Interview #112: Minneapolis, MN Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins (with podcast)

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

The Minneapolis council has been proactive about addressing racial inequity, despite outside events making it a challenge. Andrea Jenkins describes how she felt about council members’ reactions to an equity training earlier this year.

Q: On August 1 of this year, there was a committee of the whole meeting in which you all sat through a racial equity training. Would you be surprised if I told you that I’ve been hosting this program for two years and this is the first racial equity training I’ve seen a city council do?

A: Yes, I thought every city council in America was doing racial equity training. That’s not true?

Q: No! I hate to let you down because that is wildly off-base, but what did you hope to accomplish with this training?

A: Well, we’re trying to get the council members woke. The main thing we wanted to accomplish was to have a common understanding and common language that everybody can start with. It dispels the opportunities for people to come in with their own perspective. If we can lay the groundwork for one common understanding, that was the purpose.

Q: I’m glad you brought that up because that was actually the part of the training that hit a roadblock. Council President Lisa Bender said she was uncomfortable participating in an exercise in which council members’ discussions about their early experiences with race would be televised. What did you make of that?

A: Boy, I was really–I was disappointed. We ask people to support us in being representatives. And then we are not willing to share details about our own experiences, our own lives, that could help bring understanding to why we make some of the decisions we make. I know that council President Bender is very open about some really vulnerable parts of her life. It would be really eye opening and compelling for people to understand some of her experiences around race. It wasn’t just council President Bender–I mean, if you watched the meeting, there were a number of council members who were reluctant to share that information. Sometimes there’s really powerful strength in being vulnerable.

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Minneapolis, MN Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins

Q: There is another event we need to discuss that happened before the racial equity training. Can you explain what precipitated your June 27 committee of the whole meeting?

A: A week prior to that meeting, there had been a police-involved shooting of a young, black man who–it was under dispute whether or not he was armed, whether or not he was fleeing and was shot in the back. And so tensions in our community was really, really, really high.

Q: In that meeting, Council Member Cam Gordon wondered whether the city council needed more of a role in the police department. He proceeded to draft that exact charter amendment–which did not sit well with a number of people, including the public safety committee chair, Alondra Cano, who said she was “disgusted by the privilege” of the motion. What did you make of that?

A: I interpreted her use of the term “privilege” to suggest that it would’ve potentially been more appropriate for her to have made that–or someone who had those kinds of experiences–as opposed to Mr. Gordon, who has not lived those kinds of experiences.

Q: So speaking with terms of racial equity, it’s easier for someone who has benefited from the system to look at it and say, “something’s wrong. We need to fix it,” and to have people listen to him, than it might be for someone who belongs to a historically-oppressed group to say the same thing and perhaps get ignored when they say it.

A: I think that is absolutely true. Yes, I agree with that.


Follow Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins on Twitter: @annapoetic

#175: Beavercreek, OH 11/12/18

Nothing seemed amiss at the start of the Beavercreek council meeting.

“This is the second reading of an ordinance making certain additions, deletions, and changes to various sections of the zoning code,” read the clerk.

“Is there anyone present tonight that would like to address council on this?” Mayor Bob Stone called to the audience as a balding man stepped forward.

“I didn’t catch this until today, but this thing is effective last week,” the man waved his paper in disbelief. “Did you all catch that?”

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Super sleuth

People on the dais stared down at their copies while he added, “it says this ordinance shall take effect November 1. That’s last week.”

“It’s been a standard practice,” reassured city manager Pete Landrum. “We begin at the beginning of the month.”

“But let’s go by the city charter,” shot back the commenter. “City charter says 30 days after passage. NOT postdated. Change it.”

He again thrust the paper in the air. “This one is showing up as an ’emergency’ ordinance. That’s wrong. It’s not an ’emergency.’ Now let’s get into the meat of it–”

Mayor Stone halted him before the meat. “We’re not showing this as an emergency anywhere.”

The man reached out holding his papers. “Can I approach?”

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The prosecution came prepared

There was a small conference at the dais. “This is an emergency…effective immediately…” mumbled the mayor as he read off the page.

“That’s from the previous time,” explained the city manager, “but in the current packet–”

“No, that’s what I got off the website,” insisted the man.

More muttering about whose packet said what. Chaos was beginning to unfold. Luckily, the commenter cut off the crosstalk by getting back to his original point: this ordinance is awful.

“We have enough problem with our zoning code. This is a beautiful one,” he said sarcastically, donning his glasses and reading from the passage prohibiting trucks from parking in front of commercial buildings.

“Every business around has a truck! What have we done here?”

