It was the type of announcement that separates the city councils who take the winter holidays seriously from those who are, well, Scrooges.
“Every year we have beautification awards,” explained a representative from the Parks and Recreation Department. “People can call in houses they see around town that they really like the way they’re decorated.”
She added, “our Parks and Rec Advisory Board also goes out and are each assigned a section of town. They kind of score all the houses. The top five point-getters were the ones we give awards to tonight.”
With that, the five chosen families strolled to the front of the chamber for a photo. Many of them sported some type of seasonal attire–from the more discreet Santa pin and St. Nick hat to the more flashy necklace of Christmas lights and festive sweaters.
If you were expecting this Yuletide cheer to be followed by three French hens, two turtle doves, or even six geese a-laying, city attorney Jon Kingsepp disappointed you–but only slightly–by talking instead about backyard chickens.
“Fifty years ago, they were barnyard animals. Dinner table items. That’s no longer the case,” he explained.
“Chickens are great in most cases, unless you’re a neighbor that doesn’t want chickens next door to you,” Mayor Debbie Wooley observed dryly.
Kingsepp sighed. “There are two ways to look at that. There’s one that can say, ‘I don’t like chickens next to me because they’re loud and they’re gonna attract vermin.’ The other approach is, ‘if you like cats and dogs next door, then what is the difference with chickens?’ The noise level of a chicken is extremely low.”
“I want zero” chickens, shot back Council Member Paula Millan. “Not because I don’t like people’s chickens but because I don’t want them in my backyard. I just don’t.”
She paused. Although her reaction was intense, it was not, in fact, poultryphobic. “I don’t think it’s the animal that’s really the problem,” she admitted. “I would assume it’s most likely the owner. If you have a neighbor that cares only about themselves and not the people around them, there’s an issue.”
A woman in the front row seized on a lull in the discussion and launched into a tutorial on chicken care. Rather than cut her off, surprisingly, the mayor allowed a microphone to be passed down.
“Great pets,” she boasted of her own chickens. “No one ever knew we had ’em. My aviary was spotless. The rats cannot get into it.
“There are rats in our neighborhood. A lot of ’em. But they never came for my chickens.”
A posse of women from the earlier home decorating contest were sitting two rows back in their Christmas sweaters nodding vigorously.
“My grandchildren–24 grandchildren–played with those chickens like a puppy. They were very sweet,” she argued, while one of those 24 grandchildren slumped in his chair next to her asleep.
Chickens may have been quiet and kind. Heck, they could have been the cure to cancer. But Council Member Millan was immovable.
“Some of my neighbors have been on our block since they built their homes in 1967. They don’t want chickens in their backyard,” she insisted. “Their perception is not that they are pets.
“It’s not against the animal. It’s about, ‘I moved to a city. Didn’t move to a farm. Where’s it gonna end?'”
She shrugged. “We have to address the ‘where’s it gonna end’ thing.”
Perhaps next year, Clawsonians can decorate an aviary and win the beautification contest. Then people might realize that chickens can be family, not food.
While the Marion city council undoubtedly gets points for its assortment of dais decorations–including flower pots, a wall portrait, and a giant construction-style sign–the real focus was off-camera.
“We have a great big group here tonight,” observed Mayor Anthony Rinella as his eyes darted across the audience, “and we have a spokesman for that group. Would you come forward and tell us what you guys are here for?”
A teenager wearing a baseball cap and camouflage sweatshirt popped up at the microphone. “We’re here for our civics class. We have a service learning project and coming to a meeting like this is one of the requirements.”
“Okay,” responded the mayor. “Who’s your teacher?”
“Coach Martin. How come he’s not here?”
“Good question,” the teenager answered uncomfortably. “I’ll have to ask.”
“Ask him tomorrow. I mean, does he not have to be part of the program?”
Pause. “I guess not.”
“Make him run laps,” insisted the mayor.
Two of the commissioners smiled and glanced at each other. Commissioner Angelo Hightower surveyed the room cautiously. Commissioner John Goss stared blankly at the desk.
“Okay. Our favorite council meeting of the year,” Mayor Rinella announced in monotone. “Guys, this is exciting. We’re gonna go over the city audit.”
A car alarm sounded outside the chamber. “Uh-oh, we gotta leave!” joked the mayor as the car’s owner quickly silenced the horn.
Although it was likely a joke that the audit meeting was the “favorite” of the year, it wasn’t at all a bad thing to hear that money was coming hand over fist into Marion.
“If you look back at 2005, the first year I got here, your total revenue was $15 million,” explained a city employee. “Look at this year. Thirty-three million dollars. That says a lot.”
