#179: Clawson, MI 12/18/18

It was the type of announcement that separates the city councils who take the winter holidays seriously from those who are, well, Scrooges.

“Every year we have beautification awards,” explained a representative from the Parks and Recreation Department. “People can call in houses they see around town that they really like the way they’re decorated.”

She added, “our Parks and Rec Advisory Board also goes out and are each assigned a section of town. They kind of score all the houses. The top five point-getters were the ones we give awards to tonight.”

With that, the five chosen families strolled to the front of the chamber for a photo. Many of them sported some type of seasonal attire–from the more discreet Santa pin and St. Nick hat to the more flashy necklace of Christmas lights and festive sweaters.

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The decorators

If you were expecting this Yuletide cheer to be followed by three French hens, two turtle doves, or even six geese a-laying, city attorney Jon Kingsepp disappointed you–but only slightly–by talking instead about backyard chickens.

“Fifty years ago, they were barnyard animals. Dinner table items. That’s no longer the case,” he explained.

“Chickens are great in most cases, unless you’re a neighbor that doesn’t want chickens next door to you,” Mayor Debbie Wooley observed dryly.

Kingsepp sighed. “There are two ways to look at that. There’s one that can say, ‘I don’t like chickens next to me because they’re loud and they’re gonna attract vermin.’ The other approach is, ‘if you like cats and dogs next door, then what is the difference with chickens?’ The noise level of a chicken is extremely low.”

“I want zero” chickens, shot back Council Member Paula Millan. “Not because I don’t like people’s chickens but because I don’t want them in my backyard. I just don’t.”

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Beware the Butcher of Clawson

She paused. Although her reaction was intense, it was not, in fact, poultryphobic. “I don’t think it’s the animal that’s really the problem,” she admitted. “I would assume it’s most likely the owner. If you have a neighbor that cares only about themselves and not the people around them, there’s an issue.”

A woman in the front row seized on a lull in the discussion and launched into a tutorial on chicken care. Rather than cut her off, surprisingly, the mayor allowed a microphone to be passed down.

“Great pets,” she boasted of her own chickens. “No one ever knew we had ’em. My aviary was spotless. The rats cannot get into it.

“There are rats in our neighborhood. A lot of ’em. But they never came for my chickens.”

A posse of women from the earlier home decorating contest were sitting two rows back in their Christmas sweaters nodding vigorously.

“My grandchildren–24 grandchildren–played with those chickens like a puppy. They were very sweet,” she argued, while one of those 24 grandchildren slumped in his chair next to her asleep.

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Dreaming of poultry playtime at grandma’s

Chickens may have been quiet and kind. Heck, they could have been the cure to cancer. But Council Member Millan was immovable.

“Some of my neighbors have been on our block since they built their homes in 1967. They don’t want chickens in their backyard,” she insisted. “Their perception is not that they are pets.

“It’s not against the animal. It’s about, ‘I moved to a city. Didn’t move to a farm. Where’s it gonna end?'”

She shrugged. “We have to address the ‘where’s it gonna end’ thing.”

Perhaps next year, Clawsonians can decorate an aviary and win the beautification contest. Then people might realize that chickens can be family, not food.

#177: Cadillac, MI 12/3/18

“My law partners and I own a building,” announced a well-dressed gentleman resting his forearms on the public’s lectern and peering through his glasses. “I’ve been meaning to come and thank you for a year now for the Cadillac Commons. I can’t tell you how nice it is, no matter how stressful the day, to walk out of my office at noon and hear all the laughing and screaming and fun going on at the splash pad.”

He concluded with a simple, “it’s wonderful.”

Starting a meeting with a heartfelt thank-you is rare. And of course, short lived.

“The Cadillac community has an ongoing hunger problem,” reported the next man at the microphone. “Our children are going to bed tonight hungry, crying. Where’s Robin Hood today? High taxes. High cost of living.”

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We need a hero.

His Robin Hood may have just entered the council chamber in an unexpected form:

“I am a certified grant administrator,” a woman explained to the council. “We’re requesting $970,100 [from the federal government]. The grant funds will be used for demolition to remove two blighted buildings. The national objective supported by this project is the elimination of blight.”

But this was not what the man had in mind.

“No public tax dollars for private business!” he railed. “No public tax dollars should be used for any corporation to become wealthier on grant money. If you can’t build it on an entrepreneurial business venture, then we shouldn’t build it.”

