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.

Interview #95: Hillsboro, OR City Manager Michael Brown (with podcast)

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

The thing you need to know about Hillsboro is: they have fun. Whether it’s art in the council meetings or elaborate comedy routines at the state of the city, creativity abounds in the Hillsboro council chamber. City manager Michael Brown elaborates on why that is.

Q: I am impressed by the range of creative expression that gets showcased in Hillsboro. Just in the past six months, you had artists, you had high school performers, and–my favorite–you had second and third graders dressed up as historical figures from Hillsboro. Is there any segment of society or culture that you would like to be featured in your council meetings?

A: Anything. We view our council meetings as basically a community gathering where half of it is creating performances and different ways to connect with the community. And the second half’s a business meeting. The ones that stand out to me are musicals. Those are really, really fun.

Q: Do those ever make you wish you were on the opposite side of the dais entertaining the audience?

A: No, not anymore. I tried to do acting when I was in high school and the acting director pulled me aside and said, “you know, I think you’d be better as a stagehand.” I worked in the back of the stage, not the front.

Q: Is that a good philosophy for a city manager? Be the stagehand, not the leading lady?

A: [laughs] There’s different expectations council has for you, whether you’re out in front or behind. I like being in the background with charismatic, smart, intelligent leaders out in front of me.

Q: Something completely unexpected to me was watching your state of the city address. Normally across cities, these things are pretty uneventful. The mayor gets up there; rattles off statistics about how well the city is doing; people applaud; and an hour later it’s done. But in Hillsboro, the state of the city is not just a speech. It’s a production. In the 2017 state of the city, for instance, Mayor Steve Callaway had the audience do a text message poll. How does the state of the city come together?

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Hillsboro, Oregon city manager Michael Brown

A: Over the course of maybe six months in advance of the performance, we have a group of people that are laying it out and planning it. We sit around, talk about what things might be interesting. In the case of the last mayor and Mayor Steve Callaway, they’re really funny. They really enjoy the opportunity to engage the audience and not get up and give a big speech and have everybody clap. They recognize the value of humor and wit. It is a performance. We view it as a performance.

Q: Your mayor is probably one of the best deliverers of this highly specific kind of entertainment. And speaking of deliver, this year’s state of the city featured former Mayor Jerry Willey walking in as a pizza delivery guy. Did any of the other cities you worked for come close to this kind of choreography?

A: This is a unique place! They enjoy poking fun at each other in a positive way and if you knew Jerry Willey, having him in a pizza uniform is the last thing you think he would do.

Q: One thing that’s not exactly entertaining, but it’s certainly unorthodox for any state of the city address, is that Mayor Callaway actually gives up the microphone midway through and lets councilors have their own time to speak. Why would the mayor give up precious camera time to the hoi polloi on the council?

A: Because it’s a council and the mayor is part of the council. While he’s the political head of government–the person people look to–he wanted to create the space for them to be up there and have the group be together and say, “we view it as a team.” He cares a lot about that.

Interview #94: McDonough, GA Councilwoman Sandra Vincent (with podcast)

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

Sandra Vincent has been on the McDonough city council for over a decade and only recently experienced her first meeting about tattoos and piercings. We also covered her frustration over a park and what that meant for a business owner who wanted to comment upon it.

Q: Last year, there was one part of the city employee handbook that bothered you–the council was trying to limit tattoos and piercings. Was this the first time in your more than a decade on the city council that this subject came up?

A: There have been other times we discussed dress code. I don’t recall there being another time when we specifically were creating policy that descriptive around tattoos. Tattoos, even though I don’t have a tattoo and don’t particularly like them, culturally there are more young people who are into tattoo wearing. To say that we’re not going to hire individuals with tattoos above the neck is to limit ourselves.

Q: How surprised were you that the others did not see it your way?

A: I was extremely. I think I had a weeklong debate with my four daughters. What was even more odd is that there were people presenting in the audience that evening who represented the local chamber [of commerce], one of which had tattoos and a mouth piercing!

Q: No way!

A: I was sitting there thinking, this is a professional woman that has just presented this amazing piece to us. She has tattoos and piercings and we’re saying that if you exemplify those characteristics, that’s not considered professional. I almost felt like I had been propelled back about 20 years.