“So since 2006, our total revenue has more than doubled?” the mayor quizzed incredulously.
Mayor Rinella nodded. “That sends you to bed feeling good about yourselves, guys,” he offered to the commissioners.
He then stared into the crowd at one of the city’s recreation employees. “Favorite part of the night,” he deadpanned by way of summoning the man to the lectern.
“If I may brag a bit on our Marion HUB Manta Rays. I’m sporting a shirt today–” the recreation employee opened his jacket to show off a bright yellow t-shirt emblazoned with a large ray. “They finished fourth out of 15 of the non-home teams.”
After the swim team had received sufficient on-camera promotion, the mayor wrapped up. “Last week we talked about some apps that the city introduced. One was a Facebook page and the other was the Nextdoor app. Well this past week, we had some incidences of vandalism on people’s Christmas ornaments.
“One of the people that was videoing this occurring had the Nextdoor app. So our Nextdoor app, in just one week’s time of people getting on this, is nothing more than the neighborhood watch going high tech.”
He added, “hats off to our IT department.”
He shuffled his papers and remembered that the group of students was still watching him. “You guys got any questions? Did you learn anything?”
A few in the audience mumbled replies.
“You’ve just come to one of our mild, boring meetings how we conduct city business,” Mayor Rinella said matter-of-factly. “I apologize for that.”
Well, at least he is making their teacher run laps. Perhaps that made it all worth it.
“My law partners and I own a building,” announced a well-dressed gentleman resting his forearms on the public’s lectern and peering through his glasses. “I’ve been meaning to come and thank you for a year now for the Cadillac Commons. I can’t tell you how nice it is, no matter how stressful the day, to walk out of my office at noon and hear all the laughing and screaming and fun going on at the splash pad.”
He concluded with a simple, “it’s wonderful.”
Starting a meeting with a heartfelt thank-you is rare. And of course, short lived.
“The Cadillac community has an ongoing hunger problem,” reported the next man at the microphone. “Our children are going to bed tonight hungry, crying. Where’s Robin Hood today? High taxes. High cost of living.”
His Robin Hood may have just entered the council chamber in an unexpected form:
“I am a certified grant administrator,” a woman explained to the council. “We’re requesting $970,100 [from the federal government]. The grant funds will be used for demolition to remove two blighted buildings. The national objective supported by this project is the elimination of blight.”
But this was not what the man had in mind.
“No public tax dollars for private business!” he railed. “No public tax dollars should be used for any corporation to become wealthier on grant money. If you can’t build it on an entrepreneurial business venture, then we shouldn’t build it.”
Technically, the city wasn’t “building” anything. They were tearing down. But he had a point: if Apple can get rich selling phones and Nike can get rich selling shoes, why can’t some entrepreneur turn a profit on–what exactly?
“The entire roof on both buildings has asbestos. There is also several areas of asbestos floor tile. So there’s a lot of asbestos,” a staff member explained with a grimace. “There is some lead. There is also soil contamination. And under the clock tower area, there is a lot of rubble down there–we’re not positive what it is.”
I see. Rebuttal?
“I just want to reiterate: we have children going to bed hungry,” the man returned to insist. “Developers are becoming more wealthy in Cadillac on our dime. It’s corporate welfare at its best. I could be wrong.”
City manager Marcus Peccia quickly refocused the meeting onto something highly unrelated to corporate profits: Christmas decorations.
“The city is playing some seasonal music down in the plaza on a timer, when the timer works,” he chuckled. “You can really only hear it if you’re down in front of the Christmas tree or on the synthetic ice rink.”
“We have a wonderful community. It looks so great,” bragged Council Member Tiyi Schippers. “I love coming home when it’s dark and driving around, taking a long way with the kids.”
The city manager nodded. “Over the years, we added more trees to the lakefront, especially along Chestnut Street. At the same time, the donations of the lights and whatnot had not increased.”
He leaned back and pondered. “What we might look at doing next year is relocating some of the singular strands of lights along several trees to a more focused area within Cadillac Commons and create more of a spectacular light display versus having–”
“One string of lights a block away?” finished Council Member Schippers.
“Are you in the audience this evening?” Mayor Matt Rahn scanned the room for one particular Boy Scout, which should not have been difficult given the scarcity of badges and uniforms in the crowd.
“We wanted to congratulate you on receiving the rank of Eagle Scout, which is the highest achievement in scouting. Let’s hear about your project!”
The scout stood uneasily behind the microphone and softly described his community service. “For my project, I decided to go with Rancho Damacitas [Children & Family Services]. I decided to go with a garden box and benches. But then they decided they didn’t want that anymore. They wanted to build a shed. So I agreed to make a shed for them.”