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Mom-and-pop demolition companies only, please.

Technically, the city wasn’t “building” anything. They were tearing down. But he had a point: if Apple can get rich selling phones and Nike can get rich selling shoes, why can’t some entrepreneur turn a profit on–what exactly?

“The entire roof on both buildings has asbestos. There is also several areas of asbestos floor tile. So there’s a lot of asbestos,” a staff member explained with a grimace. “There is some lead. There is also soil contamination. And under the clock tower area, there is a lot of rubble down there–we’re not positive what it is.”

I see. Rebuttal?

“I just want to reiterate: we have children going to bed hungry,” the man returned to insist. “Developers are becoming more wealthy in Cadillac on our dime. It’s corporate welfare at its best. I could be wrong.”

City manager Marcus Peccia quickly refocused the meeting onto something highly unrelated to corporate profits: Christmas decorations.

“The city is playing some seasonal music down in the plaza on a timer, when the timer works,” he chuckled. “You can really only hear it if you’re down in front of the Christmas tree or on the synthetic ice rink.”

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Turn it up to 11.

“We have a wonderful community. It looks so great,” bragged Council Member Tiyi Schippers. “I love coming home when it’s dark and driving around, taking a long way with the kids.”

The city manager nodded. “Over the years, we added more trees to the lakefront, especially along Chestnut Street. At the same time, the donations of the lights and whatnot had not increased.”

He leaned back and pondered. “What we might look at doing next year is relocating some of the singular strands of lights along several trees to a more focused area within Cadillac Commons and create more of a spectacular light display versus having–”

“One string of lights a block away?” finished Council Member Schippers.

“Either that or we need more lights!”

Yet another cause in search of a Robin Hood.

#141: Loma Linda, CA 11/14/17

With a roomful of men sitting around the dais, it was only a matter of time before the Loma Linda council meeting turned to…cars.

“This is one of those ordinances that the legislature, in their wisdom, has required us to adopt,” the city attorney folded his hands and remarked dryly. “For review and approval of electric vehicle charging stations.”

“Would the mayor like to give personal testimony?” quizzed Council Member Ron Dailey, glancing cheekily across the desk.

Mayor Rhodes Rigsby chuckled at this reference to his own electric car. “I’m appreciative of the Target parking lot off Sierra in Fontana,” he said of the megastore’s free charging station.

“It’s rescued me from foolish, long trips to the west side of the county with insufficient charge to return home!”

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Oh, great. The secret’s out on the Target parking lot charging station.

Apparently, his car was a sweet–but not illegal–deal. “I’m also appreciative to Fiat for essentially giving me the car. And it’s offered to the public, so they’re not buying me off as a politician.”

He paused and racked his brain for a few stats right out of Car and Driver. “They’re attached to Chrysler, and Chrysler sells a lot of Hemis that don’t get the best gas mileage. So they need the 112 miles per gallon of my car to compensate. I’m doing them a service!”

There’s a reelection slogan: “I’m doing Chrysler a service!”

Something else Mayor Rigsby was doing? Trigonometry in his head.

“I don’t know whether it takes into account sines and cosines and tangents or whether it’s pointed straight down the street,” he mused about the proposed speed radar sign on Beaumont Avenue. “I’ve always wondered that: do you calculate how much you need to compensate for the sine of the angle?”

This being a city council meeting, not the Society of Professional Engineers’ meeting, we may never know. However, Council Member Dailey piped up with a second, more relatable quandry.

“My challenge is, I know there’s not a camera in there to ticket you. But my wife doesn’t believe me,” he said. “So she has her own brake pedal on her side of the car–”

“And she’s constantly pressing it,” the mayor nodded, no doubt familiar with his colleague’s driving habits.

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The secret to marriage is…an instructor’s brake pedal?

From harrowing car trips, the meeting turned to harrowing rescues.

“You’re true defenders…thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” the mayor read sincere thank you cards and letters addressed to the Loma Linda Fire Department, which had been helping Northern Californians battle their wildfires.

“Maybe they have a board they can put them up on?” Council Member Dailey raised his eyebrows at the fire chief.

“Usually we’ll get two or three [cards] on a big assignment,” explained the chief. “But that’s just today’s. I’ve got dozens.”

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You earned them.

While it may seem a little premature to be talking about Christmas in Southern California already (high temperature today: 78 degrees), it was essential to spread some Yule log-sized news about this year’s Christmas tree lighting.

