#143: Littleton, CO 12/5/17

Freshly sworn in and ready for business, the Littleton city council backed out of the driveway and, metaphorically, immediately hit the mailbox.

Not only were two new council members absent, but one citizen marched down to raise hell about “Candy and Cash”-gate.

“At the last meeting when the recognition of the council members who were leaving–let’s see if I say this right,” she dramatically donned her eyeglasses and stared at the transcript.

“Citizens asked for time to make recognition also. [One council member] said, ‘this group may give us candy.’ Council Member [Phil] Cernanec said, ‘we appreciate cash’ and I’m sure that was a joke.”

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Ix-nay on the ash-cay.

She whipped off her glasses and point-blank recited how much the council members ten feet from her had received in campaign contributions from the cash-and-candy jokesters.

“I’m very concerned about special access for special interests. This raised all the red flags for me. I’m going to suggest it was out of order. I’m sure it was well-intentioned and I’m also sure that it was bad.”

Agreed. If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is jokes about bribery at a council meeting. (Although I am open to changing my views for a simple wire transfer of $8,000 or greater.)

Returning to the council meeting, the city attorney had another dire warning if Littleton didn’t change the definitions in its tax code.

“The legislature goes back into session on January 5. I have to tell the council it’s very, very critical that we do this,” he asserted with a wry smile.

“Property tax does not pay city bills. Sales tax does. If cities do not demonstrate this willingness to look at their tax codes, I think we will be at risk of having our sales tax authority impinged.”

The stakes were straightforward enough. The real heavy lifting, however, went to Council Member Kyle Schlachter, who read an ordinance title so lengthy and complex, it was almost as hard to comprehend as the tax code itself.

“I move to approve ordinance 35-2017 amending Title 3, Chapter 9, Sections 9-9-1-2, 3-9-3-2, 3-9-1-10, and 3-9-6-12 of the city code,” he announced triumphantly.

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Noooooooooo! After all that hard work!

“I need a motion, please,” requested Mayor Debbie Brinkman, flipping through a routine emergency medical transportation enterprise fund budget.

“I move to approve the ordinance,” Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Valdes began calmly enough, “entering into a trust agreement for the Colorado Firefighters–”

“Nope!” the mayor halted him.

“I’m on the wrong one!” exclaimed Valdes, frantically poking at his tablet screen. “Take over, Kyle!”

“All right,” quickly rebounded Council Member Schlachter. “I move to approve the amendment to the Emergency Medical Transport Enterprise Fund 2017 Budget.”

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He is getting quite the reputation as the council’s resident reader.

Eyeing the clock near the end of the meeting, Mayor Brinkman turned to the city manager. “City manager, do you have any report?”

“I do not,” he informed her cheerfully.

“Good,” she replied absent-mindedly. Audience members started to snicker, prompting her to quickly reconsider her choice of words.

“I mean, THANK YOU!” she gushed, somewhat facetiously. As the chuckling subsided, she gave a stern parting reminder to the council.

“I need those who have not given me their goals for 2018, please send me those by the end of the week.”

I can think of one goal: get Mayor Pro Tem Valdes a tutorial for that iPad.

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#141: Loma Linda, CA 11/14/17

With a roomful of men sitting around the dais, it was only a matter of time before the Loma Linda council meeting turned to…cars.

“This is one of those ordinances that the legislature, in their wisdom, has required us to adopt,” the city attorney folded his hands and remarked dryly. “For review and approval of electric vehicle charging stations.”

“Would the mayor like to give personal testimony?” quizzed Council Member Ron Dailey, glancing cheekily across the desk.

Mayor Rhodes Rigsby chuckled at this reference to his own electric car. “I’m appreciative of the Target parking lot off Sierra in Fontana,” he said of the megastore’s free charging station.

“It’s rescued me from foolish, long trips to the west side of the county with insufficient charge to return home!”

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Oh, great. The secret’s out on the Target parking lot charging station.

Apparently, his car was a sweet–but not illegal–deal. “I’m also appreciative to Fiat for essentially giving me the car. And it’s offered to the public, so they’re not buying me off as a politician.”

He paused and racked his brain for a few stats right out of Car and Driver. “They’re attached to Chrysler, and Chrysler sells a lot of Hemis that don’t get the best gas mileage. So they need the 112 miles per gallon of my car to compensate. I’m doing them a service!”

There’s a reelection slogan: “I’m doing Chrysler a service!”

