On this week’s podcast, we celebrate Christmas in July with an incredible story from the Listener’s List, an update on past guests’ advancements, and excerpts from interviews. You can listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Player FM, and right here:
On this episode, you will hear segments from these full interviews:
Plus, you can listen to a segment of “Tear It Down,” an eight-chapter audio series about a small town whose government became wildly dysfunctional when political insurgent group formed seeking revenge: www.tearitdownpodcast.com.
As always, City Council Chronicles’ sponsor is Dig Deep Research. They assist local governments in obtaining grant money and are eager to hear from potential new clients. Find out how they can help you today:
Joseph Geierman is the first-term District 2 council member who saw his city’s non-discrimination ordinance get held up in brief confusion at a council meeting last year. He explains why it was important to pass the legislation right away and the merits of speeding up council action generally.
Q: On November 5, 2018, the Doraville council was to vote on a non-discrimination ordinance. However, Council Member Pam Fleming wanted it to be a resolution and apply to businesses as well as individuals. What do you believe she was getting at there?
A: I think that Council Member Fleming maybe believed that we were trying to legislate morality by passing a non-discrimination ordinance. Really we were concerned about everyone in our city being treated equally. While I don’t think that she wants people to be treated unfairly, I think that she just had a concern with the concept of a non-discrimination ordinance.
Q: Procedurally, you would need to vote unanimously to waive the first reading and, if successful, would proceed to the final reading that night to pass it on a majority vote. But two council members said, “no, we don’t want to pass it tonight.” Other people responded, “well, we need a special meeting because this is pretty damn important.” Did you feel it was important enough to pass P.D.Q? You know your community; how much discrimination could there have been in the month between council meetings?
A: For us, the bigger impetus was we had been talking about it a lot. I think we were generating buzz in other cities. Since we passed it, several other cities in the area have passed it. Before we did it, no other city in Georgia besides Atlanta had passed a non-discrimination ordinance, and theirs had passed 20 years ago. We really wanted to make a statement with this and we didn’t want it to be pushed and maybe have other cities get ahead of us.
Q: We heard Council Member Fleming’s confusion about what the council had voted on and she moved to switch her vote. Were you surprised that she was surprised about what the council was doing?
A: I think she didn’t want to go to a special called meeting and she decided to go along with waiving the first read. She knew it was gonna pass. Why not go along and get it over with?
Q: This kind of fake-out did surface again in January when your council held a public hearing for whether to allow a telemedicine services clinic in the city. Council Member M.D. Naser was the only one to vote against waiving the first reading. And again, someone attempted to call a special council meeting and the holdout council member caved in and changed his vote. Do you think there is any merit to changing the requirement of unanimity to waive the first reading?
A: I am certainly open to looking at that. The challenge is if we are only meeting on a particular day in a month and the next date is a month later, that’s a long time for a business to wait for their license just because someone feels like we should hear this all again and then vote yes. We should be looking at changing that because it’s a problem.
Q: I get that people have business before the council and it’s a bummer to make them wait for an additional month. But it also benefits the residents to have more than one occasion to give their opinion and it also benefits you all to reflect on what you’ve learned from meeting to meeting. Does the Doraville council prioritize speed over reflection?
A: I’m sure a lot of business owners would feel like they wished we were a little speedier! If there is serious legislation or a change in our rules or something that really would require a lot of public input, I do think that there probably should be a little more discussion about whether we should waive the first reading.
Follow Council Member Joseph Geierman on Twitter: @geierman
*Interview 111 was previously omitted in the numbering order.
Sandra Vincent has been on the McDonough city council for over a decade and only recently experienced her first meeting about tattoos and piercings. We also covered her frustration over a park and what that meant for a business owner who wanted to comment upon it.
Q: Last year, there was one part of the city employee handbook that bothered you–the council was trying to limit tattoos and piercings. Was this the first time in your more than a decade on the city council that this subject came up?