“I understand this is going to be a MUCH larger production than usual,” grinned Mayor Rigsby. “They’ve invited a choir of angels to sing, from what I’ve heard.”

He added, “in the past, it’s been analogous to a Charlie Brown episode. Now it’s going to be more like an ‘evening at the pops.'”

“Sounds good to me!” responded a stoked Council Member Dailey.

Get there safely–and slowly.

#140: Fort Morgan, CO 11/7/17

“In the interest of brevity, I’ll try to keep it as short and concise as possible,” city attorney Jason Meyers promised. I was skeptical. No lawyer can resist the allure of long, drawn-out soliloquies–and that was exactly what council members would get here.

However, I immediately became less concerned about the length of the monologue and more concerned about the dire situation erupting in Fort Morgan.

“Every year the state legislature passes another set of bills that restricts the ability of the municipal court to operate,” Meyers began solemnly. “More recent changes have stated that if anybody is in custody on a jailable offense, regardless of whether they’re indigent, they have to have a court-appointed attorney available at the time they’re talking to a judge.”

Seems reasonable enough, yes? Right to counsel. Habeas corpus. Gluteus maximus. The bedrock of our country!

“How do we have a court-appointed attorney available every Wednesday, whether we have cases?” Meyers asked rhetorically. “We’re paying an attorney to sit there just in case.”

Ah yes, the other bedrock of our country: money. But listen, buddy, if you knew this was gonna cause problems, you should have said something about it earlier.

“I did go to the legislature two years ago and testify,” explained Meyers. “I got grilled for about 30 minutes. It felt like hours. In essence, they don’t care about the rural communities. This is the result.”

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I care about you.

The council listened stoically to the scenario. I am sure this can be resolved without drastic measures.

“We removed jail as an option for most municipal court violations. You can still be written into municipal court for assault and disorderly [conduct] and resisting arrest. We just can’t put you in jail for it anymore if this passes,” he concluded.

“This” being the following proposal from Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Northrup: “I would offer a resolution eliminating jail as a possible penalty in Fort Morgan municipal court cases and request to schedule a public hearing.”

Mayor Ron Shaver waited a beat. “Roll call.”

A string of lighted domes blazed green in front of council members as everyone voted yes. Let that be a lesson: if you’re looking for a place to resist arrest for being disorderly, Eastern Colorado is the promise land.

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Ooh…the orbs!

There was little time to dwell on the fate of the jail or ponder the imminence of anarchy. Winter was fast approaching and Fort Morgan had a reputation to uphold:

“When people ask, ‘why are we the Christmas Capital of the Plains,’ it’s because we do more in the four weeks before Christmas than any other community in Colorado,” city manager Jeffrey Wells bragged to the council–and, technically, to any other council in earshot.

“I would tell anybody to try and take us on,” he challenged brazenly.

“You may have seen in the paper,” Wells continued, “that our very own [Director of Public Works] Steve Glammeyer was awarded the–”

He halted in search of the name.

“William E. Korbitz!” yelled someone from the side.

“–the William E. Korbitz Award with the Colorado Chapter of the American Public Works Association,” recovered Wells. “So thanks a lot, Steve.”

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Hell yes, Steve.

The room broke into applause and Wells grinned fiendishly. “He HATES it when we do this.”

“Do it again!” someone hollered. A second round of applause and whoops thundered down for Steve. Luckily, they could get as disorderly as they wanted–it’s not like they’ll go to jail.

#131: Mobile, AL 9/19/17

You can’t simply snap your fingers in municipal government and make things happen. But you can sure as heck show up to public comment and TELL people to make things happen.

“It’s really long overdue and it’s something I want to get done,” a woman clad entirely in white ordered Mobile council members. “We need to get this done.” (“This” being renaming Glennon Avenue to “Dr. Yvonne Kennedy Avenue.”)

“I talked with Councilman [Levon] Manzie this morning,” she narrowed her eyes at him. “We’re going to have Dr. Kennedy’s name on the pole?”

“Yes, ma’am,” acknowledged Manzie.

“We’re also going to have Glennon Avenue on the pole?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“We wanna put a permanent plaque and–can I have my way with this? Doing what I want to do?” she inquired.

“No, ma’am!” Manzie exclaimed.

“I love having my way!” she threw up her hands and chuckled.