Something else Mayor Rigsby was doing? Trigonometry in his head.

“I don’t know whether it takes into account sines and cosines and tangents or whether it’s pointed straight down the street,” he mused about the proposed speed radar sign on Beaumont Avenue. “I’ve always wondered that: do you calculate how much you need to compensate for the sine of the angle?”

This being a city council meeting, not the Society of Professional Engineers’ meeting, we may never know. However, Council Member Dailey piped up with a second, more relatable quandry.

“My challenge is, I know there’s not a camera in there to ticket you. But my wife doesn’t believe me,” he said. “So she has her own brake pedal on her side of the car–”

“And she’s constantly pressing it,” the mayor nodded, no doubt familiar with his colleague’s driving habits.

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The secret to marriage is…an instructor’s brake pedal?

From harrowing car trips, the meeting turned to harrowing rescues.

“You’re true defenders…thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” the mayor read sincere thank you cards and letters addressed to the Loma Linda Fire Department, which had been helping Northern Californians battle their wildfires.

“Maybe they have a board they can put them up on?” Council Member Dailey raised his eyebrows at the fire chief.

“Usually we’ll get two or three [cards] on a big assignment,” explained the chief. “But that’s just today’s. I’ve got dozens.”

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You earned them.

While it may seem a little premature to be talking about Christmas in Southern California already (high temperature today: 78 degrees), it was essential to spread some Yule log-sized news about this year’s Christmas tree lighting.

“I understand this is going to be a MUCH larger production than usual,” grinned Mayor Rigsby. “They’ve invited a choir of angels to sing, from what I’ve heard.”

He added, “in the past, it’s been analogous to a Charlie Brown episode. Now it’s going to be more like an ‘evening at the pops.'”

“Sounds good to me!” responded a stoked Council Member Dailey.

Get there safely–and slowly.

#140: Fort Morgan, CO 11/7/17

“In the interest of brevity, I’ll try to keep it as short and concise as possible,” city attorney Jason Meyers promised. I was skeptical. No lawyer can resist the allure of long, drawn-out soliloquies–and that was exactly what council members would get here.

However, I immediately became less concerned about the length of the monologue and more concerned about the dire situation erupting in Fort Morgan.

“Every year the state legislature passes another set of bills that restricts the ability of the municipal court to operate,” Meyers began solemnly. “More recent changes have stated that if anybody is in custody on a jailable offense, regardless of whether they’re indigent, they have to have a court-appointed attorney available at the time they’re talking to a judge.”

Seems reasonable enough, yes? Right to counsel. Habeas corpus. Gluteus maximus. The bedrock of our country!

“How do we have a court-appointed attorney available every Wednesday, whether we have cases?” Meyers asked rhetorically. “We’re paying an attorney to sit there just in case.”

Ah yes, the other bedrock of our country: money. But listen, buddy, if you knew this was gonna cause problems, you should have said something about it earlier.

“I did go to the legislature two years ago and testify,” explained Meyers. “I got grilled for about 30 minutes. It felt like hours. In essence, they don’t care about the rural communities. This is the result.”

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I care about you.

The council listened stoically to the scenario. I am sure this can be resolved without drastic measures.

“We removed jail as an option for most municipal court violations. You can still be written into municipal court for assault and disorderly [conduct] and resisting arrest. We just can’t put you in jail for it anymore if this passes,” he concluded.

“This” being the following proposal from Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Northrup: “I would offer a resolution eliminating jail as a possible penalty in Fort Morgan municipal court cases and request to schedule a public hearing.”

Mayor Ron Shaver waited a beat. “Roll call.”

A string of lighted domes blazed green in front of council members as everyone voted yes. Let that be a lesson: if you’re looking for a place to resist arrest for being disorderly, Eastern Colorado is the promise land.

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Ooh…the orbs!

There was little time to dwell on the fate of the jail or ponder the imminence of anarchy. Winter was fast approaching and Fort Morgan had a reputation to uphold:

“When people ask, ‘why are we the Christmas Capital of the Plains,’ it’s because we do more in the four weeks before Christmas than any other community in Colorado,” city manager Jeffrey Wells bragged to the council–and, technically, to any other council in earshot.

“I would tell anybody to try and take us on,” he challenged brazenly.

“You may have seen in the paper,” Wells continued, “that our very own [Director of Public Works] Steve Glammeyer was awarded the–”

He halted in search of the name.

“William E. Korbitz!” yelled someone from the side.

