed in the vein of “All Lives Matter.” “It’s a feel-good measure. Why pull one group out and treat them differently?”

Council Member Ron Nelson was incredulous at what he was hearing. “There are 189 state-nations that have adopted the Convention. There are seven that have not,” he retorted. “Those are Palau, the Holy See, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga. And last and, sadly, least: the United States.”

“It frankly amazes me that we can say highlighting that there should not be discrimination against one class of people minimizes others’.”

Council Member Jori Nelson stared down at her notes. “We’re proclaiming this to be Diaper Week and Electric Car Week. And we’ve done Peanut Butter Week.” She clenched her fist. “It is MY opinion that women’s equal rights is more important and should take precedence over peanut butter, diapers.”

“I’m not sure what–what–if we’re…I’M certainly not trying to equate this resolution with Peanut Butter Week!” shouted Council Member Andrew Wang. “We are creating an enormous act of discrimination by passing this resolution while there has NOT been any shred of evidence that we have a problem.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 11.36.24 PM.png
What is happening here?

“I don’t know why this anxiety exists because a United Nations entity thought that this was important,” pleaded Council Member Chad Herring.

Council Member Morehead reiterated her firm opposition. “I’m a successful business owner. Longtime mom, grandma. I think I’m a pretty good role model.”

She caught the eye of an employee in the back. “Jamie! You, lady, you’re doing a terrific job. And you, little girl back there? Yeah, you’re doing wonderful!” She leaned back. “You are tying yourself to the United Nations. We don’t need it!”

Council Member Jori Nelson’s hand shot up. “When you speak about women as ‘little girls,’ or not addressing the staff as educated and intelligent, I think it’s demeaning.”

She glowered across the dais and pointed angrily at Morehead. “They’re not little girls. They’re women.”

“Make no mistake,” Council Member Ron Nelson interjected softly, “a vote that no, this resolution should not be adopted, is a vote that there should be discrimination against women.” It appeared the council was evenly divided in this standoff. All of a sudden–

“Motion to refer to staff,” Council Member Runion moved to ditch the resolution entirely for the night after a half hour of anguish.

The mayor called for a vote. Seven hands went up in favor. Five against.

It was a disheartening ending to the meeting. And an even more bizarre beginning to Diaper Week.