Interview #53: Liverpool, NSW Councilor Charishma Kaliyanda (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Charishma Kaliyanda is in her first year on the Liverpool city council–a council which was rocked by threats, discord, and the potential for dissolution. However, things have calmed down considerably. We talk about how state governments can investigate what happens in city council meetings in Australia, plus she gave me a macabre piece of kangaroo trivia.

Q: Liverpool councilors also have full-time jobs, I’m assuming because the crocodiles aren’t going to hunt themselves down there. But you go to your job, then you show up for a council meeting for a few hours–do people get irritable the longer the meeting goes on?

A: Absolutely. Tiredness can result in people getting a bit crabby, but we’re also lucky that we’re fed before council meetings.

Q: They give you food!

A: Yeah! They figured out very early that if you feed the councilors, the likelihood of them getting grouchy can be staved off for a while.

Q: What grade of kangaroo meat do they feed you?

A: Well, we have a couple of vegetarians, so I think they’re avoiding the kangaroos. But it’s the good stuff. We don’t just pick it up off the road and throw it on the barbecue and serve it!

Q: [Laughs] That is everyone’s impression of Australians up here, by the way!

A: If you’ve ever been to the Australian Outback, you’ll find a lot of dead kangaroos on the road. They seem to get into lots of accidents with large vehicles.

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Liverpool, NSW Councilor Charishma Kaliyanda

Q: The year before you were elected, the Liverpool City Council was in chaos. But one thing that threw me for a loop was learning that New South Wales Local Government Minister Paul Toole–which we don’t have an equivalent for in the U.S.–sent someone to sit in the council meetings to monitor misconduct. And even WILDER, he was deciding whether to disband the city council entirely! He can do that in Australia?!

A: Yes. It’s happened very recently to a different council. That’s what happened in this situation: the councilor would have put in a complaint claiming what happened was not in keeping with the code of conduct. That’s when a representative from the Minister of Local Government would have investigated. That seems like it was a pretty horrible situation to be a part of. The toxicity must have been building up and people went, “I’ve had enough.”

Q: Did Paul Toole send anyone to watch your early council meetings just to see if everything was okay?

A: Not that I can recall. It’s usually at the request of a councilor or the mayor or someone in staff because they have a concern about something.

Q: At the November 2016 meeting, there was a motion to drug test all the councilors and the mayor. Do you know what that was about?

A: Right before the election there was discussion around having an ice [methamphetamine] injecting room. [The motion was] a gesture about how anti-drug councilors are…we should submit ourselves to testing.

Q: During this interview, you have been very articulate and knowledgeable, so I’m curious: did you take any performance-enhancing drugs before we started talking?

A: Does coffee count?

Q: Well, it’s legal here but I don’t know what goes down in Australia. Is it legal there?

A: Yes, but I would classify it as a performance-enhancing drug! [Laughs]


Follow Councilor Charishma Kaliyanda on Twitter: @Ckaliyanda

#110: Dieppe, NB 6/12/17

Something seemed off about the Dieppe city council meeting.

At first, I figured that the glass of wine I was drinking had reacted poorly with the five glasses of wine I just finished drinking. But then I realized: the audio was out of sync. And the reason was shocking.

They were speaking FRENCH!

“Without further ado, dear colleagues,” an offscreen translator spoke for Mayor Yvon Lapierre, “may we have the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Lapierre shifted his eyes and cracked the tiniest of grins after no one from the audience accepted his invitation to speak. “It’s fairly calm tonight.”

So calm, in fact, that the creation of the brand new “Elsliger Street” passed unanimously without question or comment. The mayor, however, jumped in with une petite commentaire.

“Somebody during the week asked me, ‘Elsliger? Where does it come from?’ Well, it’s in honor of the woman who suggested the name Dieppe: Madame Agnès Elsliger.”

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Photo not available. But this is probably what she looked like.

From here, the meeting veered away from honoring old ladies into talking about…drugs.

“To DieppeMAG, they put the phone number for people who find syringes or needles,” trumpeted Councilor Patricia Arsenault, brandishing a copy of the magazine with a bicycle-riding child on the cover. “All they have to do is call that number to make sure that somebody’s going to take care of those things.”

