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”

On this newest “Best Thing, Worst Thing” episode, you’ll experience more parts of Des Moines in an hour than most people do in a lifetime! Plus, you don’t have to go anywhere–you’ll listen to me do all the walking. I was surprised by what some people said (or didn’t say) about their home, and learned about how having big ideas in a small city can be a double-edged sword. (I was also surprised to end my night on the top of a parking garage, but you’ll have to listen to find out why.)

For an explanation of the project, check out the page here. If you’re ready to take a behind-the-scenes, after-hours peek at Iowa’s main metropolis, click over to the City Council Chronicles podcast to download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.

Episode 8: Des Moines, Iowa

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Photo source: City of Des Moines

Des Moines–population 210,000–is the capital of Iowa. We hear from several residents about how Des Moines is on fire culturally. First, we visit a free art museum and then talk to a worldly t-shirt mogul with a Trump connection. Afterward, we go behind the scenes at the state capitol. We head into the afternoon with the grand opening of a community center, and end up in a dive bar by nightfall. Plus, you’ll see which attraction in Des Moines completely fascinated me!

#108: Estevan, SK 5/29/17

Rare is the day that mail delivery gets in the crosshairs of a city council meeting.

But here in Canada, Estevan was dragged into a national firestorm over what everyone (me) is calling “Mailboxgate.”

“On August 17, 2015, Canada Post converted the city of Estevan to the self-serve mailbox model,” a gray-haired woman with the postal workers’ union ominously testified to the room of wary councilors.

“In an article in the Estevan Mercury on November 4, 2015, ‘not only were some people flustered with the loss of door-to-door delivery, but there were also concerns with the locations of the mailboxes. Some were upset to have the mailboxes in their yard.'”

Yes. In their yard–where ANY rabid moose or wayward hockey puck could attack without warning. And if you think I’m kidding about those deadly hazards…I am. But not about this:

“It has resulted in an increase in people who experience severe injuries as a result of slips and falls,” thundered the woman, “which HAVE occurred while attempting to access community mailboxes.”

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Look at these slippery S.O.B’s.

After painting this dystopian image of Saskatchewan’s murderous mailboxes, she concluded her blistering sermon by saying, “we’re requesting the reinstatement of door-to-door delivery in Estevan.”

Mayor Roy Ludwig scanned the room for questions. “Well, thank you so much for coming–”

“Can I ask when you would discuss this and when we would have an answer from you?” the woman immediately grilled him.

“I think this evening,” he replied in a slow monotone. “We’ll discuss it and we can get back to you probably tomorrow.”

He quickly perked up as she stood and gathered her belongings. “And you are more than welcome to stay! I always ask everyone–no one does,” he pleaded as she exited the room and councilors chuckled uneasily.

“Bye-bye,” he called after her.

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Mayor: “Please don’t leave me. They all leave me.”

But there was no time to mourn her departure, for a series of bombshells immediately sent shock waves as far away as Frobisher.

“One lady asked me this week regarding our plants…I know we have the new planter that will be going up on King Street,” Councilor Shelly Veroba began her inquisition calmly. “So she’s asking if there’s going to be a process for perennials versus annuals.”

Mayor Ludwig mulled it over. “That’s a fair question. I know people have been asking that.”

Wait, not even the mayor knows the critical floral selection process for Estevan? What if the city is attacked by radicalized allergens? What if lower Saskatchewan is invaded by hungry deer? WHO WILL DEPLOY THE FERTILIZER?!

“I think we need to get it out to the public as to why we choose the annuals versus the perennials,” Councilor Veroba warned sternly. Hear, hear, madam.

“I also had another inquiry,” she continued in wide-eyed disbelief. “People are curious about a clothesline bylaw. They’re saying there are people out there being stopped from hanging their clothes.”

She shook her head at this sad state of affairs. “I think it’s an urban legend. There’s no bylaw. So if you hear that, it’s just rumor.”

I should hope so. Canada is the land of the free and the home of the brave, so everyone is entitled to have the wind off McDonald Lake dry their britches on the line.

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Vive l’undies!

“Councilor Veroba,” the mayor attempted to defuse the situation humorously, “were they suggesting we were airing our dirty laundry?”

Everyone chuckled. The postal woman shouldn’t have left early.

Month in Review: April 2017

The biggest news out of April was that we hit our 100th city council meeting review! This project has crisscrossed the United States, with stops in Canada and Australia along the way. Who knows where the future will take us? Europe? Antarctica? The moon?!

