Interview #126: Coalinga, CA Council Member Adam Adkisson (with podcast)

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

Adam Adkisson has been a council member in the small city of Coalinga for less than a year, but he already has a restraining order against a public commenter and is collecting screenshots of online tormentors. What is transpiring in Central California?

Q: Your recent mayor, Nathan Vosburg, had a consistent grievance during his time in the mayor’s seat. How much did you agree with his complaints about negativity and non-participation by the residents of Coalinga?

A: We have a lot of issues with people getting on Facebook and spreading all kinds of lies and rumors about the city. People just take it and run with it. I understand where he’s coming from. I don’t know if I would’ve said it exactly the same way, but I share some of his sentiments.

Q: Normally we think of mayors as cheerleaders for their communities. Did it grate on you to have the mayor in public, on television, saying, “I’m sick and tired of the attitude around here”?

A: No! Sometimes we need someone to say it. People like honesty, so that’s what he gave them.

Q: At your first meeting in November as an elected council member, you said this in nominating Council Member Ron Lander to be the new mayor: “we need a mayor who will lay down the law….We need to quit having these outbursts. You have kids come in here and they have to listen to people throw around F-bombs.” Tell me more.

A: We have an issue with a few citizens who come to the council meeting and they think that certain chairs belong to them and they’ll start a fight just to prove it. We get people who come up–mainly two people–who come up to the lectern and start cussing and yelling. It just got out of control. The mayor now is gonna put an end to it and people need to act appropriately.

Q: On August 2, 2018, your council removed from the agenda a discussion about whether to allow drug testing and background checks of city council members because the city attorney advised that legally, you could not do that. This upset one commenter, who implied that he wanted to fight you.

A: He loves me. He was wanting me to go outside. He doesn’t even live in Coalinga. His mom accused me of being on drugs one time and I said that if she wanted to pay for my drug test, she could do it. If I passed, which I would, she would have to give an apology. That’s all I said.

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Coalinga, CA Council Member Adam Adkisson

Q: By day, you are a bounty hunter. How surprising is it that you come into contact with more people wanting to fight you as a city council member than as a bounty hunter?

A: [laughs] That’s absolutely true. It’s crazy! I never thought it would be like this but you just gotta power through it.

Q: Is this affecting the city to have people bad mouthing each other and then bringing it to the council meeting?

A: Yes, it’s definitely affected us. It needs to stop and it has for the last couple meetings. I have a restraining order and everything is going a lot more smoothly now and we hope to keep it that way. The people of Coalinga should not be afraid to come to meetings. They should not have to listen to this kind of behavior.

Q: Have you considered pulling back from Facebook to avoid the confrontations that germinate there?

A: Absolutely. I’ve pulled back quite a bit. It hasn’t really changed anything. I probably have about 400 screenshots of lies that people have said about me. It comes with the territory.

Q: Uh, yes, to a certain extent all council members have to deal with that. But you’ve been on council for less than a year and you’re already collecting screenshots of lies? That seems unhealthy!

A: They’re sent to me, so I put it in a little folder that me and my friends can laugh at. I have to have some outlet. That’s my outlet.

Interview #96: Charlotte, MI Councilman Branden Dyer (with podcast)

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

Branden Dyer spent 2011-2015 on the Charlotte (rhymes with “car lot”) city council, was defeated for reelection, but was appointed back on the council this March. The difference in tone between 2015 and 2018 is night and day.

Q: In your final meeting during 2015, you said you felt that the “negative campaign” against you was a distraction. Your city is only 9,000 people; don’t take this the wrong way, but what was there to be negative about in Charlotte?

A: A group of individuals who were not happy with the situation made an effort to remove me and other individuals from council. You kind of expect it in national elections, but there was a lot of rumors, a lot of negative Facebook comments and attacks.

Q: Some meetings, commenters seemed to imply the council was a rubber stamp for the city manager. Was that part of the tonal shift in Charlotte politics?