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McDonough, GA Councilwoman Sandra Vincent

Q: At the meeting on April 18, 2016, you moved to add a discussion of the Overlook subdivision park to the agenda. But other council members said they had already told people that there would be no discussion and therefore it should stay off the agenda. How sympathetic were you to that reasoning?

A: I wasn’t. Initially, the Overlook discussion was on the agenda. In that chamber were somewhere between 50 and 75 individuals from the Overlook community who had come out. Somebody took it off [the agenda].

Q: After you gave a presentation despite the mayor trying to gavel you down, the audience applauded and you left the chamber. Do you remember where you went?

A: I walked outside of chambers through the back door to try and capture myself. I went out and did have a conversation because those are people that I represent. I think the most heartbreaking thing was an elderly gentlemen–he just kind of looked at me and said, “Ms. Vincent, what do we do now?”

Q: When you came back in the room, you and a public commenter had an exchange in which you wanted her to state that she did not live in the city, despite owning a business there. Did you have a history with that person?

A: The commenter had concerns regarding the park. My response concerning whether or not the individual lived in McDonough was germane to the fact that there were almost 75 individuals who live in the city that were refused an opportunity to speak. We’re talking about specific issues for a particular geographic area and this business is across town. I don’t see how it’s fair to not disclose the fact that the person is not a resident.


Follow Councilwoman Sandra Vincent on Twitter: @sandravincent

Interview #93: Meriden, CT Councilor Miguel Castro (with podcast)

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

The Meriden city council is not short on bad behavior–including comments that skirt the border of sexual harassment, multiple censures against councilors, and an effort to delete council meeting footage by this week’s guest, Miguel Castro.

Q: On December 18 of last year, the council was discussing whether to fire your city manager. People brought up his performance and the performance of other city employees. But Councilor Bob Williams, Jr. said:

We have some department heads that you gotta handle with kid gloves. Some people you can have an honest conversation….There’s some people you can’t. You gotta basically pat ’em on the ass a little bit.

I realize Councilor Williams was probably just using some locker room talk, which is completely acceptable in the year 2018. Unless, of course, you’re a female comedian. How did you feel?

A: For anyone to go on the council floor and make a statement like this is really unfortunate. It’s a complete insult. It is unnecessary. It’s uncalled for. The department heads deserve a public apology. People are referring to this as “locker room talk.” Nonsense. I’ve been in many locker rooms and my friends in the locker room do not talk like that.

Q: Here at the City Council Chronicles studio, no one is allowed to talk in our locker room. And it really starts the day off on the right note for me. The next month, there was a resolution to censure Councilor Williams. The mayor ruled you could not vote on the resolution. So who then polices your council, Miguel?

A: It certainly deserves serious discussion and conversations that talk like this should not be allowed anywhere. It should be subject to a much further discussion which should start within our city leaders.

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Meriden, CT councilor Miguel Castro

Q: Coincidentally at that same meeting, there was a censure against you that called you out for political retaliation against your former election opponent. And the mayor again ruled you cannot vote on it. You just said these issues should be discussed openly, so were you disappointed that the mayor denied a vote on both of these resolutions?

A: Well, I appreciate your thoughts but the comparison–it’s not a fair comparison. With regards to the manner you have brought now to our discussion, [it] was something that was referred to a confidential process.

Q: On March 29, there was a finance committee meeting. Apparently there were some councilors having a side conversation near you because the chair told them to be quiet. After that meeting, you contacted the video recording company for the city and asked if that exchange could be deleted from the footage. Did you at all think that a mere inquiry about deleting footage would be construed as a request to delete footage and therefore be records tampering?

A: Well, I appreciate your thoughts on the matter. My approach was posing a question whether that portion of the meeting could have been edited. That was the end of it. I did not wake up one morning to purposely commit something nefarious. If for some reason, for lack of information, I have brought a small level of disruption that could create that kind of perception, I personally apologize. I am sorry for how I approached it. Could I have known there was a right way or a different way to address my concern, I would have relied on that.

