Interview #84: Vancouver, BC Councilor Andrea Reimer (with podcast)

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

Andrea Reimer has been a councilor since 2008 and has witnessed a significant rise in points of order at her council meetings. We talk about why that is, as well as why some speakers acknowledge indigenous territory.

Q: In the Vancouver council meetings, I noticed a lot of people acknowledge that you are on native territory. Are you obligated to do that?

A: We have a formal protocol that the chair of the meeting needs to acknowledge we are on the unseated homelands. But it’s up to each speaker to decide how they want to engage with that. It would be a rule for the mayor or myself when I’m chairing. For Vancouverites, though, who come to speak to council, it’s totally up to them. Many people do make that acknowledgement.

Q: You posted this last year:

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Is blood sugar any different now than it was when you got on council in 2008?

A: The main goal of the chair is to get people out of that room by 3:30 in the afternoon. If they don’t, we hit the low blood sugar zone. We do have a brand new council member who just joined us in October who has introduced some activities such as slapping desks. We see that in our parliament–I don’t know if you guys do that in your national government. But we generally don’t do that at municipal council because we’re sitting maybe ten feet away from each other at most. We don’t really need to slap tables to signal that we’re happy or unhappy with something!

Q: I have not seen a city council raise the volume of points of order that I see in Vancouver. Why do you think that is?

A: On my first term of office, 2008-2011, I think we might have had one point of order in the entire three-year period. Then one of the individuals was elected and suddenly we skyrocketed up in number. And then another one, Councilor [Melissa] De Genova, got elected in 2014 and she can do that many before lunch in some meetings. So I think it’s just, different councilors have different styles. Your president’s really into Twitter. We have a councilor who’s really into points of order.

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Vancouver, BC Councilor Andrea Reimer

Q: I heard that last year, a lady fainted in your public comment. Is that true?

A: Oh, yeah. We’ve had a few. We’ve had fainting. We had a medical emergency. We had a fire once while I was chairing. I was the only one who didn’t notice it because it was happening behind me!

Q: Has anyone called point of order on that fire?

A: You know, it’s funny. Those were never points of order! We actually completed the council meeting outside. I’m such a stickler for rules because I’d hate for all of the decisions to be overthrown because some procedural breach happens. I made us go outside and formally adjourn the meeting correctly.

Q: During a public hearing about a proposed development in Chinatown, I heard there was some poor behavior. What did you see that concerned you?

A: It sounds like there was some attempts to intimidate [speakers] either verbally or in one case, physically. We definitely heard booing. Probably the most difficult moment for me was we had two members of the Musqueam nation, one of the three indigenous nations, who came up to the microphone to speak and they were booed by a crowd that had used indigenous issues to try and justify their case. It had such a deep-seated disrespect for the issue. I talked to the organizers and they’ve since reached out to the individuals involved on the Musqueam and I understand there has been reparations made. They’ve apologized.


Follow Councilor Andrea Reimer on Twitter: @andreareimer 

Interview #83: Grande Prairie, AB Councilor Dylan Bressey (with podcast)

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

Dylan Bressey is in his first term on the Grande Prairie city council and he came to my attention for obvious reasons. We talked about all the work he puts into his council meeting recaps, plus he gives prospective council commenters some advice on how to keep things relevant.

Q: I noticed that during your swearing in, unlike other councilors you did not say, “so help me, god” nor did you put your hand on a religious text. So, sir, are you excited that you are going to hell?

A: [Laughs] You know, it’s actually quite the opposite. I’m a member of the clergy and something that I’m very conscious of is I’m very uncomfortable with religious politics. I really intentionally asked not to take my oath on a Bible, taking seriously Jesus’s words not to do that.

Q: Interesting. That hasn’t brought you any bad luck or hellfire since then, has it?

A: Well, it hasn’t yet, but we’ll see what my eternal destiny might hold because of it.

Q: On February 10, someone tweeted at you

To which you responded, “I disagree about the hashtag, but council feels a lot like school, so I could get behind #bresseyforvaledictorian.” In what way does your council feel a lot like school?

A: Every week it feels like I’m getting hundreds of pages of documents that our administration is asking us to read. I’m digging through online databases. And I’m even writing a lot of papers. I do a lot of blogging. So I really am treating this like school.

Q: On your website, you really set the bar high for what city council members can do to explain everything about their jobs to their constituents. This thing is an encyclopedia for what, why, and how the city council does its business. How long does it take you to write up a summary of a given council meeting?

