On this week’s podcast, we celebrate Christmas in July with an incredible story from the Listener’s List, an update on past guests’ advancements, and excerpts from interviews. You can listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Player FM, and right here:
On this episode, you will hear segments from these full interviews:
Plus, you can listen to a segment of “Tear It Down,” an eight-chapter audio series about a small town whose government became wildly dysfunctional when political insurgent group formed seeking revenge: www.tearitdownpodcast.com.
As always, City Council Chronicles’ sponsor is Dig Deep Research. They assist local governments in obtaining grant money and are eager to hear from potential new clients. Find out how they can help you today:
Adam Paul is a city councilor-turned mayor who has had to deal with a series of crises–major and minor–at recent Lakewood council meetings. From the “rat house” to the brawl over a mayor pro tem, he explains how the council confronted the problem and moved on.
Q: I was pleasantly surprised to see at your June 25 meeting this year that you had some guests from Lakewood’s sister city in Australia. Was there anything that you had to explain to them about how your meetings worked?
A: Public comment was an eye-opener for them. It was a little bit foreign to them and [they] were surprised at some of the boldness of the community members in their comments.
Q: Did you get a sense of what their public comment is like?
A: Yeah, limited public comment and certainly in their system, from the queen down, kind of that proper Australian, proper English attitude toward it.
Q: When they’re not wrestling crocodiles and drinking Foster’s, I assume. What did you hope those Aussies took away from your meeting?
A: It was good for my council to understand that while we are literally a world apart, our issues are the same. That was a cool takeaway for me to see this is normal. These are the normal functions of local government. We’re not an outlier.
Q: This same meeting with the Australians, there was actually a bigger, more disgusting concern. When I say the words “rat house,” what does that mean to you?
A: Well, it’s taken on a whole new meaning. You know, in local government, we try to plan against storms and shootings and traffic accidents. You try to be prepared for everything. We were experiencing a quite sad situation. A family was dealing with some mental illness and a hoarding house. They had some pet rats that they were feeding and taking care of and it started to snowball into a terrible situation. We had to have all the rats killed, which is over 500, 600 rats, I think.
Q: At that meeting, neighbors stood up and described in graphic detail the feces, urine, and rat carcasses that they were dealing with because of this house. When you were listening to that, how did you feel?
A: I felt terrible. I mean, goodness. What a terrible ordeal. At the end of the day, I’m the mayor. The buck stops with me. Our first thing that we needed to do was contain it, get it stopped. This has been a learning process. There will always be something else that you don’t catch.
Q: Yes, and it’s unrealistic for you to know everything that’s going on in the neighborhoods before someone brings it up at a council meeting. But rats with tumors on their faces? And carcasses lying in yards? I mean, how was this happening for a year and a half and all of a sudden, it’s June 2018 and it’s a crisis?
A: If we didn’t act in a manner that we should have, we need to fix that and we will. But for some it was still too slow and we need to do a better job.
Q: Obviously, you don’t want people coming into the council meeting for public comment with every little situation for you eleven to address. But on the other hand, you don’t want someone’s house literally on fire and then coming in and telling you about it. Where have you given direction to city staff to say, “when a problem gets this bad, we should be talking about it in a council meeting?”
A: That’s why we’re there on Monday night. To hear that. When there comes a point where people don’t feel like they’re being heard or they don’t see things being affected, we’re the last remedy.
HUGE NEWS: this is our first international episode of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project! And the Canadians I talked to could not have been nicer: you’ll hear from senior citizens playing lawn bowling in the suburbs. You’ll sit on the sidewalk as a blues guitarist serenades us. And most climactic of all, you’ll observe a butter tart bake-off at a fancy hotel, listening to judges and pastry chefs alike. (I’ve been told that this is a HIGHLY Canadian thing to do.)
If you’ve never heard of the project before, check out the page here. When you are mentally prepared to discover who won the Great Canadian Butter Tart Battle, click to the City Council Chronicles podcast to download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.
