#165: American Fork, UT 7/31/18

“The city is considering a three-month, temporary land use restriction,” Mayor Brad Frost announced sternly as the first order of business. His microphone was off, but his voice carried through the intimate and ornate meeting space.

“The city will not be accepting new development plans or requests for zoning modifications.”

If you want to rile up a town, nothing does it better than talking about people’s land. Surely enough, a strange but emotional scene slowly unfolded before the council in which one family, member by member, stood up with a single message: get off my lawn.

“What gives anybody the right to decide what’s on my property?” pleaded a gray-haired woman. “I own it. We have no interest in selling this. Ever. It’s a family farm. Please, I would ask that you take us out of the T.O.D. [transit-oriented development area].”

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Lock the doors! Don’t let her leave.

She was replaced by her husband, who stood uneasily as a dozen onlookers stared at his back.

“I’m not very comfortable doing this. But I’m going to because I feel so strongly about it,” he admitted.

“We do not want to sell or develop–at least not in my lifetime and certainly not in my kids’ lifetime. And it’s looking like not in the grandkids’ lifetime.”

Councilmember Clark Taylor fidgeted with his ring. The mayor folded his hands in front of him on the desk. The commenter sighed loudly into the microphone.

“If we could, we’d like to leave the city. We get nothing from the city. No sewer. No water. We don’t even get police protection. We never wanted to be part of the city. We were talked into it by the late mayor.”

He gazed into council members’ eyes and nodded to his wife.

“She grew up there watching her grandparents crawl up and down row crops on their hands and knees. Our kids have grown up there. This is home. It’s not just a piece of property.”

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This story is more American than a baseball bat eating apple pie.

As the man turned on his heels and returned to a chair, Mayor Frost tugged on his microphone.

“I appreciate the decorum. I really do. You haven’t yelled or screamed, but we get your message and I appreciate it,” he said thankfully as the rest of the family–the daughter and the grandson–stepped forward.

“I’m fifth generation that’s lived on the farm. He’s sixth generation,” she said, clapping a hand on her son’s shoulder. “I have no desire to sell ever.”

With this family seemingly committed to guarding their compound to the death–and no one in the government itching to call for a raid by the National Guard–the council segued into other business. Although for a moment, it didn’t seem as if the theme had changed all that much.

“It was really one of those moments where you can say I’m proud to live in American Fork and I’m proud to live in America,” Mayor Frost recalled. “This last Saturday night, we welcomed home a soldier deployed to the Middle East. It was put out on Facebook and boy, did our citizens catch ahold of that!”

His voice was low and measured as he told of the heartwarming scene. “We ushered him in with emergency vehicles, and along Main Street people were holding flags. When he got home, there was 200 flags in his neighborhood. It was really special.”

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This story is even more American than the last one!

The lesson here? A city is not just a collection of property. It’s a home. And I think the farm family would approve of that message.

#162: Inglewood, CA 7/10/18

Dueling realities were on full display in the council chamber, where on the one hand city leaders boasted that they were Making Inglewood Great Again, despite evidence that things were actually a bit of a bonfire.

Even the city treasurer was conflicted about the state of things as she started off the meeting with a positive report that the city’s “gross investment interest earnings is $6,902.”

However, “just a little report regarding global debt,” she pivoted. “Global debt has risen to more than $247 trillion, which is 318 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.”

I’m not an economist, but it seems like all the world needs is a slight 318 percent increase in GDP and problem solved, no?

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We are all the deputy city clerk.

But fear not: the meeting was not simply a platform to realize that faraway debt is a problem. It was a platform to realize that nearby city hall is a problem.

“This is a lawsuit filed by an assistant pastor,” a commenter waved around a sheet of paper at the lectern. “He says, quote, ‘this is about abuses of power and civil rights perpetrated by the city of Inglewood through its current mayor, James T. Butts.'”

With his voice raised, the man summed up the lawsuit in a single sentence: “He says both the mayor and his assistant used intimidation and defamation to try to ruin his career and have him shunned.”

To conclude, “at least one other community paper reported on this, but in order to hide problems with this mayor, Inglewood Today is hiding problems from the public.”

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Consider it unhidden

“I don’t appreciate anyone, not even the mayor, suggesting that I choke myself at a public meeting,” the next woman began, sadly providing no further context. “I wonder how many situations are going to be created where someone sues us for a hostile work environment that YOU created. I hope that everyone goes on the Internet and checks out the Daily Breeze story.”