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Grande Prairie, AB Councilor Dylan Bressey

A: As I’m processing it, I’d say it takes me probably an hour and a half to just do the writing. And then I get somebody to proofread it, I tweak it, I post it on the website.

Q: Some council members tweet out their feelings about council meetings. Others put it on video. I’m sure there’s at least one guy in Vermont who uses puppets or something. What is the advantage in writing out, beat by beat, the proceedings of a council meeting from your point of view?

A: I really don’t like this thing we have going on today where we seem to talk about less and less information more and more passionately whenever we talk about government. It really helps me learn the materials. There’s been quite a few times where I’m writing a blog post and I get halfway through and I realize as I struggle to explain it that I don’t really understand what I just wrote. So I have to study again, call, ask a few questions.

Q: Part of your website is the FAQ. You offer to give people tips on preparing a presentation for council. Let’s say I’m a homeowner in Grande Prairie and my problem is–this being Canada–my neighbors are playing Celine Dion loudly at 4 a.m. and throwing empty maple syrup bottles on my lawn. I want the city to fine them. How do I convince the council to take this problem seriously?

A: Well, I think you’ve already got a good start there. You’ve got a clear problem and you’ve even got a solution you’re suggesting to us. Something we struggle with is sometimes people aren’t able to clearly frame their concern and how they’d like the city to act on it. And that’s hard for us to take a cue from. So coming in with specifics is good.


Follow Councilor Dylan Bressey on Twitter: @DylanBressey 

Interview #81: Middlesex Centre, ON Councilor Derek Silva (with podcast)

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

Derek Silva is in his second year as the Ward 4 councilor in Middlesex Centre and is a staunch advocate for video streaming his council meetings. He is leading the charge to get it done this year! Plus, we discuss whether his meeting time of 4 p.m. is a deterrent for potential councilors.

Q: Derek, you listen to the podcast so you are well aware that there is one HUGE problem with Middlesex Centre council meetings that I’ve talked about on here many, many times. And that problem is, say it with me–

(unison) Q: –video streaming. A: The Ward 3 Strangler.

Q: Wait, sorry, did you say the “Ward 3 Strangler?”

A: I said video streaming. What’s the Ward 3 Strangler?

Q: Uh, sorry, I misheard you. But yeah, video streaming. There is no audio visual evidence of your council meetings. What are your views on this travesty?

A: Part of the issue has been cultural. We do get a few folks at council meetings, but certainly past councils didn’t see it as a priority. I’m happy to report that in our search for new digital agenda software, staff is also using that opportunity to look into video streaming. I’m confident that for the next council session starting in December, live streaming will be there, maybe sooner.

Q: That is fantastic. Normally when I ask people that question, they’re like, oh it’s important…and I never hear from them again. But you’re saying you have a time! When you campaigned in 2014, you mentioned that streaming could be done at a cost under $1,000. How did you arrive at that figure?

A: I arrived at that $1,000 figure understanding that we are a small municipality. For the prices at the time, I didn’t see the need to invest a whole ton of money in getting a camera and start live streaming to YouTube. My direct comparison was to the city of London [Ontario], which bought multiple cameras which would automatically pan and tilt and zoom to the person speaking. And they were paying a private company to host the server. You keep adding all these extra layers and you realize this costs $40,000-$50,000. My point was, something is better than nothing, so let’s do something.

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Middlesex Centre, ON Councilor Derek Silva

Q: In November, Deputy Mayor Aina DeViet asked for a list of start times of other municipalities in Ontario. Why did she want this? Are you guys having problems with your meeting start times?

A: Aina said that she had multiple people express an interest in running in the election this year. Which is great because in 2014, the only contests that Middlesex Centre had were in Ward 4 and for the school board trustees. Aina had been hearing from people who said, I’d love to run for council but Wednesday at 4 p.m.? Not gonna happen. I get that. Not exactly the most convenient time.

Q: Do you think there’s anything else scaring people away other than the meeting start time?

A: I think it’s a variety of reasons. If it was just attending meetings, I imagine lots of people would’ve run for office. But there are lots of people who aren’t built for a very customer service-type role in a lot of ways. It’s been said a lot lately, but there is definitely this misperception about what level of influence municipal politics has over your life. Municipal government has a much, much bigger influence and yet gets far less [of] pretty much everything.