“Not at a business. [Parking] at a residence,” interrupted Mayor Stone.

“No, sir. Disagree,” retorted the man.

“Oh…” the mayor whispered as council members gently indicated that he was wrong and the commenter (again) knew the ordinance better than some.

The man closed in the plainest way possible. “This is a disaster waiting to happen. This is too much. Stop this tonight.”

With such an intense airing of grievances, eyes were on the mayor to clear the air and lighten the mood with his report.

“I know everybody else is gonna mention it too and I hope we all repeat it,” he grinned. “The girl’s soccer state champs–”

“And cross country,” interjected Council Member Julie Vann. “State champs! Yaaaay, women!”

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Let’s-go la-dies. Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap.

“Are we gonna have enough sign space coming into the city” to list the new championships, mused the city manager.

Council Member Vann nodded. “The signs at the entryway of the city that have all the sports winnings on them–when we started that program, we didn’t expect it to be–”

“That good?” chuckled the manager.

“We were gonna post the teams within the last five years,” she explained. “We wanted to celebrate the recent ones but not every single one for eternity!”

“We will have to revisit that,” the city manager agreed, “because when we squeezed the boys’ [championship] the last time, it was like, okay, the next one we’re gonna have to have some decisions!”

I suppose this answers the question: is there such a thing as too much winning? When it comes to sign space, the answer is “yes.”

Podcast Recap: Election Day 2018

This past Tuesday was Election Day in the United States, which means there were plenty of city council races to keep track of. We provide you with some updates on a handful of city councils profiled on previous podcast episodes.

You can listen to the Election Day recap on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

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On this episode, you will hear excerpts from these full interviews:

1. Interview #106: Milpitas, CA Mayor Rich Tran (with podcast)

2. Interview #105: Fremont, CA Councilmember Raj Salwan (with podcast)

3. Interview #110: Montpelier, VT Mayor Anne Watson (with podcast)

4. Interview #47: Crystal, MN Council Member Nancy LaRoche (with podcast)

5. Interview #104: Prairie Village, KS Council Member Tucker Poling (with podcast)

As always, the podcast’s sponsor is Dig Deep Research. They assist local governments in obtaining grant money and are eager to hear from potential new clients. Find out how they can help you today:

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#174: Monroe, NC 11/6/18

Things were looking optimistic for the developers of the quaintly-named Veronica Springs subdivision.

“I’m that odd-shaped square in the middle of this project,” the pastor of the Community Church of the Nazarene announced at the lectern while looking very pastoral in glasses and a sweater vest. “At first I wasn’t sure that I wanted 200 homes built around us like that.”

However, he continued, “we’re in support of it. We decided that it was a good thing for this community. Affordable housing is something we need, and we’ll try to be a good neighbor.”

It was a compelling endorsement to have the lord’s representative on the project’s side. But I wonder, could god possibly send a mixed message through another messenger?

“I ran across an interesting article on Cain and Abel,” began a white-haired man now standing at the microphone. “The practice in ancient time was the father left everything to the oldest son. The reason for that? So it didn’t constantly get subdivided. It would get to the point where people couldn’t sustain themselves on that little land. I think that’s a real important point to consider.”

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Amen

It would be an important point if the future homeowners were grazing cattle and not driving down the road to the Walmart Supercenter for groceries. But there was a more insidious, moral implication to the subdivision.

“We have moved from a predominantly rural to a predominantly urban society,” he continued. “Like with the Tower of Babel, people were supposed to disperse and multiply and they tried to exalt themselves with the tower.”

“Well, there is the war, and the good and evil is done by self-centeredness. That’s what takes us away from god. Urban settings tend to push people toward the self-centeredness–”

“Thank you. We’re gonna stay on track with the public hearing,” Mayor Bobby Kilgore gently nudged the speaker away from the microphone at the end of his three rambling minutes. With no further communications from god, the council moved on.

“Here comes ducky,” council members heckled an employee as he approached the lectern. “Quack, quack!”

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Is this hazing?

The man grinned at the apparent inside joke and proceeded. “We request that the industrial parks owned and developed by the city of Monroe be exempt from the ‘naming of public facilities and lands in recognition of individuals’ policy.”

He added, “the industrial park’s name is significant and needs to be really a brand, not attached to a person.”

“I don’t think it’s good to exclude us from naming,” countered Council Member Surluta Anthony.

“It’s not excluding you. You’re the naming entity.”

“We just don’t have a part in giving the suggestion of names?” she asked.

“You can,” was the reply. “The name can be whatever city council decides.”