Last month, we covered the full range of emotions: sad, angry, confusing…that’s it. But trust me, you’ll be as surprised as this lady to see what kind of council hijinks took place in April!

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Interview #49: Johannesburg, ZA-GT Councilor Michael Sun (with podcast)

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

This is very exciting: our first visit to Africa! Michael Sun is one of 270 councilors in Johannesburg. We talk about how the meetings have changed since the 2016 election, the importance of singing and dancing, and the time tragedy struck.

Q: Before the 2016 election when one political party, the African National Congress, had a majority, did council meetings go smoothly?

A: I would say it ran fairly smoothly and [there] probably was very little disruption from the opposition parties. I think the biggest disruption we’ve ever seen was a walk-out from council chambers. Other than that, we have not seen any violence as we have been seeing very recently.

Q: I do read the South African news and see stories about protesters, intimidation, and threats at the Johannesburg council meetings. Have you ever been threatened?

A: It’s very unfortunate that some groups of protesters would choose council to stage their protest. Our Constitution protects one’s right to protest. Some of them go as extreme as ending up in fistfights. It’s something that we are not accustomed to–something that we certainly condemn.

Q: I do have to be thorough because you are in Africa: has a group of elephants ever stampeded your chamber, sir?

A: [Laughs] Michael, we are a little far away from the Bushveld!

Q: Ah. Do councilors trust each other?

A: I trust my fellow councilors. Our position is that there’s no reason why we shouldn’t trust each other. But when doubts are being brought to the fore [about corruption], one needs to exercise discretion.

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Johannesburg, ZA-GT Councilor Michael Sun

Q: I noticed that in your first council meeting after the election, a group of EFF councilors started singing and dancing. And at one point, most of the room was dancing! Does music have a role in your council meetings?

A: Oh, absolutely! Singing and dancing is part of our culture. Whether there are happy moments, we sing. Or sad moments, we sing. So political parties in a way of celebration or to express sorrow will break out into song. Often if you’re not exposed to this kind of display of culture, one would feel offended by the noise and gesture. But if you have an understanding of where the country comes from, you would appreciate the display.

Q: Mmhmm.

A: Sometimes we get up and sing at the top of our voices. Some of them don’t know all the words but we try our best!

Q: Going back to that first council meeting, one of the councilors collapsed. And a little while later, she died. I mean, you had singing, dancing, allegations of corruption, and now a death. 

A: This is the first time that a councilor passed on in a council meeting. We would never wish for any councilor to suffer that fate. We understood afterward she had been ill. But because of the volatility of the contestation of the mayorship and the speakership, it was a very sad day for all of us.

Q: Is there any racial tension in your meetings?

A: I think as a country, we’ve really come a long way. Once you have so many ethic groups in one pot, it’s bound to spark. It’s also from the spark we will learn from each other. We know to respect each other. So racial issues has never really been a problem for me.


Follow Councilor Michael Sun on Twitter: @MichaelSun168

#107: Lynn, MA 5/23/17

Nothing could have prepared me for the shocking twist in this week’s Lynn city council meeting.

A mild bit of controversy confronted the council right out of the gate: whether to give one convenience store a wine and malt beverage license.

Witnesses rotated to the podium like they were on a carousel, impressively arguing their case in no-nonsense, rapid-fire succession.

“I’ve known the owners at least 60 years. They’re a reputable family,” a man in a tan suit nodded.

“I work in the area and think it would be an improvement. That’s it,” another man grunted.

“I really think we have enough liquor stores,” countered a woman wearing a crucifix around her neck. “I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel.”

“Too close. Very close,” a rival liquor store owner complained with arms crossed.

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Citizens of Lynn are nothing if not excruciatingly direct.

With each side fielding an equally compelling roster of testifiers, what would the council decide?

“This issue has come up a number of times,” a gravelly-voiced Councilor Peter Capano rubbed his eyes. “There’s just very strong neighborhood opposition, so I’d just make a motion to deny this.”

The rest of the council fell into line and unanimously shot down the license.

Council President Darren Cyr shoved his glasses onto his forehead and gazed across the chamber. “Any other business?”

“Motion to adjourn–” one councilor spoke up.

“No. I…no,” muttered Cyr strangely. “I wanna say something.”

From the back of the chamber, a man began speaking out of turn. Cyr instantly grew livid.

“HEY, JEFFREY! QUIET,” he screamed, slamming the gavel against the wooden desk. “IF I HAVE TO SAY IT AGAIN, I’LL ASK YOU TO LEAVE.”