“God, you started off with a bench and made it all the way to shed,” the mayor exclaimed. “It’s a good thing they didn’t have an annex wing put on!” A group of teenagers grinned and snickered in the second row–although it was less a reaction to the mayor’s joke than to something they were doodling in their notebooks.
Fortunately, they picked the right night to observe a council meeting, as the Temecula Valley Museum’s director stood to introduce visiting dignitaries from Daisen, Temecula’s sister city in Japan.
“They will be enjoying many of the amenities, including the duck pond, the Pechanga Great Oak Tree, and also San Diego,” she said. “They will also be our special guests in Santa’s Electric Light Parade.
“Please forgive me if I mispronounce their names.” She proceeded strenuously to sound out each name, but none of them appeared to mind as they strode to the front of the room for a group picture.
There was minor confusion as the mayor attempted to pass out certificates, but had no idea who was who. Thinking quickly, he flashed the papers to one of the visitors, who pointed him towards the correct recipient.
“Have you taken them to In-N-Out Burger?” Mayor Pro Tem Michael Naggar grilled the museum manager. “Not yet? And the Cheesecake Factory?”
“Where do we get those jackets like they have on?” quizzed Council Member Maryann Edwards, pointing to the branded jacket of one of the visitors.
“That’s a good question,” Mayor Rahn echoed. “Where did you get the Temecula jacket?”
“You can get those in the visitor’s center around the corner,” replied the city manager, to the pleasant surprise of the whole council.
The last large order of business–other than the teens’ excited whispering about something on one of their phones–was the dry but important matter of extending a construction permit for the Temecula Valley Hospital.
“I can personally vouch that because of the hospital–no exaggeration–it has saved the life of my father-in-law, it saved the life of my wife,” Mayor Pro Tem Naggar testified. “There is an impact of the helicopter flying over–it flies about 300 feet over my house. At first, it’s annoying until you think about who’s in that helicopter. Then you find out a little annoyance is meaningless based on what’s going on up there.”
“None of us could have dreamt that it would be this good,” echoed Council Member Edwards. “My husband has been a ‘customer’ on several occasions. How we ever got along without you, we will never know.”
With praise like that, I hope the Japanese delegation gets to visit the hospital–a far, far healthier alternative to the Cheesecake Factory.
Nothing seemed amiss at the start of the Beavercreek council meeting.
“This is the second reading of an ordinance making certain additions, deletions, and changes to various sections of the zoning code,” read the clerk.
“Is there anyone present tonight that would like to address council on this?” Mayor Bob Stone called to the audience as a balding man stepped forward.
“I didn’t catch this until today, but this thing is effective last week,” the man waved his paper in disbelief. “Did you all catch that?”
People on the dais stared down at their copies while he added, “it says this ordinance shall take effect November 1. That’s last week.”
“It’s been a standard practice,” reassured city manager Pete Landrum. “We begin at the beginning of the month.”
“But let’s go by the city charter,” shot back the commenter. “City charter says 30 days after passage. NOT postdated. Change it.”
He again thrust the paper in the air. “This one is showing up as an ’emergency’ ordinance. That’s wrong. It’s not an ’emergency.’ Now let’s get into the meat of it–”
Mayor Stone halted him before the meat. “We’re not showing this as an emergency anywhere.”
The man reached out holding his papers. “Can I approach?”
There was a small conference at the dais. “This is an emergency…effective immediately…” mumbled the mayor as he read off the page.
“That’s from the previous time,” explained the city manager, “but in the current packet–”
“No, that’s what I got off the website,” insisted the man.
More muttering about whose packet said what. Chaos was beginning to unfold. Luckily, the commenter cut off the crosstalk by getting back to his original point: this ordinance is awful.
“We have enough problem with our zoning code. This is a beautiful one,” he said sarcastically, donning his glasses and reading from the passage prohibiting trucks from parking in front of commercial buildings.
“Every business around has a truck! What have we done here?”
“Not at a business. [Parking] at a residence,” interrupted Mayor Stone.
“No, sir. Disagree,” retorted the man.
“Oh…” the mayor whispered as council members gently indicated that he was wrong and the commenter (again) knew the ordinance better than some.
The man closed in the plainest way possible. “This is a disaster waiting to happen. This is too much. Stop this tonight.”
With such an intense airing of grievances, eyes were on the mayor to clear the air and lighten the mood with his report.
“I know everybody else is gonna mention it too and I hope we all repeat it,” he grinned. “The girl’s soccer state champs–”
“And cross country,” interjected Council Member Julie Vann. “State champs! Yaaaay, women!”
