Interview #140: Seaside, CA Council Member Jon Wizard (with podcast)

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

Where should Seaside hold its July Fourth festivities? And would the council endorse a controversial state bill about policing? Jon Wizard walks through his first six eventful months on the Seaside council.

Q: As far back as March, the Seaside council was deliberating what to do for a Fourth of July celebration. You could have held an event at city hall or the local golf course. At that time, what was the Jon Wizard vision for July Fourth bacchanalia?

A: It was really a lively conversation for such a seemingly innocuous decision. For me, it was trying to balance accessibility with environment. The golf course is roughly 70 acres.  People can spread out, plenty of room to move around, and stunning views of Monterey Bay. However, it is on the edge of the city up a hill. Access is difficult. A majority of us decided that for those reasons, the accessibility and the closeness to downtown and city hall would be preferred. But ultimately, that’s not how it went.

Q: Let’s fast forward to June 11, less than a month from showtime. Council Member Jason Campbell stated that he wanted to stick with the less costly city hall option. To which Mayor Pro Tem Dave Pacheco responded that he would donate $2,000 of his own money to have the golf course celebration. Were you surprised?

A: I was surprised. We really focus on providing services and kid-friendly activities throughout the year. We do these large events that don’t cost a penny for the public. The Fourth of July is an expensive event. It was less expensive to do it at city hall.

Q: After the city staff heard the offer, they went into a huddle and came back saying, we can scrounge up some of the money. What kind of precedent do you think it sets that the council as a whole and one council member personally can find several thousand dollars to fund an event when that money could have gone toward social services instead?

A: Those are fair questions and I think it’s important to remember that budgets are set in the second quarter of each year. While the [recreation] department said that they were short, there was already money programmed for a Fourth of July event. Between the money that was already allocated, Council Member Pacheco contributed some money out of his personal funds. The city manager contributed some money. The local building trades council contributed their personal money. While Council Member Pacheco talked about how difficult it is to raise that kind of money in such a short time, if memory serves, all the money was raised that night.

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Seaside, CA Council Member Jon Wizard

Q: At the May 16 meeting, there was an item on the agenda that you put there. You were asking the council to endorse a state assembly bill changing the use of force guidelines for police. Mayor Pro Tem Pacheco had two major concerns. First, the effect on policing. And two, he wasn’t sure what he would be endorsing, given how legislation changes. What did you think of his points?

A: Legislation changes as it moves through the two houses before it reaches the governor’s desk. However, people in the state house are sometimes accused of not having support for their proposed legislation. That they just thought something up and decided it would be a good idea. I thought that Seaside as a historically diverse community–a community that is majority-minority–that it be important that our diversity be reflected in the support of that proposed bill.

Q: Unlike in other communities where the topic of policing brings people out in droves, for this debate there was not quite half a dozen people who showed up to comment. Do you think the debate would have been different if people were not so satisfied with the Seaside Police Department?

A: I think if there was more focus on our police department explicitly, there would have been more participation. I also think that the lack of participation was a function of the time of the evening. Because of all the other business we had to consider, I think it was after 11 p.m. by the time we voted. While there was more than a dozen people who were there to speak on this one topic, after 9 o’clock they had all left except for a handful of people.

Q: It’s not surprising to me that the placement of an item on the agenda can dictate who shows up and who sticks around and who ultimately speaks. Are you implying that because this was obscured farther down in the meeting, the lack of support that might have otherwise been there affected how council members voted?

A: There is a city ordinance that dictates the order in which things were heard. By no means was this item “buried.” I will say, though, that Council Member [Alissa] Kispersky made some comments about a lack of community input. She was moved to vote no against the resolution based on the participation. If we had heard this item at a different time, based on her own justification, she might have voted the other way.


Follow Council Member Jon Wizard on Twitter: @electwizard

#163: Middletown, OH 7/17/18

The atmosphere was pleasantly calm in the Middletown council chamber. Perhaps that had something to do with Mayor Larry Mulligan, Jr.’s preferred icebreaker: “If you’d please stand and join me in a moment of meditation,” he directed, precipitating a hush across the room.

If the vibe wasn’t mellowed enough, they certainly brought in the right person to finish the job: the director of the library.