“I think Councilman Manzie hears you loud and clear,” intervened Council President Gina Gregory as the woman retreated in satisfaction.

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The lady’s got vision!

Success! Could there be anything more slam-dunk than a street named after a scion of the community?

Yes: Christmas.

“I’ve always enjoyed Elfapalooza,” a kindly man in a pink shirt smiled. “I’ve never actually put on my pointed ears and gone down in my tights. And, uh–”

“I’m visualizing that right now,” President Gregory deadpanned, prompting raucous laughter.

“Maybe if you give ’em the $40,000, I’ll do that this year!” the man replied.

“Might be worth it,” Gregory considered with a smirk.

He was, of course, referring to $40,000 proposed to revive the “North Pole Stroll.” It was a hot topic for a cold season, and Council Member John Williams was ready to wrap that present.

“This payment will be for holiday events and decorations,” he cheerfully made the motion.

But just as Christmas needs a Santa Claus, it also needs a fiscally-responsible Grinch.

“We’ve been assured that they’re going to have a robust Christmas celebration in downtown,” Council Member Manzie protested. “We don’t know what those activities will cost, so I’m a little hesitant.”

He added, logically, “if it’s a great success, the expectation will be that we need to continue [payments]. I would hate to start something and not continue in perpetuity.”

Council Member Fredrick Richardson attempted his own Scrooge impersonation. “Sometimes we need to leave well enough alone,” he grumbled.

“I think,” he softened, “we need to go back with the Christmas parade. It brings joy in the hearts of all.”

President Gregory called for a vote. It failed. The man in the pink shirt would not be wearing his elf ears and tights after all (although we can mark that in the “good news” column.)

Yikes. If the Mobile city council said no to Christmas, what would they say “yes” to?

“On Wednesday, I had the honor of being interviewed,” announced Council Member Manzie. “Michael Karlik runs a website and podcast called City Council Chronicles.”

“He came up with some new catchphrases for District Two. I promised I would play it in the meeting, but I can’t get it to function here,” Manzie admitted, trying to recall the catchphrases. “‘District Two: We have a Hardee’s.’ ‘District Two: Walk on the wild side!'”

“Well, Michael,” Gregory mused, “I’m guessing you’re watching….’Seventh Heaven?'” She glanced around as her colleagues giggled at her own district catchphrase.

“‘District Seven…Heaven.’ You gotta rhyme!” she insisted.

Council Member Richardson leaned into his microphone. “Did you get that, Mike?”

Yes, sir!

#96: Burnaby, BC 4/3/17

It’s springtime in Canada, which means everything is coming up roses.

That certainly was the case at this week’s Burnaby city council meeting, where even the stickiest of wickets had a silver lining.

“A good friend of mine has Parkinson’s,” revealed a silver-maned man who, being the near-perfect vocal doppelgänger of Mister Rogers, sat politely in front of the councilors.

“He needs to use an electric wheelchair to get around. To come to my house for a coffee has become kind of a problem. To get to that ramp, he would have to put his wheelchair onto the roadway.”

Mayor Derek Corrigan broke in apologetically. “Let me say to you that, uh, the city of Burnaby takes this issue very seriously.”

“I realize that, Your Worship,” the commenter responded in that kindly Fred Rogers deadpan. “I’m a boomer. As we age, mobility will become more of an issue. We’re getting older every day.”

At this point, someone to his left yelled out, “Mature!”

“Mature, yes! More mature,” the man chuckled. “And better looking, I might add.”

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Better looking? Is that possible?

Speaking of older and better looking–

“The report that’s before us is naming the 2016 Outstanding Citizen of the Year,” Councilor Dan Johnston announced. “This year we actually are naming a couple: Jim and Lindy McQueen.”

Johnston rattled off all their volunteer work that made the McQueens mc-qualified for this honor:

  • Classic Car Show
  • Festival of Lights
  • Burnaby Seniors Games
  • Edmonds Bike Fair
  • Foster parents to 15 moose
  • Poutine taste testers

“I think I would call them the lovebirds of the community,” Councilor Anne Kang smiled. “They come out in a pair, they come out as–I don’t want to say this but, Mr. and Mrs. Claus!”

“There is no public event in Burnaby where you don’t find Jim and Lindy. They’re everywhere,” Councilor Pietro Calendino said as a compliment (or perhaps a warning…).