Editor’s note: After publication, Councilor Castro sent multiple messages to City Council Chronicles asking for this interview to be deleted. It is not the policy of City Council Chronicles to acquiesce to the pressure of elected officials seeking to set the terms of their own coverage. Councilor Castro was given the opportunity to request correction of any factual errors he found in the interview. He provided none.
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Interview #92: Lancaster, PA Councilwoman Janet Diaz (with podcast)

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

Sometimes you vote the wrong way and need a do-over. Janet Diaz talks about the meeting where she was allowed to re-vote, plus she gives advice on how to handle public commenters who suddenly explode at the council.

Q: Lancaster does not record its council meetings, but there is an individual who runs See-thru City where he live streams all of your meetings. How much of what he was doing contributed to your decision to explore putting cameras in the council chamber?

A: He was the one that actually proposed it. People have made comments that it will be good for them to see it and hear it better. It’s actually the mayor I think that made that decision too.

Q: So it was this citizen-videographer who catalyzed the impending streaming of meetings?

A: Yes. Basically he is videotaping it, so other people are very happy. They appreciate him doing that. What the city wants to do is go further.

Q: Is there a way to incorporate the comments of people watching on Facebook Live into the meetings? Would you support someone representing the Facebook feed being able to come up at the very end of an item and list the comments they got from people watching?

A: Personally, sure. I feel that shouldn’t be a problem. But I can’t make those decisions–it has to be everyone on a whole.

Q: A couple of weeks ago, the council held a special meeting to reconsider a decision to tear down a historic building. Can you think of any vote you’ve made that you would like to cast differently now?

A: The problem on the day that I actually cast my vote–I think it got confusing. There was a person that–the police stopped her and her daughter and there was a yelling and screaming match. I was not thinking completely straight. I was still thinking of the trauma this woman had gone through. I voted incorrectly. I’m honest, I made a mistake. That’s why I called for a special meeting to recant my vote.

Q: Were people pretty understanding of that or do they hold you to a higher standard?

A: I think people understood that there was a lot of chaos. There was actually someone that caused an arson. I don’t see that anybody judged me. I’m just as human as anyone else.

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Lancaster, PA Councilwoman Janet Diaz

Q: At the May 22 meeting, a woman came in to share her story about her interaction with the Lancaster police. But it escalated into screaming. How should a council president have handled that?

A: I have helped people in the past [as] a sexual assault counselor. Sometimes you just got to let them vent. You have to let them speak and get that out of their system because they’re hurting. You’re not gonna fix a problem if there’s so much chaos.

Q: She kept saying she wanted an apology. How appropriate would it have been for the council president to say, “you know what? You walked away from an interaction with the police feeling violated and betrayed. And that should never happen in our city. We let you down and I apologize.”

A: Yeah, that would be something that could’ve been handled that way. Yes, I agree with you. If there’s an apology to give to a constituent because somewhere along the line the system failed them, why should we feel guilty?


Follow Councilwoman Janet Diaz on Twitter: @JanetDiaz1966

Interview #91: Littleton, CO Council Member Kyle Schlachter (with podcast)

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

With a new council and new snack bar, the tone of Littleton city council meetings has changed since Kyle Schlachter was sworn in last year. We talked about one major loss of power for the council members and the potential for a council chamber sleepover.

Q: Littleton is a bit unique in that I have actually been inside your council chamber in real life. Granted, it was before you were elected, so is the chocolate fountain next to the Skee-Ball machine still there?

A: It’s still there, yeah. We just hang out there all night. Actually, your appearance at Littleton city council was my introduction to City Council Chronicles.

Q: When I was giving public comment–which was promoting International City Hall Selfie Day–the clock underneath the mayor was alternately counting up time and counting down time. That was a bit distracting.

A: I think that was done on purpose. We had a professional in there, so we try to throw them off your game.

Q: I pinpointed the low moment from your council meetings when, on January 16, council repealed an ordinance that would’ve allowed you to be police officers for no pay. Before they made you turn in your badge and your gun, how close were you to solving all those cold case homicides?

A: We were very close, but unfortunately we had to pull the rug out from under ourselves. Actually, my wife sent me an email from the charter with that little mention of city council members being police officers. I followed up with the city attorney and he said, “yeah, that’s in there. We should probably get rid of that.” It was a little disappointing that I am no longer a “police officer.”

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Littleton, CO Council Member Kyle Schlachter

Q: Is there any rule in the charter as it pertains to the council meetings that you’ve now experienced that you would like to change or get rid of?

