Interview #113: West Hollywood, CA Mayor Pro Tem John D’Amico (with podcast)

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

John D’Amico is in his seventh year on the WeHo council and he is not afraid of wading into controversies. From Donald Trump’s Hollywood star to bad behavior by council members, he discusses the importance of speaking up when necessary.

Q: When did the idea enter your mind that Donald Trump should no longer have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and that you should do something about it?

A: When that star was vandalized again, it occurred to me that we were spending our time thinking about it and more importantly, the city of Los Angeles was spending tax dollars to replace it. And I was just thinking, why are we doing that? Why are we not speaking out? Why am I not speaking out? What very quickly occurred to me next was, why does this person–this sexist, quasi-fascist actor–have a star on the Walk of Fame?

Q: Yeah.

A: I received hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails. I responded to every single one with an email back that had my phone number at the bottom. Only two people called me. They were truly amazing people living in the middle of the country. We agreed that we were not gonna see this in the same way.

Q: On August 6, you introduced an actual resolution asking the Los Angeles city council and the chamber of commerce to remove the Trump star. As you might imagine, there were some strong opinions. One man even called you a “bad strategist” for not waiting until after the primary elections to send the letter. How worried were you that your actions may have affected the Wyoming governor’s race or the Alaska state senate primaries?

A: Well, not at all. I’m fairly certain that what we did here in West Hollywood had zero effect on elections across the country. That effect was generated by this president. He earned this “blue wave.”

Q: I can see that commenter’s point, though. This president loves to take legitimate criticism of him and convert it into fuel for immigrant bashers and media haters and mail bombers. Did you consider what might have happened if he had tweeted about you and what that might have meant for your safety or your city’s image?

A: Here’s what I thought: I’m not gonna live in an America where the president targets people. We can’t live in a country where you can say, “well, if the president tweets at you, you might be harmed.” That is not okay!

West Hollywood, CA Mayor Pro Tem John D’Amico

Q: You do have a reputation for bringing matters out into the open. I’m thinking especially of the meeting of March 7, 2016, when you called out Councilmember John Duran for his inappropriate behavior in council meetings. What prompted you to go public with that information?

A: I’m not always the most eloquent speaker. I don’t always get it right. But I will say that I do think that silence is often tantamount to complicity. I will say that Mayor Duran and I have very much repaired our relationship. He has changed dramatically as a council member and now mayor of our city. But my side of that was that I wanted our residents to know that I am paying attention and I am not afraid of speaking my truth on their behalf.

Q: Do council members need to be trained to recognize when something is out of whack? If they see something, to bring it up right away and not let it loose in a council meeting two years after the fact?

A: Sure, I guess that would make sense. But council members have bosses. That’s the public. We do not report to each other.

Q: Well, the constituents rely on someone to sound the alarm, though. Would you not agree?

A: Fair enough. Absolutely.

Follow Mayor Pro Tem John D’Amico on Twitter: @ourWEHO


#92: Lynnwood, WA 3/13/17

From deep inside the state that sued Donald Trump, it’s no surprise that Lynnwood’s mayor kicked off the council meeting with a love-fest for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses.

“If you find people who are not feeling safe or welcome in this city, you can give them this card,” Mayor Nicola Smith flashed a densely-worded index card to the camera.

“It tells them what police do and what they don’t do with our immigrants and refugees. I’ve got LOTS more.”

As she pushed a hefty stack down the dais, the mayor revealed another battle plan in the War on Unwelcomeness. “Starting next week,” she continued, “I will begin interviewing candidates for a new diversity, equity, and inclusion commission.”

“There will be a test on this.”

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. (Quite literally, I don’t think this sort of thing happens in Kansas.) But lest you think Mayor Smith is running some kind of hippie commune, the public commenters were thirsting for a fight.

“If the council places the Regional Fire Authority measure on the ballot,” read a soft-spoken, sweater-clad man, “if this unfinished, uncertain plan is on the ballot, Lynnwood loses.”

He jabbed the air with his pen. “Your Honor, I challenge you here tonight to meet with me one night a week for the next four weeks to debate this, so the citizens can know. I challenge you and I hope you’ll accept.”

OH, A CHALLENGE?! If there’s two things I know about Mayor Smith, it’s that

1.) she cares about cleaning up Daleway Park and

2.) she NEVER turns down a challenge.

This is Hamilton v. Burr all over again.

“Next on our list–” the mayor sighed, turning down the challenge.

