Interview #67: Duluth, MN Councilor Noah Hobbs (with podcast)

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

Noah Hobbs is a first-term councilor in Duluth who has a strong opinion about how his city council should spend its time during meetings. He and I discuss the role of the council president, creative ways to cut off rambling public commenters, and (listen to the audio) I make my best attempt at convincing him to give me the “Distinguished Artist Award.”

Q: Let’s go back to December 2016. The council was considering a resolution to support the Standing Rock Reservation protests against an oil pipeline in North Dakota. You voted for it and seemed to say, “I’m fine with this, but it’s not really our turf.” 

A: Yeah, I think that focusing on core local government issues is where we should spend a large part of our conversation. All the press after that about a resolution that was nonbinding [and] didn’t really affect the day-to-day operations of the city….I do get a little frustrated when we get off-track. I’m not necessarily in the majority on the council with that point of view.

Q: I would point out that for weeks afterward, people came into the council meetings to praise you guys for that vote. Did that make you feel any better about it?

A: Not really. It was an organized effort to make the council–that took a beating from the business community–feel better. It was more a continuation of a story that didn’t have legs, that ended up having legs.

Q: This January, you ran for council president against then-Vice President Joel Sipress. Here is what he said:

What we’re really voting on here is two different understandings of the role of the council president. The argument that Councilor Hobbs has made involves a list of priorities. That’s a traditional role of a council president in large cities like New York or San Francisco where the council president is a power position that drives the agenda.

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Duluth, MN Councilor Noah Hobbs

Noah, would your first action as a New York City-style council president have been to declare the areas of the city where–HEY, I’M WALKIN’ HERE!

A: [Laughs] I do think it’s important to have a council agenda. Our core function is pretty much approving the budget for the mayor. You can have nine different councilors doing nine different things and at the end of the year accomplish nothing. Having an agenda is important to show that we do more than approve the budget.

Q: One criticism I do have of President Joel Sipress is that he is way too “Minnesota Nice” when he tries to cut off public commenters who have reached their time limit. If you were president, how would you cut off a time hog?

A: Yeah, as a born-and-raised Minnesotan, I don’t know if I could do much better. Maybe using the gavel to tap once to get attention and say they’ve got ten seconds left. But as a Minnesotan, that is something we struggle with.

Q: Have you ever thought about hiring some muscle to escort people from the podium?

A: I don’t know if the constituents would really enjoy hiring a bodyguard for council chambers. I think we should get a basketball buzzer. Get a shot clock and when it gets to zero, just have the buzzer go….There’s nothing unconstitutional about that.


Follow Councilor Noah Hobbs on Twitter: @Hobbs_Duluth

Interview #32: Lee’s Summit, MO Council Member Chris Moreno (with podcast)

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

Lee’s Summit city council meetings have been extremely contentious over the past eight months. Two council members have even called on each other to resign. One of them, Chris Moreno, is facing a recall election because some people are unhappy with his conduct at council meetings. But he remains steadfast. He talks here about his preparation for council meetings and how he deals with the criticism.

Q: On the day of the council meetings, what do you do to prepare? Do you have a ritual?

A: I just do a lot of studying. I do a lot of prayer, a lot of thinking about the agenda and the topic itself. I play a lot of worship music throughout my breaks.

Q: Interesting. When you were first elected, did you have to do an orientation on things like how to make a motion and how to debate?

A: Yeah, Robert’s Rules of Order and all that good stuff. I was a debater in high school, so I kind of knew [that stuff].

Q: Where did the debating team stand in the social hierarchy in your high school?

A: I was a basketball guy. I loved basketball and so when I was introduced to debate, I kind of was like, “this is not for me.” But I loved the challenge. I loved public speaking. Playing sports, my friends–I loved them all, but we weren’t exactly straight-A students, you know?

Q: Gotcha. So, it came out last year that allegedly Council Member Diane Forte improperly got city contracts for her own business. You were very critical of her and it bled over into the council meetings. You said this about her:

I personally do not believe that after the lies you told to the cameras and to this body, that this can continue to go on.

Here was her response:

To come on this council and try to destroy relationships that I have built in this city–if anyone’s going to resign, it’s not going to be me! It’s going to be you!

How do you think the other council members and staff felt while this was going on?

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Lee’s Summit, MO Council Member Chris Moreno

A: The context of this was: that was four weeks later and she was refusing to acknowledge her illegal business deals. For me, this isn’t personal. For me, it’s about government. We should not have politicians profiting off of taxpayer dollars.

Q: You are facing a recall election in April. Can you think of anything you said–or the way in which you said it–at the council meetings that you would have done differently?

A: No. I think I actually was more courteous than what I should have been. I couldn’t say right then and there, “you have deals that violated state law.” Looking back, I wish I would have.

Q: You once called the public comment at your council meetings a “Jerry Springer Show.” What would you do to reform it?

A: We have these people coming in with an agenda: to personally attack politicians on grounds that have nothing to do with city business. That being said, I’m not opposed to criticism. They have a right to do it. But we should not allow for a political campaign to take place at the dais.


Follow Council Member Chris Moreno on Twitter: @MorenoDadKC