But in fact, there is no hotline to call for another looming menace: Mary Jane. (Or, in French, Marie Jeanne.)

“All this is going to become legal on the First of July, 2018,” Councilor Arsenault warned. “The Medical Society of New Brunswick says it would be nice if we could increase the age to 21 years old.”

Legal marijuana for people under 21? Healthcare for everyone? Canada truly is a backwards county.

“Lastly, as a little puff of fresh air,” Arsenault smiled, perhaps intending that very clever pun, “a young 17-year-old Acadian launched his first CD.” She held up another newspaper with the budding artist’s picture.

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Imagine how many CDs he’ll put out with legal marijuana

“I hope that my shirt shows that it’s summer,” Councilor Jordan Nowland suddenly gestured to his Jimmy Buffet-style top.

“It would be a good idea to put EpiPens in public places,” he suggested. “Somebody who has an EpiPen–it can last for 20 minutes. This is where the second one, publicly accessible, would make a big difference.”

Between syringes, marijuana, and EpiPens, the city may soon have to rename Elsliger Street to “Medical Supplies Boulevard.”

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Ready to luau

Mayor Lapierre glanced askance at Councilor Jean-Marc Brideau. “Why the laughter, Monsieur Brideau?”

The bearded councilor looked fondly at a Canadian police officer sitting up front with arms folded. “I’ve been five years on council and I’ve always complained that we didn’t see the RCMP in Dieppe,” he chuckled.

“So I have to say, this afternoon, I had to had to wait to get out of my yard because there was a patrol car that had stopped right there!”

Well, if Councilor Brideau ever needs a police escort, they know where to find him.

Final thoughts: I give 8 out of 10 bowls of poutine to the English translator. Maybe next time he can get 10 out of 10 by doing the characters’ voices.

#108: Estevan, SK 5/29/17

Rare is the day that mail delivery gets in the crosshairs of a city council meeting.

But here in Canada, Estevan was dragged into a national firestorm over what everyone (me) is calling “Mailboxgate.”

“On August 17, 2015, Canada Post converted the city of Estevan to the self-serve mailbox model,” a gray-haired woman with the postal workers’ union ominously testified to the room of wary councilors.

“In an article in the Estevan Mercury on November 4, 2015, ‘not only were some people flustered with the loss of door-to-door delivery, but there were also concerns with the locations of the mailboxes. Some were upset to have the mailboxes in their yard.'”

Yes. In their yard–where ANY rabid moose or wayward hockey puck could attack without warning. And if you think I’m kidding about those deadly hazards…I am. But not about this:

“It has resulted in an increase in people who experience severe injuries as a result of slips and falls,” thundered the woman, “which HAVE occurred while attempting to access community mailboxes.”

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Look at these slippery S.O.B’s.

After painting this dystopian image of Saskatchewan’s murderous mailboxes, she concluded her blistering sermon by saying, “we’re requesting the reinstatement of door-to-door delivery in Estevan.”

Mayor Roy Ludwig scanned the room for questions. “Well, thank you so much for coming–”

“Can I ask when you would discuss this and when we would have an answer from you?” the woman immediately grilled him.

“I think this evening,” he replied in a slow monotone. “We’ll discuss it and we can get back to you probably tomorrow.”

He quickly perked up as she stood and gathered her belongings. “And you are more than welcome to stay! I always ask everyone–no one does,” he pleaded as she exited the room and councilors chuckled uneasily.

“Bye-bye,” he called after her.

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Mayor: “Please don’t leave me. They all leave me.”

But there was no time to mourn her departure, for a series of bombshells immediately sent shock waves as far away as Frobisher.

“One lady asked me this week regarding our plants…I know we have the new planter that will be going up on King Street,” Councilor Shelly Veroba began her inquisition calmly. “So she’s asking if there’s going to be a process for perennials versus annuals.”

Mayor Ludwig mulled it over. “That’s a fair question. I know people have been asking that.”

Wait, not even the mayor knows the critical floral selection process for Estevan? What if the city is attacked by radicalized allergens? What if lower Saskatchewan is invaded by hungry deer? WHO WILL DEPLOY THE FERTILIZER?!