Council Member Lynn Keziah was satisfied with this names-but-not-names suggestion. “Motion to approve the amendment to exempt city-owned industrial parks from the naming policy.”

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“City Council Chronicles Industrial Park” is still on the table.

“This is only going to be for industrial parks?” Anthony clarified.

“What I just read,” Keziah replied resolutely.

In case anyone was not 100 percent clear on the new policy, they would have to figure it out on their own time because the council promptly approved it and breezed on to more important matters.

“Thanksgiving is coming up. We give our employees Thursday and Friday,” pointed out Keziah. “I think we should give them Wednesday. Traveling time to get to where they’re going.”

“They’re already smiling in the audience!” Mayor Kilgore exclaimed. The employees had good reason to, for the council voted to make the five-day weekend a reality.

Interview #110: Montpelier, VT Mayor Anne Watson (with podcast)

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

Anne Watson is a high school teacher and first-term mayor who made a few tweaks to the council meetings when she took the gavel this year. She explains why high school students come into the council chamber regularly and we discuss a contentious meeting about a vacancy this spring.

Q: I noticed that your council does not say the Pledge of Allegiance in your meetings. Mayor Watson, simple question: how dare you?

A: You know, I think it’s sort of assumed that we’re all on board with loving America. So we just use our time well and want to just keep moving forward!

Q: Please tell me that you at least have Judeo-Christian prayer before the meetings.

A: No, we don’t pray before the meetings either!

Q: Oh, my god. If the French Canadians want to invade you people, I could care less at this point. I notice that you have been cursed with a finicky sound system. What is the problem with the microphones in your council chamber?

A: The microphones were a little bit far away from the edge of the desks and so for a long time, we had to lean over the desks to get close enough to actually be heard. We could look into getting some better mics that might actually pick us up, but they were just recently moved to be closer. And actually, since that meeting happened, we’ve had some better sound.

Q: I want to talk about some of the aspects of the meetings that changed since you became mayor earlier this year. Do I understand that you instituted a two-minute limit on public comment?

A: That’s correct. We actually have a card that one of our councilors holds up. The one side says you’ve got one minute left and the other side says you’ve got to stop.

Q: I love low-tech solutions. Perhaps for the sound system you could just roll up a piece of paper and talk through it like a megaphone instead!

A: There we go!

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Montpelier, VT Mayor Anne Watson

Q: Is there now in your council chamber a white board with future agenda items?

A: There is an agenda board and that was something that I asked for. I think it’s really helpful for planning our time. When we’re in the council meetings and we’re thinking about if we are going to table this topic or somebody raises an issue that’s worth talking about further, then we can right there have a visual representation of when it might fit in our future agendas.

Q: Tell me about the kids who come into your meetings to drop policy on you.

A: So every year, there’s a class at the high school that does a project around civics and whatever topics are going on in the city. They come to the council and make a pitch. There was one we had about possibly banning plastic bags in the city of Montpelier. We have an item on the ballot on November 6 coming up as to whether we should be asking the legislature for permission to enact some kind of ban on plastic bags. The kids were definitely a part of that.

Q: You are actually a teacher at the high school there. If a student said to you, “Ms. Watson, I didn’t do my homework for your class because I was working on my policy project for the city council,” would you be mad?

A: Oh, of course I would! Well, I probably wouldn’t be mad, but I would probably say something like, “listen, you need to manage your time.”


Follow Mayor Anne Watson on Twitter: @anneofvermont

#173: Philadelphia, PA 11/1/18

“I’d like to recognize some students from my district visiting today in the chambers,” announced Council President Darrell Clarke in the normal course of the council meeting getting underway. “They are embarking on a voting project, to get people out and talk about the importance of voting. So I would like to recognize them….”

He scanned the audience expectantly. “And now I’m being told that they’re not here yet!” He looked into the camera and grinned as council members guffawed. “We’ll recognize them when they get here.”

That minor blip was instantly forgotten when Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell issued her own stunner of an announcement.

“We were privileged to be at a wedding last week,” she said. “One of the members is a retired administrator with the Philadelphia School System. She got married and they decided that they would spend their first week visiting us. Could they stand?”

In the audience, the newlyweds rose to be cheered. The bride ceremoniously waved to the council while the groom thrust his palms in the air in a “raise the roof” gesture.

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He’s got the right idea!

With President Clarke’s band of students still en route, a dozen council members crowded the front dais, with Councilwoman Blackwell taking center stage.

“You know, it’s a special calling when you care enough about people–some very disabled, very ill–to make them feel better and do better because you make them look better,” she praised the man standing next to her, the salon operator at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“He gives of his time styling the hair of patients and caregivers–” she read from the proclamation.

