Interview #140: Seaside, CA Council Member Jon Wizard (with podcast)

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

Where should Seaside hold its July Fourth festivities? And would the council endorse a controversial state bill about policing? Jon Wizard walks through his first six eventful months on the Seaside council.

Q: As far back as March, the Seaside council was deliberating what to do for a Fourth of July celebration. You could have held an event at city hall or the local golf course. At that time, what was the Jon Wizard vision for July Fourth bacchanalia?

A: It was really a lively conversation for such a seemingly innocuous decision. For me, it was trying to balance accessibility with environment. The golf course is roughly 70 acres.  People can spread out, plenty of room to move around, and stunning views of Monterey Bay. However, it is on the edge of the city up a hill. Access is difficult. A majority of us decided that for those reasons, the accessibility and the closeness to downtown and city hall would be preferred. But ultimately, that’s not how it went.

Q: Let’s fast forward to June 11, less than a month from showtime. Council Member Jason Campbell stated that he wanted to stick with the less costly city hall option. To which Mayor Pro Tem Dave Pacheco responded that he would donate $2,000 of his own money to have the golf course celebration. Were you surprised?

A: I was surprised. We really focus on providing services and kid-friendly activities throughout the year. We do these large events that don’t cost a penny for the public. The Fourth of July is an expensive event. It was less expensive to do it at city hall.

Q: After the city staff heard the offer, they went into a huddle and came back saying, we can scrounge up some of the money. What kind of precedent do you think it sets that the council as a whole and one council member personally can find several thousand dollars to fund an event when that money could have gone toward social services instead?

A: Those are fair questions and I think it’s important to remember that budgets are set in the second quarter of each year. While the [recreation] department said that they were short, there was already money programmed for a Fourth of July event. Between the money that was already allocated, Council Member Pacheco contributed some money out of his personal funds. The city manager contributed some money. The local building trades council contributed their personal money. While Council Member Pacheco talked about how difficult it is to raise that kind of money in such a short time, if memory serves, all the money was raised that night.

Seaside, CA Council Member Jon Wizard

Q: At the May 16 meeting, there was an item on the agenda that you put there. You were asking the council to endorse a state assembly bill changing the use of force guidelines for police. Mayor Pro Tem Pacheco had two major concerns. First, the effect on policing. And two, he wasn’t sure what he would be endorsing, given how legislation changes. What did you think of his points?

A: Legislation changes as it moves through the two houses before it reaches the governor’s desk. However, people in the state house are sometimes accused of not having support for their proposed legislation. That they just thought something up and decided it would be a good idea. I thought that Seaside as a historically diverse community–a community that is majority-minority–that it be important that our diversity be reflected in the support of that proposed bill.

Q: Unlike in other communities where the topic of policing brings people out in droves, for this debate there was not quite half a dozen people who showed up to comment. Do you think the debate would have been different if people were not so satisfied with the Seaside Police Department?

A: I think if there was more focus on our police department explicitly, there would have been more participation. I also think that the lack of participation was a function of the time of the evening. Because of all the other business we had to consider, I think it was after 11 p.m. by the time we voted. While there was more than a dozen people who were there to speak on this one topic, after 9 o’clock they had all left except for a handful of people.

Q: It’s not surprising to me that the placement of an item on the agenda can dictate who shows up and who sticks around and who ultimately speaks. Are you implying that because this was obscured farther down in the meeting, the lack of support that might have otherwise been there affected how council members voted?

A: There is a city ordinance that dictates the order in which things were heard. By no means was this item “buried.” I will say, though, that Council Member [Alissa] Kispersky made some comments about a lack of community input. She was moved to vote no against the resolution based on the participation. If we had heard this item at a different time, based on her own justification, she might have voted the other way.

Follow Council Member Jon Wizard on Twitter: @electwizard


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.

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 #17: Former San Francisco, CA Board of Supervisors President David Chiu (with podcast)

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

David Chiu was president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors (their term for “city council”) from 2009-2014. If you know ANYTHING about San Francisco, it’s that things can get weird there. And believe me: Chiu has seen plenty of weirdness. Now a state assemblymember, he talked to me about nudists, F-bombs, and his out-of-body experience.

Q: Your Board of Supervisors has a famously unruly public comment period. What are some of the more quintessentially San Francisco moments that you remember?

A: Oh, yes. We had a debate about whether our residents could walk around naked. I remember when the vote didn’t go the way that the nudist activists wanted, they protested by disrobing in the chamber in front of the television. There are a number of individuals who are regular public commenters. We have Walter, who likes to sing. Another individual had a very Christian conservative message.

Q: In January 2009 when you got on the Board, on your very first day you were chosen as president. Had you ever been to a Board meeting before you got elected?

A: I had.

Q: And what about that meeting made you think, “I want one of the most aggravating jobs in San Francisco?”

A: [Laughs] At that time, San Francisco City Hall was pretty darn dysfunctional. We had elected officials who could not stand to be in the same room as each other, who would bicker through the press. And I thought we could do a better job of trying to bring folks together.

Q: When you walked up to the president’s chair, the first thing you said was, “this is unexpected.” Was it REALLY unexpected? When you left the house that morning, what odds were you giving yourself? Be honest.

A: Extremely low. At the exact moment when the clerk said I had the six votes to become president, I had one of those out-of-body experiences. It slowly dawned on me that someone had been elected Board president. And I then realized, “oh, my god. I think it might have been…me!”

Former San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu

Q: Were there any supervisors who were consistently thorns in your side? And followup question, it was Chris Daly wasn’t it?

A: Well, he did threaten to haunt me for the rest of my political career and uttered a very famous phrase in San Francisco to me, saying, “it’s on like Donkey Kong.”

Q: …

A: [He] was famous in his last year for saying that he was going to drop an F-bomb in every meeting. After he said that, I decided to go and purchase a bar of soap which I very publicly gave to him.

Q: Nice. So now you are in California Assembly. Which has more comfortable chairs, the Board of Supervisors or the state Assembly?

A: I think the Board of Supervisors is actually a little more comfortable.

Q: So when you’re sitting in your objectively inferior Assembly chair–

A: I would say “older”…less ergonomically-fitted chair.

Q: –do you think, “I am so glad I don’t have to sit through another g–d– Board of Supervisors meeting?” Or are you thinking, “what I wouldn’t give to trade this for a Board meeting?”

A: [Laughs] It’s just a very different experience. Very different ambiance.

Follow Assemblymember David Chiu on Twitter: @DavidChiu

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.

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.