#165: American Fork, UT 7/31/18

“The city is considering a three-month, temporary land use restriction,” Mayor Brad Frost announced sternly as the first order of business. His microphone was off, but his voice carried through the intimate and ornate meeting space.

“The city will not be accepting new development plans or requests for zoning modifications.”

If you want to rile up a town, nothing does it better than talking about people’s land. Surely enough, a strange but emotional scene slowly unfolded before the council in which one family, member by member, stood up with a single message: get off my lawn.

“What gives anybody the right to decide what’s on my property?” pleaded a gray-haired woman. “I own it. We have no interest in selling this. Ever. It’s a family farm. Please, I would ask that you take us out of the T.O.D. [transit-oriented development area].”

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Lock the doors! Don’t let her leave.

She was replaced by her husband, who stood uneasily as a dozen onlookers stared at his back.

“I’m not very comfortable doing this. But I’m going to because I feel so strongly about it,” he admitted.

“We do not want to sell or develop–at least not in my lifetime and certainly not in my kids’ lifetime. And it’s looking like not in the grandkids’ lifetime.”

Councilmember Clark Taylor fidgeted with his ring. The mayor folded his hands in front of him on the desk. The commenter sighed loudly into the microphone.

“If we could, we’d like to leave the city. We get nothing from the city. No sewer. No water. We don’t even get police protection. We never wanted to be part of the city. We were talked into it by the late mayor.”

He gazed into council members’ eyes and nodded to his wife.

“She grew up there watching her grandparents crawl up and down row crops on their hands and knees. Our kids have grown up there. This is home. It’s not just a piece of property.”

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This story is more American than a baseball bat eating apple pie.

As the man turned on his heels and returned to a chair, Mayor Frost tugged on his microphone.

“I appreciate the decorum. I really do. You haven’t yelled or screamed, but we get your message and I appreciate it,” he said thankfully as the rest of the family–the daughter and the grandson–stepped forward.

“I’m fifth generation that’s lived on the farm. He’s sixth generation,” she said, clapping a hand on her son’s shoulder. “I have no desire to sell ever.”

With this family seemingly committed to guarding their compound to the death–and no one in the government itching to call for a raid by the National Guard–the council segued into other business. Although for a moment, it didn’t seem as if the theme had changed all that much.

“It was really one of those moments where you can say I’m proud to live in American Fork and I’m proud to live in America,” Mayor Frost recalled. “This last Saturday night, we welcomed home a soldier deployed to the Middle East. It was put out on Facebook and boy, did our citizens catch ahold of that!”

His voice was low and measured as he told of the heartwarming scene. “We ushered him in with emergency vehicles, and along Main Street people were holding flags. When he got home, there was 200 flags in his neighborhood. It was really special.”

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This story is even more American than the last one!

The lesson here? A city is not just a collection of property. It’s a home. And I think the farm family would approve of that message.

Interview #42: Danville, VA Councilman Lee Vogler (with podcast)

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

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?

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Danville, VA Councilman Lee Vogler

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

#32: Lebanon, IN 6/27/16

We are burning through Lebanons like beer cans on a bonfire. Our second stop on the whirlwind Lebanon tour is Indiana, where someone at city hall is a virtuoso with video graphics.

“First order of business will be the, uh, Pledge of Allegiance,” Mayor Matt Gentry announced, before being upstaged by a rippling animation of Old Glory.

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I pledge allegiance to the–wait, what’s happening to the mayor? Oh, god! It’s coming for him! Run, your honor! The humanity! Oh, the human–there he is again! With liberty and justice for all.

It’s tough to follow a screen-wiping flag, but one hotshot developer in a blue button-up sure tried. “There is, was, and still is a demand for nicer rental housing in downtown Lebanon. We’re dealing with a lot of young professionals. That is the kind of lifestyle they’re looking for.”

Yes, I bet many young professionals yearn to move to Lebanon, Indiana for the famous [look up something to put here] and the legendary [don’t forget to write something].

Youthful Councilor Corey Kutz wanted to know how the monied classes were living in Lebanon’s rival city. “What did the amenities look like? I know they’re maybe fetching $1,000 [per apartment] in Zionsville, but are they getting a pool? Are they getting a gym?”

The developer waved off the Z-town envy. “We’re in ‘downtown.’ We’re not sitting out in a corn field,” he slammed Zionsville, which is a puny little burg known only for [find literally anything interesting]. “We’ve got a historic gymnasium. You can’t compete with that!”

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Councilor Corey Kutz: “What about massage parlors with full release? Does Zionsville have those?”

But sadly, Lebanon has a dark, noisy underbelly.

“I am Lebanon resident,” a bearded public commenter addressed councilors. “Grew up here, very proud of our community. And the two things I always brag is: we’re very neighborly and we LOVE the Fourth of July. We celebrate like no other city in central Indiana.” Yeah, shove that up your tailpipe, Zionsville!

But when you love something too much, sometimes the relationship turns ugly. “Saturday night, I sat up until 11:45 listening to what sounded like cannon shots right outside my bedroom window.”

And did he take this lying down? F*ck no. “I started looking into the ordinances,” this proud Lebanoner announced. “I found one that was passed in 1875 and it specifically mentions fireworks. It says they’re only to be set off on four days: July 4, Christmas, January 1, and Presidents Day.”

Councilor Kutz was kutzcerned. “Indianapolis just updated theirs [ordinance]. We could use a revamp on that….I don’t think it’ll happen before the fourth though.”

“I’m not trying to be a party pooper,” the commenter protested.

The role of party pooper went instead to the police chief, who stepped up to the mic.

“If it was up to me, there’d be no bass speakers, no dogs, and no fireworks allowed in the city, period.” The room erupted in laughter, but the chief looked as serious as a funeral. “I’d ban everything. Make it all quiet.”

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More like Chief Buzzkill

Final thoughts: If the chief has his way, maybe Lebanon will at last have a cool factoid to its name: the quietest city in central Indiana.