Jerod MacDonald-Evoy is a reporter with The Arizona Republic who had a front-row seat to many hot-button debates of the Tempe council. From the border wall to a car wash, he explains how things got heated in the desert. Plus, we talk city council fashion!
Q: Can you please explain what the “Tempe Tie” is?
A: So when I was covering Tempe, I found that Tempe has an online store where you can buy all sorts of interesting little merchandise like a city of Tempe pen or a mug. I noticed they also had this tie. One of those fatter-style ties. It had a bunch of Tempe themes on it. I jokingly tweeted [that] if it got 100 retweets, I would wear it to the next council meeting.
A: And as I should’ve known, you don’t challenge the Internet to those sorts of things. It quickly got over 100 retweets. I bought the tie and ended up wearing it to a few council meetings. I made some other people realize that they wanted that tie and they ended up selling out of them on the store!
Q: Let’s get into the council meetings. In January of this year, the Tempe council was considering a resolution to oppose a wall on the border with Mexico. There were some reasoned arguments about it, and those reasoned arguments lasted until one lady began yelling her comments from the back, which flustered your mayor into opening public comment. Were you expecting him to do that–and do you think that was a good idea?
A: I was expecting him to tell them, “you can have public comment at the end.” I’ve never seen the council open an item that was closed to public hearing. I was very nervous when he decided to do that because some of the women that were there had also been outside and were pretty vocally protesting this border wall resolution. I had a feeling it would only go downhill from there.
Q: Your nervous instincts were correct. Do you get the sense that council members were expecting the comments that ensued–the Trump defenders, the race war advocates, and the references to immigrants as rapists and murders?
A: I don’t think they were expecting it to the extent that it came. A lot of the people weren’t actually from Tempe. A lot of them drove up from the border to talk about this. The resolution they were trying to pass actually was a more gutted version of a resolution that was being pushed nationwide by a lot of cities that would say they wouldn’t do business with companies that work on the border wall. Well, one of the main companies that’s doing the prototypes is a Tempe company. When it didn’t pass, I was very surprised. It seemed very odd that they would give in to–I don’t know if they were giving in to these people exactly, but giving in to that idea that they shouldn’t be doing it.
Q: Do you think the public comment ended up making a difference for any of those council members?
A: I think it could’ve. I think there were a few that were already a little wary because of that idea of the city intruding into federal matters. Having those people show up was enough of a push to get them to not vote that way. It was during an election cycle. They decided they didn’t want to push the controversy and have the attack ad against them say they opposed the border wall and the president.
The first city council meetings probably began in Ancient Mesopotamia, but here we are 6,018 years later and they are still going strong! We rung in the new year with the inauguration of fresh council members and some unconventional suggestions from the old ones.
In perhaps the biggest event of 2018, I gave the annual State of the City Council Meetings address to a joint session of Congress. While I feel bad that they all had to return a few days later for some other “state of the” something, I got my message across loud and clear: I, too, can read a teleprompter.
For the address, the reviews, and the podcast interviews, do not wait another year to check out the January Month in Review.
And if someone tells you that January was just a so-so month for council meetings, you tell them, “when else are you gonna hear a councilor say the phrase, ‘Brawls Deep?'”
A new year meant a new, positive attitude at the Prescott city council.
“Mayor Pro Tem, do you have any introductions today?” quizzed Mayor Greg Mengarelli.
“It’s just great to see some new people in the audience,” replied a smiling Councilwoman Billie Orr.
The mayor turned and eyed the man to her left. “And Councilman…Sisch-ka?” he pronounced slowly, with some difficulty. “I’m trying!” he added as snickering arose.
“That’s all right, Mayor,” Councilman Steve Sischka nodded sympathetically. “I couldn’t pronounce it till I was 12 years old!”
“Mayor,” Councilwoman Orr interjected. “I do have one other thing. I was so excited to learn that Expedia named Prescott one of the 18 cities in the United States that you must visit in 2018. That’s a HUGE deal for us!”
However, the easy ride ended here. For one eagle-eyed and sharp-nosed councilman was ready to dive into the hard topics.
“I’m concerned about the escalating growth of this contract,” Councilman Phil Goode thundered about the city’s software update. “When is it gonna end?!”
