#120: Salt Lake City, UT 7/25/17

Council Vice President Charlie Luke braced himself for the onslaught.

“We have one public hearing for tonight. The rules of decorum are as follows,” he announced heavily, scanning the room for troublemakers. “We try to make this an inclusive location for people who want to speak. We ask from the audience that there be no cheering, booing, jeering or any other outburst.”

He caught the eye of Council Member Erin Mendenhall and the two exchanged knowing smiles. “That would make it unpleasant for people to speak and to listen,” he added.

Luke glanced down at his notes. “I do not…see…any cards. Um, is anybody here to speak about the zoning map amendments?”

No one stirred in the audience. All that buildup for nothing!

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Sorry, Charlie.

But wait: it was the appointed hour for council members to grill the mayor with questions. Gentlemen, let the jeering begin.

“Mayor Biskupski is on her way,” observed Vice President Luke. He paused before gazing around the dais. “Are there questions for the mayor?” No response.

“I don’t think so,” he murmured.

This council meeting was as quiet as a Mormon Tabernacle singer with laryngitis. However, that all changed as a squadron of public commenters lined up with axes to grind.

“I got a notice regarding my property–stating my xeriscape is not adequate,” a woman brandished a packet of papers while simultaneously introducing me to the term “xeriscape.”

“I’m required to have one-third of the property covered in vegetation. We live in a DESERT,” she protested. “I think my yard is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing in the neighborhood!”

She was promptly replaced by a man with multiple arm tattoos and a furrowed brow.

“As I head to work, there’s a nice lovely billboard that screams that if you support panhandling, you support alcoholism. Anyone panhandling is a violent, thieving drunk.” He reeled back with eyes wide. “Anyone agree with that?!”

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No

“I’ve started a petition to have these billboards removed. I’d rather be doing something else, but until these billboards are removed, I will continue coming here.”

He locked elbows on the podium and seemed at a loss for the proper words to express his exasperation.

“I don’t know what to say…these are…this is…this does not make sense to me.”

But his frustration was positively mild compared to the final commenter: a man with a cigarette tucked behind his ear and a strong distaste for the entire council.

“Can I ask y’all a question before my time starts? I tried to get an answer from the cronies down there,” he gestured dismissively to city employees.

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Cronies? That’s a new one.

“You have police come usher the homeless away. Then you take their property. You turn around and stab ’em in the back. That’s hippocratic [sic],” he raged.

He proceeded to give council members the kind of roasting the mayor narrowly avoided earlier. “What about the terrorism going on at the homeless place? Some dude got a double lung puncture with a screwdriver. He bled out!”

“We do still, I guess, live in a democracy and not in the communist state like SOME of us would like to see. He shot a dirty look at Council Member Andrew Johnston.

“Why don’t you go to places like France, Germany, some Middle Eastern countries where they ARE progressive and you would fit right in!”

Well, I’m not sure the Middle East is “progressive,” but you can sure as heck xeriscape there.

#116: Granbury, TX 7/5/17

The Fourth of July may have been the day before, but here at City Hall the mayor cracked open a tall can of Texas pride.

“It’s my honor to kick this meeting off with a very special presentation–an award for the video of the ‘Granbury PD Officer Saves Child’s Life‘,” Mayor Nin Hulett proudly revealed.

“The video showcases the heroic actions of Officer Chase Miller using CPR to save a three-year-old boy,” he continued. “When he arrived, the boy was unresponsive. Officer Miller performed CPR until the boy was able to breathe.”

“The post of the video has been viewed 37 million times.” He paused to let the staggering number sink into his own consciousness. “Really!”

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All the stats are bigger in Texas.

After the mayor congratulated the city employee who skillfully produced the tear-jerking piece of cinema, a burly citizen stepped forward to comment upon it.

“One of the things I think is very significant: the comments I saw in the video was about how positive this video was and how it made people feel good,” he smiled widely.

Well, there’s your headline, folks. “Man Reads YouTube Comments, Finds Positivity.” Talk about a rare event!

But of course, this being Texas the day after July Fourth, I could have guessed what was coming next.

“I have a property I own,” a woman shot a combative look across the dais. “I don’t live at the property, but I actually went to watch the fireworks. While I was there I was really shocked.”

She smiled out of macabre amusement. “We’re in the city and across the street is in the county.  The subdivision across the street, people shot fireworks in that subdivision. Those homes are six, seven, eight feet apart at best.”