“–This offers a much-needed moment of relaxation to those who are continually putting their needs aside for the benefit of their loved ones,” picked up Councilman Allan Domb.

“–He also consults with transgender youth and assists them in creating their new looks,” continued Councilman Al Taubenberger.

“–Which raises morale and instills joy and dignity in those receiving his services,” finished Councilman Derek Green.

The man stepped to the microphone and paused emotionally. “Thank you, everyone,” he smiled as President Clarke declared “council will be at ease” for the official photograph.

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This is what “at ease” looks like.

“QUIET, PLEASE” came a yell from the rear of the chamber as council un-eased itself.

“Our next order of business is introduction of bills and resolutions,” the president ordered, kicking off an unusual dance of council members handing packets of blue paper to a courier, who then ferried them across the council floor to the clerk for a formal introduction to the body. Other city councils have found more subtle ways to do this, but in Philly, it was perhaps as well-choreographed as that couple’s wedding from earlier.

President Clarke slowly segued into the final portion of the meeting. “Are there any speeches on behalf of the….I’m stalling, waiting for the schoolchildren,” he admitted with a chuckle.

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FILIBUSTER

Several council members took the bait, with Councilman Bobby Henan describing his new hate crimes legislation and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown complimenting diversity in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office.

There were two minutes left in the meeting and only one item of unfinished business. Fortunately, all systems were go.

“Before we conclude, I would like to recognize our students. I understand they got here just in the nick of time!” President Clarke called out as the three young ladies–no doubt fresh from getting Philadelphians to vote–stood up to end the suspense.

Interview #109: Calgary, AB Councillor Jyoti Gondek (with podcast)

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

Jyoti Gondek is a first-term councillor in Calgary, where the discussion has recently turned to council transparency. She explains how it is sometimes necessary to go into closed-door meetings, and responds to the accusation that bullying is occurring therein.

Q: What is your position on city councillors’ attendance?

A: We had one of our fellow councillors raise the point that we should be better documenting when council members are present for a vote or for a meeting. I don’t disagree that it is important that your elected official is weighing in on your behalf. But the way that it was being proposed–through a roll call–to me was a bit ridiculous. There was an article written in a local newspaper about it and it called me out for being terribly nasty and not in favor of transparency. So I took a lighthearted approach and wrote a little something myself about what an “awful person” I was for not wanting transparency! It was a bit of a parody, but it was asking people to think about: do you just want a roll call? Or do you really want to know what kind of job your elected official is doing?

Q: I’m between your position and the more transparent position on attendance. Say you are able to keep track of councillors who wander out of a meeting, who are not there for votes, and who are strategic about when they are in their chairs. What am I supposed to do with that information? I’m not saying, “who cares about attendance?” But if I did care, is this a problem that’s actually affecting things?

A: Attendance has been exceptionally high. We have not seen council members who are trying to use the system and leave for a contentious vote. I don’t think the system is being gamed.

Q: Your council has had some drama about what happens behind closed doors generally. On April 3, Councillor Jeromy Farkas tweeted out:

Of the charges in that tweet, what percentage are true? What percentage are false? And what percentage are maybe just misinterpretations of people’s intentions?

A: I think it was an interesting thing to post on Twitter rather than bringing it up in a council meeting or to the integrity commissioner or to the mayor. Intimidation is a very big reach. I’ve never felt that way. This idea of secret meetings–or the “chamber of secrets” as it’s been dubbed by Councillor Farkas–perhaps he is learning the ropes. Sometimes a council has to take things offline because there’s confidential information.

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Calgary, AB Councillor Jyoti Gondek

Q: On April 5, there was a motion to study the amount of time Calgary spends on closed session meetings. But all of a sudden, Councillor Jeff Davison stood up and expressed his displeasure at those tweets, then apologized for any offense he may have caused. When that happened, did you think, “oh, good! This will clear everything up!”

A: [laughs] No, I did not. Before we go in [to the closed meetings], it’s clearly identified what we are going to talk about. This idea of saying we’re going in camera [closed session] to insult a colleague or intimidate them, it’s not a fact. Now you’ve got a council that’s second guessing, “did we ever say anything that may have been construed in a manner other than what we intended?” If this is a big gang of bullies ganging up on one person, I think you would’ve seen more people actively doing something a lot less public, but we’re not. I think we were caught by surprise. I never expected him to say something about intimidating and bullying because I haven’t observed it.


Follow Councillor Jyoti Gondek on Twitter: @JyotiGondek