“Are we gonna have enough sign space coming into the city” to list the new championships, mused the city manager.
Council Member Vann nodded. “The signs at the entryway of the city that have all the sports winnings on them–when we started that program, we didn’t expect it to be–”
“That good?” chuckled the manager.
“We were gonna post the teams within the last five years,” she explained. “We wanted to celebrate the recent ones but not every single one for eternity!”
“We will have to revisit that,” the city manager agreed, “because when we squeezed the boys’ [championship] the last time, it was like, okay, the next one we’re gonna have to have some decisions!”
I suppose this answers the question: is there such a thing as too much winning? When it comes to sign space, the answer is “yes.”
Things were looking optimistic for the developers of the quaintly-named Veronica Springs subdivision.
“I’m that odd-shaped square in the middle of this project,” the pastor of the Community Church of the Nazarene announced at the lectern while looking very pastoral in glasses and a sweater vest. “At first I wasn’t sure that I wanted 200 homes built around us like that.”
However, he continued, “we’re in support of it. We decided that it was a good thing for this community. Affordable housing is something we need, and we’ll try to be a good neighbor.”
It was a compelling endorsement to have the lord’s representative on the project’s side. But I wonder, could god possibly send a mixed message through another messenger?
“I ran across an interesting article on Cain and Abel,” began a white-haired man now standing at the microphone. “The practice in ancient time was the father left everything to the oldest son. The reason for that? So it didn’t constantly get subdivided. It would get to the point where people couldn’t sustain themselves on that little land. I think that’s a real important point to consider.”
It would be an important point if the future homeowners were grazing cattle and not driving down the road to the Walmart Supercenter for groceries. But there was a more insidious, moral implication to the subdivision.
“We have moved from a predominantly rural to a predominantly urban society,” he continued. “Like with the Tower of Babel, people were supposed to disperse and multiply and they tried to exalt themselves with the tower.”
“Well, there is the war, and the good and evil is done by self-centeredness. That’s what takes us away from god. Urban settings tend to push people toward the self-centeredness–”
“Thank you. We’re gonna stay on track with the public hearing,” Mayor Bobby Kilgore gently nudged the speaker away from the microphone at the end of his three rambling minutes. With no further communications from god, the council moved on.
“Here comes ducky,” council members heckled an employee as he approached the lectern. “Quack, quack!”
The man grinned at the apparent inside joke and proceeded. “We request that the industrial parks owned and developed by the city of Monroe be exempt from the ‘naming of public facilities and lands in recognition of individuals’ policy.”
He added, “the industrial park’s name is significant and needs to be really a brand, not attached to a person.”
“I don’t think it’s good to exclude us from naming,” countered Council Member Surluta Anthony.
“It’s not excluding you. You’re the naming entity.”
“We just don’t have a part in giving the suggestion of names?” she asked.
“You can,” was the reply. “The name can be whatever city council decides.”
Council Member Lynn Keziah was satisfied with this names-but-not-names suggestion. “Motion to approve the amendment to exempt city-owned industrial parks from the naming policy.”
“This is only going to be for industrial parks?” Anthony clarified.
“What I just read,” Keziah replied resolutely.
In case anyone was not 100 percent clear on the new policy, they would have to figure it out on their own time because the council promptly approved it and breezed on to more important matters.
“Thanksgiving is coming up. We give our employees Thursday and Friday,” pointed out Keziah. “I think we should give them Wednesday. Traveling time to get to where they’re going.”
“They’re already smiling in the audience!” Mayor Kilgore exclaimed. The employees had good reason to, for the council voted to make the five-day weekend a reality.
“I’d like to recognize some students from my district visiting today in the chambers,” announced Council President Darrell Clarke in the normal course of the council meeting getting underway. “They are embarking on a voting project, to get people out and talk about the importance of voting. So I would like to recognize them….”
He scanned the audience expectantly. “And now I’m being told that they’re not here yet!” He looked into the camera and grinned as council members guffawed. “We’ll recognize them when they get here.”
That minor blip was instantly forgotten when Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell issued her own stunner of an announcement.
“We were privileged to be at a wedding last week,” she said. “One of the members is a retired administrator with the Philadelphia School System. She got married and they decided that they would spend their first week visiting us. Could they stand?”
In the audience, the newlyweds rose to be cheered. The bride ceremoniously waved to the council while the groom thrust his palms in the air in a “raise the roof” gesture.
With President Clarke’s band of students still en route, a dozen council members crowded the front dais, with Councilwoman Blackwell taking center stage.
