Interview #143: Golden, CO Mayor Pro Tem Casey Brown (with podcast)

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

Casey Brown was a proponent of letting 16 and 17-year-olds vote in Golden’s municipal elections. He discusses the merits of that council proposal, as well as a resident-initiated campaign to place a moratorium on housing construction in the name of “neighborhood character.”

Q: I was shocked to see your council take things a little too far for my taste last year when you sent a measure to the ballot to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections. Who came up with this idea? Is this something you got from these violent video games that I hear are destroying our country?

A: [laughs] No, this is actually an idea that has popped up in other cities around the country. It’s something that’s been adopted in a number of other countries as well. It was a neat idea I thought. There was a lot of studies that showed when you lowered the voting age, those individuals became engaged voters for the rest of their lives.

Q: I’ve watched quite a few of your council meetings and I daresay the average age of people who come before you to speak is probably in the forties. Do you think that people are suspicious of young people playing a role in government because they’re not hearing young people play a role in government?

A: I do. It was challenging to overcome some of those preconceived ideas people had about whether 16-year-olds were ready for it. There was even some 16-year-olds who questioned whether they were really ready for it!

Q: There is one other campaign that played out publicly in your council meetings beginning early this year. Can you explain how Golden limits new housing construction?

A: This is often what we call in Golden the one percent growth limit–it’s technically a 0.9 percent growth limit. This is an idea that Golden adopted in 1996, but it’s a way of restraining the growth in residential developments.

Brown.jpg
Golden, CO Mayor Pro Tem Casey Brown

Q: In January, you had several residents saying that development was out of control and asking for a moratorium on housing construction until you could revise your city codes. Where was this sentiment coming from?

A: There’s been such a growth in population across all communities along the Front Range. The infill development especially here in Golden has been happening at a bulk and size and scale that was really out of scope with the existing character of the neighborhoods. There was a real frustration and angst about what they were seeing in their neighborhoods–bigger, denser, of a different architectural style, and not really compatible with their existing neighborhood character.

Q: When you heard the word “moratorium,” what do you envision they were asking for?

A: I think what they were asking for is just to put a stop to all development. Just make it stop. I think that’s a reasonable desire, but it’s not a desire that we could really fulfill. It’s not that we want to make everything be old timey, historic Golden. But at the same time, there was clearly some new development that really was not compatible.

Q: It struck me that many of the people–if not 99 percent of them–who spoke, were older than 30. Going back to the 16 and 17-year-olds who you wanted to be able to vote, do you feel that their interests were represented in the moratorium debate?

A: That’s a really interesting thought. When we think about our younger residents, we tend to think of them being concerned about other issues outside of planning and zoning. We tend to think, are we creating the right recreational amenities? Are we creating transportation and transit options for them? But it’s an interesting point because I think they have a real stake in what gets decided as well in the planning code.


Follow Mayor Pro Tem Casey Brown on Twitter: @BrownforGolden

Interview #142: Denver, CO Former Councilman Rafael Espinoza (with podcast)

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

Rafael Espinoza was the District 1 councilman in Denver for the past four years before stepping down this summer. From meeting attendance to the non-televised public comment sessions, he took issue with some of his council’s operating procedures. Plus, he explains on the podcast how he rapidly made up his mind during a divisive vote on affordable housing.

Q: Unlike most cities out there, your council does not hold public comment during the meetings. Why not? And as a follow-up: how dare you?

A: That was an interesting debate. I very much supported having public comment be televised. Basically we were advised by the city attorney to not do that because once you open public comment, you can’t shut it down. You cannot dictate or control what the individual speaks to. In order to maintain the ability for individuals to speak, but maybe not broadcast things that are not really good to broadcast, the decision was to hold that prior to the actual televised meeting.

Q: So if I’m hearing you correctly, there was a fear that mild-mannered Denverites would be more vulgar, crude, and insulting than all of the other cities that do televise their public comment?

A: There are some usual attendees that take every opportunity they can in public comment to speak. There was concern expressed by members of council that those individuals would take that opportunity to expound upon whatever theories they had.

Q: I noticed that the pre-meeting comment, although not televised, was on your personal Facebook page. Is anyone live streaming the half-hour public comment session now that you are no longer on council?