A: Yes. Their intention was to get rid of the city manger. When they made a move to not renew the city manager’s contract, there was a significant community uproar and they eventually backed down.

Q: Did you ever feel any pressure on council to go out of your way to question or oppose the city manager’s recommendations because you had this accusation of a rubber stamp being hurled at you?

A: No, I had no qualms with disagreeing with the city manager. But also, the city manager has a PhD literally in city management and I do not! In this age of complex government regulations and techniques, I think it’s best to defer to the expertise.

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Charlotte, MI Councilman Branden Dyer

Q: Well, I have a PhD in making quality municipal affairs audio content (obviously from the University of Phoenix), but it is 100 percent impossible to look at any of your council meetings from 2015 without noticing a young man named Zachary who was a candidate for mayor and an unrelenting critic of your government. What was his deal?

A: [He] was a disgruntled citizen that definitely exercised his five minute public comment limit down to the second at every chance he got. I tried to get him involved on a city committee but he never responded to my offer. After losing the mayor race, apparently his concerns were satisfied or he just kind of disappeared.

Q: He was pretty much in there nonstop to troll you guys and, I’m assuming, get free video of his speeches for his campaign. How did you respond to being baited?

A: Zach never really came after me personally. [The mayor] did not choose to run for reelection. Her term as mayor was difficult on her. Zach routinely attacked her and the city manager personally. The environment and vibe on council was a lot different than when I first went on council and my current term on council. “Toxic” is not really the word I want to use, but I think that’s kind of the best way to describe it.

Q: Was part of the reason you wanted these meetings videotaped and put online so that people who were not the attackers could look at what you were encountering and kind of sympathize with the situation?

A: I don’t think I was necessarily looking for sympathy, but you want everybody to be informed. The group that came against me and other council members were very savvy at using social media. They could get their view out there, and I wanted to be sure there was an official record so that if individuals chose to, they had the ability to see what actually happened instead of taking one viewpoint from one group in town. I wanted to make sure things weren’t skewed.

Interview #92: Lancaster, PA Councilwoman Janet Diaz (with podcast)

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

Sometimes you vote the wrong way and need a do-over. Janet Diaz talks about the meeting where she was allowed to re-vote, plus she gives advice on how to handle public commenters who suddenly explode at the council.

Q: Lancaster does not record its council meetings, but there is an individual who runs See-thru City where he live streams all of your meetings. How much of what he was doing contributed to your decision to explore putting cameras in the council chamber?

A: He was the one that actually proposed it. People have made comments that it will be good for them to see it and hear it better. It’s actually the mayor I think that made that decision too.

Q: So it was this citizen-videographer who catalyzed the impending streaming of meetings?

A: Yes. Basically he is videotaping it, so other people are very happy. They appreciate him doing that. What the city wants to do is go further.

Q: Is there a way to incorporate the comments of people watching on Facebook Live into the meetings? Would you support someone representing the Facebook feed being able to come up at the very end of an item and list the comments they got from people watching?

A: Personally, sure. I feel that shouldn’t be a problem. But I can’t make those decisions–it has to be everyone on a whole.

Q: A couple of weeks ago, the council held a special meeting to reconsider a decision to tear down a historic building. Can you think of any vote you’ve made that you would like to cast differently now?

A: The problem on the day that I actually cast my vote–I think it got confusing. There was a person that–the police stopped her and her daughter and there was a yelling and screaming match. I was not thinking completely straight. I was still thinking of the trauma this woman had gone through. I voted incorrectly. I’m honest, I made a mistake. That’s why I called for a special meeting to recant my vote.

Q: Were people pretty understanding of that or do they hold you to a higher standard?

A: I think people understood that there was a lot of chaos. There was actually someone that caused an arson. I don’t see that anybody judged me. I’m just as human as anyone else.

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Lancaster, PA Councilwoman Janet Diaz

Q: At the May 22 meeting, a woman came in to share her story about her interaction with the Lancaster police. But it escalated into screaming. How should a council president have handled that?

