#143: Littleton, CO 12/5/17

Freshly sworn in and ready for business, the Littleton city council backed out of the driveway and, metaphorically, immediately hit the mailbox.

Not only were two new council members absent, but one citizen marched down to raise hell about “Candy and Cash”-gate.

“At the last meeting when the recognition of the council members who were leaving–let’s see if I say this right,” she dramatically donned her eyeglasses and stared at the transcript.

“Citizens asked for time to make recognition also. [One council member] said, ‘this group may give us candy.’ Council Member [Phil] Cernanec said, ‘we appreciate cash’ and I’m sure that was a joke.”

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Ix-nay on the ash-cay.

She whipped off her glasses and point-blank recited how much the council members ten feet from her had received in campaign contributions from the cash-and-candy jokesters.

“I’m very concerned about special access for special interests. This raised all the red flags for me. I’m going to suggest it was out of order. I’m sure it was well-intentioned and I’m also sure that it was bad.”

Agreed. If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is jokes about bribery at a council meeting. (Although I am open to changing my views for a simple wire transfer of $8,000 or greater.)

Returning to the council meeting, the city attorney had another dire warning if Littleton didn’t change the definitions in its tax code.

“The legislature goes back into session on January 5. I have to tell the council it’s very, very critical that we do this,” he asserted with a wry smile.

“Property tax does not pay city bills. Sales tax does. If cities do not demonstrate this willingness to look at their tax codes, I think we will be at risk of having our sales tax authority impinged.”

The stakes were straightforward enough. The real heavy lifting, however, went to Council Member Kyle Schlachter, who read an ordinance title so lengthy and complex, it was almost as hard to comprehend as the tax code itself.

“I move to approve ordinance 35-2017 amending Title 3, Chapter 9, Sections 9-9-1-2, 3-9-3-2, 3-9-1-10, and 3-9-6-12 of the city code,” he announced triumphantly.

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Noooooooooo! After all that hard work!

“I need a motion, please,” requested Mayor Debbie Brinkman, flipping through a routine emergency medical transportation enterprise fund budget.

“I move to approve the ordinance,” Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Valdes began calmly enough, “entering into a trust agreement for the Colorado Firefighters–”

“Nope!” the mayor halted him.

“I’m on the wrong one!” exclaimed Valdes, frantically poking at his tablet screen. “Take over, Kyle!”

“All right,” quickly rebounded Council Member Schlachter. “I move to approve the amendment to the Emergency Medical Transport Enterprise Fund 2017 Budget.”

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He is getting quite the reputation as the council’s resident reader.

Eyeing the clock near the end of the meeting, Mayor Brinkman turned to the city manager. “City manager, do you have any report?”

“I do not,” he informed her cheerfully.

“Good,” she replied absent-mindedly. Audience members started to snicker, prompting her to quickly reconsider her choice of words.

“I mean, THANK YOU!” she gushed, somewhat facetiously. As the chuckling subsided, she gave a stern parting reminder to the council.

“I need those who have not given me their goals for 2018, please send me those by the end of the week.”

I can think of one goal: get Mayor Pro Tem Valdes a tutorial for that iPad.

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#142: Twinsburg, OH 11/28/17

The end of every year is a time for holiday celebrations, reflections, and yes, goodbyes to council members.

“Seth has brought his entertaining style to his term,” Council Member Maureen Stauffer read from an oversize proclamation to retiring Council Member Seth Rodin.

“Thank you, Seth!” she concluded, her voice cracking. The two hugged and everyone in the room applauded.

“I’ll miss you,” added Stauffer quietly.

It was a slightly more touching tribute than the next, administered by Council Member Bill Furey.

“Nobody hates being recognized more than Gary Sorace,” Furey quipped as the council president swayed nervously.

“We would like to give you this gavel as a remembrance of your time as council president,” Furey handed over the diminutive token.

