Interview #87: Pullman, WA Councilmember C. Brandon Chapman (with podcast)

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

Brandon Chapman is a first-term council member and (apparently) a seasoned art critic. We explored his opinions on utility box paintings and discussed what he is still getting used to in the council meetings.

Q: Brandon, from what I understand, you are a longtime listener of the podcast, including before you ran for city council. Is that right?

A: That is correct. I’ve always had this interest in all things municipal. I don’t even know what I googled or what I put into the iTunes search. So I started listening and I thought, he’s bringing the humor, which is important. And of course, really good interviews. Plus me! It’s truly comforting to realize that my city is not nearly as dysfunctional as some other ones.

Q: I wouldn’t call any city dysfunctional. They are all like my children in that I would give them all up for adoption if I could. But what has City Council Chronicles meant to you as a council member? And I’d ask that if you are going to cry, please do it directly into the microphone.

A: Right. You’re listening to them and they’re coming up with the same kind of issues that maybe your city is facing, but they’re tackling it from a different way. And you hear something and you’re like, “oh, I’m not sure I ever thought about that. But maybe that’s a possible solution!” So for me, it is a huge educational opportunity. You could even call it a professional development opportunity for city council members.

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Pullman, WA Councilmember C. Brandon Chapman

Q: Recently in a meeting, you guys selected artwork to go on utility boxes. Is that normal city council business in Pullman?

A: Yeah, I wasn’t expecting to become an art expert overnight! It was a crash course. And I think I’ve learned quite a bit.  We got to move toward even evaluating the art–that was a real shock to me. We only have one utility box that’s wrapped. It was decided that they looked ugly. It looked better than just the metallic, just the gray. But it was also, you know, very lifeless, I thought. And so this call was put out [to artists] and I was fully expecting that there would just be a presentation, but they asked the council’s opinion.

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Q: For this first painting, “Woman Who Travels,” you said it would make a nice mural. Do you still believe that?

A: Yeah, in order to understand this, you need to see every part of this painting, of this drawing. And if you wrap it around a utility box, I don’t think it’s going to leave the viewer with enough to come up with their own definition of what it means to them. To me, I started looking at this thinking, a recognition that I’m still growing. Have to understand things like white privilege and male dominance and patriarchy.

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Q: The painting most council members seemed to approve of was “Starry Lentils.” First of all, I thought “Starry Lentils” was another porn star who had an affair with the president. But it is this landscape of Eastern Washington. It is super colorful!

A: It’s obvious artistry that’s borrowed from Vincent Van Gogh, from Starry Night. Van Gogh painted from behind the window of this asylum and that almost alluded to a detachment or a loneliness. There’s a world out there, but it’s untouchable. And the starry lentils would be, it’s in the open. There’s nothing holding you back. The world is for your taking.

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Q: Were there any council members who gave their opinions on the art and you were like, “ew, is that your taste? I’m never going with you to pick out wallpaper!” 

A: Well actually, I think most of the council members had the same opinion. So they’re a bunch of copycats! I started it! I was the first one.


Follow Councilmember Brandon Chapman on Twitter: @cbrandonchapman 

#153: Pullman, WA 3/13/18

“I’ve sorta got it figured out,” mused Mayor Glenn Johnson after the roll call was complete. “If I start with ‘present,’ then everyone else goes ‘here.’ And if I go with ‘here,’ everyone goes ‘present!’”

It was an intriguing conspiracy theory–made even more intriguing when no one issued any denial. But what was undeniable was that the mayor’s booming radio voice made his mundane announcement about the Irish Feast twice as tantalizing.

“They have corned beef and cabbage, salad, hot bread, pie, and coffee for a mere seven bucks,” Johnson rattled off in a cadence not heard since the days of Cronkite.

“Dave at one time went to Ireland just to get the right corned beef recipe,” he gave an avuncular nod. “And the pie is top of the line, I’ll tell you that.”

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TOP O’ THE LINE

Before I could even reserve my tickets for the Irish Feast, the mayor added with sizzle, “with that, it’s time now for arts in Pullman!”

