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

#167: Iola, KS 8/27/18

A tall, thin young man strolled up to the lectern as council members patiently folded their hands and arms in front of them.

“I am the coordinator for the Libertarian Party of Allen County,” he announced. The introduction was entirely plausible, as his baseball cap and tan shorts were consistent with a minimal government/minimal dress code philosophy.

“Since this is only my second meeting so far, I’m a little lost. What is the purpose of a public hearing?”

Mayor Jonathan Wells leaned forward to help. “Generally, public hearings are to allow the public input on a specific issue–usually on things like budget or whenever we are doing a demolition or condemning a house.”

“I see,” nodded the lanky libertarian, despite this intrusion of Big Government into his comment time. “I would like to start off with reading a bit from the city code.”

He turned to his notes and quoted city policy to the silent council members. “In chapter one, article five: ‘the objective of the investment program shall be to aggressively manage and invest all public monies to relieve demands on the property tax and reduce the cost of public services.'”

He looked up. “I would really like to emphasize the relief on property tax and to reduce the cost of public services. I would appreciate if the council keeps in mind my desire for lower taxes.”

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Look at all the tax money wasted on those extravagant folding chairs.

“I’ve seen in the officially-approved minutes of the special meeting on July 16, Council Member…Murick–”

“MYrick,” corrected Eugene Myrick.

“–mentioned a private trash service, to which administrator [Sid] Fleming noted that having heavy trucks on our streets that the government does not control may be more damaging.”

He delivered his bottom line. “As a libertarian, government control of anything is fundamentally and philosophically threatening to me.”

Before the council could thank him for traveling on the fundamentally-threatening government streets to the fundamentally-threatening government building to broadcast his views over fundamentally-threatening government cameras, they leapt ahead to discuss another possible menace: people.

“Do we really need two recreation directors? AND an administrator assistant?” Council Member Myrick quizzed. “I’m not saying, ‘cut ’em. Get rid of ’em.’ But once that position becomes open, can we just not fill that again?”

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I seem to remember the city code mentioning reducing the cost of public services….

But Council Member Aaron Franklin pumped the brakes on the HR Express. “I think we’re approaching this from the wrong direction,” he frowned. “We need to focus on staffing the city with the right people in the right places for the right reasons. And not look at this as, ‘we need to cut things across the board.'”

He urged everyone to check their libertarian impulses. “I know that everybody wants to cut. But if we go into a study trying to find the result we’re looking for, we’re gonna have failed before we even start.”

“The intention of this is not to get rid of anybody that is currently employed,” Council President Nancy Ford maintained. “It is just if there is a vacancy, determine whether that needs filled. That shouldn’t upset anyone. If they’ve already all picked up that workload and split it among them, you know, that’s part of having a job!”

That’s true. And if the city ends up being short-staffed, there is at least one person willing to come in and read the city code for free.

#166: Prairie Village, KS 8/20/18

“Last week, as you all know, I went to Washington, D.C.,” Mayor Laura Wassmer casually mentioned her Kansas and Nebraska mayors’ powwow at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“We had quite a dog and pony show,” she continued, gingerly stepping around all of the names she was dropping. “Kellyanne Conway talked a bit about working to help the opioid crisis. Ben Carson talked about affordable housing.”

She paused. “They made the point over and over, there are a lot of great things happening at the White House that is not being reported by the media–and asked that we pass that along.”

Consider it passed! Just think of all the people who haven’t pleaded guilty! Everything’s great!

And you know where else great things were happening? Right there in the Prairie Village council meeting, where it was a very big week for city administrator Wes Jordan.

“Wes, this is a very big week for you!” Mayor Wassmer glanced slyly over to him. “Not only is it your birthday on Thursday, but SOMEBODY has been with Prairie Village for 30 years as of Wednesday.”

“Woo-woo!” came an anonymous catcall as applause broke out.

The mayor went down the line of compliments, from the professional–“I think of how conscientious he is”–to the…intimate.

“There’s the perfect hair. The forever perfect hair,” she observed, although the video quality was not good enough to independently confirm. “We have your favorite ice cream cake in the back. And more importantly–”

Mayor Wassmer disappeared under the desk for a moment, then emerged brandishing a giant, shiny blue object.

“–your own Prairie Village street sign!”

“Speech! Speech! Speech!” yelled Council Member Brooke Morehead.

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The hair! Show us the hair!

The only thing standing between the council and ice cream cake was a tiny bit of official business. Namely, a resolution “in support of the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” It seemed like the kind of routine measure that would pass without a fight.

But then the fight began.

“I will vote no because I’m not comfortable placing our city under international law when the U.S. Senate refuses to ratify the treaty after nearly 40 years,” announced Council Member Morehead defiantly.

“By passing this resolution, it could be mistaken that we are endorsing its tenets on civil rights, reproductive rights, and gender relations.”

“There are probably places where men are discriminated against, arguably,” Council Member Dan Runion echoed in the vein of “All Lives Matter.” “It’s a feel-good measure. Why pull one group out and treat them differently?”