She waved her hand in disbelief and uttered an appropriately-small town Texas reference point: “you could almost reach out and borrow somebody’s sugar!”

“The people shot fireworks till the wee hours and THIS–” she held aloft a charred firework shell “–is the kind of thing that came onto our property ON FIRE! Like professionals would use!”

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NSFW

Her tone turned conspiratorial. “I think they purchased homes because they’re not wanting to follow city rules and regulations. I think that brings a different type of population.”

Oh, please. It’s just a couple of fireworks. It’s not like they could shoot target practice in their front yards.

“They could shoot target practice, I found out, in their front yard!” she exclaimed. She added, in the second-most appropriately-small town Texas reference point, “I’m not opposed to gun rights by any means!”

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Photo of the city-county border

Well, across the street in the county may be Lord of the Flies but here in Granbury, folks care about rules. For instance, the rules of health insurance.

“I want to give you a scenario,” Council Member Gary Couch quizzed the human resources director. “Let’s say we have an employee in Colorado and they’re skiing and they break a leg. What’s gonna be the burden on the employee?”

The burden, sir, would be a couple of hundred pounds on just one leg. Otherwise, the director mused, “that would be considered an emergency and it would be paid for under the normal terms.”

“Let’s say they had food poisoning at a restaurant,” Council Member Couch leaned in like a grizzled district attorney in a courtroom.

“I think that’s probably an emergency as well,” was the response.

Couch narrowed his eyes a moment. “All right. Thanks,” he muttered.

Interview #50: Tucson, AZ Vice Mayor Regina Romero (with podcast)

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

Regina Romero has been on the Tucson city council for nearly ten years, and things are a little different down near the border. This being Arizona, naturally we talked about guns. But Satanism also has been rearing its head at council meetings across the Grand Canyon State! Take a listen!

Q: I’m looking at this picture. What are these things?

A: Those are lock boxes for people’s guns. Arizona is an open-carry state and governments have the choice, at least for now, to not permit guns inside of their buildings. So city council has a rule of no guns inside of our buildings. As you enter, there’s boxes that people have to put their guns in, lock them up, and enter our meeting rooms.

Q: Uh…if I can’t bring my gun into a city council meeting, what’s the point of owning a gun?

A: [Laughs] Um, we’ve had incidents in Tucson. [Former Congresswoman] Gabby Giffords was shot. Also in Phoenix, an individual walked into a Board of Supervisors meeting and shot a former member of the Board in Maricopa County. To be honest, it’s been a contention: state legislature is a Republican-controlled body, so we have different views on guns.

Q: Do you ever carry a weapon to the council meetings?

A: No.

Q: I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the only way to stop a bad council member with a gun is a good council member with a gun. I don’t usually do this, but out of respect for the rules of Tucson, I will disassemble my rifle here. And I’ll take off the Glock in my side holster. And I’ll EVEN PUT AWAY the Colt .45 in my ankle holster.

A: Oh, my lord! Thank god we are Skyping for this interview.

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Tucson, AZ Vice Mayor Regina Romero

Q: In the past year, the Satanic Temple has been trying to get permission to do its own invocation at city council meetings in Arizona. When asked about whether they should be allowed to in Tucson, you said, “I believe in the Constitution 100 percent.” Simple question: why would your city council meetings benefit from the blessing of the Dark Lord, Lucifer?

A: Uh, I don’t think we’ve ever received any request from Satanists to speak. To be honest, it cuts both ways. I would much rather do away with the invocation at the beginning. I am a religious person and I understand why atheists and others would say we shouldn’t be doing that. I enjoy the invocation; not everybody does.

Q: Mmhmm.

A: So if you ask me, “do you want to hear a Satanist at your council meeting,” of course I would say no. If you ask me, “do they have the right to practice Satanism,” sure.

Q: Can you think of the weirdest thing you have seen at your city council meetings?

A: [Pause] Not off the bat. There’s been some rowdiness to the point of shouting by an individual, a citizen. The mayor has had to call police officers. That’s always kind of hard to watch. Other than that, things in all of the council chambers around the country are very simple, really!

Q: Okay, well once you let in the guns and let in the Satanists, please come back on the program and tell me how it goes.


Follow Vice Mayor Regina Romero on Twitter: @TucsonRomero

Special Feature! “Best Thing, Worst Thing”

This episode of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project has it all: drama. Suspense. My wife’s grandmother. Not only do we visit this far southern city, but we walk down an empty Main Street, ride into the mountains, and catch ourselves running through the desert in a panic.