“Book Mobile hit the road again. First time since 1988,” he announced with the excitement of, well, someone who works at a library. “Regularly stopping around 22 different schools, they’ve seen about 14,000 people on the Book Mobile.”

The first Book Mobile in 30 years? The first since the invention of the World Wide Web? Since Taylor Swift was born? The first since the U.S. and Russia were enemies and–well, okay, the Book Mobile didn’t miss that part. But like any 30-year-old, it can’t live with its parents and needs a place of its own.

“We have a garage project. That will be the permanent home for the Book Mobile,” the director said. “We’ll also have some staff there that can pull in, run in, restock the Book Mobile, and head back out. That’s exciting.”

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If the Book Mobile’s a-rockin’, the staff is restockin’.

A resurrected Book Mobile was only part of the reason to celebrate in Middletown. “We actually got compliments on the fireworks!” exclaimed Council Member Ami Vitori. “I think maybe they were a little longer this year. Just long enough to make everyone happy. AND THEN THEY KEPT GOING!” she breathlessly recapped the experience.

“Really enjoyed the activities downtown–First Friday, the ice cream social event,” Mayor Mulligan reminisced. “I heard they gave out over 350 pieces of ice cream. Some of us just stopped at the adult beverages and not the ice cream.”

Mewonders how many adult beverages it takes for someone to call scoops of ice cream “pieces of ice cream.”

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“I’ll take a cone with two pieces.”

But there was a bigger problem confronting Middletown–and it wasn’t the historical lack of book mobiles or compliments for the fireworks.

“Since my involvement with the city back on the financial oversight committee in 2004, you know that’s–man, 14 years ago. Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess,” the mayor deadpanned. “The roads have been a real area of concern.”

He continued on a long monologue with a message of: hey, we need to wake up and smell the asphalt.

“While I’m certainly not a proponent of higher taxes, the financial landscape has changed quite a bit. We need to come up with some creative solutions,” he warned. “While other cities are at a two percent tax or more, we’re still below that. We could really get a lot of paving done, truly extend those deteriorating roads another 25-30 years.”

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Without roads, how will the Book Mobile survive?!

The clerk read the giant text displayed onscreen. “An ordinance to impose an additional one-quarter percent income tax effective January 1, 2019 for period of ten years to be used solely for the construction, repair, improvement, and maintenance of streets and roads in the city.”

She paused, then added: “We’re not requesting any action until August 7.”

“Be aware,” the mayor mused, glancing around the dais to the three other council members present, “to make our August 8 deadline to get it on the ballot, it will require four votes from council.”

For the sake of the Book Mobile, I hope they have them.

#161: Fairfield, CA 6/26/18

“I usually don’t use this platform to make a political statement. But I feel like I have to tonight.”

Councilmember Rick Vaccaro seemed to be winding up to drop a rhetorical bombshell. Who would be the subject of his grievance? The mayor? The other council members? The shadowy and pugnacious Fairfield Main Street Association?

“I see what’s been going on in our country and it’s been breaking my heart, just like everybody else. The zero tolerance. Seeing families split apart. Seeing kids in cages. I think it’s a horrible thing.”

Frowning partly at the situation and partly at his own admission, he added, “like I said, I usually don’t make this kind of a statement. It’s just been what I’ve seen.”

To be fair, no one “usually” makes the statement that putting children in cages is bad. And that’s because it “usually” goes without saying. But if you told me two years ago that caged children would be topics of conversation at city council meetings, I would have said, “in America?! Sounds about right.”

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Speaking of cages, those brick walls look awfully claustrophobic.

Councilmember Catherine Moy, booming through the speakers via telephone, had a more conventional pre-Independence Day announcement that did not touch in the slightest on human rights atrocities.

“We’re looking forward to a real good Fourth of July. And that means NO fireworks in Fairfield!” she bellowed. “We have a great parade, and then we can go to Suisun City to watch the LEGAL fireworks.”

Mayor Harry Price took it a step further by announcing a zero tolerance policy of his own. “If someone is using an illegal firework,” he glowered, “do not simply close the doors and windows and ignore it. Call the police.”

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“And then we will put them in the cages.”

But suddenly, the meeting took an abrupt turn. Not because of what they said. But because of what they heard.