“–the William E. Korbitz Award with the Colorado Chapter of the American Public Works Association,” recovered Wells. “So thanks a lot, Steve.”

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Hell yes, Steve.

The room broke into applause and Wells grinned fiendishly. “He HATES it when we do this.”

“Do it again!” someone hollered. A second round of applause and whoops thundered down for Steve. Luckily, they could get as disorderly as they wanted–it’s not like they’ll go to jail.

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.

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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 

Interview #69: Daly City, CA City Manager Pat Martel (with podcast)

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

Pat Martel has been working in government for over three decades and has seen a looooooooooot of council meetings. Plus, she served as president of the ICMA and got to hear from other city managers about their council concerns. We talk about how to ensure civil meetings and, if necessary, whether she would take a bullet for her council.

Q: As ICMA president, did any city managers e-mail or call you and say, “I am really struggling with my council meetings. What advice can you give?”

A: I have been asked that question. We recognized in ICMA that these are issues our members are struggling with. We have had sessions on this very issue–how to have civil meetings. There’s a need for us to solicit input [from the public], but it’s not useful input if we allow that to digress into yelling and screaming. Having the mayor understand that their role is to facilitate the discussion, but when it gets out of hand, to put a stop to that…it’s not infringing on anyone’s free speech to cut off conversation if it becomes uncivil.

Q: Mmm.

A: It’s also important for the city staff to clarify issues that the public may misunderstand. Or, worse yet, to try and identify the “fake news” on which people are basing their comments.

Q: Just for clarification, did any of the recommendations from that session include listening to the City Council Chronicles podcast?

A: [Laughs] No, but come to think of it, it should have! I have found listening very valuable.

Q: Thank you for saying that!

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Daly City, CA city manager Pat Martel

When did you accept the reality that as city manager, you are sometimes the face of unpopular proposals at council meetings?

A: I learned that a very, very long time ago. The position of city manager is a lightning rod for those who don’t agree with certain proposals. It’s not personal. Although council members and the public can make it personal. I think that oftentimes, council members who want to take me on on a particular issue see that the level of information I have exceeds what they have [and] they take it personally. My job is not to stand up to them. It’s to educate them about how things really work. I am really glad to meet with my council members before a meeting to go over things so I don’t have to present information to them in a meeting that will put them in a position where they look like they’re not very knowledgeable.

Q: In June 2014, the council was deciding whether to locate a cell tower in the city. After they voted in favor, a man rushed onto the dais and stood six inches from council members, jabbing his finger in their faces and yelling. How worried were you?

A: I was very worried. That’s one of the reasons why the police chief or one of his captains is always in attendance.

Q: If the chief was out of the room and an incident happened, would you take a bullet for your council?

A: I guess it would be my job to throw myself in front of that onslaught! While I don’t wear a badge, I have a sufficiently directive voice. I think I could probably calm someone down enough, so I would do it.


Follow City Manager Pat Martel on Twitter: @DalyCityManager

#138: Ogden, UT 10/24/17

“This is the 6 p.m. meeting,” Ogden council Chair Marcia White stated, brazenly defying the clock in front of her which read “5:59.” It’s refreshing to see someone so eager to begin a council meeting (either that or it really was six o’clock and this timepiece was spreading Fake News).

Council Vice Chair Richard Hyer scanned the audience. “It’s my pleasure,” he said, his eyes settling on a target in the crowd, “to announce that we’re going to have our Ogden/Weber Convention & Visitor’s Bureau director lead us in the pledge today.”

The randomly-selected lady rose to the occasion literally, as people stood with her and flawlessly recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Sitting back down, White grinned and shot a glance at the vice chair.

“That’s kind of mean that you put them on the spot. THAT’S when you forget the pledge!” she observed with a chuckle. “It’s like, ‘ah! I’ve said it all my life.'”

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It’s an impromptu patriotism test

Hyer defended his unorthodox method. “I didn’t ask her to sing the national anthem! I just asked her to say the pledge.” As the laughter subsided, he murmured to himself, “we should do that national anthem thing.”

Well, sir, I’m not sure where you can find the singers. But I DO know where you can find actors.

“Recognizing WNY Productions for their immense support of Ogden while filming the series ‘Youth and Consequences’ right here at Ogden High School,” Council Member Bart Blair read from a proclamation.

“We are eager to view the final cut” of the teen comedy/drama series, he added, coming to a YouTube channel near you.