A: No. I took exception to the fact that we were fearful of having public comment. I took it upon myself to live stream it directly from the dais. But I didn’t bother asking permission. I didn’t think it was a big deal because anybody in the audience could do the same thing. But it did come out years later at a retreat–“hey, you’re doing that and you never bothered asking us.” I was like, “does anyone take issue with it?” And there were enough members of council that did that I ceased making that broadcast.

Editorial-Rafael-Espinoza-2-19
Denver, CO former Councilman Rafael Espinoza

Q: Denver has council meetings. It has committee meetings. But it also has a unique third type of meeting called the “mayor-council” meeting. Each week, the council members sit around the table, and your mayor–who is not a part of council–comes in to chair a legislative update between the branches of government. These meetings are typically under a half hour, sometimes under ten minutes. If this is the time for the legislature and the chief executive to be in the same room at the same time, I would expect a little more give and take. What was your impression?

A: It is the lone chance where council is sitting at the table with the mayor in a public forum. Early on I did take advantage of that opportunity to try and raise certain concerns. That wasn’t very well received. It’s more of a perfunctory thing.

Q: I noticed that it was very rare for all council members to show up to the mayor-council meetings. What was your philosophy on showing up? Speaking now as John Q. Voter, should it matter to Denverites whether council members are having face time with the mayor?

A: I think it would be important to have face time with the mayor. I was a regular attendee until I wasn’t. There was a lot of things that were on the consent agenda that I took issue with and I wished we were questioning. I’m notorious on council for wanting to question things. For me personally, it made my skin crawl at times to be sitting in there being deferential when there were things there that I thought should be called out and questioned.


Follow former Councilman Rafael Espinoza on Twitter: @CD1Rafael

Interview #141: Aurora, CO Council Member Nicole Johnston (with podcast)

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

After public commenters demanded that the Aurora council speak out against an ICE detention center in Aurora, Council Member Nicole Johnston and some of her colleagues attended a nationwide, pro-immigrant protest at the facility. However, a small splinter group caused an uproar with their behavior, and one of her colleagues held her publicly–and unfairly–responsible in a council meeting.

Q: At the June 24 council meeting, there was a long list of public commenters. Many of them were there to speak against the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Aurora. Why was immigration and the ICE facility coming up now?

A: There is a history. We have a center that is overseen by this private GEO Group. But there was an internal investigation that gave a series of infractions. We’ve had outbreaks of measles and chickenpox, which affects our first responders if they have to come in. They can leave being exposed. Nationally and locally, we’ve been looking at this.

Q: You did bring up the federal inspector general’s report at the study session prior to the meeting. In response, Mayor Bob LeGare and Councilwoman Francoise Bergan both said they didn’t think Aurora should get involved in federal affairs. But this came about because you and Council Members Crystal Murillo, Allison Hiltz, and Angela Lawson–or “the Squad”–sent a letter to council expressing concern about conditions at this facility. Did you believe that your other colleagues didn’t know about the ICE facility?

A: We all know about the ICE facility. We were not asking our colleagues to develop policy to step on the feet of our federal government. We were just saying, “hey, this is wrong. We don’t want our community to think that we just stand by this. Please, as a council, let’s sign this unanimously and show strong support that we support our immigrant and refugee communities.” Only four of the ten council members signed that letter.

Q: That brings us to the evening of July 12–a Friday night. Where was Nicole Johnston?

A: I attended, along with many people throughout the country–700 cities–in a Lights for Liberty event. The purpose was to shine light on the atrocities that are happening in detention centers.

Q: The protest was at the detention center.

Nicole-Johnston.jpg
Aurora, CO Council Member Nicole Johnston

A: It was. The protest started with a march. There were speakers speaking to the group. Simultaneously, there’s flagpoles–the American flag was flying. While we were speaking, a group of people had gone past this barrier, took down the American flag, put up a flag of Mexico, attempted to burn the American flag, and put up a pro-police flag–but they had defaced it. I did not know all of those details while I was several hundreds of feet away.

Q: The following Monday, there was a scheduled council meeting and the first public commenter to speak was actually Council Member Dave Gruber, who used his time to hold you and two of your colleagues culpable for the group’s actions. Do you think he planned to whip the audience into a frenzy?

A: I absolutely thought that was intentional. It was a packed house. On the side was a woman who had already been tagging me on Twitter, spreading lies. She was ready to record his speech. She downloaded it on a far-right group, which now has probably almost 30,000 views, saying that we were participants in [desecrating the flag].