“We’ve been on this software since 1998,” the IT director explained calmly. “It’s almost like ripping open a house: you hope for the best. You have a budget. Next thing you know, it was built out of solid lead. It has asbestos.”
Granted, a solid lead house would be pretty alarming. But what about a 100-year-old dam?
“This item is for construction of the wet side of the dam,” an employee prefaced. “Some improvements to the gate valve.”
“Just so I can hear you say it: how long will this valve last?” questioned Councilman Steve Blair. “That’s an expensive valve.”
The employee waited a beat before mumbling: “a long time.” Council members chuckled.
“Is there a warranty on this valve?” Councilman Blair pressed.
“The existing valves on the dam go back to the original construction of it,” another staff member responded, scanning his brain for the precise year. “1931?”
WOW. An 87-year old dam valve is quite a scary–
“1919–” he corrected himself by looking down at his notes, “–the existing valves are from. It’s a knife gate. It’ll slide up and down on the front of it.”
While part of me wanted to see the 99-year-old knife gate live to see one hundred, Councilman Goode jumped in–this time defending a large expenditure. “I just want to make sure everyone understands that we don’t have a lot of options here. This HAS to be fixed.”
Indeed, it would be difficult for people to visit this Expedia “top 18” city if it was underwater. This just makes smart tourism sense.
Speaking of smart, one public commenter had clearly done his research on the pending loan ordinance for three wastewater projects.
“With regard to the emergency clause, I understand the need to close the loan within 30 days,” he began encouragingly. “But I’m looking at the emergency requirements under the charter, which require ‘the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.'”
He looked up and narrowed his eyes with suspicion. “Does closing the loan within 30 days meet that criteria?”
The city attorney leaned forward, obviously anticipating this question. “Emergency clauses are allowed under state law to preserve the public peace, health, safety, and welfare. That welfare provision is critical. Preserving the public welfare also includes the FISCAL welfare of the city.”
You hear that, Expedia? That prudence is cause for getting on the “top 19” list next year!
Summer vacation? We don’t need no stinkin’ summer vacation! There are WAY too many city council meetings to cover and–despite the work of our time travel research team–so little time.
We saw a little girl get stoked to shake hands with every council member, heard about multiple people getting kicked out of council meetings, and experienced our first meeting in another language. If none of that is ringing a bell, go peruse our June Month in Review page.
And if you’re still not convinced that June’s council meetings were all that cool, have I got the picture to prove you DEAD WRONG:
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?
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.
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.
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.
It’s the day after Thanksgiving, so you know what that means: time for leftovers! For us, that means looking back at everything that was chronicled in October. Take a read–and a listen–of the highlights from Spooktober.
If you saw the Mesa city council meeting review, you’ll recognize Kevin Christopher as the announcer of a HUGE agenda. But did you know he once reported on city council meetings? He did–and he has the stories to prove it!
Q: You were a journalist covering city council meetings in the early 1980s. How were meetings different in the ’80s other than, obviously, uglier eyeglasses?
A: Yeah, and interesting hair and fashion! I think the biggest change is the technology. Nowadays, it’s very easy to find out the agendas.
Q: Were there always a lot of spectators?
A: I think because [Midwesterners] have deep roots, they tend to be a little more passionate about issues. We always had pretty good crowds. Madison had like 20 aldermen–for a population of about 250,000–
Q: Wow! Chicago has 50 alderman, and they certainly have more than double the population of Madison.
A: Even that’s huge. Fifty people! Cincinnati had nine. Mesa has seven.
Q: What do you think is the ideal number of city council members?
A: I think seven or nine is good.
Q: When you started in Cincinnati, Jerry Springer was there. Did he stand out at all during council meetings?
A: He was pretty colorful. He was very charismatic and personable and I think that’s what was very appealing.
Q: You’ve sat through city council meetings in Cincinnati, Madison, and Mesa. Take me down the list–who stuck out?
A: I think the most memorable was a woman in Cincinnati. It wasn’t her real name, but she went by Fifi Taft Rockefeller. She claimed to have affairs with presidents and Winston Churchill. She’d be at city council almost all the time.