“I think we need to get it out to the public as to why we choose the annuals versus the perennials,” Councilor Veroba warned sternly. Hear, hear, madam.

“I also had another inquiry,” she continued in wide-eyed disbelief. “People are curious about a clothesline bylaw. They’re saying there are people out there being stopped from hanging their clothes.”

She shook her head at this sad state of affairs. “I think it’s an urban legend. There’s no bylaw. So if you hear that, it’s just rumor.”

I should hope so. Canada is the land of the free and the home of the brave, so everyone is entitled to have the wind off McDonald Lake dry their britches on the line.

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Vive l’undies!

“Councilor Veroba,” the mayor attempted to defuse the situation humorously, “were they suggesting we were airing our dirty laundry?”

Everyone chuckled. The postal woman shouldn’t have left early.

Interview #49: Johannesburg, ZA-GT Councilor Michael Sun (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

This is very exciting: our first visit to Africa! Michael Sun is one of 270 councilors in Johannesburg. We talk about how the meetings have changed since the 2016 election, the importance of singing and dancing, and the time tragedy struck.

Q: Before the 2016 election when one political party, the African National Congress, had a majority, did council meetings go smoothly?

A: I would say it ran fairly smoothly and [there] probably was very little disruption from the opposition parties. I think the biggest disruption we’ve ever seen was a walk-out from council chambers. Other than that, we have not seen any violence as we have been seeing very recently.

Q: I do read the South African news and see stories about protesters, intimidation, and threats at the Johannesburg council meetings. Have you ever been threatened?

A: It’s very unfortunate that some groups of protesters would choose council to stage their protest. Our Constitution protects one’s right to protest. Some of them go as extreme as ending up in fistfights. It’s something that we are not accustomed to–something that we certainly condemn.

Q: I do have to be thorough because you are in Africa: has a group of elephants ever stampeded your chamber, sir?

A: [Laughs] Michael, we are a little far away from the Bushveld!

Q: Ah. Do councilors trust each other?

A: I trust my fellow councilors. Our position is that there’s no reason why we shouldn’t trust each other. But when doubts are being brought to the fore [about corruption], one needs to exercise discretion.

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Johannesburg, ZA-GT Councilor Michael Sun

Q: I noticed that in your first council meeting after the election, a group of EFF councilors started singing and dancing. And at one point, most of the room was dancing! Does music have a role in your council meetings?

A: Oh, absolutely! Singing and dancing is part of our culture. Whether there are happy moments, we sing. Or sad moments, we sing. So political parties in a way of celebration or to express sorrow will break out into song. Often if you’re not exposed to this kind of display of culture, one would feel offended by the noise and gesture. But if you have an understanding of where the country comes from, you would appreciate the display.

Q: Mmhmm.

A: Sometimes we get up and sing at the top of our voices. Some of them don’t know all the words but we try our best!

Q: Going back to that first council meeting, one of the councilors collapsed. And a little while later, she died. I mean, you had singing, dancing, allegations of corruption, and now a death. 

A: This is the first time that a councilor passed on in a council meeting. We would never wish for any councilor to suffer that fate. We understood afterward she had been ill. But because of the volatility of the contestation of the mayorship and the speakership, it was a very sad day for all of us.

Q: Is there any racial tension in your meetings?

A: I think as a country, we’ve really come a long way. Once you have so many ethic groups in one pot, it’s bound to spark. It’s also from the spark we will learn from each other. We know to respect each other. So racial issues has never really been a problem for me.


Follow Councilor Michael Sun on Twitter: @MichaelSun168

Interview #48: Dublin, IE Councilor Ciarán Cuffe (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

After last week’s Dublin city council meeting, I talked with Ciarán Cuffe about why his council is so enormous, how the political parties get along without too much fighting, and whether the Lord Mayor does a decent job of keeping things on the rails.

Q: Your city council has 63 members. That is a huge number! Be honest with me: do you know everyone’s name?

A: No, I don’t! Up until three years ago we had 52 members and even that was a bit of a struggle to fit into our chamber, which is in a building 250 years old. It’s a squeeze, and if you want to get out to get a glass of water, you have to hustle past several colleagues.