“We have a little something for you, too,” one of the production team members responded.

A man pulled out a tiny plastic-wrapped notebook. “These are so you can keep track of your own stories. Maybe turn them into screenplays,” he encouraged the council. Aha–the vice chair can get a shot at his musical after all!

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“Ogden and the Amazing Technicolor Council Livestream”

Buddy, I’ll turn this entire council meeting review into a screenplay.

ENTER: SWASHBUCKLING MAYOR

All three of my daughters were extras in that. They had a 
blast.

ENTER: GIANT NINJA ROBOT

I'll show you a blast...with my laser cannon!

See, how hard is that? Oh, and the part about the mayor’s daughters being extras was real. The ninja robot? Well, you’ll have to check the tape.

“We have Halloween next week,” sighed Mayor Mike Caldwell. “I would just lobby to say I wish that was on a Friday or a Saturday.”

He smiled, picturing the ordeal that would await him after a long night of candy-harvesting. “Having young kids that get all sugared up, to have to turn them around and get them off their sugar hangover and get them back to school is kind of rough.”

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Send them to my house–I’m passing out kale and copies of The Old Testament.

Council Member Neil Garner also had a concerned message for the drivers. “Please, next Tuesday, be extremely careful. Watch out for the little trick-or-treaters.”

ENTER: GIANT NINJA ROBOT

With one hand, I shall deliver 
candy to your children. 
With the other hand, I shall 
karate chop your dangerous 
drivers. Hee-yah!

Final thoughts: Obviously, I give 50 out of 50 stars to the woman who seamlessly and confidently led the Pledge of Allegiance. May your sugar hangover be brief and mild.

Special Feature! “A Very Texas Proposal”

Regular listeners of the podcast will know that whenever something unusual or exciting happens in the world of city council meetings, people let me know about it through The Listener’s List. Last week, I was made aware of a super-duper special occurrence:

A marriage proposal at the Flower Mound, Texas council meeting by town manager Jimmy Stathatos! I talked to him and got the play-by-play, which all of you hopeless romantics will want to experience on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, or right here:

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Photo source: Town of Flower Mound

Q: Did you have any alternative romantic spots in mind to propose, like the Kroger or the water treatment plant?

A: [Laughs] She is a huge sports fan, so I thought about going on the field at a Rangers game. But I thought that was kind of cliche-ish. That’s how I settled on town hall.

Q: I heard that pretty much the entire town was in on what you were going to do, except your fiancé.

A: It was the worst-kept secret! I was surprised she didn’t find out.

Q: Well, yeah, how did you get an entire town of Texans–who are used to shooting things off–to not shoot their mouths off?

A: I threatened them with code enforcement! I’m kidding; I got lucky.

Q: How could you stay focused when you were giving the announcements earlier in the meeting? You seemed a lot more nervous than during the site plan approval for Jerry’s Express Car Wash, but not quite as nervous as during the rezoning for Lakeside Crossing. Am I off base here?

A: No, you’re awesome. You watched! My stomach was in knots. Everytime they were talking about something else, I’m like, “just let me go!”

Q: If someone were to propose at a city council meeting, it seems like they could do it as a total surprise or they could use your method of doing everything short of getting a permit. If one of your employees wanted to do something similar, which way would you prefer?

A: Probably the surprise route. My way worked because I was able to tell the people that needed to know. But also, it is the people’s business and I didn’t want any of my bosses to be offended because I used that venue. But I think people that work for me know that I would be cool with whatever.

Q: Well, my friend, I have a little surprise for you. City Council Chronicles is going to send you on an ALL-EXPENSES PAID HONEYMOON TO–hold on, let me check my bank account….Wow, cannot do that.

New plan: one thing town council meetings are good for is issuing proclamations. And we at The Chronicles have drafted the following:

WHEREAS, Jimmy Stathatos and Michelle Dishman have been engaged since September 2017; and

WHEREAS, Jimmy Stathatos has been a faithful public servant in Flower Mound, Texas; and

WHEREAS, the town council proposal reminded people that government employees are creative, thoughtful, and mindful of their community, and that you should always be watching city or town council meetings for surprises;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT [insert marriage date] be known as Jimmy Stathatos and Michelle Dishman Day.

Now, previous podcast guest and councilman in your neighboring city of Lewisville, TJ Gilmore, will get this signed, sealed, and made the law of the land. What do you think?!

A: That is awesome! He is a good man.