Follow Councilor Derek Silva on Twitter: @DerekSilva 

#149: Grande Prairie, AB 1/29/18

After a series of critical motions at the Grande Prairie council meeting, everyone became more relaxed with–what else?–shareholder approval for interim financing for the Wembley water line.

“In light of my opposition to the past motion, I wanted to not just vote yes, but express my ENTHUSIASTIC yes!” Councilor Dylan Bressey grinned.

“Thanks very much,” Mayor Bill Given chuckled at Bressey’s amusement with such a dry item. “The motions here are basically telling me what to do as a shareholder. It’s a weird process, just to clarify for the hundreds of people that might be watching.”

Several councilors heckled him facetiously. “Oh, thousands!” he corrected himself.

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That’s a Given

“That’ll take us to council member reports,” the mayor glanced down the dais to Councilor Kevin O’Toole. “We’ll start with the Combative Sports Commission.”

Councilor O’Toole explained in a highly non-combative monotone, “we had a meeting last month and review of the event held on December 15: Festival of Fists 2.”

Hearing giggles, he added, “I don’t name these things, guys, so don’t be looking at me! I’m just the middleman here.”

All right, people. Get your laughter out now. There were serious proposals from the Commission that deserve our attention. Go ahead.

“We’re gonna come back with some medical requirements–the Hepatitis B antigen and also the dilated ophthalmic examination,” O’Toole pronounced flawlessly.  “The promoter renewed his license. The name of the event will be called Brawls Deep and that will be–hey!”

More snickering commenced. “I had nothing to do with this!” Councilor O’Toole pleaded.

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Heck, I’ll take credit for “Brawls Deep.” That is an awesome name.

When it came time for Councilor Chris Thiessen to speak, not only did he 100 percent own his red blazer and substantial mutton chops, but he stood behind his remarks unapologetically. (And for a Canadian, being unapologetic is quite rare indeed.)

“Council and the chamber of commerce sat down for a lunch discussion,” recalled Councilor Thiessen. “The mayor was away on business, but Councilor [Jackie] Clayton did a very fine job as deputy mayor. In fact, Councilor [Wade] Pilat afterward said, ‘you’re so quiet in this meeting. I thought you’d talk more.’

“I said, ‘I was in awe.’ No, wait. I was in AHHHHHHH–” Thiessen posed his hand aloft and raised his voice to a falsetto, singing out the note “–of how much of a boss Jackie Clayton is, not only as a chair but as deputy mayor.”

He gave her a sheepish smile. “It took me five years to finally realize how great you are!”

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Voice of an angel

To recap: the combative sports names were weird. And the compliment to the vice mayor was sweet. But how about something weird and sweet at the same time?

“I watched the Center for Creative Arts. I’d never been there before,” Councilor Bressey announced excitedly. “An offer from the executive director: she said if we want a bonding activity, she will teach us a pottery class! I think we should!”

He was amped and practically itching to mold clay right then and there. “It’d be fun to do together! We REALLY need to do some clay pot making. Bicycling that wheel around together!”

Mayor Given smirked and raised his eyebrow. “For people of a certain age, that makes you think of the movie Ghost. And it makes me think that I probably WON’T be doing any clay pot making with you, Councilor Bressey.”

The entire room exploded in laughter as I wondered whether the mayor believed he or Councilor Bressey would be the shirtless Patrick Swayze in this scenario.

“Everybody thought it!” the mayor added, with apparent accuracy.

State of the City Council Meetings Address 2018

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–This evening, City Council Chronicles Editor Michael Karlik gave the second annual State of the City Council Meetings address to a joint session of Congress. Reports are that nearly all senators stayed awake and a stunning nine of ten House members did not walk out. By any measure, it was a success. Below is a rush transcript and audio of the entire speech, which is also available on iTunesStitcher, and Player FM:

Mr. Speaker, mayors, council members, Mom: ever since this project began in April 2016, we have chronicled the city council meetings of over 200 cities on four continents in eight countries. And none of them were sh*tholes.

Now, some have questioned my ability to chronicle that many city councils. But I assure you, as someone who is 6’3″ and 239 pounds–239? Is that what we’re going with, Doc? Great–and 239 pounds, I am in perfect health. I could easily do this for another four to eight weeks before I get bored and start reviewing Star Wars instead or something.

But I do not keep watch over the world’s city council meetings by myself. My team of unpaid interns with questionable citizenship status work 18 hours a day reviewing footage, checking Robert’s Rules of Order, and not finding out what OSHA is. And—do not clap for them! Justice Breyer, DO. NOT. Anyway, I am thankful for my interns and as soon as I find out what college credit is, I will consider giving it to them.

