#178: Marion, IL 12/10/18

While the Marion city council undoubtedly gets points for its assortment of dais decorations–including flower pots, a wall portrait, and a giant construction-style sign–the real focus was off-camera.

“We have a great big group here tonight,” observed Mayor Anthony Rinella as his eyes darted across the audience, “and we have a spokesman for that group. Would you come forward and tell us what you guys are here for?”

A teenager wearing a baseball cap and camouflage sweatshirt popped up at the microphone. “We’re here for our civics class. We have a service learning project and coming to a meeting like this is one of the requirements.”

“Okay,” responded the mayor. “Who’s your teacher?”

“Mr. Martin.”

“Coach Martin. How come he’s not here?”

“Good question,” the teenager answered uncomfortably. “I’ll have to ask.”

“Ask him tomorrow. I mean, does he not have to be part of the program?”

Pause. “I guess not.”

“Make him run laps,” insisted the mayor.

Two of the commissioners smiled and glanced at each other. Commissioner Angelo Hightower surveyed the room cautiously. Commissioner John Goss stared blankly at the desk.

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Was it an excused absence?

“Okay. Our favorite council meeting of the year,” Mayor Rinella announced in monotone. “Guys, this is exciting. We’re gonna go over the city audit.”

A car alarm sounded outside the chamber. “Uh-oh, we gotta leave!” joked the mayor as the car’s owner quickly silenced the horn.

Although it was likely a joke that the audit meeting was the “favorite” of the year, it wasn’t at all a bad thing to hear that money was coming hand over fist into Marion.

“If you look back at 2005, the first year I got here, your total revenue was $15 million,” explained a city employee. “Look at this year. Thirty-three million dollars. That says a lot.”

“So since 2006, our total revenue has more than doubled?” the mayor quizzed incredulously.

“It has.”

Mayor Rinella nodded. “That sends you to bed feeling good about yourselves, guys,” he offered to the commissioners.

He then stared into the crowd at one of the city’s recreation employees. “Favorite part of the night,” he deadpanned by way of summoning the man to the lectern.

“If I may brag a bit on our Marion HUB Manta Rays. I’m sporting a shirt today–” the recreation employee opened his jacket to show off a bright yellow t-shirt emblazoned with a large ray. “They finished fourth out of 15 of the non-home teams.”

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Smells like team spirit

After the swim team had received sufficient on-camera promotion, the mayor wrapped up. “Last week we talked about some apps that the city introduced. One was a Facebook page and the other was the Nextdoor app. Well this past week, we had some incidences of vandalism on people’s Christmas ornaments.

“One of the people that was videoing this occurring had the Nextdoor app. So our Nextdoor app, in just one week’s time of people getting on this, is nothing more than the neighborhood watch going high tech.”

He added, “hats off to our IT department.”

He shuffled his papers and remembered that the group of students was still watching him. “You guys got any questions? Did you learn anything?”

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I learned that there is a “Governor’s Hometown Award.”

A few in the audience mumbled replies.

“You’ve just come to one of our mild, boring meetings how we conduct city business,” Mayor Rinella said matter-of-factly. “I apologize for that.”

Well, at least he is making their teacher run laps. Perhaps that made it all worth it.

#177: Cadillac, MI 12/3/18

“My law partners and I own a building,” announced a well-dressed gentleman resting his forearms on the public’s lectern and peering through his glasses. “I’ve been meaning to come and thank you for a year now for the Cadillac Commons. I can’t tell you how nice it is, no matter how stressful the day, to walk out of my office at noon and hear all the laughing and screaming and fun going on at the splash pad.”

He concluded with a simple, “it’s wonderful.”

Starting a meeting with a heartfelt thank-you is rare. And of course, short lived.

“The Cadillac community has an ongoing hunger problem,” reported the next man at the microphone. “Our children are going to bed tonight hungry, crying. Where’s Robin Hood today? High taxes. High cost of living.”

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We need a hero.

His Robin Hood may have just entered the council chamber in an unexpected form:

“I am a certified grant administrator,” a woman explained to the council. “We’re requesting $970,100 [from the federal government]. The grant funds will be used for demolition to remove two blighted buildings. The national objective supported by this project is the elimination of blight.”

But this was not what the man had in mind.

“No public tax dollars for private business!” he railed. “No public tax dollars should be used for any corporation to become wealthier on grant money. If you can’t build it on an entrepreneurial business venture, then we shouldn’t build it.”

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Mom-and-pop demolition companies only, please.

Technically, the city wasn’t “building” anything. They were tearing down. But he had a point: if Apple can get rich selling phones and Nike can get rich selling shoes, why can’t some entrepreneur turn a profit on–what exactly?

“The entire roof on both buildings has asbestos. There is also several areas of asbestos floor tile. So there’s a lot of asbestos,” a staff member explained with a grimace. “There is some lead. There is also soil contamination. And under the clock tower area, there is a lot of rubble down there–we’re not positive what it is.”

I see. Rebuttal?

“I just want to reiterate: we have children going to bed hungry,” the man returned to insist. “Developers are becoming more wealthy in Cadillac on our dime. It’s corporate welfare at its best. I could be wrong.”

