This week, we air the newest episode of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project featuring a big-name city: Richmond, Virginia. I talked with many different residents about their favorite and least favorite things about Virginia’s capital. Many brought up the city’s ties to the Confederacy and the legacy of segregation. Others talked about the extensive collection of neighborhoods. You’ll come with me to a rally with the mayor, stroll along an island, and visit the pew where Jefferson Davis sat in church.
For an explanation of the project, check out the page here. If you are ready to learn which historical figure had turkey quills shoved up his nose, head to the City Council Chronicles podcast to download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.
Richmond is a city of 220,000 people and the capital of Virginia. It was also the capital of the Confederacy and that legacy still lingers. The James River provides recreational opportunities and the Amtrak station provides a connection to Washington, D.C. and beyond. During our visit, we stand in the middle of the water, attend a rally with the mayor, and visit a restaurant that will be gone in a year. We hear from a real estate agent, some college students, a teacher, a tour guide, people who have moved away and returned, and two political watchdogs.
Folks, 2017 will be a year of uncertainty. Fear. Turmoil.
But all of that faded away when the mustachioed man in the camo-sleeve pullover strode to the Hutchinson city council microphone.
You could tell: he was here to Make Hutchinson Great Again.
“I’m sure you’ve all received my petition in the mail. I’m here to formally represent that petition,” he intoned with a deep, reassuring voice. All signs pointed to this guy having some major grievance with the city council–but honestly, I could listen to him narrate movie trailers all day. His voice was that soothing.
But I’m sorry, you were saying something about tyranny?
“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. And the government role is to protect our rights, not to find exceptions,” he murmured, like some sort of Ken Burns documentary.
“Your opinion is your theology, and any opinion contrary to the fact I set forth is contrary to our basis of governance. That is why I am requesting repeal of the tax for the support of the sports arena. We’d like to see the city council repeal all ordinances that are destructive of the life, liberty, property, and prosperity of the people of Hutchinson.”
There was a dramatic pause as the John Williams musical score in my head stopped playing.
“Thank you. We appreciate it,” Mayor Jon Daveline casually replied. Then, cheerfully, “next item, please!”
The city attorney leaned forward in his chair, giving the audience an exclusive view of the hyper-expressive sign language translator.
“There was a bill passed by the Kansas legislature moving elections to the fall–and requiring an extension of your terms,” he announced. As a smirk spread across his lips, he added, “so let me be the first to thank you for your additional months of service!”
Everyone laughed, perhaps a bit TOO hard.
“This extends your terms from April of this year to January 2018,” he elaborated. “For those whose terms would have expired not in 2017 but in 2019, your terms are extended to 2020.”
Not everybody was elated.
“I mean, they [the voters] might want us out in April and we’re here for another eight months,” Councilmember Jade Piros de Caravalho observed with a mournful chuckle.
“So…the changing of the guard will not occur until WHEN?!” exclaimed the mayor half-jokingly.
At this point, Camo Sleeves jumped uninvited back up to the mic. Cue the music from Braveheart.
“The city does retain the right to stand up and say we will not comply with any law the state comes out with,” he urged them defiantly. “You do have that right. You don’t have to comply with their laws.”
Mayor Daveline shifted uncomfortably, no doubt realizing that the Civil War started over something similar to this. “We’re…gonna take the advice of our city attorney here–”
“The law is often the rule of tyrants,” Camo said firmly. “That’s just the way it is.”
The color had drained from the city attorney’s face. “Uh…the authority that a city has is granted to it by the state of Kansas. If they didn’t grant us the authority…we couldn’t exist.”
Final thoughts: It’s a tough call…they didn’t stand up to tyranny. But they did avoid an inter-governmental apocalypse. I give these council members 8 out of 10 camo-sleeve pullovers.
As the classic song goes, “Sweet home Alabama / Where the skies are so blue and the city council meetings get ’em riled up like General Lee’s army.”
The warning shot was fired by a grizzled Northport veteran who wasted no time during public comment in waving the rebel flag. “We now have regular traffic jams at all hours of the day and early evening,” he charged.
“The speed of cars along Fifth Street going 45, 50, 60 miles an hour has unfortunately become commonplace–and the noise pollution of cars and trucks.” He gave one final push on his verbal bayonet. “I wouldn’t invite my two-year-old granddaughter to come and visit me in Northport until this situation changes.”
How would Mr. Lincoln’s army respond? Council President Jay Logan chose retreat. “I know your wife came up two weeks ago and expressed an interest in traffic control…I can’t really give you a solution right now just simply because it’s still considered a state highway.”
Councilman Bert Sims made a run to join enemy lines. “When I’m eating at Billy’s [Sports Grill], I’m very nervous for pedestrians. When that light’s green…they have at it like they’re at Talladega.”
One councilman down. A traitor to his cause.
The next skirmish was a big’un: Jody Jobson, himself a former city councilman, strode up to the front line. Brother against brother. Heartbreaking. War is hell.
“Are you familiar with any slush funds in this past administrator’s office?” Jobson assailed.
Mayor Herndon sat up. “Slush funds?”
“Slush funds,” Lieutenant Jobson responded. “That nobody on the council had access to except [the recently resigned city manager]?”
“No, sir, I do not,” the mayor returned fire. “And it’d be better if you–if you’re gonna be talking about an individual that’s not an employee of the city of Northport–”
“Well you get on the radio and talk about it…you get on the TV and talk about it,” Jobson flanked Hizzoner.
Mayor Herndon refused to give ground. “With good cause, good reason.”
Corporal Jobson laid into the mayor about how the former city administrator moved money from one fund to another without a council vote. Then, mid-sentence, a loud, piercing siren sounded. Did General Grant surrender? Had Johhny Reb captured Fort Northport?
No, Jody’s time was up.
But he wasn’t going quietly. “I was fixin’ to call for a state audit because you just don’t– you don’t move funds from one to another without a vote. And he doesn’t have any authority to do that unless council does it.”
Score one for the Union. A slow clap from the graycoats greeted Jobson as he sat down.
As they prepared to celebrate the ceasefire, council President Logan had one final dispatch from Mr. Lincoln’s war room. “We had a safety fair Saturday and Councilman Sullivan and I participated in a dunking booth. So if you missed the opportunity to dunk me and Rodney…you just missed it.”
Councilman Sullivan muttered, “I’m glad they missed it.” Clearly, he was shaken from narrowly avoiding Jody Jobson’s sustained volley. Lord knows what that man could do with a dunking booth in his crosshairs.
Final thoughts: Let’s just pray these boys make it home to their wives. And that the country never again sees the horror of the battlefield.*