So to recap: one media outlet is covering the hostile work environment. Another one is hiding problems. And a third one is, apparently, giving the mayor glowing coverage.

“I’d like to congratulate the mayor for his interview on ‘Eye on Newsmaker,'” Councilman George Dotson heaped on the praise. “I’ve heard nothing but great comments. I’ve had people call me wanting to see it over again.”

“I also wanna congratulate you,” fawned Councilman Alex Padilla. “You talk about putting Inglewood on the map for all the right reasons.”

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The reviews are in!

Mayor Butts grinned at this 180-degree tonal shift, knowing that amid all this talk about choking and intimidation, he had the final word.

“I’m glad that we have one person the Breeze can always go to to tell us how bad we’re doing. But they can only find one!” he joked. “There are media broadcast outlets that wanna know the real story of what’s going on in this city.” (I am assuming The Chronicles falls in that category, Your Honor.)

Then as he prepared to adjourn the meeting, the mayor reached full-on elder statesman mode.

“Remember, this is an election season. And there’s gonna be all kinds of crazy lawsuits filed and all kinds of stories,” he said quietly but forcefully. “Look at the results. Look at the reality of what’s going on here. Not all the smoke and the distraction. This is the new Inglewood.”

Well, it will be once the “crazy” lawsuit is cleared up.

#161: Fairfield, CA 6/26/18

“I usually don’t use this platform to make a political statement. But I feel like I have to tonight.”

Councilmember Rick Vaccaro seemed to be winding up to drop a rhetorical bombshell. Who would be the subject of his grievance? The mayor? The other council members? The shadowy and pugnacious Fairfield Main Street Association?

“I see what’s been going on in our country and it’s been breaking my heart, just like everybody else. The zero tolerance. Seeing families split apart. Seeing kids in cages. I think it’s a horrible thing.”

Frowning partly at the situation and partly at his own admission, he added, “like I said, I usually don’t make this kind of a statement. It’s just been what I’ve seen.”

To be fair, no one “usually” makes the statement that putting children in cages is bad. And that’s because it “usually” goes without saying. But if you told me two years ago that caged children would be topics of conversation at city council meetings, I would have said, “in America?! Sounds about right.”

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Speaking of cages, those brick walls look awfully claustrophobic.

Councilmember Catherine Moy, booming through the speakers via telephone, had a more conventional pre-Independence Day announcement that did not touch in the slightest on human rights atrocities.

“We’re looking forward to a real good Fourth of July. And that means NO fireworks in Fairfield!” she bellowed. “We have a great parade, and then we can go to Suisun City to watch the LEGAL fireworks.”

Mayor Harry Price took it a step further by announcing a zero tolerance policy of his own. “If someone is using an illegal firework,” he glowered, “do not simply close the doors and windows and ignore it. Call the police.”

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“And then we will put them in the cages.”

But suddenly, the meeting took an abrupt turn. Not because of what they said. But because of what they heard.

“THANK YOUUuuuuUUuu MISTER MAYORRrrrRRR,” Councilmember Moy echoed as if she was talking into a haunted house intercom. “UMMmmmM, I’Mmmmm–”

“Catherine, can you speak closer to the phone?” the mayor’s warped voice responded, reverberating through his own microphone. “And if you close the door, that could help.”

People on the dais exchanged glances as the distorted Councilmember Moy continued, growing fainter and fainter until her voice disappeared into the ceiling entirely.

“We’re having a terrible time hearing you,” Mayor Price announced. Everyone sat quietly as if this were Mission Control waiting to hear any sign of life from a recently-exploded shuttle.

“We cannot hear you.”

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“Ground control to Major Moy?”

After a long pause there came one final sound from the walls.

“Hello?” Councilmember Moy asked faintly. The line went dead. Without warning, a thunderous warbling feedback noise burst from the speakers, causing the clerk to jump back and one of the city employees to wander to another room to fiddle with the dials.

Maybe this is a word of caution for the Fourth of July: if you hear loud booming and crackling, perhaps it’s not illegal fireworks. Instead, maybe it’s the faulty speakers in the council chamber and the haunted voice of the council member trapped inside.

But, as the mayor said, definitely call the police.

#160: Corpus Christi, TX 6/12/18

The theme of this week’s Corpus Christi council meeting was simple. Straightforward. Short enough to fit on a baseball cap.

Make Corpus Christi Clean Again.