“This is a picture of our fab new building,” the art museum director bragged, flashing the looming structure onscreen for the room to admire. She then lasered in on her main purpose: to get the council on board with a creative district in downtown Pullman.

“I’m hoping that with the Downtown Coug–I’m calling it the Downtown Coug. It’s not the official name,” she cautioned. (It was probably for the best; “Downtown Coug” is, I suspect, a type of fetish I am not willing to Google.)

“I don’t know personally if I’m 100 percent [for] making Pullman an ‘arts district,’” Councilmember Al Sorensen winced.

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This man is not into Downtown Coug.

“It’s a creative district,” the museum director gestured excitedly. “If it was just about art, I’d be out there throwing statues up. You know me!”

She added, “we’re moving away from coal. We’re moving away from gas. We don’t have the Big Five anymore. We don’t have cars.”

Wow, I had no idea Pullman was once a coal-gas-carmaking hub. By all means, reinvent yourselves! Councilmember Ann Parks heartily agreed.

“We don’t really have an identity in our town and I think it could be something we could be known for.”

But I would argue that Pullman, as of this writing, already has an identity: as the home of politicians moonlighting as art critics.

“In 2016, we wrapped the utility box that you see here in the photo with art,” a staffer explained, displaying a colorful photo of the masterpiece. “And we have gotten just rave reviews about that!”

But two more utility boxes were in line for a makeover and the council would now get to review the cream of the crop submissions.

“The colors appear a little more muted than they actually are in the art,” she hedged as council stared at the vivid landscape titled “Starry Lentils.”

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This screams “utility box.”

“I like the drawings more than I like the photography. I think that we have more possibility to make it pop,” noted Councilmember C. Brandon Chapman. “I like the ‘Starry Lentils.’ I think that could be just cheerful.”

“When the artist says he likes people to come up close, we’ve already had a utility box hit by a car,” quipped the mayor to laughter.

The staffer nodded after noting council member preferences. “Okay, so we have very strong direction on ‘Lentils.’”

“That’d be a great mural!” exclaimed Chapman, pointing to a black and white pictorial of a woman in various costumes. “That’d be really fantastic on one of these spaces where we just have a lot of concrete. I think you could tell a story better that way than if it were wrapped.”

Save it for the new Downtown Coug, folks!

Interview #68: Boise, ID Council Member Lauren McLean (with podcast)

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

In a first for City Council Chronicles, this week’s podcast guest gets her own piece of artwork to hang at city hall! I talk to Boise’s Lauren McLean about how her past as a dancer prepared her for council meetings. Plus, we spend a good while reliving the crowded council meeting from 2012 about an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance with a surprise ending.

Q: I heard that you did competitive Scottish Highland dancing until you were 20 years old. What are the similarities between Scottish Highland dancing and the Boise city council meetings?

A: Oh, good question! Let’s see…you have to be super nimble, have lots of energy, a good sense of timing…

Q: Mmhmm.

A: …and want to win.

Q: Nice. Has someone asked you that question before?! That was remarkably fast.

A: No! I just made it up right now.

Q: [Laughs] I love it! Your council has met in several places. What has been your favorite?

A: I really love our current chambers. We have this great piece of local art behind us that is an artist’s version of what Boise is to her. I love looking at the piece, turning around and looking at it occasionally when we’re in longer hearing nights. At one point, it disappeared for about a week. That’s when I realized how much our council members really liked the piece because we got it back right away.

Q: If I were to draw something inspired by this interview, would you hang that up?

A: Um, I might hang it up in my cubby at city hall. I’m so excited to see what I’m going to have up in my cubby/cubicle!

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Hang it!

Q: On November 13, 2012 you were over at the state capitol. You had hundreds of people there to speak on a non-discrimination ordinance based on sexual orientation. For the first hour-and-a-half, this massive room, plus overflow, had to sit through a mundane set of hearings about planning and zoning. If you could do it again, would you get to the juicy stuff right away?