“I do have something else,” suddenly recalled Council Member Stauffer, who strolled over to Council Member Rodin and discreetly handed him a gift. Rodin giggled in embarrassment.

“It’s a picture of ME on socks!” he exclaimed, brandishing a long pair of socks custom-printed with his image. I don’t know if there is an inside joke here or if this was merely a gag, but wow, way to take an undesirable present and turn it into a highly desirable present!

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Where can I get a pair?

But arguably, the most heartfelt gift was yet to come.

“Isn’t it amazing how god brings the right people into your life at the right time?” a woman wearing a massive pearl necklace asked rhetorically at the lectern. She and another environmental commission member recited a poem, trading off lines and standing shoulder to shoulder.

“We did not just seek. We felt.”

“We did not just hear. We listened.”

“You helped us to achieve our environmental vision. And you inspired us to be what we knew we could be.”

“Thank you Seth!” “Thank you, councilman!” they concluded in not-quite-unison. They looked at each other, laughing. Good vibes were all around.

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Adorable

But enter vibe-crusher Sam Scaffide.

“I would like to make a motion that we repeal section 11.05 of the rules of council,” announced Council Member Scaffide.

“I’d like to amend your motion,” quickly retorted Council Member Furey. “The purpose of taking it out was because the Ward 5 council person would be new. I recommend we put Ward 5 temporarily at the bottom of the list and bump Ward 4, which is Mrs. Stauffer, and Ward 3 up one year.”

Scaffide stared quizzically at this modern-day Machiavelli, calculating how this would affect the line to the council presidency.

“I’m saying take out the 2018 Ward 5,” Furey reiterated. “Make the 2019 Ward 4 the ’18. Take the Ward 2, which is the following year at ’20. Move those up so that the existing council people don’t get moved out of the line of succession.”

Council Member Scaffide frowned deeply. “I don’t think it’s the fair way to do it.”

“Wait,” spat Council Member Furey. “This is six months old, voted on unanimously. ALL this does is keep the same rotation for the two people who are on council already.”

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Is this a coup? It feels like a coup.

Murmurs of confusion roiled the council.

“Call the roll, please?” Council President Sorace ordered.

“On the amendment?” asked the clerk.

This triggered massive crosstalk and gesticulating in an attempt to divine the right path forward. Eventually, the kerfuffle subsided and the amendment passed unanimously.

Just as quickly as conflict arose, the good vibes returned.

“We’re planing a little holiday gathering on December 12,” the HR director informed everyone. “We bake cookies and here in the lobby, we have cookies and punch. You’re all invited.”

Special Feature! Best of “Best Thing, Worst Thing”

This past year, I had an AMAZING experience. I visited 12 cities and towns across North America for the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project. The idea was simple: see as much of the city as I could, talk to as many people as I could, and ask them all the same two questions.

What is the best thing about this place?

What is the worst thing about this place?

Answering those questions can be surprisingly difficult, but it was important for me to hear about individuals’ values and experiences with their communities. I learned that a small city in conservative western Kansas thinks of itself as “progressive.” I learned that diversity in Toronto is much heralded, but also has a dark side. And I was present for a medical emergency in the desert outside Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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Butter tart bake-off in Toronto, ON

The goal was to find out what cities are doing well to make their communities livable for residents. Then, to find out what people want that their cities aren’t providing now.

You can listen to all 12 episodes on the project page. And this week, I bring you the highlights in a special audio episode about the best of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing.” This “best of” is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM and right here:

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Robotics camp in Pittsburgh, PA

If you liked what you heard, please give the podcast a five-star rating on iTunes and like our Facebook page. There are other big projects in the works, so keep checking back!

#141: Loma Linda, CA 11/14/17

With a roomful of men sitting around the dais, it was only a matter of time before the Loma Linda council meeting turned to…cars.

“This is one of those ordinances that the legislature, in their wisdom, has required us to adopt,” the city attorney folded his hands and remarked dryly. “For review and approval of electric vehicle charging stations.”