Q: After he spoke, you tried to cut in, but Mayor LeGare told you that was not the procedure. Minutes later, Council Member Charlie Richardson moved to overturn his ruling and let you speak. How many times since you’ve been on council have council members attempted to overrule the chair?

A: This was the first. We did not organize that protest. When he [said in his comments to] imagine a loved one of a service member being presented with that desecrated flag, that personally insulted me deeply. I was married to a Marine for over 15 years. Council Member Gruber knew that military connection I had. To give that example was dirty, below the belt. It was something that I don’t know if I can get past.

Q: The editorial board of the Aurora Sentinel called for the council to censure Dave Gruber. How do you feel about that?

A: With our council rules, to censure someone we need six votes. If we don’t get the six votes, those that bring that charge forward of censure are responsible for paying all legal or attorney fees. If Council Member Gruber had an attorney to defend himself and we brought forward censure, if we did not get the six votes, we aren’t on the winning side.


Follow Council Member Nicole Johnston on Twitter: @nicoleforaurora

Podcast Recap: 30 Hours

On this week’s podcast, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos spends 30 hours learning about the podcast and its host. You can listen to the exposé on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

CCC_Logo.JPGOn this episode, you will hear excerpts from these full interviews:

1. Interview #136: Glasgow, SCT Councillor Eva Murray (with podcast)

2. Interview #137: Madison, WI Alder Samba Baldeh (with podcast)

3. Interview #138: Saint John, NB Reporter Barbara Simpson (with podcast)

4. Interview #108: Thornton, CO Mayor Heidi Williams (with podcast)

Plus, you can listen to a segment of “Tear It Down,” an eight-chapter audio series about a small town whose government became wildly dysfunctional when political insurgent group formed seeking revenge: www.tearitdownpodcast.com.

tear-it-down-logo-with-bricks-2.jpg

As always, City Council Chronicles’ sponsor is Dig Deep Research. They assist local governments in obtaining grant money and are eager to hear from potential new clients. Find out how they can help you today:

DigDeepLogo-1

State of the City Council Meetings Address 2019

190205220327-17-sotu-2019-exlarge-169.jpg

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–For the third year in a row, Michael Karlik appeared before a joint session of Congress for the greatest honor any person can imagine, other than meeting Cher: he delivered the State of the City Council Meetings address. The standing ovations were numerous. The viewership was huge. And almost no one requested a refund afterward. Below is a transcript and audio of the entire speech, sponsored by Dig Deep Research, which is also available on iTunesStitcher, and Player FM:

Madame Speaker, Madame Tussaud, Mesdames and Messieurs: because of the solemn duty conferred upon me by the Constitution, and because there is no one else out there crazy enough to do this, I am here tonight to remark upon the city council meetings of the world. And I want to assure all of you that despite what you may hear from the fake, failing, or–if they’re nice to me–the perfectly fine news media, the state of our city council meetings is…can you scroll the teleprompter please? Strong. [applause]

Tonight, I will share with you stories of city council tests and city council triumphs. Although the tests are a lot more fun, you know what I’m saying? You know what I’m saying? [laughter]

Sitting in the gallery next to the First Lady is the mayor of Lakewood, Colorado, Adam Paul. [applause] Okay, he’s my guest, so next time please wait until I give you permission to clap, capiche? Last year, the Lakewood council had a crisis on its hands. What has a long tail, beady eyes, and a reputation for causing bubonic plagues? Rats. The pigeons of the ground. I actually brought a couple here tonight in this cage and oh, the cage is empty. Uh, that’s not good.

All right, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll release the rattlesnakes also to catch them and–okay, I’m seeing everyone shake their head no, so let’s put a pin in that. Anyway, the Lakewood city council had to act fast to keep the rats from multiplying. Here is their story.

***

Thank you for your response, Mayor. Please clap. [applause] But city councils don’t just respond to problems. They sometimes create their own. And when the Independence, Missouri city council voted to fire people in the Power & Light department, accusations started flying. Agnes, could you roll my interview with Independence Mayor Eileen Weir?

***

Okay, quick update. We found the rats. [applause] Yes, finding rats in the United States Congress is like trying to find a needle in a needle stack, am I right? [laughter and applause] All right, good night, everybody. Goodnight–what’s that? I’m contractually obligated for another 15 minutes? Okay.

Why don’t we check in on Canada? Someone has to, for security. Earlier this year, I became aware of a bizarre story out of Kingston, Ontario. A couple of councillors protested the council proceedings not with their words, not with their votes, but with their feet. Agnes?