A: Actually, I’m going to say [pause], I think we would make them sit through it again! It’s the only time we can get an audience that big that sees all the things we deal with.

Q: Most people outside Idaho think of it as a place with potatoes and people who don’t like gay people. Were you worried that by having a hearing on television about this topic, the image viewers would see is one anti-LGBT person after another? Or, even worse, one gay-hating potato after another?

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Boise, ID Council Member Lauren McLean

A: I wasn’t worried at all. I know our city. The image many people outside of the state have of Idaho is very different from the reality. Really progressive, vibrant, fast-growing cities and universities.

Q: Yeah, and the mood at times was actually pretty light. The mayor didn’t allow clapping, but he did let people do “spirit fingers.” Did the spirit fingers last beyond that one meeting?

A: They did! You don’t see them in council meetings, but when the proponents of the measure came back after the ordinance was passed, [the spirit fingers] came up again. It’s something that I see often in Boise now amongst council members and others–it’s lived on.


Follow Council Member Lauren McLean on Twitter: @laurenmclean

#66: Daly City, CA 11/14/16

Saying farewell to your fearless leader is a sad occasion. But luckily, retiring Mayor Sal Torres was not leaving without a playful jab at his successor.

“Before we get started, I want to make a note of introducing a couple people. Let me start with our newly elected council members: Mr. Glenn Sylvester. Hi, Glenn. Welcome,” His Honor gestured to the newbie councilman in the audience.

After the applause died down, Torres deadpanned, “thank you for not wearing the Hawaiian shirt tonight.”

“I like that Hawaiian shirt!” Council Member Judith Christensen bellowed.

The mayor flashed a good-natured smile Sylvester’s way. “We’re gonna rib you until…whenever.”

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Tepid claps for Hawaiian shirts

In other big news, the “Light Up Our World” art festival is this Saturday–with music, visual art, and…other attractions.

“Together we will form the shape of a heart to symbolize our love for art and our community. Our candles will be powerful and will bring light into darkness,” the organizer described enthusiastically.

Mayor Torres cut in as if she had forgotten something crucial. “You didn’t mention anything about storytelling.”

After a beat, a look of realization dashed across the woman’s face. “I’m very sorry: Mayor Sal is going to have a story time–”

“That’s not why I mentioned it!” the mayor exclaimed as the room laughed.

“You’ll be able to see the book projected on the screen,” she tantalized the crowd. Mayor Torres deftly pulled out the exact book in question and twirled it for dramatic effect.

“Ahhhhh,” the audience approved.

“There’s way too much text in this,” Torres joked. He appeared to be holding a children’s picture book.

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Might I suggest reading this council meeting review to the people, Your Honor?

With the art festival sufficiently previewed, it was time to move along. “We’re on to public hearings,” somewhat regretfully announced the mayor.

Council Member Christensen rubbed her hands giddily. “Now we get down to business!”

Even though everyone began walking out on his final meeting, the mayor held no grudge. “Thank you, everyone….Have a good night….Don’t forget your coat.”

It was time for public comment. “Probably my favorite time of night over the last few years,” Mayor Torres quipped. “Let me start with the always entertaining Marian Mann.”

An older woman in a bright patterned shirt crossed her arms on the podium. “When I realized that our mayor was retiring…20 years ago he won his election and he’s been here ever since. I want to thank you.”

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Twenty years? That’s more council meetings than even *I’m* willing to watch!

She pointed to the aisle seat on her right. “I’ve been sitting there 38 years–”

“I know,” the mayor murmured.

“–But you’ve done a good job. I can’t believe your kids are so old! Also, I would like to say that I like the two people that were elected to council. They’re young. They’re fresh. Sal, you’ve really done a remarkable job and you’ve always been the true gentleman.”

She smiled, but barely. “I don’t know if I should say thank you,” she waved her arm at the mayor and turned back to her chair. “Oh, all right. Thank you.”

Final thoughts: Obviously, 10 out of 10 stars to the mayor. We at The Chronicles will deeply miss you, even though we only found out about you this week.