For an explanation of the project, check out the page here. If you’re ready to hear a group of folks talk about the best and worst things about where they live–and what adventures I got into along the way–head over to the City Council Chronicles podcast to download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.

Episode 7: Las Cruces, New Mexico

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Las Cruces is just one hour north of El Paso and the Mexican border in the hot desert of Doña Ana County, New Mexico. The population is 57 percent Latino. In this episode, we will watch a dust storm roll through the city, go on a nature hike in the Organ Mountains, and even get caught up in a medical emergency. We hear from a city councilor, a union president, a Belgian sailor, a classroom of college students, and my grandmother-in-law (who, by the way, makes a special request at the end of the episode).

#102: Half Moon Bay, CA 5/2/17

I’ve seen city council meetings that were suspenseful, dramatic, or just plain mysterious.

But here in Half Moon Bay, they had a regular whodunit on their hands.

Nothing seemed amiss as council members watched a slide show about the library construction. It was a beautiful sunny day and the mayor was fresh off of handing a proclamation to a local women’s group.

But without warning, a photo flashed on screen of a gruesome crime scene.

“Uh, a little bit of an end note which I’m not happy about–nor should anybody be happy about,” a city employee grimly informed the next-of-kin, gesturing with a laser pointer to the explicit images. “A few months ago, we installed really nice gates at the Johnston House at the driveway. Over the weekend, somebody yanked those out and took them away.”

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I’m going to vomit.

Too grief-stricken to talk, the council sat silently.

“We will be replacing those and perhaps going to a heavier duty steel,” the staffer shrugged. He added curiously, “we are very surprised that someone didn’t hear or see it. So if anybody sees a couple of new gates popping up somewhere, please let us know.”

No witnesses? No leads? I’m getting too old for this sh*t.

How is Half Moon Bay not swarming with FBI agents looking at DNA samples, tire tracks, and bodily fluids? Why are groundskeepers and handymen not being hauled in for questioning? Can we at least get checkpoints for all pickup trucks in the Bay Area?!

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Whodunit? Was it…the kindly doctor? The affluent socialite? The reclusive innkeeper?

This didn’t add up either for Vice Mayor Deborah Penrose, the Sherlock Holmes of the council.

“How about putting a picture of the gates on our website?” she sharply inquired. “So if somebody runs across a gate they can say, ‘it’s that’ or ‘it’s not?'”

Aha! That’s just the kick in the pants this investigation needs. While we’re at it, put the picture on milk cartons. Send out an Amber Alert. Somebody check craigslist for–

“I wish I had a picture of the gates,” the man chuckled sheepishly. “We have the PLANS for them, but no one ever thought to take a PICTURE of the gates.”

He threw up his arms and let out a hearty laugh. “Who knew?!”

Oh, really? It’s awwwfuuuulllllyyyyy convenient that the city INSTALLED these gates but cannot identify them. Tell me, did the city have insurance on these gates? Are you going to collect a fat payout now that these gates are AWOL?

Also, who took those pictures AFTER the theft? Perpetrators often return to the scene of the crime.

This Gategate goes deep, folks.

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Just to be safe, I’ll need urine samples from all of you.

And as it turns out, the Johnston House gates weren’t the only Bay Area booty to be held hostage.

“I went to a SFO roundtable which deals with airport noise,” announced Council Member Harvey Rarback. “One of the interesting things there: they made a recommendation to the FAA about the height and elevation at which planes can take off.”

He leaned into the microphone and furrowed his brow. “But the FAA is unable to change its regulations because the Trump administration says you cannot add a new regulation without taking away two other regulations. So if you think federal action isn’t affecting you, think again.”

Final thoughts: You know who needs lots of gates? Airports.

San José City Council Special UpDiep

This audio episode is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

When I saw that half of the San José city council was wearing Star Trek uniforms at last week’s council meeting, my first thought was, “sounds about right.” My second thought was, “get [Councilmember] Lan [Diep] on the line!”

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Q: Thank you for joining me on the holiest of high holidays: Silicon Valley Comic Con. What do you have planned?

A: I have the Great American Litter Pickup in the morning.

Q: Uh, I’m sorry, the “litter pickup?” Is that from the Marvel Universe or the DC Universe?

A: I think it’s one of the independent ones!

Q: Okay, on April 18 I had some downtime between watching the Milwaukee city council meeting and the Tallahasse city council meeting. So, like usual, I flipped over to San José and I saw you say this:

LD: Thank you, captain. Government: a fickle frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship San José. Its four year mission–possibly extendable to eight–to explore wonderful new policies. To seek out better quality of life…to boldy innovate where no municipality has innovated before!