“A couple weeks ago when I was here,” the next woman glared at the council, “I was concerned with what I witnessed from the mayor and the council in regard to not allowing citizens who had not signed up to speak.”

She paused sternly. “That was a little concerning. Hopefully that won’t happen again.”

Goodness, it sounds like we missed quite a kerfuffle. Fortunately, we were about to relitigate the offense. Speaking for the prosecution: none other than the mayor’s brash challenger. He strode to the podium for a second round of grievance-airing.

“I arrived at the sign-in table at 6:55 p.m., expecting to sign in on the sheet. There was no sheet to sign in on the table,” he narrated like it was the beginning to a crime thriller.

“I entered the council chamber knowing that council rules allowed those who had NOT signed in to speak AFTER those who signed in had spoken. When the time for citizen comments came, the mayor announced that ONLY those signed up on the sheet would be allowed to speak.”

Exhibit A: Table (no sign-in sheet)

He stared dead-on at Mayor Smith like a detective who caught his prime suspect in a contradiction. “This is the first time in my 48 years in this city that such a breach of council rules has occurred.”

“We will be better,” promised Council Member Ian Cotton with a frown.

To lighten the mood, Council Member Shannon Sessions held up a prop of her own, a tiny booklet of the “Top 10 Strange and Wonderful Oddities” around Snohomish County.

“Top 10 Oddities?” Council Member George Hurst inquired. “We’re not on there, right?”

“You are!” Council Member Sessions shot back, as Hurst did a rim shot and laughter erupted.

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.

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

Interview #21: Burlington, VT Councilor Selene Colburn (with podcast)

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

Vermont is the land of maple syrup and Bernie Sanders. But it’s also home to some spicy city council happenings. I talked to Burlington Councilor Selene Colburn, who has some interesting connections to famous Vermonters and is also a dancer/choreographer!

Q: What’s the turnout like at city council meetings?

A: We have pretty packed meetings from time to time. Right now, we’re debating whether to change our zoning to allow a 14-story mall. Which doesn’t sound very tall, but it would be the tallest building in the state of Vermont.

Q: Fourteen stories?

A: Fourteen. And it would cause us to lose our distinction of being the state with the smallest tallest building. I think that honor will go to Maine!

Q: You have 12 council members. Four are Democrats, four are Progressive, three are independent, and one is a Republican. That sounds messy. Is it?

A: We make it work. It is pretty wild to have one Republican on a city council of 12 in a city of 40,000 people.

Q: Is this guy more of a build-the-wall Republican or an urbane, rational Republican?

A: He is not a build-the-wall Republican. He also serves dually as a state legislator and city councilor simultaneously. He’s what we call a “Vermont Republican.”

Q: In addition to being a city councilor, you are a dancer and a choreographer. If you could take the city council meetings and toss them aside and choreograph them to make them really pop, what would you change?

A: The public forum part is really frustrating for the public because they get their two minutes and they get to talk at the council–and then we move forward. There’s no back and forth from that point on really. Thinking choreographically, that’s like a prelude to the performance that compositionally doesn’t ping back to the main event ever.

Burlington, VT Councilor Selene Colburn

Q: If Burlington city council meetings were a Ben & Jerry’s flavor, what would they be?

A. Hazed and Confused

B. Americone Dream

C: Vanilla

A: Definitely not vanilla. I’m gonna have to go with Hazed and Confused.

Q: You do realize that is a reference to marijuana, right?

A: [Laughs]

Q: Have you met Ben and/or Jerry?

A: I have! Jerry just endorsed my campaign. They’re really active locally politically. They never go anywhere without scooping ice cream. Every event we have in Vermont that is remotely lefty and political, someone is there scooping free Ben & Jerry’s.

Q: You would think with all that dessert, Vermont would be one of the most obese states.

A: We’re not, we’re pretty healthy. We walk, bike…jump around. I had a meeting with [a constituent] about some of her concerns about a project and she was like, “ugh! Enough with the walking and the biking and the jumping! I’m so tired of hearing about all the jumping!”

Q: [Laughs] Now, we are taping this before Election Day, but you are running for the Vermont state house of representatives and you are unopposed. So congratulations on your victory.

A: Thank you! I hope there’s no vigorous write-in campaign in the last 48 hours.

Q: That would be terrible news. And Donald Trump is our president now, so that’s not ideal.

A: [Gasp]

Follow Councilor Selene Colburn on Twitter: @selene_colburn