Q: What made you add 11 people?

A: There was a rebalancing in local government between urban and rural. The situation was that there was a lot more councilors in rural areas than in urban areas. So the then-minister at a national level decided to reduce the level of councilors in rural areas and increase it slightly in urban areas.

Q: I read that you recently decided to let councilors bring their children into the meetings. Is that true?

A: Yeah, there was an issue with one of my colleagues who wanted to bring her child into meetings and was told, that’s not something that really works. So Claire [Byrne] battled that and I’m glad to say that she’s now welcomed into meetings. I don’t think anybody would bat an eyelid if a mom was breastfeeding in a meeting. That’s certainly the norm in other European countries.

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Dublin, IE Councilor Ciarán Cuffe

Q: Let’s get into the meat and potatoes–or, as you say in Ireland, the “potatoes and potatoes.” Your council is divided into political parties, I believe eight in total. Explain how these parties affect everything from who sits where, who is allowed to talk and when, and who gets along with whom.

A: Traditionally, we have two center-right parties in Ireland. But in more recent years, there’s been an explosion of left (a lot more left than Bernie Sanders) left-wing parties. You have People Before Profit, you have the Workers’ Party, the Socialist Workers Party. It gets a bit confusing. We talk about bank bailouts and we still have rows about that, and those rows find their way into council meetings. We tend not to have too many fisticuffs at the meetings, but you can have broad discussions.

Q: How do you rank current Lord Mayor Brendan Carr when it comes to running the meetings?

A: Brendan is trying his best but it’s a bit like trying to organize a roomful of screaming cats. Brendan is as challenged as many of his predecessors. The thing about the mayor in the Irish context is we don’t have a directly-elected mayor who’s there for five years. We don’t have an Ed Koch or a Giuliani. We have a mayor who is in for twelve months and they go out again. So they don’t command as much respect.

Q: After people are done being Lord Mayor, are they more wise or tempered?

A: I think they are. I think there’s a knowing glance amongst people who have been mayor. Though I haven’t been mayor, I have been in the national parliament. You’ve got to carefully understand the mood of the room.


Follow Councilor Ciarán Cuffe on Twitter: @CiaranCuffe

#103: Dublin, IE 5/8/17

Councilors were packed tighter than marshmallows in a Lucky Charms box at the Dublin city council chamber. And as with any group of Irishmen this size, things quickly got heated.

The subject was innocent enough: a tame discussion about the maternity hospital. But suddenly, Councilor Paddy Bourke stared down Lord Mayor Brendan Carr.

“On a point of order, I think it would be safer if the members of the board left the room–and that includes yourself,” he demanded.

Lord Mayor Carr, a member of the hospital’s board, pointed his pen defensively. “There’s a lot of us on different boards around the city. And no one’s ever asked to leave the chamber.”

But he dialed back his annoyance and gestured around the room. “I’ll leave that up to the council to make the decision.”

“I don’t think we should create a precedent of the people who are best informed having to leave,” argued Councilor Rebecca Moynihan in disbelief. “Otherwise, we should resign from all the boards. I don’t think that you should leave, Lord Mayor.”

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Will he or won’t he?

Another councilor began yelling for a point of order. Carr glared at him, warning, “there’s another councilor before you.”

As the belligerent councilor persisted, the Lord Mayor sharply cut him off. “I chair the meeting!”

At this point, the clearly un-amused Councilor Daithí Doolan was all but ready to smother this ruckus and head to the pub.

“There’s certain elements in this chamber tonight trying to gag ourselves and straightjacket ourselves. It’s ridiculous,” he groused. “We’re adults. If people want to leave the chamber, feel free to leave. I trust councilors to make the right decision.”

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“I will not be straightjacketed. In fact, I will barely be jacketed.”

Having gauged the temperature of the room and the purity of his intentions, the Lord Mayor reached his decision. “I have absolutely no conflict of interest. I don’t intend to leave the chamber.”

After this wee bit o’ discord, I reasoned that the meeting would be smoother than a field of four-leaf clovers from here on out.