***

You know, I always struggle with how to end these things. On the one hand, I want to stay and talk to you forever. On the other hand, I just got a foosball table delivered at home. Choices, choices. You know, I have some thoughts about illegal immigration and abortion that I’d like to get out there. It is terrible that–wait a minute. Callaway?

Hillsboro, Oregon Mayor Steve Callaway?! [applause] I can’t believe they let you past security! Mostly because I told them not to. But folks, during his state of the city address in January, Mayor Callaway gave a very important shout out that I noticed right away.

Yeah, you can clap for that. You can clap for that. In fact, I once interviewed Hillsboro’s city manager, Michael Brown, and we discussed how Hillsboro’s state of the city addresses are always the greatest show on earth.

***

Thank you. God bless you. And god bless city council meetings.

Month in Review: October 2018

Even though it was Halloween season, October’s city council meetings were hardly frightening. In fact, they were downright suspenseful.

For starters, there was the whodunnit involving a city council member who leaked a confidential document.

Then there was the mayor who claimed that his council was just waiting for him to slip up.

And we all got enraged at the city that deletes council meeting videos after a year.

But if you read this website for all things whimsical, we also covered the Canadian council discussing marijuana and the reporter who bought a special council meeting tie.

To see what you missed while you were designing your Halloween costume, visit the October Month in Review.

And if you ever fantasized about being a youth councilor mimicking the mayor, this guy is living the dream:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 12.17.25 PM

Interview #108: Thornton, CO Mayor Heidi Williams (with podcast)

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

Even though Thornton gets rid of its council meeting videos (boo), there was still a lot of ground to cover with two-term Mayor Heidi Williams. She discussed difficult public hearings, titular protocol, and her frequent public commenters.

Q: Your Honor, the city of Thornton video streams its council meetings–which is good! And they are even in high definition with remarkable sound quality. So that is even better. The problem is: you only have videos posted for the last year. And I was told that Thornton takes down and destroys videos older than one year! Now look, we all made questionable fashion choices in the mid 2010s. Short shorts. Mom jeans. White people dreadlocks. So if that’s what this is about, I’m empathetic. But Mayor, when it comes to those videos, how do you defend what I am calling the Great Thornton Purge?

A: Well, I have to be honest: this is the first time I’ve heard of that. I did not realize that we took those videos down and destroyed them. So I will be getting to the bottom of that. I really thought that you could go back and watch videos a long time back.

Q: I am glad you are on the case. I take it from your answer that you don’t often watch videos of the council meetings after they happen. Is that accurate?

A: Oftentimes, I don’t want to actually relive it. The times that I’ve gone back and watched a portion of a meeting is because I thought maybe I said something really stupid. And generally I find that I either did or it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I think it’s a little narcissistic–again, I’m already there. But having said that, I understand how a lot of people aren’t there. And constituents are like, “oh, we watch you on channel 8 or we watch you online!” And I’m like, “you do?!” It’s always surprising to me that people do.

Q: Well, it’s all the more frustrating to me that I can only watch 52 weeks’ worth of meetings! I noticed that you don’t often miss meetings, which is admirable. But whenever you are gone and the mayor pro tem is in charge, everyone calls the mayor pro tem “Your Honor.” That title is reserved for you! Have you ever told your mayors pro tem to get back in their place–or do you want me to do that for you right now?

17880081_10213134777552453_6301364413073878482_o.jpg
Thornton, CO Mayor Heidi Williams

A: In Thornton, all the elected officials are considered “The Honorable.” So actually, everybody that serves on council with me is “Your Honor.” I only missed two meetings the first six years. But the city manager called the mayor pro tem at the time “mayor” and somebody texted me right away. Apparently, that’s what they used to do. They don’t do that anymore, but they will say “Your Honor.”

Q: On March 20, there was an extended stay hotel proposed in Thornton. This council meeting was to approve it or reject it. Hearing people in the public hearing talk about “this type” of hotel and how “no college educated” people would stay there, and talking about how transient families would send their kids to school and “use our resources,” I felt uncomfortable with how people were resorting to elitist arguments when they really didn’t have to. Did that cross your mind at the time?

A: Sure, it’s always tough when a developer wants to put something in that people don’t want–the NIMBY effect. I’ve heard probably worse than that. That was a difficult hearing.