“You know, it’s a special calling when you care enough about people–some very disabled, very ill–to make them feel better and do better because you make them look better,” she praised the man standing next to her, the salon operator at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“He gives of his time styling the hair of patients and caregivers–” she read from the proclamation.
“–This offers a much-needed moment of relaxation to those who are continually putting their needs aside for the benefit of their loved ones,” picked up Councilman Allan Domb.
“–He also consults with transgender youth and assists them in creating their new looks,” continued Councilman Al Taubenberger.
“–Which raises morale and instills joy and dignity in those receiving his services,” finished Councilman Derek Green.
The man stepped to the microphone and paused emotionally. “Thank you, everyone,” he smiled as President Clarke declared “council will be at ease” for the official photograph.
“QUIET, PLEASE” came a yell from the rear of the chamber as council un-eased itself.
“Our next order of business is introduction of bills and resolutions,” the president ordered, kicking off an unusual dance of council members handing packets of blue paper to a courier, who then ferried them across the council floor to the clerk for a formal introduction to the body. Other city councils have found more subtle ways to do this, but in Philly, it was perhaps as well-choreographed as that couple’s wedding from earlier.
President Clarke slowly segued into the final portion of the meeting. “Are there any speeches on behalf of the….I’m stalling, waiting for the schoolchildren,” he admitted with a chuckle.
Several council members took the bait, with Councilman Bobby Henan describing his new hate crimes legislation and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown complimenting diversity in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office.
There were two minutes left in the meeting and only one item of unfinished business. Fortunately, all systems were go.
“Before we conclude, I would like to recognize our students. I understand they got here just in the nick of time!” President Clarke called out as the three young ladies–no doubt fresh from getting Philadelphians to vote–stood up to end the suspense.
The camera zoomed out from the golden falcon resting on the table next to Mayor Marcel Roy. Its wings were raised, anticipating a takeoff. It was a spot-on mascot for a city council meeting, even if the agenda tonight was less than explosive.
“In 2018 September in comparison to 2017, the crimes against persons had decreased by one. Crimes against property has decreased by 14,” Councillor Mel Van Betuw read in a monotone from the police commission’s meeting minutes.
“At the end of September there were five dogs and 20 cats at the shelter, none fostered.”
All of a sudden, this routine report on cats and dogs pivoted to the major national event of the week with the drop of a single word.
“The board discussed the timeframe between recreational cannabis usage by police and reporting for duty,” Van Betuw announced. “The mayor suggested it be the same as in the military, which is 24 hours.”
He continued, “the board instructed the chief to advise his members that they require all police officers to go at least 24 hours from the time of cannabis usage before reporting for duty.”
Twenty-four hours? It’s hard to call it “recreational” cannabis when you have to plan it a day in advance. Mayor Roy chimed in with an explanation.
“With all this recreational marijuana going forward, there’s a lot of different issues. Calgary has issued a 28-day no-use of recreational marijuana, which basically gets down to null and void. The military has two [policies]: eight hours if you’re doing paperwork and 24 hours if you’re doing vehicles or weapons.”
He added, somewhat unnecessarily, “once the officer is on duty, there should be no use of recreational marijuana.”
From there, it was time to hear from the youth council mayor. Unsurprisingly, the city’s youth had also heard about their friend Mary Jane moving to town.
“Some business that was discussed included cannabis legalization and the impact on the youth,” the youth mayor said. “We also talked about a youth council social media strategy. We will make an Instagram page. We will continue to discuss ways to engage the youth in Weyburn and provide entertainment for young people as well.”
Non-drug-related entertainment was the subtext–although it’s nice that the youth now have options.
“The youth council made a motion to recommend that council appoints Lincoln Alexander to fill the last vacant seat on the youth council.” The youth mayor pointed out, “Lincoln is present tonight.”
“Welcome, my friend!” exclaimed Councillor Dick Michel as he made that very motion.
“Lincoln?” Mayor Roy nodded toward the audience. “Step up, if you would please.”
The new councillor joined the mayor for a picture, jokingly adjusting his shirt to pantomime the mayor buttoning his suit jacket. Both of them grinned.
Rounding out the day’s youth news, Councillor Michel performed his civic duty by bragging about the city’s sports teams.
“On Friday, the Weyburn Bantam Young Fellow Falcons captured the league title in football!” he proclaimed. “Weyburn defeated the Moose Jaw Razorbacks in Moose Jaw to claim this title. Gentlemen: a job well done.”
“I am going to the mayors’ caucus and administrators’ meeting on Thursday,” Mayor Roy remarked. “I will make note to the mayor of Moose Jaw that we beat them there. We will make sure that this well known at the mayors’ caucus.”