“THANK YOUUuuuuUUuu MISTER MAYORRrrrRRR,” Councilmember Moy echoed as if she was talking into a haunted house intercom. “UMMmmmM, I’Mmmmm–”

“Catherine, can you speak closer to the phone?” the mayor’s warped voice responded, reverberating through his own microphone. “And if you close the door, that could help.”

People on the dais exchanged glances as the distorted Councilmember Moy continued, growing fainter and fainter until her voice disappeared into the ceiling entirely.

“We’re having a terrible time hearing you,” Mayor Price announced. Everyone sat quietly as if this were Mission Control waiting to hear any sign of life from a recently-exploded shuttle.

“We cannot hear you.”

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“Ground control to Major Moy?”

After a long pause there came one final sound from the walls.

“Hello?” Councilmember Moy asked faintly. The line went dead. Without warning, a thunderous warbling feedback noise burst from the speakers, causing the clerk to jump back and one of the city employees to wander to another room to fiddle with the dials.

Maybe this is a word of caution for the Fourth of July: if you hear loud booming and crackling, perhaps it’s not illegal fireworks. Instead, maybe it’s the faulty speakers in the council chamber and the haunted voice of the council member trapped inside.

But, as the mayor said, definitely call the police.

#117: Park City, KS 7/11/17

Emotions were running high at City Hall as Mayor Ray Mann called the meeting to order with a tearful farewell to an old friend.

“Daniela,” he murmured, “for the last time in this building that has served us well, would you call the roll?”

That’s right, the doors are closing on fabled Hydraulic Street and the message was clear: don’t leave anything behind tonight.

“We’ll be closed Thursday and Friday and Monday,” announced the city administrator. “We’ll be moving from this facility to the new facility.”

“We’ve got movers in place. So it’s gonna be a busy day Thursday and Friday,” the mayor observed, glancing sideways at a couple of the council members as if to say, “you’re still coming to carry boxes, right?”

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The new Park City Hall, I’m assuming

But rather than rest up and conserve their energy, the council found themselves thrust into the middle of an existential crisis.

“What has happened is the Kansas legislature decided to take a more proactive approach encouraging people to use their seatbelts,” an employee explained to steely glances. “They established a ‘Seatbelt Education Fund.’ Fines for seatbelts will increase from $10 to $30, and $20 will be sent to fund this.”

Then he revealed the kicker: “They’ve also added a section that says that no county or municipality can change it. Because we have an ordinance on the books that says the seatbelt fine is only $10, we have to change it.”

Council Member Tom Jones jumped in sounding about as enthusiastic as someone who’s been asked to move an entire city hall. “We don’t have any choice,” he sighed.

He added, seemingly with sarcasm, “they’re ‘helping’ us out again.”

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“Could they also help us load the vans on Thursday?”

But while Park City was cleaning up its ordinances, there was a lingering question: who would clean the brand new City Hall?

“They come in and clean the building while staff is not there?” quizzed Council Member George Capps.

“Yes, sir,” the clerk answered.

Capps seemed astonished. “What have you done to check their security?”

“They go through an extensive background check and get fingerprinted,” she assured him. “And those same individuals will have to clean every week.”

“Okay,” he eased up. “Thank you.”

Getting fingerprinted to clean a city hall? What kind of top-secret, classified, national security information are they stor–hold on. I just noticed something: EVERYONE is wearing official Park City-branded shirts! Man, that mayor runs a tight ship here.

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I DEMAND YOU SEND ME ONE OF EVERY COLOR, MAYOR!

As the meeting wrapped up, people shared their fond–and not so fond–memories from the Fourth of July.

“I thought the holidays went real good, except all the fireworks really got the dogs upset,” Council Member Capps smiled wearily. “I, for one, got bit. It’s just the price we pay, I guess.”

While I admire his cavalier attitude in the face of, well, sharp teeth, someone else paid zero price for his canine encounter.

“I was able to be part of the pet judge contest,” bragged Council Member George Glover. “They had ‘wagging tail dog’ and ‘best sit-up dog,’ ‘best trick dog’….It was good to be part of that.”

To that, Council Member Melvin Kerr retorted, “I think I was the most popular councilman. I was handing out the ice cream!”

With a hearty laugh, the last meeting in the old City Hall was over. Onward to greener pastures!

Final thoughts: Seriously, I would like a shirt please.