Speaking of being thankful, tonight we have some esteemed guests in the gallery. Sitting next to the First Lady is past podcast guest Andy Richardson, city councilman in Charleston, West Virginia, who has since announced that he is running for mayor. Good luck, Councilman. And remember, you’ll always be the mayor of my heart.

Next to him is Lauren McLean, council member in Boise, Idaho who, surprisingly, was elected her council’s president this year. Council Member McLean was a former Scottish Highland dancer, so she’s no stranger to unusual moves.

And finally, we have Fresno, California Council Member Esmeralda Soria, who appeared on the podcast back in December as council vice president, but totally and expectedly became council president this month. But get this: outgoing President Clint Olivier tried to pull a fast one on her by simply not handing over the gavel until she called him out.

When Council Member Soria appeared on the podcast, we talked about her council’s tradition of giving a parting gift to the outgoing president.

***

In case you were wondering, Clint Olivier received a watch and a Captain America portrait. And because he made it into this speech, I am also sending him a check for $10,000–what’s that? My horse lost at the track? Okay, scratch that. I am instead sending him, uh, let’s see…these, oh, these note cards that I am reading off of. So yeah, collectors items. Please clap.

Ladies and gentlemen, one brand new feature we rolled out this past year on the podcast was the Listener’s List–where anyone anyplace in the world could send me hot tips on city council hanky panky. We receive dozens of calls on the hotline each minute, so if you can’t get through, send your scoop to presssecretary@whitehouse.gov or through the City Council Chronicles Facebook page. One Listener’s List item became its own podcast episode last year, and it involved a marriage proposal in Flower Mound, Texas.

***

Thank you, Jimmy. And thank you, Mr. Mayor, for keeping my secret. You know, the one involving, uh, herpes. The State of the City Council Meetings address is typically a time for good news. But because I am standing in Congress, where you cannot swing a dead cat without hitting someone with the competence of a dead cat, let’s get into that weird sh*t. Huh?! Senator McCain, you know what I’m talking about!

I spoke with recently retired Councilor Alberto Garcia of Westminster, Colorado about a bizarre month-and-a-half his city council spent dealing with one colleague who had a score to settle.

***

I meant every word of that. Stand back! I’m soaked in deer urine. I don’t get much out of it, but it’s fun for the deer. Folks, normally the biggest threat a council member has to deal with is being yelled at by an angry public commenter. Oh, and bees. Bees are the silent killer. But in December, Lord Mayor Lesley Alexander of the city of Bristol walked me through a terrifying encounter she once had with a council saboteur.

***

That is why I never travel anywhere without my team of snipers. Plus, my own Colt .45. Stand back! It is loaded and soaked in deer urine. The deer was a little nervous but the gun enjoys it.

Well, I see the hour is getting late and half of the South Carolina delegation is falling asleep–and not the good half. I’m kidding; there is no good half. Let me finish this address by reminding everyone that city councils are human. They cannot solve all problems, and that limitation can be frustrating and depressing. Nowhere was that better illustrated than in Juneau, Alaska, when I talked with Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl. I leave you, the nation, and the world with this story of when councils fall short.

Interview #73: Bristol, UK Lord Mayor Lesley Alexander (with podcast)

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

We have a highly prestigious episode this week: Lesley Alexander has been a Conservative Party councilor in Bristol since 2003 and is the current Lord Mayor–a.k.a. chair of the council meetings and the ceremonial “first citizen.” She revealed a fun piece of trivia about the council chamber and recalled a scary moment from a council meeting.

Q: Bristol has had a lord mayor or a mayor for 801 years. That is a lot of mayors! So for the next ten hours or so, we’ll go through each of those guys and you tell me how they did at running a council meeting. Thomas Beaupeny, 1384: do you give him a thumbs up, thumbs down, or in the middle?

A: [Laughs] I have no idea! One thing that you may not know: we have quite an adversarial form of council chamber. It’s made out in the same way as Parliament. The distance between the two rows facing each other is two sword-lengths. So nobody can stick their sword into the opposition.

Q: Oh, that’s amazing! As an American, I would never think to measure things in swords. Maybe bullet trajectory, but not swords. Bristol is on its second elected mayor, and he has to stand for you when you enter, just like everyone else. Do you technically outrank the mayor?

