“A Higher Expectation”: The Council Meeting and the Confession (with podcast)

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

Last month, I interviewed Boise, Idaho Council Member Lauren McLean and we covered one unusual council meeting from November 13, 2012. At the Idaho state capitol, a crowded room watched the Boise city council take testimony on an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance.

But in the fourth hour, Tabitha Osteen stepped to the microphone. In this interview, I asked her about why that council meeting was a turning point in her life.

Q: Before November 13, had you seen an entire city council meeting?

A: No, I had not.

Q: So what was your mental image of what the council meeting would be like? Did you picture protesters? Did you picture an open bar? Did you imagine the mayor would enter through a smokescreen Michael Jackson-style?

A: Really, it didn’t fall too far from what I had imagined. What I was surprised–really pleasantly surprised–by was the sheer amount of people. I was with my then-partner and our child. It felt important for me to bring my family, my representation of love.

Q: About four and a half hours into the meeting, it was your turn to speak. Have you ever listened to what you said?

A: I have not.

Q: Let’s play the clip:

I was not planning on speaking because until this moment, I was not out. I can’t remember who it was who spoke earlier with Harvey Milk’s call to come out. It’s been on my mind for years. I fall into the B and the Q portion [of LBGTQ] and it’s been really easy to hide….I brought [my son] here because I wanted him to understand that a group of people can be strong and do the right thing and protect people who need it. He has no idea that I’m one of those.

Tabitha

A: Honestly, I have a huge grin on my face and a little bit of watery eyes. It’s really encouraging to hear that and to bear witness to how much has changed….I just kept wondering if there were other people like me. There’s a lot of power and a lot of strength and a lot of calm that comes after that part’s done–from getting to live life out in the open more authentically.

Q: Do you think you would have said anything if your partner and son hadn’t gone home?

A: Oh, that’s a great question. Uh…yes, with much more trepidation! My ex-partner was intensely private and I am pretty intensely transparent. I don’t know that I would have changed my choice. I did feel called forth.

Q: I’ve seen council meetings where I would not call it a warm environment in which to come out. I would like to think that most councils want their meetings to be a welcoming place, but it sounds like if the environment was different, you would not have said anything.

A: Yeah, absolutely. It wasn’t a premeditated coming-out. It was a movement within myself by what was in the room. It was a response.

Q: Has this changed your expectations about what a city council meeting is like?

A: I think a demonstration of leadership like that always sparks a higher expectation of leadership. Not just in city council meetings; from everything. Something that’s so powerful about that city council environment: city councils are a representation of many aspects of a community coming together. It’s a weaving of different threads that wouldn’t necessarily see each other. In that environment, everything gets elevated.

Advertisements

#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!”

lol1.jpg
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.

lol2.jpg
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.”

lol3.jpg
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.

Shout-out #3: Richmond, VA

Longtime readers may remember that earlier this year, I reviewed a Richmond, Virginia council meeting and discovered something highly unorthodox: a city council host who did pregame and postgame commentary.

rva1.jpg

The man is Dick Harman. He has anchored the Richmond council meetings for nearly 30 years (one year down, 29 more to go for me, by the way). Nowhere else have I seen a city council with its own Dick Harman, which came as genuine news to freshman Councilwoman Kristen Larson, who I interviewed on the podcast after her very first meeting in January.

Fast forward to this week. The Richmond city council surprised Dick Harman by naming the media gallery in the council chamber after him!

But it was in Councilwoman Larson’s comments that she recalled her initial realization that a city council host was special and unique to Richmond, and then proceeded to call Dick Harman “special and unique” to Richmond:

Thank you for the shout-out and congratulations to Dick Harman! He is, of course, welcome to come on the podcast anytime and tell me where the skeletons are buried. And other city councils are highly advised to recruit their own council commentators during this Golden Age of Live Streamed Council Meetings in which we are living.

Why should Richmond have all the talent?!

Interview #71: Port Moody, BC Mayor Mike Clay (with podcast)

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

We covered a lot of ground in this interview with Port Moody’s Mike Clay. For instance, where does the mayoral title “Your Worship” come from and does he like to be called that? We also listen to some beautiful music and time travel back to 1913 to reenact a city council meeting.

Q: In Canada, people refer to mayors as “Your Worship.” Where does this term come from?

A: I don’t know. It must come from Old English somewhere. It was probably from the House of Lords or something. I don’t like the term. I don’t like people referring to me that way. The funniest thing that ever happened was I had a conversation with the archbishop one time and he asked how he was supposed to refer to me. I said, “well, you’re supposed to refer to me as Your Worship, but I don’t think we’re going to ask you to do that!”

Q: [Laughs] Is there a more secular term you’d want to be called?

A: In council, I prefer Mr. Mayor or Mayor Clay. Something much simpler and less snooty.

