#173: Philadelphia, PA 11/1/18

“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.

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He’s got the right idea!

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.

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This is what “at ease” looks like.

“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.

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FILIBUSTER

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.

#172: Weyburn, SK 10/22/18

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.”

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You let your military do the dew?!

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.”

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Only medicinal

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.

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Good improv

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.”

I’m happy to do my part here!

#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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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(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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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!