A: I have helped people in the past [as] a sexual assault counselor. Sometimes you just got to let them vent. You have to let them speak and get that out of their system because they’re hurting. You’re not gonna fix a problem if there’s so much chaos.

Q: She kept saying she wanted an apology. How appropriate would it have been for the council president to say, “you know what? You walked away from an interaction with the police feeling violated and betrayed. And that should never happen in our city. We let you down and I apologize.”

A: Yeah, that would be something that could’ve been handled that way. Yes, I agree with you. If there’s an apology to give to a constituent because somewhere along the line the system failed them, why should we feel guilty?


Follow Councilwoman Janet Diaz on Twitter: @JanetDiaz1966

Interview #72: Hamilton, ON Councilor Matthew Green (with podcast)

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

Even though he’s only in his first term, Matthew Green has very sophisticated views on the mechanics of city council meetings. We explore his strong pro-video streaming beliefs and the plague of long-windedness.

Q: You sometimes Facebook Live stream your speeches from the dais. You talk a fair amount at council meetings, so how do you decide what moments are worthy of Facebook Live?

A: When I started, the old-school model was councilors would give inside information to mainstream media in exchange for favorable coverage. I found that in not doing that, my positions at council were miscommunicated or misrepresented. I remember getting upset about it. I had a media expert, she said to me, “don’t get mad at the media. Become the media.”

Q: Hmm.

A: Facebook is a hyper local medium and so I choose Facebook to communicate to my residents.

Q: Have you ever watched a Hamilton council meeting online through the city’s website?

A: It is horrible.

Q: Right?!

A: It is terrible. An incident happened in council chambers and I wanted to open an investigation. In doing so, I looked at our live stream and realized our live stream did not cover major sections of the whole chamber. So I had to [freedom of information request] my own city to get the security footage to provide me with the incident I believed I saw. We’re very fortunate [to have] an independent journalist. He runs a live stream called “The Public Record.”

Q: Yeah.

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Hamilton, ON Councilor Matthew Green

A: He has built a reputation for himself in capturing the circus that is often city hall: the inappropriate comments, the workplace toxicity, or some of the decorum issues. He creates a prism in that people are aware that he’s there and sometimes, I think, it raises the decorum and the level of discourse because they know they’re being recorded. When there’s no media present, we sometimes say the zaniest things.

Q: It’s curious you mention decorum because on everything I’ve seen, the Hamilton city council behaves relatively well. Again, maybe it’s because he’s there recording, but what are some of the issues you’re referencing?

A: One of the governance challenges we have, in my opinion, is that we don’t have a strong chair role. We rotate the chair, which allows councilors from month to month to use that position as a bully pulpit. It provides a situation where chairs will allow councilors to speak at length or speak in very harsh and personal terms to staff, which should be shut down.

Q: Are you ever worried when you become the chair that people will have similar reservations about the job you’re doing?

A: I’m actually comfortable chairing meetings. We’re not THAT bad. It’s really a conversation around time. We’ll have four or five of us who monopolize all of the time. In the technology of our microphones, they’re supposed to shut down after five minutes.

Q: Mmmhmm.

A: The idea is that if I’m the chair, I don’t want to shut you down at five minutes. So I let you just go! I do that with the understanding that sooner or later you’re going to be the chair and I’m going to have an issue that I want to go on. It’s a bit of nudge-nudge, wink-wink that I think is problematic. But we’re all guilty of it.


Follow Councilor Matthew Green on Twitter: @MGreenWard3 

#130: Florence, OR 9/18/17

Warning: if you are easily triggered by unrelenting happiness and optimism, proceed with caution.

“Wendy, thank you for 15 years of service,” city manager Erin Reynolds smiled warmly at the planning director while brandishing an award.

“Her husband is here tonight,” Reynolds stared out to the audience as a man lumbered forth. There were light giggles as he proceeded to pull the master-of-all husband moves: he stood beside her holding a bouquet of roses.

