This week, we take a listen back to some of the spiciest, most compelling, and most art-filled interview segments in the past several months. If you have a friend who you’ve been dying to introduce to the magic of city council meetings, sit ’em down and have them listen to this!
This past year, I had an AMAZING experience. I visited 12 cities and towns across North America for the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project. The idea was simple: see as much of the city as I could, talk to as many people as I could, and ask them all the same two questions.
What is the best thing about this place?
What is the worst thing about this place?
Answering those questions can be surprisingly difficult, but it was important for me to hear about individuals’ values and experiences with their communities. I learned that a small city in conservative western Kansas thinks of itself as “progressive.” I learned that diversity in Toronto is much heralded, but also has a dark side. And I was present for a medical emergency in the desert outside Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The goal was to find out what cities are doing well to make their communities livable for residents. Then, to find out what people want that their cities aren’t providing now.
You can listen to all 12 episodes on the project page. And this week, I bring you the highlights in a special audio episode about the best of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing.” This “best of” is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player FM and right here:
If you liked what you heard, please give the podcast a five-star rating on iTunes and like our Facebook page. There are other big projects in the works, so keep checking back!
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:
Marian Orr is the new mayor of Cheyenne and from what I can tell, she learned how to run an efficient council meeting in practically no time. She shares her secret study tool with us and also reveals the one physiological liability that she has to keep in check. If you enjoy procedures, you’ll love this!
Q: You don’t preside over a city council–you preside over a “governing body.” Why is Cheyenne TOO GOOD for a city council?!
A: We have a strong mayor form of government. When council meets during their Committee of the Whole, THAT is a city council meeting. But when they add me, it becomes a meeting of the governing body.
Q: I’ve heard you are an honest poker player, which is generally not a good thing in poker! Would you say that being a bad poker player is a disadvantage to running a governing body meeting?
A: I don’t have much of a poker face and I don’t know if that serves me well. People really know what it is I’m thinking and–I’ve always had this since being a kid–when things get heated, so does my neck. Even staff can tell when I’m a little on edge because my neck gets really red.
Q: That’s your tell!
A: I have a tell.
Q: Do the other councilors know about this or is it something you’ve kept with your close friends?
A: I believe it is so obvious that if they haven’t paid attention, they must be sleeping.
Q: How did you prepare for running a meeting before you were sworn in?
A: I spent about half a day with our city clerk who is the queen of Robert’s Rues of Order. She was kind enough–people probably don’t know this, so I’m giving the secret away–she wrote a script for me that I was able to pretty closely read from. I’d say it took the first two months to feel like I can run a meeting without a cheat sheet.
Q: I will be filing a Freedom of Information Act request to get that script, so prepare yourself. Did she give you stage directions, like, “say this (inquisitively) or say this (angrily)?”
A: Boy, I think that now she regrets not putting in stage directions! It was, “if this happens, say this.” She would leave a blank as far as “Mr. _______” and I could write in “Johnson” made the motion. But, oh! There were colors. If a motion passes, it was green. If a motion fails, she would have it in red. It was very helpful.
Q: You have begun to crack down on people who don’t ask or answer questions by first saying “through the mayor.” Why do they need to do that?
A: We have had some meetings where city council has had multiple questions of staff. I believe it’s a better way to keep hold of the meetings. [Staff] feel they are being “put upon the stand” for questioning and it is a way to slow down and temper some of the discussion.
Q: Some councilors have seemed resentful when you reminded them of this rule. Did you perceive that?
A: I did feel that. There is heated debate and we end up leaving the dais shaking hands. Individually, I’ve got a great rapport with every member of council.
What’s this? Another installment of the semi-regular “Best Thing, Worst Thing” podcast series? Why, I do believe it is! For an explanation of the project, check out the page here. If you like storytelling and municipal lore, I think you’ll enjoy what the cat dragged in.
If you’ve got the kids already gathered around the fireplace, head over to the City Council Chronicles podcast and download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.
Episode 2: Cheyenne, Wyoming
Photo source: Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce
Cheyenne is the capital of Wyoming, population 63,000. It is located in the southeast corner of the state just eight miles from the Colorado border. It exists thanks to the builders of the Transcontinental Railroad. Downtown is fairly compact, with the capitol building at the north end and the historic train station at the south. Government buildings are prevalent and some of the historic homes are quite nice. Although it is the largest city in Wyoming, the population has risen slowly and steadily. In this episode, we hear from a business owner, a firearms instructor, two Chamber of Commerce employees, and a former mayoral candidate.