A: Generally you put like a three-minute limit on people to speak. And in Madison, they didn’t do that. I’m thinking, “no wonder these meetings go six and seven hours.”
Q: They had no time limits?
A: No! I thought that was insane.
Q: It is! Other than running egregiously long meetings, how did council members treat you in the media?
A: As long as you were fair, they treated you very well. I remember in Cincinnati, they all enjoyed the microphones and cameras. If it wasn’t a particular hot button issue being debated at the time, they would get up in the middle of the meeting and you could go to the back of the room and talk.
Q: For your current job in Mesa, you read the entire agenda–45 items–and it took you eight whole minutes to get through. Do you prepare for that? Do you do vocal warm ups?
A: I look it over. There’s a few tricky–with restaurants and things that are in Spanish. My favorite of all time: a liquor license application for “What the Hell Bar & Grill.”
Q: Are there any memorable moments from Mesa?
A: When I first came to the city, we had one council member, Tom Rawles, who decided back in 2007 he was not going to stand for the Pledge of the Allegiance. So he kind of pulled a Colin Kaepernick. This was a protest against the war in Iraq. All of a sudden we started getting these people showing up at meetings and criticizing him. He actually got police protection for a few days to be safe. I’m not sure what he’s doing now.
It’s a troubled time in America. People are confused. Searching for answers. They want a calm, steady presence to chart the way forward.
Ladies and gentleman, I think I found the hero we are looking for at the Mesa city council meeting.
His name? Kevin Christopher.
“Good evening, mayor and council members. These are the items on the consent agenda,” the bespectacled, baritone-voiced city employee announced. Then, attempting the unthinkable, he turned a standard agenda-reading into a can’t-tear-your-ears-away vocal marathon.
“Item 3A–liquor license application for Algae Biomass Organization. One-day civic event. Wednesday, October 26. 7418 East Innovation Way South. Item 3B–liquor license application for All Saints Roman Catholic Church Knights of Columbus. One-day fraternal event. Sunday, November 5. 1534 North Recker Road.”
Minutes ticked by. The man raced through FORTY-THREE items without so much as a drink of water!
“Item 6G–authorizing the city manager to enter into a subgrantee agreement for grant funds for the Fire and Medical Department’s Rapid Response Team.”
Not stumbling and not slowing down, the captions sped by underneath him as he rounded an incredible EIGHT MINUTES OF NONSTOP READING!
“Item 9A–subdivision plat. Bella Via Parcel 15 located on the east side of Signal Butte Road. Mayor and council members, these are the items on the consent agenda.”
Although I was giving him a standing ovation at home, Mayor John Giles was unfazed by Christopher’s oral Olympics.
“Please cast your vote,” he deadpanned. In less than two seconds, six “ayes” popped up and Christopher’s Last Stand was no more.
Switching to public comment, puzzlingly, there were two people at the podium.
“Buenas tardes,” a diminutive woman introduced herself.
“Good afternoon,” the man in the maroon shirt repeated.
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Mayor Giles interrupted, “but I notice you’re using an interpreter. So we’ll allow a total of six minutes.”
Six minutes–or, as it’s known in Mesa, a “Three-Quarters Christopher.”
“Honorable miembros de concilio–”
Translator: “Honorable council members…me and my brothers come here to ask for our rights…for a place to live….We know that you have a heart….Thank you.”
One of her brothers, in matching red, took her place at the podium to clarify:
Translator: “The moving us out that the City of Mesa has tried to do…along with the owner of the mobile home park….you can help us but you haven’t wanted to….The mobile home park of Mesa Real has not been able to be helped.”
Mayor Giles furrowed his brow and tightened his grip on his pen. “Fernando, would you translate that there is a sheet of paper with frequently asked questions related to the Mesa Real trailer park?”
Seriously, Your Honor? An FAQ? Not so much as an “I feel your pain” or “si, se puede?”
The mayor grimaced and anxiously ruubbed his chin as the translator conveyed the message. Council members eased the tension by staring at their cell phones and tablets.
Finally, Mayor Giles adjourned the meeting not with a whimper, but with a sick guitar riff. Crank it:
Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to Kevin “The Reader” Christopher and whoever added that outtro music. And negative 10 stars to everyone else for not helping the trailer park.