State of the City Council Meetings Address 2018

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–This evening, City Council Chronicles Editor Michael Karlik gave the second annual State of the City Council Meetings address to a joint session of Congress. Reports are that nearly all senators stayed awake and a stunning nine of ten House members did not walk out. By any measure, it was a success. Below is a rush transcript and audio of the entire speech, which is also available on iTunesStitcher, and Player FM:

Mr. Speaker, mayors, council members, Mom: ever since this project began in April 2016, we have chronicled the city council meetings of over 200 cities on four continents in eight countries. And none of them were sh*tholes.

Now, some have questioned my ability to chronicle that many city councils. But I assure you, as someone who is 6’3″ and 239 pounds–239? Is that what we’re going with, Doc? Great–and 239 pounds, I am in perfect health. I could easily do this for another four to eight weeks before I get bored and start reviewing Star Wars instead or something.

But I do not keep watch over the world’s city council meetings by myself. My team of unpaid interns with questionable citizenship status work 18 hours a day reviewing footage, checking Robert’s Rules of Order, and not finding out what OSHA is. And—do not clap for them! Justice Breyer, DO. NOT. Anyway, I am thankful for my interns and as soon as I find out what college credit is, I will consider giving it to them.

Speaking of being thankful, tonight we have some esteemed guests in the gallery. Sitting next to the First Lady is past podcast guest Andy Richardson, city councilman in Charleston, West Virginia, who has since announced that he is running for mayor. Good luck, Councilman. And remember, you’ll always be the mayor of my heart.

Next to him is Lauren McLean, council member in Boise, Idaho who, surprisingly, was elected her council’s president this year. Council Member McLean was a former Scottish Highland dancer, so she’s no stranger to unusual moves.

And finally, we have Fresno, California Council Member Esmeralda Soria, who appeared on the podcast back in December as council vice president, but totally and expectedly became council president this month. But get this: outgoing President Clint Olivier tried to pull a fast one on her by simply not handing over the gavel until she called him out.

When Council Member Soria appeared on the podcast, we talked about her council’s tradition of giving a parting gift to the outgoing president.

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In case you were wondering, Clint Olivier received a watch and a Captain America portrait. And because he made it into this speech, I am also sending him a check for $10,000–what’s that? My horse lost at the track? Okay, scratch that. I am instead sending him, uh, let’s see…these, oh, these note cards that I am reading off of. So yeah, collectors items. Please clap.

Ladies and gentlemen, one brand new feature we rolled out this past year on the podcast was the Listener’s List–where anyone anyplace in the world could send me hot tips on city council hanky panky. We receive dozens of calls on the hotline each minute, so if you can’t get through, send your scoop to presssecretary@whitehouse.gov or through the City Council Chronicles Facebook page. One Listener’s List item became its own podcast episode last year, and it involved a marriage proposal in Flower Mound, Texas.

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Thank you, Jimmy. And thank you, Mr. Mayor, for keeping my secret. You know, the one involving, uh, herpes. The State of the City Council Meetings address is typically a time for good news. But because I am standing in Congress, where you cannot swing a dead cat without hitting someone with the competence of a dead cat, let’s get into that weird sh*t. Huh?! Senator McCain, you know what I’m talking about!

I spoke with recently retired Councilor Alberto Garcia of Westminster, Colorado about a bizarre month-and-a-half his city council spent dealing with one colleague who had a score to settle.

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I meant every word of that. Stand back! I’m soaked in deer urine. I don’t get much out of it, but it’s fun for the deer. Folks, normally the biggest threat a council member has to deal with is being yelled at by an angry public commenter. Oh, and bees. Bees are the silent killer. But in December, Lord Mayor Lesley Alexander of the city of Bristol walked me through a terrifying encounter she once had with a council saboteur.

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That is why I never travel anywhere without my team of snipers. Plus, my own Colt .45. Stand back! It is loaded and soaked in deer urine. The deer was a little nervous but the gun enjoys it.

Well, I see the hour is getting late and half of the South Carolina delegation is falling asleep–and not the good half. I’m kidding; there is no good half. Let me finish this address by reminding everyone that city councils are human. They cannot solve all problems, and that limitation can be frustrating and depressing. Nowhere was that better illustrated than in Juneau, Alaska, when I talked with Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl. I leave you, the nation, and the world with this story of when councils fall short.