A: Not that I can think of. I do like the one change that I noticed: Mayor [Debbie] Brinkman added refreshments to the meetings. In previous councils, there were no refreshments. I find that very nice not only for us council members, but for the audience. I like to see people out there eating their cookies, spilling crumbs on the floor and everything.

Q: Is the food and drink for everyone, or is it to keep the council’s blood sugar up as you go into the second or third hour of a meeting?

A: It’s for everyone. There’s cookies and brownies and drinks for everyone to have. Gotta keep them happy so they don’t come over and attack us even more viciously than has happened.

Q: One of your regular commenters brought up the fact that Littleton used to allow 10-minute presentations by residents in the past. Why do you as a council not want a longer public comment?

A: It sounds like she would prefer a 20 or 30 minute comment, so I could pick up and move my family and go live in the council chambers and just have people come 24/7 and speak to me. That might be a better approach.

Q: You know, after the food and drink, a sleepover seems like the next logical step. I don’t think you’re making this less appealing to the citizens of Littleton, Kyle!

A: [laughs] There’s plenty of opportunities for the citizens to get in touch with council. Three minutes is plenty of time. Most people don’t use their full three minutes. I don’t think more time does anything.


Follow Council Member Kyle Schlachter on Twitter: @Kyle4Littleton

Interview #90: Norman, OK Councilmember Breea Clark (with podcast)

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

Who would have thought that Oklahoma would be such an emotional hotbed for council meetings? In Norman, first-term council member Breea Clark has seen tensions run high over an obscure procedure, a street with an offensive name, and even a minor cultural proclamation.

Q: What is the Norman city council “rule of three?”

A: [sigh] Oh, the rule of three. It’s when three council members can choose an issue and force it on the agenda.

Q: Council members have some differing opinions on whether it is a good thing or, as someone else put it, a “bastardized” procedure.

A: I think you use the rule of three when you reach out to fellow council members and say, “hey, let’s talk about this” and they all tell you “no.” Having seen that process and the lack of communication when [other council members] used the rule, I personally will do everything in my power to never use that rule because it is so divisive.

Q: When I say the name “Edwin DeBarr,” what can you tell me about him?

A: I can tell you that he was one of the first four professors at the University of Oklahoma. He was a very knowledgeable man who spoke many languages. And I can then tell you that he went on to be a grand dragon of the Oklahoma KKK at the height of the brutality.

Q: People started showing up in your meetings and told council, “we have a street named after Edwin DeBarr and that is racist. Please change the street name.” The fact that it wasn’t happening immediately rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. At the October 24, 2017 meeting, the mood was tense. You’re sitting up there as a white woman with an all-white council–there was some shaming going on. How did you sense that the others felt when people were accusing you of being tone-deaf white people?

A: I don’t think any of my colleagues intended to be tone deaf, but it was uncomfortable. I think those comments hurt a lot of feelings, but they shouldn’t have.

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Norman, OK Councilmember Breea Clark

Q: Some of the commenters called you out in a complimentary way to thank you for being a leader on the name change. Did any other council members come up to you and say, “I didn’t appreciate being called racist. I wish you might have told people to tone it down.” Did anyone lay that at your feet?

A: They did not lay that at my feet directly. I don’t think it’s my position to be the tone police. But how that all went down has created some very tense relationships with some of my colleagues. It changed everything. I will always regret the outcome of that. How they got a little beat up on the dais–I am the face of blame for that. We do not have the same relationship that we had before.

Q: Does that bother you?

A: Of course it does.

Q: Before you were a council member, there was a meeting the night of September 28, 2010. The council was considering a proclamation for GLBT history month. Have you ever listened to that meeting before?

A: I will be honest and say no, because I know what happened. I have seen pieces of the ugliness of our community since then and I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it.

Q: A week after that meeting, a 19-year-old gay man who had been in the audience and heard some of the anti-GLBT comments killed himself. Do you feel that the council, by allowing hate speech, might bear some responsibility?

A: [pause] That is a slippery slope. I wasn’t there that night. I’m glad I wasn’t there that night. But I wish somebody would’ve spoken up.


Follow Councilmember Breea Clark on Twitter: @clarkfornorman