“All right, it’s party time!” Mayor Joe McComb murmured excitedly, cradling a handful of honorary proclamations. Most of them were “feel-goods,” celebrating Juneteenth and women veterans. But the mayor frowned after scanning the page marked “National Garbage Worker Week.”

“We oughta quit trashing our city,” he blurted out unprompted. “Put a bag in your car and put your trash in there and empty it when you go to the gas station.”

As the sanitation workers filed down to the front for a group photo, the mayor was rolling with the cadence of a Baptist preacher. “These people do a great job, but there’s a whole lot more of us than there are of them. So you can figure if we’re in a battle, we’re gonna win if we wanna be trashy. And we don’t need to be trashy.”

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Don’t mess with Texas? More like, “don’t mess with Mayor Joe McComb.”

After the photo op, the applause, and the obligatory handshaking, Mayor McComb again grabbed the mic, worried that he hadn’t sufficiently put the fear of god in the viewing audience.

“I wasn’t being facetious when I was making my comments about the citizens need to not trash the place,” he yelled slightly above the din.

“Let me just ask you: when you go to a city and it’s nice and clean and looking good,” he began riffing as if he were the first person to put forth the proposition that garbage is bad, “you say, ‘man, that’s a pretty nice, clean city. I wouldn’t mind living or working here.’ We want that to be the reputation of Corpus Christi.”

Having littered the meeting with his anti-litter propaganda, the mayor opened public comment, with the disclaimer that “we’re here to listen. We can’t respond.”

The policy was unfortunate, because he almost certainly would have had something to say about the woman who sauntered up to the dais, dropped her purse on the lectern, and immediately produced from it a plastic bag.

“I would like to present to you something that belongs more to you than to us,” she announced indignantly, handing off the bag to the city manager.

“I hope you feel the same repulsiveness that we feel,” she glowered. “Those are roaches.”

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So are those roaches up for adoption or…?

If council members felt any repulsion, they legally couldn’t show it. The commenter barreled ahead.

“You are forcing us to live with this nuisance! Why are you imposing roaches and rodents on the neighbors of Ocean Drive?” she cried out, her voice rising as she railed against the dozens of new palm trees and their creepy-crawly inhabitants.

“Why do you wanna have Corpus Christi full of roaches? You cannot sit outside at night because you have all those roaches coming onto you. Please help us!”

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seem to remember someone else talking about having a good-looking city….

After everyone had spoken, Mayor McComb could no longer contain his irritation.

“There were just misstatement after misstatement after misstatement,” he grumbled. “There ought to be something in there that we’ve got a correction statement period after the public comments. It’s a privilege, not an obligation that we have public comment.”

Although this fresh outrage didn’t appear to be cockroach-specific, it was alarming that the mayor was mulling the nuclear option. (The nuclear option, ironically, being something those cockroaches would survive.) But he stopped, then reconsidered how a lesser, more Pavlovian solution may be needed.

“Or we’re gonna have to devise some method that says either a big bell’s gonna come down or somebody with a water gun’s gonna squirt ’em when they knowingly make misstatement of facts. So I’m gonna work on that.”

Ah, maybe go after the cockroaches first? Then work on the dais-mounted squirt gun.

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 #89: Santa Ana, CA Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez (with podcast)

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

Michele Martinez has been on the Santa Ana council for 12 years and is the current mayor pro tem. That means she runs the meetings when the mayor is gone, and it turns out that she has a significant philosophical difference on how to do things. We talk about her approach to public comment and the linguistic changes that have happened in her council chamber.

Q: You were first elected in 2006, which was also the year I created my first municipal affairs program, the “Planning and Zoning Commission Chronicles.” In retrospect, it was terrible. But can you think of any changes that have happened to the Santa Ana council meetings during these 12 years?

A: One of the first things that my colleagues and myself did was to get translation services for those that wished to come and speak before the council. Before that, our mayor would translate for those that would come and speak Spanish. We just thought that was kind of unfair.

Q: Was translation something he wanted to do or was he given that task?

A: Well by default, he knows Spanish fluently and as the mayor he would just do it because we had no one, nor did we ever dedicate the funding to pay for someone. If he weren’t there and there isn’t someone else to translate, a staff member or someone else in the public would translate on behalf of that person.

Q: One time, you and Mayor Miguel Pulido were absent and the other council members excused you but refused to excuse him. What does that mean–does an unexcused absence go on the mayor’s permanent record?

A: Obviously, he won’t get paid for that council meeting.

