Interview #31: Richmond, VA Councilwoman Kristen Nye Larson (with podcast)

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

We’re doing something different this week: on January 9, four new members of the Richmond, Virginia city council had their first meeting. One of them, Kristen Nye Larson, joined me right before the meeting AND the day afterward to bask in the fresh-council-meeting glow!

January 9, three hours before the meeting

Q: Does it feel like it’s the first day of school?

A: [Laughs] There’s definitely a little anticipation. We have an informal meeting at 4:00 and a formal meeting at 6:00.

Q: Are you worried that the older council members might say to you new people, “just follow our lead. You just got here. We know what we’re doing. Don’t try to rock the boat.”

A: They all seem really receptive. We’ll see how it actually goes. But you’re right. There are a lot of issues out there that we’re [the new council members] definitely going to come in the middle [of].

Q: Mmhmm.

A: We have four new council members. We have a new mayor. And on the school board, which I just rolled off of, there are eight new members out of the nine.

Q: Wow! You’ve been on the school board for four years, so you’ve got procedure down. Do you feel like there ain’t nothing getting past you in there?

A: The thing that is different about the council meetings is that they are televised live. That will be a bit of an adjustment. School board was taped and it would be showed a couple of days later. You definitely have to be conscious of how you look on camera. If somebody says something that you might think is unusual, you don’t need to show “unusual” on your face. You just need to show, “hey, that’s an interesting idea.”

Q: [Laughs] It’s like being at the State of the Union when they cut away to Congress. And if you’re caught falling asleep, your face will be on the Internet! Now, the meeting is at six, which is an awkward time. You’ve got the classic question: do I eat an early dinner, a late dinner, or do I have my food in the meeting and make everyone hate me?

A: Since we have this 4:00 informal meeting, council members have time to eat in between the informal and formal meeting. They sent around a menu–they bring food in for us. I think it’s, like, chicken and vegetables. I’ll take a picture for you.

Q: Please do!

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Richmond, VA Councilwoman Kristen Nye Larson

January 10, 18 hours after the meeting

Q: How did it go?

A: It was short. I feel like the next meeting will be a little more robust. This is something that’s interesting: I was on school board and we sat in numeric order [by district]. But with city council, they get to choose their seats. So there was a whole seating chart that went around and phone calls, like, “what seat do you want?” I didn’t know it was such a big deal.

Q: When people were calling around asking for seats, do you know if anyone said, “I’d like to sit next to Kristen Larson!”

A: I have no idea if anybody requested to sit next to me!

Q: During your first-ever comments at the council meeting, you gave out your cell phone number on live TV. That was a bold move! How many hundreds of calls have you gotten since last night?

A: [Laughs] None! At least in Richmond, I think that’s an expectation [that you give out your number]. I think people feel empowered if they just have your number.

Q: One loose end from yesterday is that you guys had dinner delivered. And you thought it would be chicken and vegetables. You texted me a picture:

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Photo source: Kristen Nye Larson

A: It was hot! And we had time to sit down and eat it. I know not every night is going to be like that!


Follow Councilwoman Kristen Nye Larson on Twitter: @kristenRVA

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#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.