“Would the mayor like to give personal testimony?” quizzed Council Member Ron Dailey, glancing cheekily across the desk.

Mayor Rhodes Rigsby chuckled at this reference to his own electric car. “I’m appreciative of the Target parking lot off Sierra in Fontana,” he said of the megastore’s free charging station.

“It’s rescued me from foolish, long trips to the west side of the county with insufficient charge to return home!”

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Oh, great. The secret’s out on the Target parking lot charging station.

Apparently, his car was a sweet–but not illegal–deal. “I’m also appreciative to Fiat for essentially giving me the car. And it’s offered to the public, so they’re not buying me off as a politician.”

He paused and racked his brain for a few stats right out of Car and Driver. “They’re attached to Chrysler, and Chrysler sells a lot of Hemis that don’t get the best gas mileage. So they need the 112 miles per gallon of my car to compensate. I’m doing them a service!”

There’s a reelection slogan: “I’m doing Chrysler a service!”

Something else Mayor Rigsby was doing? Trigonometry in his head.

“I don’t know whether it takes into account sines and cosines and tangents or whether it’s pointed straight down the street,” he mused about the proposed speed radar sign on Beaumont Avenue. “I’ve always wondered that: do you calculate how much you need to compensate for the sine of the angle?”

This being a city council meeting, not the Society of Professional Engineers’ meeting, we may never know. However, Council Member Dailey piped up with a second, more relatable quandry.

“My challenge is, I know there’s not a camera in there to ticket you. But my wife doesn’t believe me,” he said. “So she has her own brake pedal on her side of the car–”

“And she’s constantly pressing it,” the mayor nodded, no doubt familiar with his colleague’s driving habits.

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The secret to marriage is…an instructor’s brake pedal?

From harrowing car trips, the meeting turned to harrowing rescues.

“You’re true defenders…thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” the mayor read sincere thank you cards and letters addressed to the Loma Linda Fire Department, which had been helping Northern Californians battle their wildfires.

“Maybe they have a board they can put them up on?” Council Member Dailey raised his eyebrows at the fire chief.

“Usually we’ll get two or three [cards] on a big assignment,” explained the chief. “But that’s just today’s. I’ve got dozens.”

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You earned them.

While it may seem a little premature to be talking about Christmas in Southern California already (high temperature today: 78 degrees), it was essential to spread some Yule log-sized news about this year’s Christmas tree lighting.

“I understand this is going to be a MUCH larger production than usual,” grinned Mayor Rigsby. “They’ve invited a choir of angels to sing, from what I’ve heard.”

He added, “in the past, it’s been analogous to a Charlie Brown episode. Now it’s going to be more like an ‘evening at the pops.'”

“Sounds good to me!” responded a stoked Council Member Dailey.

Get there safely–and slowly.

#140: Fort Morgan, CO 11/7/17

“In the interest of brevity, I’ll try to keep it as short and concise as possible,” city attorney Jason Meyers promised. I was skeptical. No lawyer can resist the allure of long, drawn-out soliloquies–and that was exactly what council members would get here.

However, I immediately became less concerned about the length of the monologue and more concerned about the dire situation erupting in Fort Morgan.

“Every year the state legislature passes another set of bills that restricts the ability of the municipal court to operate,” Meyers began solemnly. “More recent changes have stated that if anybody is in custody on a jailable offense, regardless of whether they’re indigent, they have to have a court-appointed attorney available at the time they’re talking to a judge.”

Seems reasonable enough, yes? Right to counsel. Habeas corpus. Gluteus maximus. The bedrock of our country!

“How do we have a court-appointed attorney available every Wednesday, whether we have cases?” Meyers asked rhetorically. “We’re paying an attorney to sit there just in case.”

Ah yes, the other bedrock of our country: money. But listen, buddy, if you knew this was gonna cause problems, you should have said something about it earlier.

“I did go to the legislature two years ago and testify,” explained Meyers. “I got grilled for about 30 minutes. It felt like hours. In essence, they don’t care about the rural communities. This is the result.”