Q: Ah. Is the mayor frequently gone for important votes?

A: True. There are times where he doesn’t want to take action on certain items, so he won’t attend. I always give ample notice and I inform everyone why I can’t attend. The mayor chooses not to do that. He’ll contact the clerk very last minute and never give his rationale. The mayor doesn’t like controversy and I think everyone knows that about him.

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Santa Ana, CA Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez

Q: Well, I don’t like controversy either so–I’m kidding, I love controversy. That’s why I’ll bring up this: in December 2016 there was a meeting of four council members, including you and the mayor. The other three council members were absent. The subject of the meeting was disciplining the city manager. You needed four votes to put him on administrative leave and you coincidentally had those four votes. Were you sensitive to the perception that this meeting was about power and not process?

A: The mayor in this case doesn’t need four members of the council. He can do a special meeting at any given time without consent of the council. So the mayor chose to have that meeting. There’s been inconsistencies as it pertains to the process. We need to have some kind of protocol so there is no blame game and we’re consistent.

Q: Can you speculate why the decision to discipline the city manager could not have waited until a meeting with all seven council members?

A: Obviously it could. Yeah. The mayor chose to do it at that specific time because it benefited him.

Q: I just realized that when the mayor leaves early from meetings, he doesn’t hear all the public comments that he pushed to the end. Did you realize that?

A: Oh, yes. I realize it every single time. He does leave most times before public comment and I believe that’s wrong. We should all be able to listen, including the mayor.


Follow Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez on Twitter: @Michele714

#156: Denison, TX 4/2/18

It was only appropriate that a Texas-sized stemwinder of a prayer kicked off the Denison council meeting.

“Every beginning has its ending and every ending has a new beginning. Help our leaders to know what to cling to, what to preserve, and what to let go of,” a woman in an Easter-Bunny-pink shirt requested from the heavens.

“Empower each one of them to use their unique gifts to create a beautiful life in our community. As they are guided by your holy spirit, our entire community will flourish.”

It was more important than usual that the prayer today be thorough, for the council was facing an issue that might usher in copious amounts of sin:

Whether to give a nightclub an alcohol and live music permit.

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Pray for cheap drinks

“One of the situations in the request is also the operating hours,” a staff member explained. “Proposed operating hours for this are Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.”

He quickly added, “this is inside the entertainment district. A nightclub use, live music, is appropriate.”

When I think “small-town Texas entertainment district,” I imagine rodeos and gun stores, not live music and dancing. Talk about pushing boundaries!

“We are the owners of the nightclub,” a couple announced at the lectern. “Here for any questions you may have.”

“Is this your first time to operate a nightclub?” Mayor Jared Johnson quizzed them.

“Yes. I’ve worked in nightclubs before off and on throughout the years,” replied the man confidently.

Councilmember J.C. Doty was surprised at how late the nightclub would keep the music cranking. “You’re requesting to be open till 2 a.m. I know some of the other places around close at midnight,” he observed. “Was there a specific reason why you wanted to stay open till 2 a.m.?”

“We’re only gonna be open three nights a week,” countered the owner, much to the chagrin of the Tuesday-night club aficionados. “I believe that’d be very important for our profit margin to have a couple extra hours per night.”

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Who closes at midnight??

“So being in the entertainment district,” the mayor mused aloud, “should there be an event on a Saturday afternoon that they could benefit from being open during that time, what would be the process for allowing them to do that?”

Mayor Pro Tem Kris Spiegel abruptly leaned forward to defend the tiny business from the heavy hand of big government.

“I guess I don’t understand why we’re limiting it to 8 [p.m.] to 2 [a.m.] Whether they open at 5 p.m. or 4 p.m., I don’t know why we care.”

The staff member seemed to back up the libertarian point of view, replying, “I’d have to request the ordinance. I’m not sure that we have to restrict their hours. I believe we request them to give us operating hours.”

The mayor, sensing a compromise between the open-anytime wing of the council and the eight-to-two faction, said, “if it’s the council’s pleasure, what they’re suggesting is to put in a number not to exceed five or six times a year to have different opening hours.”

He glanced to his left. “Mr. Pro Tem, does that make sense?”

Spiegel nodded. “Understood.”

After a moment’s silence, he continued, “does that mean you want me to make a motion?”

“That’d be great,” the mayor deadpanned to laughter, before adding ominously, “don’t mess it up.”

And just as the prayer said: the council knew what to preserve and knew what to let go of.