A: It’s difficult to say. We’re two different jobs. I chair the full council meetings. He’s got the checkbook. He runs the city. But he’s got the aggravation. I have the chain and the mansion and I have all the fun.

Q: [Laughs]

A: We’re two different roles. One is the civic role–that’s mine. Then there’s his role, which is running the city. The two shouldn’t cross over. The mayor has the power to ignore what any of the councilors say, except the budget. He needs the councilors to pass the budget.

Q: I noticed that when you announce whether a motion is passed or failed, you don’t announce the vote split. Why is that?

A: You can do that, I suppose. If you’re watching on the webcast, you should be able to see [how people voted].

Q: No, you can’t.

A: Okay, well that is something I will take on board and make that comment in the future.

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Bristol, UK Lord Mayor Lesley Alexander

Q: During your March 2016 meeting, there was a moment where the council was taking a vote. But you were not present because Councilor Mark Weston said that your car was apparently vandalized. Is that true?

A: Yes, it was. Because the council house was closed for renovations, we had a meeting at the cricket club. We had a, well, I would say a “rent-a-mob” sort of person, rather than somebody with real political convictions. When I tried to go in, he stopped the car and was kicking at it.

Q: Oh, wow. You were sitting in the car while this man was kicking at you?

A: It was quite frightening because he was bouncing up and down with his hands on the car. There was a bit of a baying crowd.

Q: Is he in jail currently?

A: No, he’s not. I think security would have liked us to take it a lot further. But the comment from our legal department was, well, it’s all going to be over now and he’ll go away. And he did.


Follow Lord Mayor Lesley Alexander on Twitter: @brislordmayor

Interview #72: Hamilton, ON Councilor Matthew Green (with podcast)

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

Even though he’s only in his first term, Matthew Green has very sophisticated views on the mechanics of city council meetings. We explore his strong pro-video streaming beliefs and the plague of long-windedness.

Q: You sometimes Facebook Live stream your speeches from the dais. You talk a fair amount at council meetings, so how do you decide what moments are worthy of Facebook Live?

A: When I started, the old-school model was councilors would give inside information to mainstream media in exchange for favorable coverage. I found that in not doing that, my positions at council were miscommunicated or misrepresented. I remember getting upset about it. I had a media expert, she said to me, “don’t get mad at the media. Become the media.”

Q: Hmm.

A: Facebook is a hyper local medium and so I choose Facebook to communicate to my residents.

Q: Have you ever watched a Hamilton council meeting online through the city’s website?

A: It is horrible.

Q: Right?!

A: It is terrible. An incident happened in council chambers and I wanted to open an investigation. In doing so, I looked at our live stream and realized our live stream did not cover major sections of the whole chamber. So I had to [freedom of information request] my own city to get the security footage to provide me with the incident I believed I saw. We’re very fortunate [to have] an independent journalist. He runs a live stream called “The Public Record.”

Q: Yeah.

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Hamilton, ON Councilor Matthew Green

A: He has built a reputation for himself in capturing the circus that is often city hall: the inappropriate comments, the workplace toxicity, or some of the decorum issues. He creates a prism in that people are aware that he’s there and sometimes, I think, it raises the decorum and the level of discourse because they know they’re being recorded. When there’s no media present, we sometimes say the zaniest things.

Q: It’s curious you mention decorum because on everything I’ve seen, the Hamilton city council behaves relatively well. Again, maybe it’s because he’s there recording, but what are some of the issues you’re referencing?

A: One of the governance challenges we have, in my opinion, is that we don’t have a strong chair role. We rotate the chair, which allows councilors from month to month to use that position as a bully pulpit. It provides a situation where chairs will allow councilors to speak at length or speak in very harsh and personal terms to staff, which should be shut down.

Q: Are you ever worried when you become the chair that people will have similar reservations about the job you’re doing?

A: I’m actually comfortable chairing meetings. We’re not THAT bad. It’s really a conversation around time. We’ll have four or five of us who monopolize all of the time. In the technology of our microphones, they’re supposed to shut down after five minutes.

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: The idea is that if I’m the chair, I don’t want to shut you down at five minutes. So I let you just go! I do that with the understanding that sooner or later you’re going to be the chair and I’m going to have an issue that I want to go on. It’s a bit of nudge-nudge, wink-wink that I think is problematic. But we’re all guilty of it.


Follow Councilor Matthew Green on Twitter: @MGreenWard3