City manager Marcus Peccia quickly refocused the meeting onto something highly unrelated to corporate profits: Christmas decorations.

“The city is playing some seasonal music down in the plaza on a timer, when the timer works,” he chuckled. “You can really only hear it if you’re down in front of the Christmas tree or on the synthetic ice rink.”

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Turn it up to 11.

“We have a wonderful community. It looks so great,” bragged Council Member Tiyi Schippers. “I love coming home when it’s dark and driving around, taking a long way with the kids.”

The city manager nodded. “Over the years, we added more trees to the lakefront, especially along Chestnut Street. At the same time, the donations of the lights and whatnot had not increased.”

He leaned back and pondered. “What we might look at doing next year is relocating some of the singular strands of lights along several trees to a more focused area within Cadillac Commons and create more of a spectacular light display versus having–”

“One string of lights a block away?” finished Council Member Schippers.

“Either that or we need more lights!”

Yet another cause in search of a Robin Hood.

Interview #112: Minneapolis, MN Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins (with podcast)

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

The Minneapolis council has been proactive about addressing racial inequity, despite outside events making it a challenge. Andrea Jenkins describes how she felt about council members’ reactions to an equity training earlier this year.

Q: On August 1 of this year, there was a committee of the whole meeting in which you all sat through a racial equity training. Would you be surprised if I told you that I’ve been hosting this program for two years and this is the first racial equity training I’ve seen a city council do?

A: Yes, I thought every city council in America was doing racial equity training. That’s not true?

Q: No! I hate to let you down because that is wildly off-base, but what did you hope to accomplish with this training?

A: Well, we’re trying to get the council members woke. The main thing we wanted to accomplish was to have a common understanding and common language that everybody can start with. It dispels the opportunities for people to come in with their own perspective. If we can lay the groundwork for one common understanding, that was the purpose.

Q: I’m glad you brought that up because that was actually the part of the training that hit a roadblock. Council President Lisa Bender said she was uncomfortable participating in an exercise in which council members’ discussions about their early experiences with race would be televised. What did you make of that?

A: Boy, I was really–I was disappointed. We ask people to support us in being representatives. And then we are not willing to share details about our own experiences, our own lives, that could help bring understanding to why we make some of the decisions we make. I know that council President Bender is very open about some really vulnerable parts of her life. It would be really eye opening and compelling for people to understand some of her experiences around race. It wasn’t just council President Bender–I mean, if you watched the meeting, there were a number of council members who were reluctant to share that information. Sometimes there’s really powerful strength in being vulnerable.

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Minneapolis, MN Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins

Q: There is another event we need to discuss that happened before the racial equity training. Can you explain what precipitated your June 27 committee of the whole meeting?

A: A week prior to that meeting, there had been a police-involved shooting of a young, black man who–it was under dispute whether or not he was armed, whether or not he was fleeing and was shot in the back. And so tensions in our community was really, really, really high.

Q: In that meeting, Council Member Cam Gordon wondered whether the city council needed more of a role in the police department. He proceeded to draft that exact charter amendment–which did not sit well with a number of people, including the public safety committee chair, Alondra Cano, who said she was “disgusted by the privilege” of the motion. What did you make of that?

A: I interpreted her use of the term “privilege” to suggest that it would’ve potentially been more appropriate for her to have made that–or someone who had those kinds of experiences–as opposed to Mr. Gordon, who has not lived those kinds of experiences.

Q: So speaking with terms of racial equity, it’s easier for someone who has benefited from the system to look at it and say, “something’s wrong. We need to fix it,” and to have people listen to him, than it might be for someone who belongs to a historically-oppressed group to say the same thing and perhaps get ignored when they say it.

A: I think that is absolutely true. Yes, I agree with that.


Follow Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins on Twitter: @annapoetic

Interview #104: Prairie Village, KS Council Member Tucker Poling (with podcast)

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

A whirlwind of activity has buffeted the Prairie Village council–starting with the onset of live streaming earlier this year and ending in an aborted council meeting earlier this week. Council Member Tucker Poling describes his at-times-incredulous reaction to some of the developments.

Q: I am talking to you in the third week of September, which means you had a council meeting a few days ago. How did that go?

A: It went about as well as council meetings go when nobody shows up!

Q: What?!

A: I had a nondiscrimination ordinance on the agenda and suddenly, the few hours before the meeting, we had four council members text or email the city manager and say that they couldn’t make it. Therefore, we did not have a quorum and we could not meet and hilarity did not ensue. I was not happy about it.

Q: You know Prairie Village and you know these council members. I don’t want it to sound like I’m blaming you when I say: should you have known this was coming?

A: I will say no. In my knowledge, it’s never happened before in this way. It’s been very rare we have more than one absence. At the time, I–let’s say I “lost my chill” a little bit, as the younger people say. I had no chill on that evening! [laughs]

Q: [laughs] Well that sounds perfectly “dope” and thank you for not being “extra” despite your lack of “chill.” And–I’m sorry, there’s something else that’s bugging me. Can you explain what was before you council on August 20 of this year?