#116: Granbury, TX 7/5/17

The Fourth of July may have been the day before, but here at City Hall the mayor cracked open a tall can of Texas pride.

“It’s my honor to kick this meeting off with a very special presentation–an award for the video of the ‘Granbury PD Officer Saves Child’s Life‘,” Mayor Nin Hulett proudly revealed.

“The video showcases the heroic actions of Officer Chase Miller using CPR to save a three-year-old boy,” he continued. “When he arrived, the boy was unresponsive. Officer Miller performed CPR until the boy was able to breathe.”

“The post of the video has been viewed 37 million times.” He paused to let the staggering number sink into his own consciousness. “Really!”

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All the stats are bigger in Texas.

After the mayor congratulated the city employee who skillfully produced the tear-jerking piece of cinema, a burly citizen stepped forward to comment upon it.

“One of the things I think is very significant: the comments I saw in the video was about how positive this video was and how it made people feel good,” he smiled widely.

Well, there’s your headline, folks. “Man Reads YouTube Comments, Finds Positivity.” Talk about a rare event!

But of course, this being Texas the day after July Fourth, I could have guessed what was coming next.

“I have a property I own,” a woman shot a combative look across the dais. “I don’t live at the property, but I actually went to watch the fireworks. While I was there I was really shocked.”

She smiled out of macabre amusement. “We’re in the city and across the street is in the county.  The subdivision across the street, people shot fireworks in that subdivision. Those homes are six, seven, eight feet apart at best.”

She waved her hand in disbelief and uttered an appropriately-small town Texas reference point: “you could almost reach out and borrow somebody’s sugar!”

“The people shot fireworks till the wee hours and THIS–” she held aloft a charred firework shell “–is the kind of thing that came onto our property ON FIRE! Like professionals would use!”

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NSFW

Her tone turned conspiratorial. “I think they purchased homes because they’re not wanting to follow city rules and regulations. I think that brings a different type of population.”

Oh, please. It’s just a couple of fireworks. It’s not like they could shoot target practice in their front yards.

“They could shoot target practice, I found out, in their front yard!” she exclaimed. She added, in the second-most appropriately-small town Texas reference point, “I’m not opposed to gun rights by any means!”

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Photo of the city-county border

Well, across the street in the county may be Lord of the Flies but here in Granbury, folks care about rules. For instance, the rules of health insurance.

“I want to give you a scenario,” Council Member Gary Couch quizzed the human resources director. “Let’s say we have an employee in Colorado and they’re skiing and they break a leg. What’s gonna be the burden on the employee?”

The burden, sir, would be a couple of hundred pounds on just one leg. Otherwise, the director mused, “that would be considered an emergency and it would be paid for under the normal terms.”

“Let’s say they had food poisoning at a restaurant,” Council Member Couch leaned in like a grizzled district attorney in a courtroom.

“I think that’s probably an emergency as well,” was the response.

Couch narrowed his eyes a moment. “All right. Thanks,” he muttered.

#115: Cleveland Heights, OH 7/3/17

The mayor was absent from the Cleveland Heights council chamber, but I am positive she will hear about the tense ten minutes that started the meeting.

“I am a rape victim,” said a woman in a pink sweater. She stared down the council, hand on her hip. “I was raped on May 16. What I have gone through with your detectives has been very difficult.”

She looked down at her notes and spoke haltingly. “Sixty-six percent of rapes are not reported. Twenty-three percent do not report because they do not trust their police to believe them.”

“I was told by your detective to ‘be patient,’ as though I was hungry and needed a Snickers,” she continued angrily, bracing herself on the podium. “I identified the rapist that night when five patrol officers showed up and looked at me like a circus exhibit but did nothing. The rapist was my downstairs neighbor.”

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Remember: city councils are here to listen.

Council members sat frozen at their desks as she reached an ominous conclusion. “To be honest, if I could go back I would not have reported it. What I would have done was gotten a video surveillance system and waited for him to do it again. I would have been armed as I am now. We would have been investigating murder by self-defense instead of rape.”

Silence.

She threw up her hands and inhaled deeply. “Do you have any questions for me?”

Council Member Carol Roe leaned forward. “I don’t have a question. I just want to say, I am really sorry for your pain. I am sure that I speak for my fellow council people–”

“Show me by actions, please,” the woman interrupted. “I go to counseling every Wednesday night. Those are the hardest frickin’ nights of my life. How can we proceed?”

