Interview #22: Jackson, MS Councilman De’Keither Stamps (with podcast)

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

De’Keither Stamps is a farmer, soldier, motivational speaker, and future White House visitor who also is a Jackson city councilman. We talked about his unusually high level of commitment to city council meetings and what it cost him to become a councilman.

Q: Something that’s different about Jackson city council meetings is that you bring in a piece of artwork to put behind you every meeting and then you recognize the artist. When did that start?

A: That was Councilman [Tyrone] Hendrix’s idea. And it’s a good idea to recognize the artist.

Q: What’s been your favorite piece?

A: The lady who had the bottle caps and the tiles that she had done some mosaic-type artwork…it was really nice. I like the art that actually means something–I don’t like the decorative kind of stuff.

Q: Yeah, I’m with you. You were a motivational speaker and you still have some videos on YouTube. This video is called “2 Keys to Success”:

That brings up the question: what did it cost you to become a city councilman?

A: Personally, I got pulled over by [Jackson police] and didn’t like the way I was treated. Getting no assistance, that started me down the road of, “if you’re not gonna help me, I need to get rid of you.” I knew it was gonna…financially, it definitely–city council only pays $300 a week. I was making $7,000 a speech, so–

Q: Yeah, that’s a tough call.

A: So it’s a little difference on the pay side. But the value in helping folks out, that’s way beyond any monetary kind of value. There’s definitely an emotional cost because your entire life is open to public scrutiny and ridicule.

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Jackson, MS Councilman De’Keither Stamps

Q: I have watched a few segments from your last couple of meetings. It seems to me that you in particular get frustrated that the city council is not doing 100 percent of its job.

A: Well, I mean…everyone has their differences of opinion of how things should go. And they’re entitled to them. We’ve made some structural changes. We used to meet every week. And I said, “this is an inefficient workflow. Why did we just come in here to vote for two items that could be on the other two weeks’ meetings?”

Q: How many council members stay to the end of the meetings?

A: [Pause] Um, I don’t keep track of it. I stay till most of the end of all them.

Q: Do council meetings matter more to you than to the other council members do you think?

A: Well, I have a different level of commitment. I live my life in a very different space. See, um, I’m willing to die for what I believe in. So the commitment level for me for the things I believe in is different.

Q: Big news for you: in a couple of days, you’re going to Washington, D.C. to be part of the presidential transition! Are you going to be taking down the portraits of George Washington and putting up pictures of his golf course?

A: Ha, no, we’ll be in a series of briefings to ensure several issues we’ve been working on don’t fall through the cracks.


Follow Councilman De’Keither Stamps on Twitter: @DeKeitherStamps

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Behind the Cameras: District of Columbia Council

Today, City Council Chronicles unveils an exciting new feature: behind-the-scenes tours of where the magic happens!

First stop: the District of Columbia. A.K.A. Washington, D.C. A.K.A. The Great Bambino.

My tour guides to Room 500 in the John A. Wilson Building were Josh Gibson and Jamaine Taylor, the lucky ducks who attend every council meeting because they work for the council secretary’s office. And speaking of Room 500…

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Here’s the view from the throne. That table in the middle is where the general counsel, budget office, and council secretary sit. The chairman calls on each of them to give a thumbs up on bills before the council approves them. (If they give a thumbs down, the chairman pulls the special “trap door” lever for their chair.)

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Feast your eyes on the TAIDEN®. Enhance!

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Like something out of “Star Trek,” the TAIDEN® is for turning on mics, browsing the Internet, looking at council materials, as well as some unexpected features. See that text messaging icon? The council members can actually text each other at the dais. (Jamaine and Josh had no comment about whether the text messages were always work-related.) They can also text staff members sitting in the room.

The VOD icon lets them watch what’s going on in the three other hearing rooms–or, in theory, watch themselves on camera here. So if they want to run downstairs to question a witness, they monitor the video feed from their seat. It’s a weird vortex where the D.C. council watchees become the D.C. council watchers.

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This is a wider view that shows the long dais. Earlier this year, Google put a Street View camera inside the building, so you can actually look at the whole council room yourself. I told my tour guides that of all the city councils I have seen, the D.C. council has probably the second-nicest chamber, after Baltimore. “Don’t ever say that,” Jamaine warned.

I asked if I could touch the gavel. Josh said go for it.

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Here’s an odd thing: the microphones are controlled at this desk here by the council. But the CAMERAS are controlled by the MAYOR’S office. So in theory, she could pick a fight with the council by shutting off their cameras, right? “It’s like us and Russia. It’s mutually assured destruction” contradicted Josh. I’ll take that to mean “unlikely but possible.”

I asked my guides if they thought council members behaved differently on camera. “I don’t think so,” Josh said. They still joke and argue when they know people are watching. And of course, they all have cell phones to pull out absent-mindedly. “It’s not like, ‘oh, we’re on camera. Let’s act like we’re in church.'”

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This is the chairman’s conference room, where the council has a meeting-before-the-meeting. They try to get consensus on things before going in front of the cameras.

Naturally, I asked what was the most absurd thing they saw happen at the council. Jamaine mentioned the time anti-Wal-Mart protesters threw ping-pong balls with the company’s smiley face at the council members.

Josh told me that during one meeting, activists crawled out onto the ledge of the building–five floors up. “Basically they were in a place where they couldn’t be removed,” he said. This forced the city to put up the high glass barrier at the end. Not that I would ever protest a council meeting, but I’d definitely use the ping-pong method WAY before I tried suicide-by-ledge.

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Stay tuned for more council tours!