Interview #74: Juneau, AK Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl (with podcast)

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

Jesse Kiehl works for the Alaska legislature by day and serves on the Juneau assembly by night. On the podcast, he promises that the era of live-streamed meetings is dawning, explains a few uniquely-Alaska issues, and recounts a disturbing incident that happened mere feet from an assembly meeting.

Q: Jesse, I don’t care if you do live in Alaska and I don’t care if you can see Russia from your house. I–well, actually, CAN you see Russia from your house? That would be pretty boss.

A: We’re a little too far away.

Q: Oh. Well, ahem, I don’t care if you CAN’T see Russia from your house. Why can I not go online and see the Juneau assembly meetings?

A: Because we’re cheap! There is an individual who has been voluntarily putting those up online now for about eight, nine months. He is a businessman and is interested in competing for a contract to do that. I agree with you, Michael. It’s time.

Q: Do you have any idea when is the earliest we could see the new video system? 2018? 2019?

A: It wouldn’t surprise me if we got started in the early summer.

Q: Well, you’ve got to get your beach body in shape. Does that scare you?

A: I do not have–nor will I ever have–a “beach body.”

Q: Fair enough. This being Alaska, I want to talk about the Alaska-specific things people might find in your assembly meetings. For example, in your September 2017 meeting, a bunch of people showed up angry about a bear who was shot by police. How often do issues like this come up–that city councils in the lower 48 probably are not dealing with?

A: Most of the issues really are the same. I suppose people who have raccoons get in their garbage are a little more worried about rabies from a bite instead of mauling. But otherwise, it’s about the same.

jesse
Juneau, AK Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl

Q: At the June 6 meeting, apparently there was some shouting outside the chamber and the mayor called a recess to have people investigate it. I think you were one of those who walked out of the room. Do you remember what happened?

A: There’s a public restroom on the other side of the chamber and there was a domestic violence incident–ah, let’s call it what it was: a guy beat up his girlfriend just outside the restrooms. There was shouting and thumping. We jumped up and the only person who got up faster than me was [Assembly Member] Jerry [Nankervis, a former police officer]. Unfortunately, she was not interested in police protection or a ride to our domestic violence shelter and that’s really hard. You intervene in hopes that people will get the help they need. But that time, they didn’t.

Q: When you’re sitting there in the meetings, you’ve got 33,000 people that you want to make life better for. But when it’s just one person who is not susceptible to persuasion or to you as an authority, I’m sure it’s quite a contrast and made you feel somewhat helpless.

A: [Sigh] Seeing and hearing something like that during a meeting sure keeps you grounded. It keeps you focused on the ways we make life better–or fail to–and the impacts those have on people who don’t have the level of comfort that all of us on the assembly do.


Follow Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl on Twitter: @JesseKiehl

Advertisements

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.

lesley
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.

mgreen
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 

Special Feature! Best of “Best Thing, Worst Thing”

This past year, I had an AMAZING experience. I visited 12 cities and towns across North America for the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project. The idea was simple: see as much of the city as I could, talk to as many people as I could, and ask them all the same two questions.

What is the best thing about this place?

What is the worst thing about this place?

Answering those questions can be surprisingly difficult, but it was important for me to hear about individuals’ values and experiences with their communities. I learned that a small city in conservative western Kansas thinks of itself as “progressive.” I learned that diversity in Toronto is much heralded, but also has a dark side. And I was present for a medical emergency in the desert outside Las Cruces, New Mexico.

tor
Butter tart bake-off in Toronto, ON

The goal was to find out what cities are doing well to make their communities livable for residents. Then, to find out what people want that their cities aren’t providing now.

You can listen to all 12 episodes on the project page. And this week, I bring you the highlights in a special audio episode about the best of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing.” This “best of” is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM and right here:

pgh
Robotics camp in Pittsburgh, PA

If you liked what you heard, please give the podcast a five-star rating on iTunes and like our Facebook page. There are other big projects in the works, so keep checking back!