“Well,” Vice Mayor Jason Stein looked to his left helplessly, “I’ll refer to Public Health and Safety Committee to review policies and procedures….”

The city manager gently broke in. The chief, she said, “is here to have that conversation with you.”

“I need to get this on public record as well,” retorted the commenter. “Change the attitude so that people will trust you and will want to come forward without feeling revictimized through you.”

“We are sorry,” the vice mayor reassured her. Then he admitted, “all of us are very moved right now and honestly, we don’t know what to say. But we’re gonna review our policy.”

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I don’t know what to say either.

As the woman sat down, another commenter took her place and stood open-mouthed for a brief moment. “I find myself a bit emotional from hearing the story. We all know that there are much bigger, more important things going on in other people’s lives.”

She slapped the podium to compose herself. “I wish that woman the best of luck,” she sighed, before announcing the Coventry School open house this Friday.

Given the time of month, public safety made one more cameo as Council Member Melissa Yasinow looked directly into the camera and performed the yearly ritual of council members all across America: a plea for people to not be dumb.

“Fireworks are a ton of fun, but unfortunately, you see an increase in emergency services for people who think these explosives are indeed toys. They are not!”

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Okaaaay, mooooooooommmmmm.

Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to everyone for their tact. Let’s get this case closed, folks.

#80: Moore, OK 1/17/17

I often hear from people around the globe who say, “we don’t want fewer Oklahoma city council meeting reviews. We want Moore.”

Well, my thirsty friends, it’s your lucky day.

The inauguration may be 1,300 miles away, but the Moore city council was twerking to a different type of party.

“Mayor and council, this is our annual renewal of the fireworks contract,” a bespectacled staffer braced himself on the podium. The price tag was steep: $49,500.

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Trivia: this meeting was filmed with the original Zapruder camera.

But, he vouched, “they provide an excellent show. This is our premier event that we do.”

Mayor Glenn Lewis raised his eyebrows out of sticker shock. “How does this compare to how much other cities spend?”

The man cleared his throat. “We’re at or near the top when it comes to fireworks expense. Mayor, we feel that the show we put on–the event really is a great event. We think we get the most bang for our buck.”

Or the biggest boom, as it were. But hey, I report and you decide. This is what $49-large of fireworks looks like:

“And how many people would you say come out?” quizzed Council Member Melissa Hunt.

“We think 20,000-30,000 people view the show,” the staffer guessed. Wow! For comparison, only two cats and a bottle of Colt 45 viewed MY illegal backyard fireworks show.

Council Member Adam Webb was all-in on the pyrotechnics. “I love this event. I don’t feel like Moore has a lot that we’re known for.”

Council Member, don’t be ridiculous! The Moore Oil & Lube and the R&S Gun Supply are some of the finest establishments in the Lower 48! You were saying?

“Last year, I showed the mayor and some other council members chatter on Instagram, Twitter, and social media–people have come to Moore and enjoyed this.”

Mayor Lewis leaned forward to seal the deal. “The show’s always good to me,” he offered. “I remember when they used to pass a bucket to pay for $2,000 worth of firecrackers.”

“That being said–” he winced as heads swiveled and I held my breath, “several people seemed to be upset about it. Is there anybody here that would like to speak on this?”

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“SHOW YOURSELVES, TRAITORS.”

The room was quiet as His Honor scanned the auditorium. The fate of our nation’s birthday was hanging in the balance.

“Okay, if you didn’t show up to complain,” he said with a smirk, “don’t complain anymore.”

Everyone exhaled as the council approved the fireworks show.

But to make the Fourth of July a little more festive, there was one other tiny gift from the village elders to the masses:

“Ordinance number 844-17, establishing a beer and wine license,” the mayor read from his notes.

An employee in a baggy suit explained the highly technical logic. “The licenses the city has now is: one for beer and one for mixed beverages. This would be in between. Restaurants could sell beer AND wine and choose not to pay the higher fee.”

The council swiftly okayed the new license–a great boon to Midwesterners who like their beer like they like their wine: in the same place.

Final thoughts: What this meeting lacked in sizzle, it made up for in patriotism. I give it 8 out of 10 sparkler sticks.