Month in Review: December 2017

Step under the mistletoe and get kissed by the FANTASTIC set of council meetings we reviewed in December! The season may have been cheery, but residents of Garner Street certainly were not. Neither were the anti-Interfacility Traffic Area (that’s the last time I will ever type that phrase) activists in Virginia Beach.

But hey, like Rudolph with his red nose, last month’s podcast guests guided our way through the darkness by talking about their ideal council meeting presents and their beach bodies. Hubba hubba!

For all of that and a glass of eggnog, check out our December Month in Review.

And if you are still uncertain whether December council meetings were sufficiently festive, BEHOLD THE SARCASTIC SANTA:

Interview #74: Juneau, AK Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl (with podcast)

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

Jesse Kiehl works for the Alaska legislature by day and serves on the Juneau assembly by night. On the podcast, he promises that the era of live-streamed meetings is dawning, explains a few uniquely-Alaska issues, and recounts a disturbing incident that happened mere feet from an assembly meeting.

Q: Jesse, I don’t care if you do live in Alaska and I don’t care if you can see Russia from your house. I–well, actually, CAN you see Russia from your house? That would be pretty boss.

A: We’re a little too far away.

Q: Oh. Well, ahem, I don’t care if you CAN’T see Russia from your house. Why can I not go online and see the Juneau assembly meetings?

A: Because we’re cheap! There is an individual who has been voluntarily putting those up online now for about eight, nine months. He is a businessman and is interested in competing for a contract to do that. I agree with you, Michael. It’s time.

Q: Do you have any idea when is the earliest we could see the new video system? 2018? 2019?

A: It wouldn’t surprise me if we got started in the early summer.

Q: Well, you’ve got to get your beach body in shape. Does that scare you?

A: I do not have–nor will I ever have–a “beach body.”

Q: Fair enough. This being Alaska, I want to talk about the Alaska-specific things people might find in your assembly meetings. For example, in your September 2017 meeting, a bunch of people showed up angry about a bear who was shot by police. How often do issues like this come up–that city councils in the lower 48 probably are not dealing with?

A: Most of the issues really are the same. I suppose people who have raccoons get in their garbage are a little more worried about rabies from a bite instead of mauling. But otherwise, it’s about the same.

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Juneau, AK Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl

Q: At the June 6 meeting, apparently there was some shouting outside the chamber and the mayor called a recess to have people investigate it. I think you were one of those who walked out of the room. Do you remember what happened?

A: There’s a public restroom on the other side of the chamber and there was a domestic violence incident–ah, let’s call it what it was: a guy beat up his girlfriend just outside the restrooms. There was shouting and thumping. We jumped up and the only person who got up faster than me was [Assembly Member] Jerry [Nankervis, a former police officer]. Unfortunately, she was not interested in police protection or a ride to our domestic violence shelter and that’s really hard. You intervene in hopes that people will get the help they need. But that time, they didn’t.

Q: When you’re sitting there in the meetings, you’ve got 33,000 people that you want to make life better for. But when it’s just one person who is not susceptible to persuasion or to you as an authority, I’m sure it’s quite a contrast and made you feel somewhat helpless.

A: [Sigh] Seeing and hearing something like that during a meeting sure keeps you grounded. It keeps you focused on the ways we make life better–or fail to–and the impacts those have on people who don’t have the level of comfort that all of us on the assembly do.


Follow Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl on Twitter: @JesseKiehl

Interview #16: Homer, AK Mayor Beth Wythe (with podcast)

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

Beth Wythe has been mayor and city council member in Homer for eight years–and yesterday was actually her last day at city hall. I wanted to get her parting thoughts on everything from breaking tie votes to silencing talkative people…to salmon. Yes, salmon.

Q: Fill in the blank for me: if Homer city council meetings were an animal, they would be a ________.

A: [Laughs] I have to think about that because they can be anything.

Q: What is the hardest part about being in charge of a council meeting?

A: I don’t have a difficulty with it. I do have council members that really want their opinion to be the dominating opinion. And then you have other council members that are a little more withdrawn. And you want to draw them out.

Q: So if someone is monopolizing the discussion, how do you gently nudge them to give the other people some space to get in?

A: The rule of order is that you get to have your say and you get to have one response. You can’t just go back and forth. I will just say, “excuse me, this [other] person would like to have something to say.”

Q: When you were just a council member, were you more talkative or less talkative?

