“It’s amazing. You referenced the prophet Isaiah–‘come let us reason together’,” Mayor Steven Benjamin mused after a pastor wrapped up his invocation and the audience lifted their heads.
“We’re gonna move to defer item 41 for two weeks in the interest of everyone talking together again. Let’s see if we can get some good discussion.”
Eying the standing room-only crowd–some wearing color-coordinated t-shirts–the mayor added, “we’re not gonna be voting on the healthcare plan tonight. Some of you obviously have other things that you need to be doing.”
A cacophony of disgruntled murmuring arose as a mob of people lined up for the door. Council members sat stiffly and Mayor Benjamin fingered the gavel just in case.
“Please keep it down just a tad bit!” he hollered.
The crowd may have left, but the fireworks were just getting started.
“Mr. Mayor, I am opposed to this because this is another start of tax breaks for student housing in the city of Columbia,” insisted Councilman Howard Duvall indignantly.
“I respectfully disagree,” Mayor Benjamin replied calmly. “We’re gonna be able to disagree on policy and respectfully disagree.”
For the third time in under a minute, he clarified, respectfully: “But I respect your ability to disagree.”
With that, the fury fizzled. Everyone got on the same page and with rocket speed approved one item after the other–only pausing long enough for Councilman Duvall to exclaim:
“Those were the most detailed plans I’ve ever seen for a bicycle repair rack! About 16 pages!”
All of a sudden, as the clerk prepared to call the roll, Mayor Benjamin stood up and wandered over to Duvall, deliberately switching off the councilman’s microphone and whispering in his ear.
“Mr. Duvall?” the clerk prompted.
With the two men gossiping off mic, Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine glanced over. “Howard, say ‘aye’,” she coached.
Duvall whipped around and blinked. “Aye!” he declared, spinning back to continue with the mayor.
Apparently, Mayor Benjamin is a master of keeping secrets. Not five minutes later, he again sprung up to have a side chat with Councilman Edward McDowell, all the while keeping far away from the microphones.
What was he plotting? A surprise party for someone’s birthday? A legislative coup? A strategic ploy to make the front page of City Council Chronicles?
Councilwoman Devine raised her hand. “I would just say, regarding mainly our land use boards, the new members will have to go through training.”
She fired a warning shot to the newest crop of board members. “They are sitting and representing the city. They need to hear people out. They need to be respectful. And they need to follow the law.”
I would add a final commandment: they need to avoid having side chatter in a business meeting. (Not directed to anyone in particular!)
Moving on to public comment, a man with a striped tie sternly informed council members, “I myself on May 27 was the victim of racial profiling. I wasn’t pleased.”
Then, in a possible attempt at intimidation, he cautioned: “I told your chief, once my people come from Seattle, we will be organizing protests.”
It didn’t work on Mayor Benjamin. “They’re welcome to come from Seattle, my friend,” he nodded. “We have porous borders. If you are in the borders of the United States of America, you’re welcome to have your positions heard. Happy to talk with you.”
A: This is Cardboard Carrie decked out in the eclipse glasses. Councilman [Rick] Mihalevich, who had to run the meeting in my absence, really got a workout and took several pictures. I’m very impressed with Rick and his form.
Q: Of the top 10 city council selfies, did you have a favorite one?
A: First of all, I loved every single one! This Columbia, South Carolina–the gentleman holding it up, he’s kind of got his mouth open. You can tell it might be his first selfie ever. It makes me think of maybe my dad if my dad were to take a selife! He really made an effort.
I would say my top choice was Madison, Wisconsin. It almost looks like Maurice Cheeks is standing in the center of the world. He has literally put Madison at the center of the world and that would be my top pick.
Q: Maurice Cheeks’s selfie also has excellent product placement–he’s holding a City Hall Selfie Day sticker! But Mayor, if you came into a council meeting and noticed a big stain on the floor and the police chief told you, “that is from our horse that we brought here after hours and he pooped on the floor,” what would your reaction be?
A: I think I may frown on that just a little bit! I mean, hats off to our police officers, our firefighters, and honestly, that includes our police dog, Darco. It includes Mr. Fuzzy Britches the horse. That’s something else I liked about [International City Hall Selfie Day]: when you recognize those who keep our city safe.
Q: Carrie, I heard an anecdote at one of your council meetings that Jefferson City stopped making public commenters give their address because people were getting fan mail from prisoners who were watching. Is that true?
A: [Laughs] A couple of reasons: one is safety. When you’re at a council meeting giving your address, we do stream our meetings live. So, “oh, guess what? So-and-so who lives at XYZ? They’re not home right now!” You don’t want something to happen. And two: we welcome people whether you’re inside city limits or not.
Q: I saw that a Thomas Jefferson reenactor stopped by one of your meetings! How often does he come in?
A: In Jefferson City, we do celebrate as often as possible. The thought was, let’s have a birthday celebration for Thomas Jefferson and why not invite him to a council meeting?
Q: Do you think the next City Hall Selfie Day, you’ll get a picture with Thomas Jefferson?
A: He kind of photobombs a lot of my selfies because he’s on the city seal behind where the mayor sits!
The layers here are incredible: while a reporter takes a selfie, another audience member takes a picture of the city council taking a selfie. Please tell me there’s a fourth cell phone somewhere so that the selfie chain can be even longer.
It appears that Jeff City’s mayor, Carrie Tergin, stepped away from the council meeting–only to be replaced by a cardboard cutout wearing eclipse glasses! (My sources tell me the cutout also runs a helluva council meeting.) I love the spectrum of emotions from council members; they range from “meh” to “I AM HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE!”
There were oodles of voyeuristic pictures featuring people in the process of taking selfies. I like this one for two reasons: first, Columbia has set up their selfie station in advance–major points there. And second, this proves that you can have a good selfie or you can have a good portrait, but it’s hard to have a good portrait of a selfie.
Dallas lands a spot on the list thanks to this fellow gunning it through the city council selfie loophole. Not only is it ingenious to have a chart of all council members’ faces, but do you see that flamingo shirt?! Memorable for sure.
Hats galore! Witches in the back, viking in the front, and the mayor in a top hat inside the council chamber. There aren’t nearly enough props in city government, so nice job raiding the costume store.
Uh, paging all art museums: who wants this masterpiece on their wall?! Seriously, what a trippy and visionary take on a selfie by Alder Maurice Cheeks! I’m getting a bit nauseous, but part of me wants to put on some sitar music and ponder the circular nature of life.
Gaithersburg had all hands on deck. Council Member Ryan Spiegel covered the outside perimeter, Council Member Neil Harris staked out the inside, and Mayor Jud Ashman took the extreeeeeeeeeeeme eastern part of Gaithersburg: Europe! Good teamwork, gentlemen.
“OH, FOR GOD’S SAKE. WHY DIDN’T WE THINK TO USE THE HORSE?!” That’s what I imagine every media person in local government is saying this morning as they bang their head on a desk. Seriously, hats and helmets WAY off to Ocean City for setting next year’s bar at “getting a horse into a council chamber.”