A: That was Councilman Ron Nelson’s proposal for us to adopt the principles of the convention to end all discrimination against women. All Ron was asking for was a resolution saying that we support equity and equality for women and girls.

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Prairie Village, KS Council Member Tucker Poling

Q: On August 20, the first thing that happened was that council members argued against the resolution. How did you feel about what you heard?

A: I felt mind-numbingly confused and disappointed. I was flabbergasted that this was controversial. We had people in an open, public meeting talking about conspiracy theories about the UN [United Nations].

Q: The resolution was not passed and sent back to staff on a vote of 7-5. Of the six council members who canceled at this week’s meeting for your anti-LGBT discrimination proposal, how many of them also voted to shoot down the anti-gender discrimination proposal?

A: All of them.

Q: Some of them were suspicious of the UN, and I guess I get that a little. It does feed into the caricature of middle America. But others were arguing that “all lives matter,” right? That, “why can’t we have a nondiscrimination again men too?” And others seemed to think there was no inequity in Prairie Village. I’m curious, if your council meeting had happened on Monday, would you have expected that same argument to come up about sexual orientation?

A: Yeah, there definitely would have been those same objections. “We don’t have any discrimination in Prairie Village. This is all ‘political.'” Which is just very confusing to me because the idea that the human condition does not apply in Prairie Village and all the flaws that we have as human beings somehow don’t apply in nice, upper class communities like ours–that’s pretty blind in my view.

Q: It occurred to me that people who said, “if we pass this, it’s just an admission that something is wrong here”–ironically, by not passing it, it gathered all this attention and people asking, “what is wrong with the Prairie Village council that they can’t pass this?” It had the opposite effect.

A: That’s exactly right. It’s bizarre that people think that by not acknowledging something, that’s just going to go away. And people are not going to notice that you’ve chosen to not acknowledge that equity issues exist everywhere.


Follow Council Member Tucker Poling on Twitter: @TuckerForPV

#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!

Interview #102: Jefferson City, MO Mayor Carrie Tergin (with podcast)

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

Carrie Tergin is famous for her “selfies with the mayor” and is therefore the foremost authority to appraise our International #CityHallSelfie Day Top 10 List. On the podcast, we welcome her back to talk about city hall art, and then discuss one time her own council meeting took a series of unexpected twists.

Q: Mayor, where would you like to start?

A: I have to tell you, these top 10 selfies are just exquisite. We have Waldo, Florida and it was his first selfie! Mayor Louie Davis, to share your very first ever selfie on #CityHallSelfie Day–and he may or may not know this–the requirement is that he’s gonna have to send regular selfies. He can’t just do the one. We wanna see that continue, so don’t disappoint me.

Q: I am inspired that it is never too late to start taking selfies!

A: Absolutely. And the “Where’s Waldo?” I mean, you can do so much with that. Number eight, we have Cary, North Carolina. I have to say, I’m going to give this a number two on Mayor Tergin’s list. Why? Because she has a Snapchat filter. Wow! And a bitmoji on top of it. If you don’t know what either one of those are, you’re gonna have to get with the program!

Q: Has Jeff City ever had a Snapchat filter to your knowledge?

A: Oh, as a matter of fact we have. Shame on me for not taking a selfie with it. Uh-oh. That’s our challenge: figuring out how can we elevate our selfie game? Congrats, Lori. You are my number two choice.

A: This next selfie in Maryland, which is the multi-angle selfie–a selfie within a selfie within a selfie, so basically the “infinity” city hall selfie–that would be my number one. I mean, you can’t hide. When you talk about transparency, when you talk about open government, I don’t know how you can get any more open than that. If you look in there, you’ll just be looking really to infinity to see all of the infinite selfies that are shown in this picture. Really good job on all the action.

Q: I appreciate all of your critiques. I think everyone who entered this competition was a winner, even though they didn’t know I was turning it into a competition! We do have to get back to the serious business of council meetings in Jefferson City. On March 5, I noticed that you could not have a meeting due to the lack of council members. When did you find out that was the situation?

A: Well, sitting there waiting for the council meeting to begin and looking at the clock and starting to say, “where is this councilman and that councilman? Is everybody okay?” And then realizing that “oh, this person did say they were going to be out of town.” At the time I thought, what do you want me to do? You want me to sing? You want me to entertain you? We’ve got everybody here, so how do we have an entertaining time without actually conducting any city business?

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Jefferson City, MO Mayor Carrie Tergin

A: That particular night, though, we were also waiting on the crew for the U.S.S. Jefferson City. We have a submarine that is named for our city. We had crew members that were in from Hawaii visiting their namesake city. They had planned to stop by that evening. The cool thing was, even though we had no official business, we were able to spend quite a bit of time with the crew members, have them talk about their experiences. We were able to focus that entire time on our military and all they do for our country. In that moment of panic that “we don’t have a quorum and what are we going to do,” it was almost like it was meant to be, really. It was one of those moments that turned out to be one of my favorite council meetings ever.


Follow Mayor Carrie Tergin on Twitter: @CarrieTergin