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I care about you.

The council listened stoically to the scenario. I am sure this can be resolved without drastic measures.

“We removed jail as an option for most municipal court violations. You can still be written into municipal court for assault and disorderly [conduct] and resisting arrest. We just can’t put you in jail for it anymore if this passes,” he concluded.

“This” being the following proposal from Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Northrup: “I would offer a resolution eliminating jail as a possible penalty in Fort Morgan municipal court cases and request to schedule a public hearing.”

Mayor Ron Shaver waited a beat. “Roll call.”

A string of lighted domes blazed green in front of council members as everyone voted yes. Let that be a lesson: if you’re looking for a place to resist arrest for being disorderly, Eastern Colorado is the promise land.

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Ooh…the orbs!

There was little time to dwell on the fate of the jail or ponder the imminence of anarchy. Winter was fast approaching and Fort Morgan had a reputation to uphold:

“When people ask, ‘why are we the Christmas Capital of the Plains,’ it’s because we do more in the four weeks before Christmas than any other community in Colorado,” city manager Jeffrey Wells bragged to the council–and, technically, to any other council in earshot.

“I would tell anybody to try and take us on,” he challenged brazenly.

“You may have seen in the paper,” Wells continued, “that our very own [Director of Public Works] Steve Glammeyer was awarded the–”

He halted in search of the name.

“William E. Korbitz!” yelled someone from the side.

“–the William E. Korbitz Award with the Colorado Chapter of the American Public Works Association,” recovered Wells. “So thanks a lot, Steve.”

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Hell yes, Steve.

The room broke into applause and Wells grinned fiendishly. “He HATES it when we do this.”

“Do it again!” someone hollered. A second round of applause and whoops thundered down for Steve. Luckily, they could get as disorderly as they wanted–it’s not like they’ll go to jail.

#139: Madison, WI 10/31/17

It was the final day of October, so you know what that meant:

Council. Meeting. Costumes.

“Mr. Mayor, we have a quorum,” the clerk called out to Mayor Paul Soglin.

“Thank goodness,” murmured the mayor before shooting a bemused glance at council President Marsha Rummel. “What would you like to do?” he inquired warily.

Other council members cackled as Rummel, wearing a lace garment on her head and several buttons on her shirt, flipped on her mic.

“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” she retorted in character as Mary Harris Jones.

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You…you could have bought a wig.

Alder Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, herself in a modest-looking Wonder Woman outfit, used her superpowers for the most mundane of purposes: “On item 56, I requested that it be noted that I’m recusing myself,” she asked politely.

“Anybody else have comments or observations?” Mayor Soglin gazed around the room. He paused and grinned.

“This looks like it’s going to work out quite nicely since it appears that a signficant number of members need to be out on the streets tonight. And Sara is waiting for me at home to watch the last three episodes of ‘Stranger Things’.”

Council members snickered. But they weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the loosened dress code tonight.

“This particular topic sort of touched a nerve,” a public commenter ornately dressed as a hybrid wizard-priest said about a proposed alcohol license. “I would’ve had my pine bough here to bless you with water because god knows we need blessing right now, including on this issue,” he pantomimed spraying water.

“While I’ve got huge issues with this particular co-op choosing to become one more place selling alcohol and eliminating the sanctuary for some sensitive people to shop for healthy food without alcohol…how can we serve the soul?” he asked rhetorically, wearing the perfect attire for his argument.

“So I’ll put my pine bough up here soaked with water,” he again pretended to toss streams of water onto the council. “Bless you and bless the city.”

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Forgive me, public commenter, for I have sinned.

It was corny, but there was no time to savor the moment. For standing at the lectern was the scariest costume of the night: a man dressed as a big, bad developer.

“You can see a variety of housing types–the multifamily and mixed-use as previously located, with the park and the school site located in the center and east portion,” the Dark Lord gestured to his colorful map as a chill swept the room.