Episode 11: Toronto, Ontario
Toronto is the most populous city in Canada and one of the most multicultural places in the world. It was amalgamated in 1998 from several smaller cities and is crisscrossed by streetcars and subways–although those are often a target of Torontonians’ frustrations. We will learn about lawn bowling from a senior citizens’ league, sample the merchandise in a sex shop, and experience a play-by-play of the Great Canadian Butter Tart Battle. Along the way, we will hear from an immigrant, a city councilor, pastry chefs, a musician, and an educator.
July was noteworthy for two reasons. First: it was Mayor’s Month! That’s right, we talked on the podcast to an unprecedented four mayors from three continents. What we heard was heartwarming in some cases and tear-jerking in others.
Second: this being July, of course we saw fireworks! Mostly they were of the verbal variety. But in one case, someone actually brandished a firework in a council meeting. If you don’t remember that moment, perhaps you should browse our July Month in Review page.
And if you’re still questioning whether July’s council meetings are worth a second look, at least find out why this woman is so g–d– happy:
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:
Hold your e-mails, Councilheads! I am aware that the Rural City of Wangaratta is not a city. Of course, the actual city is called Wangaratta. But Wangaratta has no council. So the Rural City of Wangaratta council is the city’s council.
I’m glad we cleared that up.
The meeting started off smoothly enough: Mayor Ken Clarke solemnly acknowledged the “traditional owners” of the land and their elders. A new conflict-of-interest policy for councilors was given a round of nods without comment.
Even the messiest subject you could think of–toilets–got a clean airing.
“Last year we conducted an assessment of all buildings, including the toilets,” a staffer explained to the council. “We want our toilets to be at their best. One of the findings is that we want to upgrade all of those toilets. The recommendation is that the council develops a public toilet improvement action plan.”
As requested, councilors dutifully approved the potty proposal. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the unsung hero who had to “assess” all of the toilets. That person’s nose–and possibly other body parts–is quite brave.
At this point, my heartbeat quickened as I realized I would witness “public question time,” an extraordinary opportunity for regular Rural City of Wangarattans (that can’t possibly be right…right?) to grill their elected leaders mano a (it was all men) mano.
“My question’s about the multi-deck car park. I’d like council to investigate how we can get out of the contract of the ongoing debt that’s going to be incurred by ratepayers,” a man in a maroon shirt beseeched councilors. “Also, whether council can find another purpose for the building.”
“We have a project to do a review of parking which will look at paid versus free parking, appropriate amounts of various time limits of parking,” the chief executive started to explain.
“Why do we need a review on parking? We know where everyone parks,” sharply retorted the commenter. “See whether the state government can get out of this contract or have an inquiry into why it happened.”
The chief executive remained measured. “Yes, and the review is really about whether we’ve got enough one-hour parking, enough all-day parking.” As for getting out of contracts, “it’s not for the state government to be making decisions about those arrangements,” he noted.
At this point, Mayor Clarke, sensing an intractable argument was nigh, stepped in.
“Malcolm, I think you’ve got to realize that the multi-deck car park [decision] was made by the previous council,” he flatly informed the inquisitor. “We would need to find a lot of money to get out of it at this stage.”
“Well, the state government should–”
“The state government will not fund it!” the mayor curtly cut him off.
The commenter barely paused before picking up his rhetorical sword and charging forward.
“So you’re saying the ratepayers are going to continue to be burned for the next seven or eight years? That’s just a waste of money.”
Mayor Clarke was becoming exasperated. “It’s NOT a waste of money if people use the car park.”
The reply was immediate and brief: “But they’re not.”
A long, uncomfortable pause set in. Councilors exchanged glances.
“Maybe all the councilors should have to park there,” he suggested bitingly. “Maybe you should make it that every council worker park there.”
One quick-thinking council staffer at the dais raised her hand. “My car’s there right now!” she revealed. As chuckles broke out, the tension evaporated.
May was our most international month yet, with a whopping five countries getting their city council meetings profiled! Watch out, world, we’re coming for you.
We heard about one councilor who dropped dead in a meeting, one mayor who refuses to televise her council meetings, and even a city council replaced by teenagers. If you missed any of that coverage, you’d do yourself a solid by checking out our May Month in Review.
And if that doesn’t convince you, here is a photo of a likely future murder scene from one council meeting: