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:
Charishma Kaliyanda is in her first year on the Liverpool city council–a council which was rocked by threats, discord, and the potential for dissolution. However, things have calmed down considerably. We talk about how state governments can investigate what happens in city council meetings in Australia, plus she gave me a macabre piece of kangaroo trivia.
Q: Liverpool councilors also have full-time jobs, I’m assuming because the crocodiles aren’t going to hunt themselves down there. But you go to your job, then you show up for a council meeting for a few hours–do people get irritable the longer the meeting goes on?
A: Absolutely. Tiredness can result in people getting a bit crabby, but we’re also lucky that we’re fed before council meetings.
Q: They give you food!
A: Yeah! They figured out very early that if you feed the councilors, the likelihood of them getting grouchy can be staved off for a while.
Q: What grade of kangaroo meat do they feed you?
A: Well, we have a couple of vegetarians, so I think they’re avoiding the kangaroos. But it’s the good stuff. We don’t just pick it up off the road and throw it on the barbecue and serve it!
Q: [Laughs] That is everyone’s impression of Australians up here, by the way!
A: If you’ve ever been to the Australian Outback, you’ll find a lot of dead kangaroos on the road. They seem to get into lots of accidents with large vehicles.
Q: The year before you were elected, the Liverpool City Council was in chaos. But one thing that threw me for a loop was learning that New South Wales Local Government Minister Paul Toole–which we don’t have an equivalent for in the U.S.–sent someone to sit in the council meetings to monitor misconduct. And even WILDER, he was deciding whether to disband the city council entirely! He can do that in Australia?!
A: Yes. It’s happened very recently to a different council. That’s what happened in this situation: the councilor would have put in a complaint claiming what happened was not in keeping with the code of conduct. That’s when a representative from the Minister of Local Government would have investigated. That seems like it was a pretty horrible situation to be a part of. The toxicity must have been building up and people went, “I’ve had enough.”
Q: Did Paul Toole send anyone to watch your early council meetings just to see if everything was okay?
A: Not that I can recall. It’s usually at the request of a councilor or the mayor or someone in staff because they have a concern about something.
Q: At the November 2016 meeting, there was a motion to drug test all the councilors and the mayor. Do you know what that was about?
A: Right before the election there was discussion around having an ice [methamphetamine] injecting room. [The motion was] a gesture about how anti-drug councilors are…we should submit ourselves to testing.
Q: During this interview, you have been very articulate and knowledgeable, so I’m curious: did you take any performance-enhancing drugs before we started talking?
A: Does coffee count?
Q: Well, it’s legal here but I don’t know what goes down in Australia. Is it legal there?
A: Yes, but I would classify it as a performance-enhancing drug! [Laughs]
Follow Councilor Charishma Kaliyanda on Twitter: @Ckaliyanda
Folks, this is a first: we have an Australian city councilor–and a good one at that! Christine Forster is a Liberal Party councilor who also ran for Lord Mayor (which is Australian for “mayor”) last year. We got outraged at what I was seeing–or not seeing–in her council meetings.
Q: Where I am, it is Sunday. But where you are, it is Monday. So you are IN THE FUTURE! I think it would be fun if you told the audience what I am going to say next. I’ll put my fingers in my ears.
A: Well I’m pretty sure you’re going to ask me how the City of Sydney council operates.
Q: [Taking fingers out of ears] Okay, great. I want to start by talking about your dog. I know you’re a big animal lover and–wait a minute. I bet that’s EXACTLY what you thought I’d say. Nice try! Let’s talk instead about your council meetings. I could not find a scrap of video footage anywhere. What’s going on? Did a dingo eat your cameras?
A: [Laughs] It wasn’t a dingo and it wasn’t even my pug, Audrey Pugburn! It’s a sad fact that unfortunately there is no video or audio record because our Lord Mayor–she’s been in charge of the show since 2004–resolutely refuses to broadcast or televise our meetings. It has been something I’ve been pushing for several years now. But the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, is intransigent.
Q: In July 2014, the council decides to do the live streaming. That passes on a 5-4 vote. What happened next?
A: It passed on a 5-4 vote because the Lord Mayor’s numbers were down. Somebody was away on sick leave. The motion was rescinded at the next meeting by the Lord Mayor when she had the numbers again.
Q: How long have the debates been on this and what was the tone?
A: There was no debate, really. As soon as the new council was [sworn in for 2016], I spoke very robustly in favor of it. And the Lord Mayor and her team simply voted it down.
Q: This is frustrating to me. Clearly it’s frustrating to you because you’re living through it. Are regular people as angry about this as you are?
A: People want this. There are councils around the world that have been doing this since the 1980s. It’s beyond frustrating, frankly. I have no problem with anyone photographing or recording anything I say or do. I’m happy to open myself to that level of scrutiny.
Q: I did contact the Lord Mayor’s office and asked for an answer about why she refuses to allow the rest of us to see what’s happening. I received no response. Quite frankly, I am outraged that Clover Moore thinks the people’s business should be done on HER terms. However, being fair here, can you think of any time that you or your fellow councilors used a meeting to grandstand, take a shot at the mayor, or create a distraction?
A: Absolutely not. This is not about us trying to score political points. This is an administration that will countenance no variation, no opposition, that is entirely about control.
Q: Couldn’t you hold up your cell phone and Facebook Live stream it?
A: It might well end up that somebody does that. It won’t be me!