Q: Port Moody started video streaming council meetings while you were mayor. Do you since have any regrets about what you’ve said live on TV?

A: The good thing about capturing people in the moment is it’s raw. It might be emotional but you read council minutes [and] the legislative diaries and stuff, you don’t get any sense for what’s really going on. Without the video in the past, my interactions with different politicians–people say, “I was really fighting for that!” And I think, “I was there. I don’t think you really were.” So it might be interesting for people to say, “yeah, you know what? They really were fighting for it. I watched that on live stream.”

Q: Yeah.

A: I have WARDROBE regrets, but other than that….

mikeclay.jpeg
Port Moody, BC Mayor Mike Clay

Q: [Laughs] What do you think about where council meeting technology is headed?

A: I think there’s opportunities to throw certain things up to a public vote, a mini-referendum. If it’s issues that aren’t life or death–if somebody said, “I think we should paint it blue,” and someone else said, “I think it should be green,” why don’t we throw that out for a public discussion and a vote right there online while we’re doing it? It might not be serious engagement, but if they joined in for that part of the conversation, maybe they’ll hang around for other parts as well.

Q: You do remember our election in 2016 where there was some MINOR propaganda by a FEW million Russian Twitter and Facebook bots. Are you worried the Russians could also hack your insta-polls?

A: Well, for now until we know that we have locked down security, [we’d be] taking it for opinion polling.

Q: Here is something weird I found: in 2013, the centennial of Port Moody, you reenacted the first-ever council meeting from 1913. Whose idea was that?!

A: Wow, I don’t know whose idea it was. I think it was a great idea. It got so funny during the meeting I could barely contain myself from breaking up laughing! It turned out we had some impromptu comedians on our council. How much of it was made-up? Most of it. But it was reflective of the way people think things were in those days.


Follow Mayor Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeEClay

#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.”

fmg1.jpg
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.

fmg2
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.”

fmg3.jpg
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.

mak.jpg
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 

#139: Madison, WI 10/31/17

It was the final day of October, so you know what that meant:

Council. Meeting. Costumes.

“Mr. Mayor, we have a quorum,” the clerk called out to Mayor Paul Soglin.

“Thank goodness,” murmured the mayor before shooting a bemused glance at council President Marsha Rummel. “What would you like to do?” he inquired warily.

Other council members cackled as Rummel, wearing a lace garment on her head and several buttons on her shirt, flipped on her mic.

“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” she retorted in character as Mary Harris Jones.

mad1
You…you could have bought a wig.

Alder Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, herself in a modest-looking Wonder Woman outfit, used her superpowers for the most mundane of purposes: “On item 56, I requested that it be noted that I’m recusing myself,” she asked politely.

“Anybody else have comments or observations?” Mayor Soglin gazed around the room. He paused and grinned.

“This looks like it’s going to work out quite nicely since it appears that a signficant number of members need to be out on the streets tonight. And Sara is waiting for me at home to watch the last three episodes of ‘Stranger Things’.”

Council members snickered. But they weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the loosened dress code tonight.

“This particular topic sort of touched a nerve,” a public commenter ornately dressed as a hybrid wizard-priest said about a proposed alcohol license. “I would’ve had my pine bough here to bless you with water because god knows we need blessing right now, including on this issue,” he pantomimed spraying water.

“While I’ve got huge issues with this particular co-op choosing to become one more place selling alcohol and eliminating the sanctuary for some sensitive people to shop for healthy food without alcohol…how can we serve the soul?” he asked rhetorically, wearing the perfect attire for his argument.

“So I’ll put my pine bough up here soaked with water,” he again pretended to toss streams of water onto the council. “Bless you and bless the city.”

mad2.jpg
Forgive me, public commenter, for I have sinned.

It was corny, but there was no time to savor the moment. For standing at the lectern was the scariest costume of the night: a man dressed as a big, bad developer.

“You can see a variety of housing types–the multifamily and mixed-use as previously located, with the park and the school site located in the center and east portion,” the Dark Lord gestured to his colorful map as a chill swept the room.

Council President Rummel was now in the presiding chair–the mayor having possibly ducked out early to finish “Stranger Things” with his wife as promised. (I think we’ve all struggled to choose between chairing a council meeting and binge-watching TV, so I get it.) She opened the floor to public comment.

mad3
Wait…maybe he really is a developer.

“We would like to have certain conditions placed to make sure the neighborhood stays the good, vibrant neighborhood it is today,” one citizen pleaded.

“Right now during peak hours, that gets backed up past Kwik Trip,” explained another.

“The fix was in,” ranted a third man with a ponytail and faint New Jersey accent. “I’ve never seen a bigger fix. The fix is in. The deal is done. Too bad.”

“The fix” must have been pretty deep, for the entire council voted in favor of the zoning change. Let’s hope it doesn’t “haunt” them.

Final thoughts: Boo!