I thought wrong.

“There was a challenge that came in from a member of the public,” Carr announced three hours into the meeting, referring to a citizen complaint, “and we have to try to resolve it.”

He glanced up at the clock. “We’re now agreeing to suspend the meeting and I’ll ask everyone who’s a member of the Protocol [Committee] to meet and come back.”

THAT sent councilors into a frenzy.

“Point of order! Are YOU telling ME we’re about to break up this meeting,” Councilor Kieran Binchy hollered into the microphone, his voice rising throughout the rant, “in order to hold a separate meeting so the Protocol Committee can make decisions in PRIVATE?!”

Other councilors nodded and grunted in support. Now I know where the term “Fightin’ Irish” comes from.

“You cannot convene a meeting right now!” Binchy exclaimed with wild eyes.

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“This is TOO MANY MEETINGS!”

“There was an issue that came in from the public,” the Lord Mayor patiently explained. “We were then given legal advice that the Protocol Committee should meet–please sit in your seats.”

Carr held up his hand while pleading for councilors to listen–with some difficulty. “Someone show a bit of respect somewhere!”

“This is ridiculous,” Councilor Binchy wailed as Carr opened the voting machine. “This isn’t the way to do business!”

Unfortunately for him, three-quarters of councilors sided with their Lord Mayor. The meeting was recessed.

Interview #45: City of Sydney, NSW Councilor Christine Forster (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Folks, this is a first: we have an Australian city councilor–and a good one at that! Christine Forster is a Liberal Party councilor who also ran for Lord Mayor (which is Australian for “mayor”) last year. We got outraged at what I was seeing–or not seeing–in her council meetings.

Q: Where I am, it is Sunday. But where you are, it is Monday. So you are IN THE FUTURE! I think it would be fun if you told the audience what I am going to say next. I’ll put my fingers in my ears.

A: Well I’m pretty sure you’re going to ask me how the City of Sydney council operates.

Q: [Taking fingers out of ears] Okay, great. I want to start by talking about your dog. I know you’re a big animal lover and–wait a minute. I bet that’s EXACTLY what you thought I’d say. Nice try! Let’s talk instead about your council meetings. I could not find a scrap of video footage anywhere. What’s going on? Did a dingo eat your cameras?

A: [Laughs] It wasn’t a dingo and it wasn’t even my pug, Audrey Pugburn! It’s a sad fact that unfortunately there is no video or audio record because our Lord Mayor–she’s been in charge of the show since 2004–resolutely refuses to broadcast or televise our meetings. It has been something I’ve been pushing for several years now. But the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, is intransigent.

Q: In July 2014, the council decides to do the live streaming. That passes on a 5-4 vote. What happened next?

A: It passed on a 5-4 vote because the Lord Mayor’s numbers were down. Somebody was away on sick leave. The motion was rescinded at the next meeting by the Lord Mayor when she had the numbers again.

Q: How long have the debates been on this and what was the tone?

A: There was no debate, really. As soon as the new council was [sworn in for 2016], I spoke very robustly in favor of it. And the Lord Mayor and her team simply voted it down.

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City of Sydney, NSW Councilor Christine Forster

Q: This is frustrating to me. Clearly it’s frustrating to you because you’re living through it. Are regular people as angry about this as you are?

A: People want this. There are councils around the world that have been doing this since the 1980s. It’s beyond frustrating, frankly. I have no problem with anyone photographing or recording anything I say or do. I’m happy to open myself to that level of scrutiny.

Q: I did contact the Lord Mayor’s office and asked for an answer about why she refuses to allow the rest of us to see what’s happening. I received no response. Quite frankly, I am outraged that Clover Moore thinks the people’s business should be done on HER terms. However, being fair here, can you think of any time that you or your fellow councilors used a meeting to grandstand, take a shot at the mayor, or create a distraction?

A: Absolutely not. This is not about us trying to score political points. This is an administration that will countenance no variation, no opposition, that is entirely about control.

Q: Couldn’t you hold up your cell phone and Facebook Live stream it?

A: It might well end up that somebody does that. It won’t be me!


Follow Councilor Christine Forster on Twitter: @resourcefultype