Interview #64: Mobile, AL Council Member Levon Manzie (with podcast)

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

Levon Manzie is a reverend by day who served on the school board and recently won his second term as the District 2 representative. He shares how he benefits from having prayer in the council meetings, plus his thoughts on rules and compassion. And be sure to listen to the audio–I give him some suggested catchphrases for District 2.

Q: Every Mobile city council meeting opens with a prayer. Whenever you give that prayer, how is it different from the prayer you write for Sunday morning?

A: To be honest, it isn’t that much different because I really don’t write it. When I’m called upon, I seek inspiration. At that moment before a council meeting, I wanted god to bless what we were voting on. What we were deliberating over touches the lives of [thousands of] individuals.

Q: Have you ever watched someone else give the prayer and thought, “oof, that’s a little heavy handed?”

A: That has not happened to my knowledge. The scheduler tries to have a variety of ministers offer the blessing. Now, there have been some I thought were too long!

Q: [Laughs] Would you ever begrudge someone who says, “this is a business meeting. I don’t think it’s appropriate to be praying.”

A: I wouldn’t begrudge someone. But for me, I think prayer is most appropriate. Just last week to the right of us, Hurricane Irma. To the left of us, Hurricane Harvey. So I’m not ashamed about being mindful that we’ve been blessed and it’s most appropriate to acknowledge that. Again, those are my personal views. I believe most persons would pray specific to the city of Mobile or a general prayer asking for guidance in a general sense.

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Mobile, AL Council Member Levon Manzie

Q: You were on the school board before this. Is the difference between school board meetings and council meetings like the difference between the minor leagues and the major leagues? Or between decaf coffee and a shot of espresso? How would you compare them?

A: I think decaf and espresso would probably be the best analogy. On the school board we dealt with one overarching theme, which was providing quality education. Everything was judged off of that standard. Every contract. Every appointment. Every vacancy. Here in the city, it’s not as single-focused.

Q: How would you describe council President Gina Gregory’s style at running meetings?

A: You know, she’s a veteran. She’s compassionate, sometimes allowing individuals to go over the alloted time so they can completely finish their thought. But she’s also orderly. And when people go off topic or when they abuse their time, she knows how to be strict.

Q: So you’re saying that compassion and rule-bending are just as important in some situations as being strict and treating everyone the same in every circumstance.

A: Well, one hundred percent. You have to be as compassionate or as strict as the person will allow you to be. If you’ve got somebody who is causing a ruckus in the meeting, there isn’t any room for compassion. But if you’ve got an individual who is impassioned about changes that are proposed for his or her community and they’re about 90 percent from finishing a complete thought and they’ve followed the rules, it’s incumbent upon you to judiciously allow some rule-bending. And I think she’s mastered that.


Follow Council Member Levon Manzie on Twitter: @lcmanzie06

#46: Orlando, FL 8/29/16

From the home of Disney World comes a city council meeting so magical, so enchanting that it has its own glorious video intro:

“Ladies and gentlemen,” boomed the voiceover, “please welcome our mayor, Buddy Dyer!”

The stock footage abruptly faded to the council chambers, where one sole attendee applauded on cue.

“Whoever had that one clap, I appreciate that,” the mayor lightheartedly quipped as the room roared with laughter.

“Welcome to the January 29, 2016 meeting of the Orlando City Council,” announced His Honor, his brains apparently scrambled from too many rides on Splash Mountain. “We give our commissioners the opportunity to update you on items from their commission district.”

But by the time Commissioner Samuel Ings finished his slideshow of the Sixth Annual Red Tie Celebrity Golf Extravaganza, the mayor had a mea culpa:

“The city clerk let me know that when I called the meeting to order, I said it was the January…or December?”

“January,” the clerk corrected–again.

“Some month other than August,” Mayor Dyer admitted to chuckles. “Hopefully most of you are aware that it is August.”

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“If you’re not aware that it’s August in Orlando, look at a thermometer.”

If you’re having trouble forgiving the mayor for his brain fart, Commissioner Robert Stuart had some words for you.

“Back in April we were listed as the second or third most compassionate city in the country,” he said, introducing his resolution to make Orlando an official “compassionate city”–which is like a regular city, except Commissioner Stuart will kiss your boo-boo, I guess.

The mayor glanced sideways. “Amy, our city clerk, was commenting to me that she didn’t think she was getting enough TV time. So I thought I would let her read the resolution.”

Without missing a beat, she retorted, “You just know I can do it faster than you.” Ladies and germs, the Mayor and Clerk Variety Hour will be here all night!

But not so fast: on deck was a new fee to expand Orlando’s non-cartoon-themed parks. “We’re proposing to collect in three zones,” explained a bespectacled city staffer. “The funds raised in each of those three zones must be utilized in those three zones.”

That didn’t wash with Commissioner Regina Hill, whose zone had lots of low-income housing that wouldn’t pay.

“There’s gonna be no monies generated in that area for improvements in my parks!” she exclaimed, whipping off her glasses. “Especially Lake Lorna Doone, which has needed $4 million!”

The parks director raced to the mic. “Lake Lorna Doone is in the north zone. So all of the revenues generated in the north zone have to be spent in the north zone–”

“But the new residential that will be built…will NOT generate fees,” fired back Hill exasperatedly.

“In the north district, I think the ten-year revenue was about $6 million,” the staffer tried to assuage her.

Hill was apoplectic. “I gotta wait ten years?!”

“Well…over ten years. Yeah,” the staffer meekly responded.

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Commissioner Hill is in full stink-eye mode

At this point, the city attorney stepped into the fracas.

“The reason Lake Lorna Doone was not included in the definition of a regional park is because of its size,” he explained.

“It’s a ‘regional park’ to those that live in that area!” the commissioner mic-dropped.

Final thoughts: Yikes. Looks like a few people didn’t get the message that Orlando is a compassionate city now. I give 8 out of 10 stars to Commissioner Hill. Fight on!