Q: You also had crowded meetings about marijuana stores, and I’m sure people were making arguments about destroying the city or letting in the “wrong type” of people or threatening children. Does it concern you when people make it seem that with one vote, your council will do all of those things to the city?

A: Yeah, and the longer I’m the mayor, I’ve just seen so much of that. That would probably be one of my most frustrating things. Everybody’s like, “not in my backyard.” As a society, we have to start being more thoughtful and less hateful. And try to talk to our council members about what we want and don’t want, but in a way that’s not demeaning or hateful. I’ve just seen in the last couple of years a lot more hateful stuff being said. Not tons, but a lot more than I did.


Follow Mayor Heidi Williams on Twitter: @mayorheidi

Month in Review: August 2018

If ever there was a time to start following City Council Chronicles, it was August. And I’ll give you one hint why:

International #CityHallSelfie Day.

That’s right, we picked the top 10 city council selfies and showcased them to the world! But we had plenty of other serious news to cover, too. Have you heard of the mayor with a rat infestation?

Or the seven city council members who blocked an anti-discrimination measure?

That is some pretty serious fare. But you can also find more lighthearted segments with the council member who reenacted a medical drama and a role-playing exercise for teen engagement.

To engage yourself in a whirlwind of activity, check out the August Month in Review.

And if you aren’t a big reader, you’re in luck, because we’ve got images galore like this one:

Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 9.50.58 AM.png

Interview #101: Lakewood, CO Mayor Adam Paul (with podcast)

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

Adam Paul is a city councilor-turned mayor who has had to deal with a series of crises–major and minor–at recent Lakewood council meetings. From the “rat house” to the brawl over a mayor pro tem, he explains how the council confronted the problem and moved on.

Q: I was pleasantly surprised to see at your June 25 meeting this year that you had some guests from Lakewood’s sister city in Australia. Was there anything that you had to explain to them about how your meetings worked?

A: Public comment was an eye-opener for them. It was a little bit foreign to them and [they] were surprised at some of the boldness of the community members in their comments.

Q: Did you get a sense of what their public comment is like?

A: Yeah, limited public comment and certainly in their system, from the queen down, kind of that proper Australian, proper English attitude toward it.

Q: When they’re not wrestling crocodiles and drinking Foster’s, I assume. What did you hope those Aussies took away from your meeting?

A: It was good for my council to understand that while we are literally a world apart, our issues are the same. That was a cool takeaway for me to see this is normal. These are the normal functions of local government. We’re not an outlier.

Q: This same meeting with the Australians, there was actually a bigger, more disgusting concern. When I say the words “rat house,” what does that mean to you?

A: Well, it’s taken on a whole new meaning. You know, in local government, we try to plan against storms and shootings and traffic accidents. You try to be prepared for everything. We were experiencing a quite sad situation. A family was dealing with some mental illness and a hoarding house. They had some pet rats that they were feeding and taking care of and it started to snowball into a terrible situation. We had to have all the rats killed, which is over 500, 600 rats, I think.

12509539_741148109351483_8106868115234131589_n
Lakewood, CO Mayor Adam Paul

Q: At that meeting, neighbors stood up and described in graphic detail the feces, urine, and rat carcasses that they were dealing with because of this house. When you were listening to that, how did you feel?

A: I felt terrible. I mean, goodness. What a terrible ordeal. At the end of the day, I’m the mayor. The buck stops with me. Our first thing that we needed to do was contain it, get it stopped. This has been a learning process. There will always be something else that you don’t catch.

Q: Yes, and it’s unrealistic for you to know everything that’s going on in the neighborhoods before someone brings it up at a council meeting. But rats with tumors on their faces? And carcasses lying in yards? I mean, how was this happening for a year and a half and all of a sudden, it’s June 2018 and it’s a crisis?

A: If we didn’t act in a manner that we should have, we need to fix that and we will. But for some it was still too slow and we need to do a better job.

Q: Obviously, you don’t want people coming into the council meeting for public comment with every little situation for you eleven to address. But on the other hand, you don’t want someone’s house literally on fire and then coming in and telling you about it. Where have you given direction to city staff to say, “when a problem gets this bad, we should be talking about it in a council meeting?”

A: That’s why we’re there on Monday night. To hear that. When there comes a point where people don’t feel like they’re being heard or they don’t see things being affected, we’re the last remedy.


Follow Mayor Adam Paul on Twitter: @adampaullkwd