Council Member Ron Nelson was incredulous at what he was hearing. “There are 189 state-nations that have adopted the Convention. There are seven that have not,” he retorted. “Those are Palau, the Holy See, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga. And last and, sadly, least: the United States.”

“It frankly amazes me that we can say highlighting that there should not be discrimination against one class of people minimizes others’.”

Council Member Jori Nelson stared down at her notes. “We’re proclaiming this to be Diaper Week and Electric Car Week. And we’ve done Peanut Butter Week.” She clenched her fist. “It is MY opinion that women’s equal rights is more important and should take precedence over peanut butter, diapers.”

“I’m not sure what–what–if we’re…I’M certainly not trying to equate this resolution with Peanut Butter Week!” shouted Council Member Andrew Wang. “We are creating an enormous act of discrimination by passing this resolution while there has NOT been any shred of evidence that we have a problem.”

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What is happening here?

“I don’t know why this anxiety exists because a United Nations entity thought that this was important,” pleaded Council Member Chad Herring.

Council Member Morehead reiterated her firm opposition. “I’m a successful business owner. Longtime mom, grandma. I think I’m a pretty good role model.”

She caught the eye of an employee in the back. “Jamie! You, lady, you’re doing a terrific job. And you, little girl back there? Yeah, you’re doing wonderful!” She leaned back. “You are tying yourself to the United Nations. We don’t need it!”

Council Member Jori Nelson’s hand shot up. “When you speak about women as ‘little girls,’ or not addressing the staff as educated and intelligent, I think it’s demeaning.”

She glowered across the dais and pointed angrily at Morehead. “They’re not little girls. They’re women.”

“Make no mistake,” Council Member Ron Nelson interjected softly, “a vote that no, this resolution should not be adopted, is a vote that there should be discrimination against women.” It appeared the council was evenly divided in this standoff. All of a sudden–

“Motion to refer to staff,” Council Member Runion moved to ditch the resolution entirely for the night after a half hour of anguish.

The mayor called for a vote. Seven hands went up in favor. Five against.

It was a disheartening ending to the meeting. And an even more bizarre beginning to Diaper Week.

Interview #96: Charlotte, MI Councilman Branden Dyer (with podcast)

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

Branden Dyer spent 2011-2015 on the Charlotte (rhymes with “car lot”) city council, was defeated for reelection, but was appointed back on the council this March. The difference in tone between 2015 and 2018 is night and day.

Q: In your final meeting during 2015, you said you felt that the “negative campaign” against you was a distraction. Your city is only 9,000 people; don’t take this the wrong way, but what was there to be negative about in Charlotte?

A: A group of individuals who were not happy with the situation made an effort to remove me and other individuals from council. You kind of expect it in national elections, but there was a lot of rumors, a lot of negative Facebook comments and attacks.

Q: Some meetings, commenters seemed to imply the council was a rubber stamp for the city manager. Was that part of the tonal shift in Charlotte politics?

A: Yes. Their intention was to get rid of the city manger. When they made a move to not renew the city manager’s contract, there was a significant community uproar and they eventually backed down.

Q: Did you ever feel any pressure on council to go out of your way to question or oppose the city manager’s recommendations because you had this accusation of a rubber stamp being hurled at you?

A: No, I had no qualms with disagreeing with the city manager. But also, the city manager has a PhD literally in city management and I do not! In this age of complex government regulations and techniques, I think it’s best to defer to the expertise.

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Charlotte, MI Councilman Branden Dyer

Q: Well, I have a PhD in making quality municipal affairs audio content (obviously from the University of Phoenix), but it is 100 percent impossible to look at any of your council meetings from 2015 without noticing a young man named Zachary who was a candidate for mayor and an unrelenting critic of your government. What was his deal?

A: [He] was a disgruntled citizen that definitely exercised his five minute public comment limit down to the second at every chance he got. I tried to get him involved on a city committee but he never responded to my offer. After losing the mayor race, apparently his concerns were satisfied or he just kind of disappeared.

Q: He was pretty much in there nonstop to troll you guys and, I’m assuming, get free video of his speeches for his campaign. How did you respond to being baited?

A: Zach never really came after me personally. [The mayor] did not choose to run for reelection. Her term as mayor was difficult on her. Zach routinely attacked her and the city manager personally. The environment and vibe on council was a lot different than when I first went on council and my current term on council. “Toxic” is not really the word I want to use, but I think that’s kind of the best way to describe it.

Q: Was part of the reason you wanted these meetings videotaped and put online so that people who were not the attackers could look at what you were encountering and kind of sympathize with the situation?

A: I don’t think I was necessarily looking for sympathy, but you want everybody to be informed. The group that came against me and other council members were very savvy at using social media. They could get their view out there, and I wanted to be sure there was an official record so that if individuals chose to, they had the ability to see what actually happened instead of taking one viewpoint from one group in town. I wanted to make sure things weren’t skewed.