It’s almost April, which makes this the perfect time to look back at what happened in…February! The shortest month of the year was highly productive: it included our first ever State of the City Council Meetings Address (to a joint session of Congress, no less!), our first Australian city council meeting, and a tale of the councilman who saved San José.
Charles Djou has done it all–Hawaii state legislature, U.S. Congressman, and most importantly, Honolulu city councilman. He got me up to speed on some city council traditions and local island lingo, plus the time a native chief put a curse on the council! Definitely listen to the podcast because there is so much more stuff in there than you’ll read below.
Q: Something I’m curious about is the dress code for the city council meetings. Is it suits and ties or Hawaiian shirts and leis?
A: Yes, so some of the things that are different about the Honolulu city council: the FULL council is in coat and tie. But our committee hearings are done in aloha shirts–
Q: They’re called “aloha” shirts, there? Not Hawaiian shirts?
A: Yes. The other thing that is perhaps a little different is the first city council meeting of the year after an election, everybody wears leis. And everybody gets leis.
Q: What is the lei protocol in Hawaii? Is there any occasion where it’s inappropriate to wear a lei?
A: You know…I wouldn’t say there’s any time where it’s not appropriate. It is relatively common to see people wear a lei if it’s your birthday, if it’s something significant, if you–
Q: Are you wearing a lei now?
A: I am not.
Q: OH, THIS ISN’T SIGNIFICANT FOR YOU?!
Q: Any interesting moments you can remember from the Honolulu city council meetings?
A: By tradition, usually the very first city council meeting, we’ll open it with an oli, which is a native Hawaiian chant and prayer. I imagine maybe some of the city councils in, like, South Dakota or Oklahoma with large Native American populations maybe have some similar tradition.
Q: You’re probably right about tribal involvement. But prayer, especially in the South, is common for kicking off council meetings. When you say “chant,” I think of something rhythmic, like BUM-bum-bum-bum BUM-bum-bum-bum.
A: Yes. It’s in the native Hawaiian language. And then frequently accompanied with hula.
Q: Hula! Does that mean you have bikini-clad women in the council chamber?
A: Uhhhhhh, no. The whole bikini-clad women thing is sort of a 1950s/1960s image people have.
A: I’ll share with you one interesting story. This occurred right before I became a member of the city council. The city council had a relatively controversial issue about condemnation of some native Hawaiian land. I remember a native Hawaiian kapuna (tribal elder) came in and put a curse on the city council members who voted against it.
Q: Wow, a curse! Did you feel worse voting no when there were eight other people you were working with on the council, compared to the state house with 50 other people?
A: No–if anything, on the city council I felt I had a greater voice in being able to dissent.
Q: Now, the listeners will revolt if I don’t ask this: between the Hawaii state house, the U.S. House, and the Honolulu city council, which had the nicest chairs?
A: Oh, the U.S. Congress! [Laughs] They have the nice comfy leather chairs over in Congress.
There are two truly wonderful experiences in life: holding your newborn child for the first time and watching a city council meeting’s intro video.
No offense to my three–or is it four?–children, but after viewing this patriotic opener, I was crying so hard that I would have gladly let Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross lead me into battle against any other city council:
His Honor moved swiftly through the People’s Business. “We have a public hearing on the 2016-2017 budget,” he read, glancing up to deliver his own saucy editorial. “I might add that the city of Blue Springs– unlike the FEDERAL government–we operate on a BALANCED budget. We don’t have a money printing machine.”
Kapow! Sucker punch right in the Congress! Although he’s awfully quick to deny having a money printing machine considering no one brought it up….
“That being said, we’ll go to the public. Is there anyone in the audience who would like to speak in support OF the budget? In support OF?” No one stood UP. Stood UP.
“In opposition TO? In opposition TO? We’ll close this public hearing.”
Mayor Ross lowered his head and gazed steely-eyed around the dais. “That brings to mayoral announcements. I will continue to talk about being sick and tired of all the murders that are taking place. ESPECIALLY with children being killed.”
The room was silent.
“The the nonsense of [driving while] intoxicated is just like taking a gun and shooting somebody because you’re dealing with something much worse. A vehicle that weighs thousands of pounds and you have no control over it! And the innocent people, that they end up dying. Especially with children. So those are the announcements.”
Wow, I don’t know which is tougher: following this announcement or the fact that this is the first anti-drunk driving PSA I’ve seen in 49 city council meetings.
Luckily, His Honor took it upon himself to lighten the mood. “Now, Thoughts to Ponder.”
He leaned back and twirled his note card.
“Thoughts to Ponder tonight comes from a voicemail on my phone yesterday. It was kind of a confession, of sort. He said over the last 50 years, he’s had a problem with 80-year-old drivers…or their lack of being able to drive well.” Every eye was on the mayor, wondering what kind of ageist tirade was in store.
“But in March, HE turned 80, and his whole attitude changed about those ‘terrible’ 80-year-old drivers. They’re not such bad drivers after all. It’s really interesting when we have opinions about things or people until the shoe is on YOUR foot. Then we have a tendency to change our attitudes about it.”
By now, everyone in the room was smiling. Including me–I never thought I’d find so much wisdom in Western Missouri, of all places.
“That concludes our Thoughts to Ponder.”
Final thoughts: “Thoughts to Ponder” is my new favorite city council segment. Granted, the bar was super low to begin with, but I think the world would be a lot better if more mayors interpreted their voicemail on camera.