Cyr braced himself on the podium. “As council president, this is probably the toughest moment that I’ve had,” he stared solemly at the ground. “I’m gonna ask Councilor Trahant to make a statement.”

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A statement? I don’t like the sound of this.

He sniffed, then continued in his thick Boston accent. “I’m gonna stand beside him because he’s my brothah. He’s my friend. I’ve known him since I was five years old. I respect him more than I respect any other man.”

Oh, god. What horror is about to befall us? This feels like something out of a mob movie where someone gets 86’ed.

Councilor William Trahant hugged a tearful Cyr.

“Well, this a tough way for me to get up here, but I gotta do what I gotta do,” Trahant nervously gripped the microphone. “As everybody knows, about six months ago I had a pretty bad heart attack. I’ve got a leak into my valve and I need a little more time to rest.”

The room was dead silent as Trahant glanced from face to sympathetic face. “I’m so sad I have to leave. You guys–” he began to cry as Cyr rubbed his back. “You guys did everything for me. You’re like family.”

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😥

Other councilors wiped their eyes. Trahant hung his head and searched for the right words.

“I just gotta get better. And I’m gonna get better. I love you very much.”

He received a standing ovation as he stepped down, hugging everyone on the trek back to his seat.

“May god have his hand on you, Billy,” called out President Cyr over the applause.

“Love you, Billy,” Councilor Brian LaPierre whispered.

Final thoughts: For easily being the saddest meeting I’ve seen, I give Councilor Trahant 10 out of 10 “Get Well Soon” cards.

#106: North Little Rock, AR 5/22/17

I won’t sugarcoat it: the North Little Rock city council meeting was a riddle wrapped in a mystery and stuck inside one of those Chinese finger traps.

Act I — How Do You Solve a Problem Like 7213 Westwind Drive?

“We have to deal with weeds that are taller than us. We have to deal with gutters coming down, lights coming down,” a woman pounded on the podium in frustration.

“I wish everybody would stand up and show that we’re all here wanting to say: IT IS A MESS. It is a safety hazard.”

Incredibly, virtually the entire audience rose to their feet and stood in solidarity as she pleaded for the city to dynamite that deathtrap.

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¡Sí, se puede!

The aldermen stared silently as irate neighbors aired their grievances.

“He’s using his yard for a bathroom,” a man shook his head.

“I have gone to court. I have watched as he has been fined. He just ignores it,” a woman frowned.

“We implore you to put an end to our neighborhood nightmare,” begged another man.

But if the eyewitness testimony didn’t seal the deal, the photos certainly did.

“There’s an air conditioner with an extension cord running through the tub–very unsafe,” a city employee flashed a picture onscreen as the council murmured in disbelief.

“That one scares me to death,” Alderman Debi Ross muttered, staring at an electric water heater without covers.

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A future murder scene, probably

The city’s lawyer sighed and waved his hand. “We’ve given this man numerous opportunities. He’s been in jail. I don’t think he’s going to do it.”

“We’re gonna stop that cycle tonight,” Mayor Joe Smith stonily vowed. The council voted to condemn the house.

Act II — The Ghost in the Scrapyard

“A few weeks ago, I heard the noise in Glenview from this plant and they stopped at 11 o’clock at night,” Alderman Linda Robinson shared with the council, referring to a distant scrapyard.

“It’s my understanding that they don’t work late at night. But what I kept hearing–the boom, the boom–I called someone from that area. I said, ‘is this from that scrap metal plant?’ They started laughing and said, ‘yes, it is.'”

“I’m not sure exactly what noise you heard,” a city staffer shrugged and looked perplexed. “They have not been operating at night.”

“This was a few weeks ago and it was from THIS plant,” insisted Alderman Robinson. “We need to send the police out.”

The mayor bit his pen. “Well, I don’t know, Linda. If you heard it…” he trailed off.

At this point, one of the scrapyard’s owners stepped dramatically to the podium.

“We hire the North Little Rock police off-duty to be our night watchmen. So as far as the police on site–they are on site.”

From here, the plot thickened. “I personally approve the time cards,” he said. I haven’t seen anything since January 2015 where we had the crews that were working at night.”

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CCTV footage from scrapyard

Mayor Smith pondered hard about how to reconcile Alderman Robinson’s noises with the fact that no human was seemingly on duty.

“Surely you wouldn’t have anybody moonlighting down there that you don’t know [about]?” Smith inquired.

“They better not be because the police would be evicting them from the property and giving them a place to stay for the night,” the man replied with certainty.

Sir, you don’t need the North Little Rock PD at your scrapyard. It sounds like you need an exorcist.