Lee Vogler is the youngest councilman elected in Danville. We talk about his emphatic former mayor, what things are really like behind the cameras, and about one distressing council meeting in which he voted to take down a Confederate flag on city property.
Q: Your city council has been on my radar since last year. What stood out to me was Mayor Sherman Saunders reading a proclamation for the Goodyear plant and really emphasizing the word “DANVILLE.”
A: He loves Danville. He loves to make sure there is no question about where he’s talking about!
Q: You are the youngest councilman in Danville. In the council meetings, do you have to explain to the older councilmen certain concepts like “twerking” and “selfies” and “Ariana Grande?”
A: Believe it or not, we’ve got a pretty cool city council. Our current mayor, John Gilstrap–there’s actually a video of him twerking on YouTube if you care to find it–
Q: I do not wish to see THAT, sir! (I’m kidding, I’ll look it up after we’re done.) There is a blog called SouthsideCentral and they released a report card that gave everyone on your city council a grade. It said of Mayor Saunders, “I don’t like the way he tries to keep all the real debate on the issues in the work sessions,” which are off camera. How accurate is this statement?
A: I don’t know if it’s so much a [matter of] cameras being on or off. It’s not more heated or anything in that sense. But it’s a little more informal. We’re all pretty comfortable around one another and we can say what we really feel about things and not offend anyone. These work sessions, they’re not behind closed doors. I’m on Facebook and Twitter and I’m pretty much an open book with how I feel. We’ve had some issues where, in the televised meetings, there’s been back and forth.
Q: If you had to name the one issue that really shook things up in Danville, what would that be?
A: I hesitate to even bring this one up because it wasn’t an issue that stirred up local people as much as it was people from outside of Danville. But when the Confederate flag issue was going on, the chambers were packed.
Q: Yeah. Basically, the city owns the history museum and there was a Confederate flag on the pole. And the question was, should the city allow this? At the August 6, 2015 council meeting, every seat is filled. Some people are waving Confederate flags. Some have Confederate flag ties or t-shirts or patches. How did you feel looking out at that?
A: It was a surreal meeting. What you saw was a fraction of the people there. There was probably another hundred outside.
Q: Almost all of the arguments I heard from the pro-flag people were things such as, “it’s our heritage,” “get over it,” “if you get offended by a flag, you are inadequate,” etc. Frankly, a lot of what was said disturbed me. What kind of threats did you get?
A: There were folks who came by [my workplace] and said, “you need to think long and hard about how you vote on this.” I ran for reelection after that vote and I ended up being the top vote-getter. People have moved on.
Follow Councilman Lee Vogler on Twitter: @LeeVogler
Danville may not be the biggest city. Or the best city. Or even the best city named Danville (it’s Danville, California, obvi). But it has one thing that other cities do not:
The most annoyingly-cheerful sons-of-b’s on city council.
Mayor Sherman Saunders rose with a proclamation for the 50th anniversary of the city’s Goodyear plant. “Whereas the Goodyear tire and rubber company broke ground in DANVILLE,” he said, practically shouting the city name. “And whereas Goodyear DANVILLE is DANVILLE’s largest employer–” at this point, the two representatives from Goodyear were suppressing laughter as the Honorable Mayor bellowed “Danville” every other sentence.
“I, Sherman M. Saunders, mayor, city of DANVILLE do hereby commend Goodyear DANVILLE on its 50th anniversary in DANVILLE, Virginia.” He glanced at the room with a kingly defiance.
“Yeah, I’m proud to say ‘DANVILLE.’ That’s right!”
“Thank you, and we look forward to another 50 years of good service in Danville,” the company’s representatives responded, opting not to scream the city name. It didn’t matter–there was already a huge lovefest for Goodyear in the crowd.
“I worked at Goodyear and I built on the U2s,” the mayor reminisced.
“I also worked at Goodyear,” boasted Councilman James Buckner.
“Goodyear is Danville and Danville is Goodyear,” Councilman J. Lee Vogler, the resident poet, freestyled.
Next, the sheriff came forward to talk about the first annual Youth Day on Saturday–complete with music, a basketball free throw competition, and hundred-yard dash.
“Do you have something for [people] over 65?” Councilman John Gilstrap cheekily inquired.
“Serving hot dogs,” the sheriff retorted.
Gilstrap chuckled. “I can do that!”
Youth Day wasn’t the only big ticket item in town–and not even the only one featuring wieners: “The community market opens this Saturday,” Councilman Buckner reported. “Make sure you stop by at the time I’m working because I’m gonna make hands down the best hot dogs.”
Vice-Mayor Gary Miller called bullsh*t: “Mr. Buckner may think he makes the best hot dogs, but I’m gonna produce the healthiest ones. I’m gonna have turkey dogs,” he bragged, to groans from the council. “That are healthy for you.”
“There goes my appetite,” the mayor gagged. It sounds like the vice-mayor will have plenty of leftovers. Thanksgiving dinner at the Miller house? Turkey hot dogs.
Before the meeting adjourned, Mayor Saunders flipped on his mic, leaned back, and speechified like a Sunday preacher. “I want to thank the voters who reelected me just a few days ago. I maintain–you’re gonna hear it four more years–DANVILLE is a great city.
“Yes, we do have issues to work on and we are working on them. But the minute number of people who are causing these negative issues….they will be caught and they WILL be stopped.”
The mayor was all worked up and now spitting pure verse.
“There is no despair here in DANVILLE. Thank you for electing us.
“Thank you for supporting us.
“Thank you for believing in us.
“And thank you for being a part of the great city…of DANVILLE, VIRGINIA.”
Final thoughts: I loved this meeting as much as Mayor Saunders loves screaming theword “DANVILLE.” I give it 8/10 turkey hot dogs.
UPDATE: 11:33 a.m. THIS GUY!
Vice Mayor Dr. Gary Miller is cooking turkey franks at the home expo.