Council President Rummel was now in the presiding chair–the mayor having possibly ducked out early to finish “Stranger Things” with his wife as promised. (I think we’ve all struggled to choose between chairing a council meeting and binge-watching TV, so I get it.) She opened the floor to public comment.

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Wait…maybe he really is a developer.

“We would like to have certain conditions placed to make sure the neighborhood stays the good, vibrant neighborhood it is today,” one citizen pleaded.

“Right now during peak hours, that gets backed up past Kwik Trip,” explained another.

“The fix was in,” ranted a third man with a ponytail and faint New Jersey accent. “I’ve never seen a bigger fix. The fix is in. The deal is done. Too bad.”

“The fix” must have been pretty deep, for the entire council voted in favor of the zoning change. Let’s hope it doesn’t “haunt” them.

Final thoughts: Boo!

#138: Ogden, UT 10/24/17

“This is the 6 p.m. meeting,” Ogden council Chair Marcia White stated, brazenly defying the clock in front of her which read “5:59.” It’s refreshing to see someone so eager to begin a council meeting (either that or it really was six o’clock and this timepiece was spreading Fake News).

Council Vice Chair Richard Hyer scanned the audience. “It’s my pleasure,” he said, his eyes settling on a target in the crowd, “to announce that we’re going to have our Ogden/Weber Convention & Visitor’s Bureau director lead us in the pledge today.”

The randomly-selected lady rose to the occasion literally, as people stood with her and flawlessly recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Sitting back down, White grinned and shot a glance at the vice chair.

“That’s kind of mean that you put them on the spot. THAT’S when you forget the pledge!” she observed with a chuckle. “It’s like, ‘ah! I’ve said it all my life.'”

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It’s an impromptu patriotism test

Hyer defended his unorthodox method. “I didn’t ask her to sing the national anthem! I just asked her to say the pledge.” As the laughter subsided, he murmured to himself, “we should do that national anthem thing.”

Well, sir, I’m not sure where you can find the singers. But I DO know where you can find actors.

“Recognizing WNY Productions for their immense support of Ogden while filming the series ‘Youth and Consequences’ right here at Ogden High School,” Council Member Bart Blair read from a proclamation.

“We are eager to view the final cut” of the teen comedy/drama series, he added, coming to a YouTube channel near you.

“We have a little something for you, too,” one of the production team members responded.

A man pulled out a tiny plastic-wrapped notebook. “These are so you can keep track of your own stories. Maybe turn them into screenplays,” he encouraged the council. Aha–the vice chair can get a shot at his musical after all!

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“Ogden and the Amazing Technicolor Council Livestream”

Buddy, I’ll turn this entire council meeting review into a screenplay.

ENTER: SWASHBUCKLING MAYOR

All three of my daughters were extras in that. They had a 
blast.

ENTER: GIANT NINJA ROBOT

I'll show you a blast...with my laser cannon!

See, how hard is that? Oh, and the part about the mayor’s daughters being extras was real. The ninja robot? Well, you’ll have to check the tape.

“We have Halloween next week,” sighed Mayor Mike Caldwell. “I would just lobby to say I wish that was on a Friday or a Saturday.”

He smiled, picturing the ordeal that would await him after a long night of candy-harvesting. “Having young kids that get all sugared up, to have to turn them around and get them off their sugar hangover and get them back to school is kind of rough.”

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Send them to my house–I’m passing out kale and copies of The Old Testament.

Council Member Neil Garner also had a concerned message for the drivers. “Please, next Tuesday, be extremely careful. Watch out for the little trick-or-treaters.”

ENTER: GIANT NINJA ROBOT

With one hand, I shall deliver 
candy to your children. 
With the other hand, I shall 
karate chop your dangerous 
drivers. Hee-yah!

Final thoughts: Obviously, I give 50 out of 50 stars to the woman who seamlessly and confidently led the Pledge of Allegiance. May your sugar hangover be brief and mild.