#123: Goldsboro, NC 8/7/17

If you had asked me to write the plotline for a council meeting in a small southern town, there is no way I would have invented anything as riveting as the actual Goldsboro city council meeting.

“My favorite time of the night: public comment period,” swashbuckling Mayor Chuck Allen boomed as onlookers stirred in their seats. He had barely finished his sentence before an elderly man swaggered to the podium, shouting his name and address.

“How are you, sir?” Council Member Mark Stevens greeted him warmly.

“I’m doing wonderful! Everybody’s bright-eyed and enjoying the meeting,” hollered the man. He planted his entire body in an immobile slouch and made his position crystal clear.

“In behalf of all the fine, clean, Christian people who live in Goldsboro and wanna keep this a safe and clean city,” he thundered, “we the clean, Christian people do hereby OPPOSE Sabbath morning sale of alcoholic beverages.”

Oh, my god. It’s Footloose.

Heads nodded in the crowd.

“It’s a threat to the church. It’s a disgrace to the community. Thank you for your vote against it.”

In a first for me, he then commenced his own round of applause, which citizens and a few council members joined as he retreated from the microphone.

A petite woman with a shock of white hair took his place. “I attend Adamsville Baptist Church. Serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sunday will be a bad influence on the young people.”

She frowned deeply as if looking into the eyes of Satan himself. “If we have our people setting in the bar on a Sunday morning, they are missing an opportunity to attend one of our many churches.”

I should mention, the council was voting today on the “Brunch Bill” to allow alcohol sales starting at 10 a.m. on Sundays. And if you couldn’t tell, there was a teensy bit of opposition from a very specific demographic:

“You have one person–one person ONLY–that is looking at you HARDER than we are,” bellowed a graying church deacon, pointing skyward.  “It’s the man upstairs.”

People are literally sitting in pews here.

“Amens” flitted across the room. But the president of the downtown merchants’ association strolled to the podium to argue on behalf of the local heretics.

“Seventy-one percent of downtown merchants are in favor of the Brunch Bill. The merchants feel the bill will bring new businesses to Goldsboro,” he countered, rattling off all of the neighboring cities and counties that had Sunday morning sales.

A hostile silence, broken by a single boo, greeted the heathen as he walked off.

Another local bar owner, clad in a neat button-up shirt and a tidy haircut, stared at the mayor and asked a simple question.

“We have alcohol sales starting at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday. So what’s the difference with Sunday?”

Mayor Allen eyed the gallery as various parishioners muttered, “it’s the lord’s day.”

“The LORD’S day,” the man repeated for emphasis. “THAT’S the difference. So now this is an issue of religion.”

If I may answer on behalf of the audience: “Yeah…so?”

“There are many sabbaths,” this barkeep-cum-professor lectured the council. “Sunday is not the ONLY sabbath. We’re making laws based on religion. I would refer you to the First Amendment.”

Having heard both sides for almost a half hour, Mayor Allen called for the vote. “All those in favor, raise your right hand.”

He and three council members voted aye. The remaining three voted no. The teetotalers had lost.

Council Member Stevens vented in frustration. “For those who were disappointed in this situation, you know…keep praying. The lord will keep you safe.”

#109: Saginaw, MI 6/5/17

Somebody, put up the balloons and the streamers! At the Saginaw city council meeting, we’ve got birthdays in the house.

“It is my honor to give this proclamation,” grinned Mayor Pro Tem Floyd Kloc as three stocky gentlemen from the Kiwanis Club clustered at the podium. “I’m also a member, so it’s quite special to me!”

“Be it resolved,” he read, that the city “does extend this expression of gratitude to the Kiwanis Club of Saginaw for their service over the past 100 years.”

A proud centenarian stepped forward. “One of our signature projects is buying dictionaries for all the third graders in Saginaw public schools. Last year we bought 386 dictionaries, I believe.”

Dictionaries? As in, old-fashioned autocorrect? Classy move.

More importantly: are you buying the children Snapchat filters and fidget spinners?

The Kiwanis may have been turning 100, but I hope they know how to respect their elders–because an even more senior group was also blowing out candles.

“I represent the Plumbers & Steamfitters Union, Local 85. We turned 125 years old on May 1,” a significantly younger man informed the council.

“I am a little partial to Local 85,” admitted Council Member Michael Balls coyly. “My son attained his journeyman card through the plumbers union and he lives in a big beautiful home with a three-car garage and stuff like that.”

Balls nodded with the satisfaction of a proud dad. “It’s been real rewarding to him.”

“However, if my Father’s Day present this year isn’t a Porsche, I will disown him.”

As it turned out, Saginaw was about to witness another son do right by his dad.

But the circumstances were anything but cheerful.

“Proclamation in memory of Brent R. Smith, whose rich and abundant life came to a close on March 3, 2017,” read Mayor Pro Tem Kloc, standing to shake hands with a long line of bereaved family members.

The bespectacled teenage son then stepped up to the microphone.

“I’d much rather have my dad up here receiving this honor,” he said while family members folded their arms behind him.

“He was greatly influenced by his grandpa. They were best friends and they’re most likely hanging out right now as I speak.”


“All of his hope and trust was in Jesus Christ,” he continued quickly, so as to avoid becoming too emotional. “He and my mom raised the three of us kids to be god-fearing Christians as well.”

While the audience stared silently at the floor, the boy punctuated his eulogy with plainspoken Midwestern piety:

“My dad did so much for so many people. There’s one thing that we know for sure in all of this: when my dad was standing before god, he heard the words, ‘well done, good and faithful servant.'”

From the back row, a slow clap began. Council Member Brenda Moore slapped the table and stared kindly at the Smith daughter.

“I came in with the young lady and I told her she was so beautiful. You are beautiful,” she repeated in a grandmotherly tone.

“And thank you so much–mom, family–for sharing your husband with the city of Saginaw.”

Then, ending the council meeting on a note of good fortune, she revealed: “I hope that you start to enjoy the sunny weather. I’m actually gonna plant a garden this year with the help of my friends. We’re gonna plant a garden!”

And with that, the cycle of life, death, and birth was complete in the span of a single city council meeting.

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