“It’s incredible that two senior citizens–almost as young as I am,” he gestured to his own white hair and beard, “can dedicate so much time to the community.”

Mayor Corrigan subtly nodded. “It’s not often that the award is given to a couple. But in this case, I don’t think you can separate the two.”

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“Believe me, I’ve tried.”

Well, the clock is ticking. It’s time to make one more person happy. We’ve got five councilors left, so who’s it going to be?

“I’m just very pleased to see that we’re purchasing $120,000 worth of shade structures for parks for the summer!” Councilor Colleen Jordan eagerly read off the dollar amount with a huge grin. “One of my pet peeves is providing enough shade.”

Not one to sit on good news, Councilor Jordan looked out to the audience and gasped excitedly.

“Especially since one of our members of our Heritage Commission is in the audience, we got a $57,000 grant for our–yes!” she pumped a thumbs up.

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No caption needed

“I think that because it was such short notice there might not have been many applicants. But whatever the reason, we doubled the amount of money to celebrate our 125th birthday!”

“It’s like having Christmas,” Mayor Corrigan observed.

“It’s very happy Christmas for everyone!” Jordan threw up her hands and laughed.

Final thoughts: After consulting with the judges, I give Jim and Lindy  McQueen 13.41 Canadian stars, which is 10 American. I don’t usually give stars to a couple, but in this case you can’t separate the two.

#70: Lisbon, IA 11/28/16

Don’t be fooled. Lisbon’s population may be just 2,200 people–but its December calendar is packed tighter than a Tokyo subway car at rush hour.

“Holiday Jubilee proclamation,” Mayor Beryl O’Connor adjusted her eyeglasses and read the sweeping decree. “Whereas holiday celebration is an effective tool for fostering local pride and maintaining community character, I, Mayor of Lisbon, proclaim December 10, 2016 ‘Lisbon’s Holiday Jubilee’ and call upon the people of Lisbon to join their fellow citizens in participating in this special occasion.”

Harken, Lisbonites! Your leader calls upon you to spread cheerfulness maximus! (What exactly does that entail?)

“We’ll be having activities during the day starting out with breakfast with Mrs. Claus,” city administrator Connie Meier explained. “The parade lineup will start at four. This year we changed the theme to ‘Parade with Your Pets.’ So you can dress your pets up in Christmas sweaters and walk them in the parade.”

With this news, my heart grew three sizes. Granted, this is Iowa, so I imagine there will be several cows in festive XXL upperwear.

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Pictured: Director of the Lisbon Chamber of Commerce

“Next month is kind of a busy month,” warned the city administrator. “Lisbon Schools is having all of their concerts on Monday night. December 12 would be our next regular council meeting–there is an elementary K-3rd [concert] at 6:00 and [grades] 4-6 at 7:15. On December 19th, there’s also the high school band and choir concerts.”

Uh-oh. Is it time to take the missiles to DEFCON-2, Your Honor?

“Is your daughter in band or anything?” the mayor muttered to Council Member Nathan Smith.

“The 19th is out for me,” he winced. “And she’s in basketball, so Tuesday nights tend to be interrupted too.”

Thankfully, the crisis was defused: they agreed to double up the meetings on December 5.

“What’s wrong with the lights?” Mayor O’Connor spontaneously blurted out. “One side of the street comes on and five minutes later the other side of the street comes on!”

“It’s where the photo eyes are placed–” the public works director started to answer.

“I have no idea what that means,” the mayor stared blankly.

The director patiently explained this complex marvel of modern engineering. “The photo eyes are detecting the sunlight. When the sun’s coming across, it will still be shining on one photo eye and there will be enough shade on the other one that it’ll keep ’em on.”

“It’s called photo eye?” she cautiously inquired. “If I tell somebody that, they’ll think I know what I’m talking about?”

The public works director humored her. “Yep.”

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This picture was taken with a photo eye

While he had the floor, there was something else he needed to get off his chest for the good of the city:

“This it the second time in twelve months we’ve had problems with our spiral screen” at the wastewater plant. (Mayor, if you say “spiral screen” people will NOT know what you’re talking about.)

“I know everybody’s reading these wrappers, and their sanitary wipes and wet wipes are saying they can be flushed. Please, [I’m] asking people not to flush.”

He exhaled. “So yeah, that’s my little soapbox speech.”

Final thoughts: Stop flushing the wet wipes! Geez.