“He does the recording of our city council meetings, but he’s also her husband,” the city manager explained as councilors clumped together for a photo. Ah, yes: it’s fitting that the man thoughtful enough to bring flowers is also the unsung caretaker of the council feed.

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SMOOOOOOOTH

As the husband took his place behind the camera (“nice flowers” someone grunted), he swung it to the projector screen on the wall.

“We’re about 500 people away from 5,000” likes on Facebook announced Reynolds, proudly scrolling through the city’s carefully-curated page.

“I’ve got a couple fun swag items for the 5,000th person,” she teased.

Folks, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Get over here and claim. the. swag. Also, Florence? If this review gets you to 5,000, I expect commission. Just a water bottle, t-shirt, or a street named after me. Something easy.

But the fun didn’t stop there: Miller Park is getting a facelift and the public works director was positively stoked.

“Miller Park’s a great facility. It just needs to be amped up.” He went all-in on the sell. “It’s a HUGE community destination. Regional draw!”

With glittering scenes of an urban utopia on the screen, he revealed the pièce de résistance. “With this new concession stand, if a group wants to come in and have a movie night, there’s a popcorn machine, soda machine.”

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I now want my commission to be a popcorn machine. Love you, Florence.

After the whirlwind tour of Miller Park 2.0, the meeting turned to what could have been a sticky topic: the performance review of the municipal judge.

“How does it feel down there?” Reynolds joked as the judge slid behind a low table. He chuckled nervously in response. But it quickly became apparent that His Honor had zilch to worry about.

“It’s the recommendation,” disclosed Mayor Joe Henry, “to implement an increase to the monthly retainer of 2.8 percent.”

The pay raise sailed through. But just as quickly, another employee landed in the hot seat.

“We’ve heard a lot from Mike tonight,” Reynolds glanced at the public works director. “He has the challenge of being in the public eye. He does end up taking some heat that he doesn’t enjoy.”

There was nervous fidgeting. Where was she heading with this?

“I think you can all trust in the work that he does,” she pivoted. “So with that, happy birthday, Mike!”

There were several “ahhs” and boisterous applause as the tension dissipated.

“He didn’t know I was going to do that!” boasted Reynolds.

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Quick, bring the roses!

From beneath her desk, she produced not a cake, but a hunk of wood in the shape of Oregon gifted to the city. She thrust it into the hands of Mayor Henry for a picture.

“If you crop it like this, you can get the detail,” Councilor Joshua Greene leaned over and gestured. Inspired, he jumped in front of the dais and held up his phone.

“There you go,” he clicked blissfully away. “One more.”

Flowers, a pay raise, birthday wishes, and the perfect picture. What more could you want from a city council meeting?*


*My swag

Interview #59: Myrtle Beach, SC Councilman Randal Wallace (with podcast)

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

Randal Wallace has been a councilman since 2001–and he’s running for a fifth term as we speak! Normally, I get livid when a city like Myrtle Beach does not video stream its meetings. But I calmed down when he told me he would like to see that happen. Plus, he shared a nice thing his mother does after he has a difficult council meeting.

Q: I went on the city’s website looking to watch the Myrtle Beach council meetings and I became kind of angry when I saw that you do NOT put your meeting videos online.

A: We’re televised and you can go to our public information officer and ask for a copy of the meeting. It’s a little old-school. We hired two new assistant public information folks. They’ve been putting the minutes online, so I think we’re moving toward the twenty-first century. We just got a new Facebook page and Twitter presence and Instagram. So that would be a very good next step, to live stream the meetings. I would certainly be supportive of it.

Q: You are running for reelection, as are two other council members and the mayor. If you came across in these meetings as the voice of reason, the consensus-builder, the guy who treats everyone well–I would think you’d want voters to know that. And if someone is behaving abominably, you’d want voters to know that too. Do you feel the same way?