“A Higher Expectation”: The Council Meeting and the Confession (with podcast)

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

Last month, I interviewed Boise, Idaho Council Member Lauren McLean and we covered one unusual council meeting from November 13, 2012. At the Idaho state capitol, a crowded room watched the Boise city council take testimony on an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance.

But in the fourth hour, Tabitha Osteen stepped to the microphone. In this interview, I asked her about why that council meeting was a turning point in her life.

Q: Before November 13, had you seen an entire city council meeting?

A: No, I had not.

Q: So what was your mental image of what the council meeting would be like? Did you picture protesters? Did you picture an open bar? Did you imagine the mayor would enter through a smokescreen Michael Jackson-style?

A: Really, it didn’t fall too far from what I had imagined. What I was surprised–really pleasantly surprised–by was the sheer amount of people. I was with my then-partner and our child. It felt important for me to bring my family, my representation of love.

Q: About four and a half hours into the meeting, it was your turn to speak. Have you ever listened to what you said?

A: I have not.

Q: Let’s play the clip:

I was not planning on speaking because until this moment, I was not out. I can’t remember who it was who spoke earlier with Harvey Milk’s call to come out. It’s been on my mind for years. I fall into the B and the Q portion [of LBGTQ] and it’s been really easy to hide….I brought [my son] here because I wanted him to understand that a group of people can be strong and do the right thing and protect people who need it. He has no idea that I’m one of those.

Tabitha

A: Honestly, I have a huge grin on my face and a little bit of watery eyes. It’s really encouraging to hear that and to bear witness to how much has changed….I just kept wondering if there were other people like me. There’s a lot of power and a lot of strength and a lot of calm that comes after that part’s done–from getting to live life out in the open more authentically.

Q: Do you think you would have said anything if your partner and son hadn’t gone home?

A: Oh, that’s a great question. Uh…yes, with much more trepidation! My ex-partner was intensely private and I am pretty intensely transparent. I don’t know that I would have changed my choice. I did feel called forth.

Q: I’ve seen council meetings where I would not call it a warm environment in which to come out. I would like to think that most councils want their meetings to be a welcoming place, but it sounds like if the environment was different, you would not have said anything.

A: Yeah, absolutely. It wasn’t a premeditated coming-out. It was a movement within myself by what was in the room. It was a response.

Q: Has this changed your expectations about what a city council meeting is like?

A: I think a demonstration of leadership like that always sparks a higher expectation of leadership. Not just in city council meetings; from everything. Something that’s so powerful about that city council environment: city councils are a representation of many aspects of a community coming together. It’s a weaving of different threads that wouldn’t necessarily see each other. In that environment, everything gets elevated.

Interview #71: Port Moody, BC Mayor Mike Clay (with podcast)

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

We covered a lot of ground in this interview with Port Moody’s Mike Clay. For instance, where does the mayoral title “Your Worship” come from and does he like to be called that? We also listen to some beautiful music and time travel back to 1913 to reenact a city council meeting.

Q: In Canada, people refer to mayors as “Your Worship.” Where does this term come from?

A: I don’t know. It must come from Old English somewhere. It was probably from the House of Lords or something. I don’t like the term. I don’t like people referring to me that way. The funniest thing that ever happened was I had a conversation with the archbishop one time and he asked how he was supposed to refer to me. I said, “well, you’re supposed to refer to me as Your Worship, but I don’t think we’re going to ask you to do that!”

Q: [Laughs] Is there a more secular term you’d want to be called?

A: In council, I prefer Mr. Mayor or Mayor Clay. Something much simpler and less snooty.

Q: Port Moody started video streaming council meetings while you were mayor. Do you since have any regrets about what you’ve said live on TV?

A: The good thing about capturing people in the moment is it’s raw. It might be emotional but you read council minutes [and] the legislative diaries and stuff, you don’t get any sense for what’s really going on. Without the video in the past, my interactions with different politicians–people say, “I was really fighting for that!” And I think, “I was there. I don’t think you really were.” So it might be interesting for people to say, “yeah, you know what? They really were fighting for it. I watched that on live stream.”