A: I just don’t like to argue in public. Even as the mayor I don’t try to make my opinion the stronger one.

Q: The mayor does not have a vote at city council meetings–

A: Only in the case of a tie.

Q: Right, which doesn’t happen often?

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Homer, AK Mayor Beth Wythe

A: More frequently than you might think. Where that can be frustrating for the community is that I’m a very conservative person. And so when it comes to me deciding, it’s, like, always going to fall on the conservative side of the table. It’s better for the community if there is good consensus with the council.

Q: So you prefer not casting a vote if it means everyone else is on the same page?

A: Right.

Q: That’s very self-sacrificing of you.

A: I think it’s not about me. When it becomes about “I need to have a vote” and “I need to have my voice heard”–when it becomes about the mayor, I think the mayor’s not doing their job.

Q: Does anyone get prone to hyperbole and threaten to walk out?

A: Right now, we don’t have anyone on the council that does not function in a professional capacity. It’s not like you have housewives–which wouldn’t be a bad thing–but it’s not like you have housewives or people that are not accustomed to conducting a business meeting.

Q: Mmhmm.

A: I’m still thinking about the animal thing. And I haven’t come up with one!

Q: Let’s try to come up with one together.

A: Think of something mellow. It’s not like the yippie dog that needs all the attention. We’re not that.

Q: Cats are fairly mellow. But they’re also sleepy and lazy and they can scratch you.

A: Yeah…

Q: Goldfish are mellow.

A: We are a fishing society. Maybe we’re salmon. There are lots of varieties and they’re highly valued. I’m going with salmon!

Interview #13: Anchorage, AK Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson (with podcast)

Big news! For the first time, you can now listen to a City Council Chronicles interview in podcast form. Follow this link to City Council Chronicles on iTunes or click play:

It’s a very special interview, in which we travel way, way up to Anchorage and talk to the chair of the city’s assembly, Elvi Gray-Jackson. She told me about the betting pool she runs on the council and how she cold-calls audience members for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Q: How many people usually show up to the assembly meetings? And because this is Alaska, how many grizzly bears show up?

A: How many grizzly bears? You mean rude people?

Q: I didn’t know that was the euphemism. I was talking about actual grizzly bears. Either one.

A: Literal bears, no. On average we have an audience of about 100, maybe 120. For every meeting I’ll estimate what time I think we’re gonna end the meeting. There’s about six of us–when I get to the meeting tonight I’ll say, “okay, what’s your guess?” We have fun trying to guess what time the meeting’s going to end. And somebody wins.

Q: You run a betting pool for the meeting end times?

A: It’s just for fun.

Q: Who usually wins?

PA: I win a lot. Lately, some of my colleagues are getting pretty good at it. I like to make the meetings lively and fun. What I do different than what any other chair has done–usually after roll call we do the Pledge of Allegiance. And every other chair usually asks one of our colleagues to lead us. What I decided I was gonna do is, every meeting I’m going to arbitrarily pick somebody in the audience to come up to the podium and lead us. I like to engage the public.

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Anchorage, AK Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson

Q: It’s Alaska, so I’m assuming people are allowed to bring guns to the assembly meetings?

A: That’s an interesting question…yes. People are allowed to bring guns.

Q: So how many guns do you have on your person while chairing the meetings?

A: I don’t have a gun. I’m terrified of guns. Dick Traini, who’s my vice chair now, when he was chair, he had the dais area bullet-proofed. And I was thankful for that.

Q: Are there some council members who are thorns in your side?

A: I’m a dolphin. Dolphins could kill sharks. Dolphins always have a dolphin expression on their face and the sharks are constantly doing things to try and change that personality. But the dolphins just maintain it and the sharks finally calm down. In that respect, there are human sharks. I don’t let people push my buttons.

Q: …That’s an analogy I have never heard from anyone else before.

A: And I have a dolphin tattoo on my left shoulder.

Q: Last September you missed an assembly meeting because you were introducing Michelle Obama at the White House. Looking back, do you regret not being there to vote on the contract for the reservoir mixer phase II upgrades?

A: Absolutely no, I don’t regret not being there. I was representing Anchorage. I plan my entire life around my assembly meetings because I don’t want to miss them. We have the opportunity to do the assembly meetings by phone. I HATE doing assembly meetings by phone because you get elected and you need to do your job.