A: Yeah. The seven members that are currently on council, we’ve gone out of our way to disagree agreeably. We’ve had the same upper management staff for, like, 29 years. So you’re seeing a lot of change happening now and we’re moving out of the status quo.

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Myrtle Beach, SC Councilman Randal Wallace

Q: Your meetings happen at 2 p.m. during the workday. Between that and the lack of streaming, it seems like Myrtle Beach is making it difficult to find out what’s happening in those meetings.

A: Well actually, when I was first elected, the televised meeting was at 7 o’clock on Tuesdays. We moved the 7 p.m. meeting to 2 o’clock. The majority of council–of which I was not one–felt like we were keeping staff there. It had been routine that we had meetings that ran sometimes till midnight, 1 o’clock in the morning, and it would make great television. But the staff was having to be there from 8:30 in the morning till we finished. Then they had to come back.

Q: Mmhmm.

A: I’m more of a night person. So I understood about people wanting to come later on–they might be a little freer. But I was in the minority.

Q: In 2013, I saw that you tweeted this:

Does your mom still do that?

A: She’s had a few distractions, but when I first was on [council], if I got entangled with one of the council members or someone came in really mad at me, as soon as we went off TV my phone would ring. It would be her: “don’t you let him talk to you like that!” So it was good to have a mom in your corner!

Q: That’s sweet of her!

A: Over the years she’s gotten a little thicker skin about it. [Laughs] She still can get a little feisty when she perceives I’m getting treated bad.


Follow Councilman Randal Wallace on Twitter: @randal_wallace 

Interview #56: Cork, IE Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald (with podcast)

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

Cork is a very old city and by my cursory count, Tony Fitzgerald may well be the six-hundredth-or-so mayor to lead the council! He has been a councilor since 2004 and I was curious to know where he stood on putting cameras in the council chamber. He has an open mind and wants to do his research, but also says that the rules are a firm “no” on the issue.

Q: I noticed that the Cork City Council does not live stream its meetings. In fact, in 2014 the council voted against live streaming by a margin of 22-6. Which side were you on?

A: My understanding was that we didn’t have the proper procedures. I mean, it’s important to make the meetings interesting to the public and it’s important to keep the focus on the issues of the city rather than, you know, making political speeches. So I would have an open mind to that. If I do recall it now, it wasn’t really very well thought out.

Q: I’ve said this before on the program: if people can’t see the entire meeting, all they know is the sensational stuff that gets tweeted out or the protest videos on YouTube. That also skews people’s perceptions of your council meetings.

A: Yes, yes. I think as well that in 2014, budgets were quite limited. I think spending money to video record council meetings…that money would have been much wiser spent in housing or roads. You have to be prudent in terms of what is the best way to spend public money.

Q: I do have a suggestion for you. Cork has, I think, 125,000 people. In an American city of that size, you might have five to seven city council members. Cork has 31. And I would argue that a small council where you can see what they’re doing is MORE democratic than a large council where you cannot. So what do you think of finding the money in that way?

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Cork, IE Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald

A: Well, at the moment there is a report due on the representation of the number of elected members to the city council. All of that is up for review at the moment. But I would think that it’s good to have a strong interface with the public. I think it’s good to have as many voices as possible. It gives you wide political perspective.

Q: Do you have a smart phone, sir?

A: I do.

Q: Would you commit to doing a Facebook Live video of council meetings on your phone–for free–before you leave office?

A: That’s something I haven’t considered. It’s not as easy for me to say that today. I’m more of a practical representative in doing my research. That would have to be considered by the party leaders, the party whips, in conjunction with the administration. I mean, we have to stick to the rules of the council. But I have a very open mind on a lot of issues.

Q: Well, you have 31 councilors. You can have 31 potential Facebook Live videos, each streaming out to their hundreds or thousands of followers and you could cover a pretty good size of Cork that way.

A: Yeah, yeah. But we have to look at the practicalities of that too. But that’s something that could be considered.

Q: Okay. Well, keep me posted.


Follow Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald on Twitter: @Tfitzgeraldcork