Q: Yeah.

A: I have WARDROBE regrets, but other than that….

mikeclay.jpeg
Port Moody, BC Mayor Mike Clay

Q: [Laughs] What do you think about where council meeting technology is headed?

A: I think there’s opportunities to throw certain things up to a public vote, a mini-referendum. If it’s issues that aren’t life or death–if somebody said, “I think we should paint it blue,” and someone else said, “I think it should be green,” why don’t we throw that out for a public discussion and a vote right there online while we’re doing it? It might not be serious engagement, but if they joined in for that part of the conversation, maybe they’ll hang around for other parts as well.

Q: You do remember our election in 2016 where there was some MINOR propaganda by a FEW million Russian Twitter and Facebook bots. Are you worried the Russians could also hack your insta-polls?

A: Well, for now until we know that we have locked down security, [we’d be] taking it for opinion polling.

Q: Here is something weird I found: in 2013, the centennial of Port Moody, you reenacted the first-ever council meeting from 1913. Whose idea was that?!

A: Wow, I don’t know whose idea it was. I think it was a great idea. It got so funny during the meeting I could barely contain myself from breaking up laughing! It turned out we had some impromptu comedians on our council. How much of it was made-up? Most of it. But it was reflective of the way people think things were in those days.


Follow Mayor Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeEClay

Interview #70: Mountain View, CA Councilmember Margaret Abe-Koga (with podcast)

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

Mountain View is home to Google and to a very polite city council. Margaret Abe-Koga served two terms on the council, took two years off, then was elected again in 2016. She talks about the negative stereotypes she faced initially, how people treated her during her year as mayor, and her positive experience phoning in to a council meeting from home.

Q: It’s interesting–a lot of European cities do what Mountain View does, where the mayor is not elected separately, but a council member has the position for a year and it rotates. One thing I heard is that when you’re only mayor for a year, you don’t get as much respect. What do you think about that?

A: I definitely felt more respect. A former council member in Palo Alto who served as a county supervisor said one time how very few people know what a county supervisor does. But everybody knows what a mayor is because every city in the world has a mayor. There was that recognition. I was vice mayor to Tom Means and I had to fill in for him oftentimes. But when I would call and offer to show up, sometimes I would get declines because I was ONLY the vice mayor!

Q: Do you think that council members who talk for too long have been a problem in the meetings? Or does everyone hate a chatty council member until you bring up something THEY care about? Then all of a sudden, they don’t think it’s so bad to talk for ten minutes about it.

A: I think everybody starts out thinking that chatty council members are challenging but I would say we all at some point have been that chatty council member. When I first started, I actually had folks come up to me and say, “why don’t you talk more?” I did feel like I had to speak up just to speak up. The public noticed when I didn’t say much.

mak.jpg
Mountain View, CA Councilmember Margaret Abe-Koga

Q: When citizens said that to you, did you read anything into that? About you being a young person, a woman, an Asian person–how they were projecting their ideas of how you should present yourself onto you?

A: Yes. I had folks who thought I was nice and sweet. Some thought I was too sweet to be an elected leader. That was what one of the newspapers said about me, so they didn’t endorse me. [I’m] fairly petite, Asian, I smile a lot, but there definitely were stereotypes. When I became mayor, I had a hate e-mail saying, “you folks are overrunning the city. Go back to where you came from.” I frankly, unfortunately, expected that to happen.

Q: I should point out, you were the only Asian person on the city council. It’s hardly an overrun!

A: [Laughs]

Q: That makes me think about the rotating, one-year term for the mayor and I guess that’s a virtue of everyone having the chance to be mayor at some point. You get to try out a “nice” style. You know you’ll get your shot.

A: That’s true. It ties into the politeness of our council. The fact that we take turns is a very polite way of handling it….The downside is [the term is] short, but if you’re not doing a good job, it’s only a year!


Follow Councilmember Margaret Abe-Koga on Twitter: @margaretabekoga