Q: Uh, okay, “Starfleet Commander,” what was all that about?

A: Prior to that meeting, Councilmember Dev Davis hosted a flag-raising for the Silicon Valley Comic Con. We created our own flag for it. I’m not sure if the city did it or Councilmember Davis did or the Comic Con did. She invited Steve Wozniak and she got the entire city council involved to dress up in Star Trek uniforms. So we were there and Steve Wozniak was there and a bunch of Star Wars and other cosplayers showed up. Fun was had. We presented a commendation to Steve Wozniak for being a great ambassador for the city of San José. Councilmember Davis and myself and a few other people showed up wearing our Star Trek uniforms from the previous event.

Q: I noticed there were some different colors going on. Some people wore gold, others wore red or blue. What was the logic behind that?

A: My understanding is that red are the engineers. They get things done. The blue is the science group and the gold is the command group. A lot of us wore gold–we did not coordinate that!

Q: You and the mayor were both wearing gold. So if a disaster were to befall San José, would you two be on the same team?

A: I mean, everyone assumes that I was trying to be Kirk. But maybe I was just playing a type and being Sulu, the Asian on the Star Trek fleet!

#100: Arvada, CO 4/17/17

It was breathtaking how quickly the good news kept rolling in to the Arvada city council chamber. But the best news was arguably reserved for the man who was nowhere in sight.

“[Councilmember John] Marriott is on a well-deserved vacation,” Mayor Marc Williams informed the unlucky working stiffs left on the dais. He added somewhat disdainfully, “South Padre Island.”

Nevertheless, Councilmember Nancy Ford beamed proudly at the Girl Scout named Emma who was standing expectantly at the podium. “Only three percent of Girl Scouts ever earn this,” she said, referring to the elusive Gold Award.

Excitedly, Ford grabbed Emma’s shoulders and spun her around, displaying a vest chock full of badges.

“Look at this!” exclaimed Ford.

Mayor Williams whistled. “Wow! You want to get a picture of that?!” The ladies mugged for the camera as people applauded the impressive garment.

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Mount Patchmore

Wardrobes dramatically shifted as Councilmember Mark McGoff congratulated the VERY casually dressed high school swimmers who took Emma’s place. “The JeffCo Hurricanes have won the 2017 Speedo Four Corners Sectional Meet in Lewisville, Texas,” he read.

“We work very hard as a team in the pool every night,” said their spokesperson, the most formally attired of the teens in a t-shirt and jeans. Another of their crew was in tie-dye and shorts–but the most questionable fashion choice was the standoffish young lad in a sleeveless hooded sweatshirt.

(I’m sure the dress code is considerably looser on South Padre Island. But even there, I doubt that sleeveless hoodies are couture.)

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Thank you for not wearing your Speedos, I guess.

From sports to entertainment: a new movie theater was coming to town–but the president of Harkins Theaters knew there was only one way to make the announcement even sweeter.

“This is our senior vice president–also a Gold Award Girl Scout winner,” he gestured to the lady next to him.

“I was hoping to tell Emma congratulations, but she left!” the VP threw up her arms in mild dismay as the council guffawed.

The pair of Hollywood hot shots launched into a slide show of the finest, most luxurious theater Metro Denver would ever see.

“We’ll bring in local breweries. We have a new concession stand with hot food offerings and all-laser projection,” bragged the president. “The top picture is the recliner seats,” he nodded to the tantalizing stock photo of a family enveloped in cushioned bliss.

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“So help me, god, people will be smiling.”

But while the theater reps were pumping the butter, Councilmember Ford pumped the brakes. “I did a little research on the cinema industry and I found conflicting reports,” she clasped her hands. “How do you see it performing in the future?”

“I’d say that reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated,” the movie prez reassured her.

With that, Mayor Williams dramatically flourished a sheaf of papers. “I will now sign the contracts!” he boomed, sealing the theater deal.

Councilmember Bob Fifer politely interjected. “I just wanted to share: tomorrow I’ll be flying down to Arizona to speak about broadband. I gotta be at the airport by six in the morning. I was trying to tell the mayor I need to be done by 7:02,” he glanced at the clock.

“Mr. Fifer,” the mayor retorted, “I’ve seen a picture of you at the age of 24. I don’t think beauty rest is going to do you any good!” The mayor and a handful of audience members cackled as Fifer shook his head ruefully.