A: There have been other times we discussed dress code. I don’t recall there being another time when we specifically were creating policy that descriptive around tattoos. Tattoos, even though I don’t have a tattoo and don’t particularly like them, culturally there are more young people who are into tattoo wearing. To say that we’re not going to hire individuals with tattoos above the neck is to limit ourselves.
Q: How surprised were you that the others did not see it your way?
A: I was extremely. I think I had a weeklong debate with my four daughters. What was even more odd is that there were people presenting in the audience that evening who represented the local chamber [of commerce], one of which had tattoos and a mouth piercing!
Q: No way!
A: I was sitting there thinking, this is a professional woman that has just presented this amazing piece to us. She has tattoos and piercings and we’re saying that if you exemplify those characteristics, that’s not considered professional. I almost felt like I had been propelled back about 20 years.
Q: At the meeting on April 18, 2016, you moved to add a discussion of the Overlook subdivision park to the agenda. But other council members said they had already told people that there would be no discussion and therefore it should stay off the agenda. How sympathetic were you to that reasoning?
A: I wasn’t. Initially, the Overlook discussion was on the agenda. In that chamber were somewhere between 50 and 75 individuals from the Overlook community who had come out. Somebody took it off [the agenda].
Q: After you gave a presentation despite the mayor trying to gavel you down, the audience applauded and you left the chamber. Do you remember where you went?
A: I walked outside of chambers through the back door to try and capture myself. I went out and did have a conversation because those are people that I represent. I think the most heartbreaking thing was an elderly gentlemen–he just kind of looked at me and said, “Ms. Vincent, what do we do now?”
Q: When you came back in the room, you and a public commenter had an exchange in which you wanted her to state that she did not live in the city, despite owning a business there. Did you have a history with that person?
A: The commenter had concerns regarding the park. My response concerning whether or not the individual lived in McDonough was germane to the fact that there were almost 75 individuals who live in the city that were refused an opportunity to speak. We’re talking about specific issues for a particular geographic area and this business is across town. I don’t see how it’s fair to not disclose the fact that the person is not a resident.
If you were riding on Peachtree City’s 100 miles of golf cart paths this week, you might have noticed Mayor Vanessa Fleisch and I talking about her council meetings. We discussed the one thing her council does extremely well, but also her tumultuous years of meetings as a council member alongside a controversial former mayor.
Q: I do have to compliment Peachtree City for having a surprisingly detailed set of minutes from all of your meetings. Not only are they detailed, you have the minutes going all the way back to 1959! Do you think your council has primarily focused on the minutes instead of the video?
A: Oh, without a doubt because according to the state of Georgia, the minutes are actually the legal part of it. The video and the audio are extra and something we do try to provide. Unfortunately, yes, we’ve run into glitches with some of the video and getting it right with our contractor. By law, it’s the minutes that are the important part.
Q: Hmm, I see. By the way, one of the things the city council did at its first meeting in 1959? Have the mayor call the post office and say, “hey, we exist now.”
A: [Laughs] Well that’s good because we still don’t have a postmaster and it’s been almost 60 years! So maybe you can help us with that.
Q: We might as well get to the stuff that the mainstream city council meeting podcasts are not talking about. How would you describe relations on the council under former Mayor Don Haddix?
A: I think it was a rather strange relationship, particularly during the council meetings. That is something that I think we’ve come a long way and are far more efficient with our meetings now.
Q: At the July 21 meeting in 2011, there was a resolution for the censure of Mayor Haddix. That included a vote of no confidence and a request for his resignation. The mayor’s complaint was the censure had been added the night before and he hadn’t had appropriate time to write a rebuttal. Do you recall if he was blindsided with that and if that was kind of the point?
A: I do not recall that specifically. I do know by law, when we do make changes to the agenda, it has to be done 24 hours in advance. I can’t imagine he was totally blindsided. We move far more professionally now. That was a difficult period for the city.
Q: How much of the censure was about protecting the city’s image and then how much was it about your professional discomfort with a coworker?
A: There was a concern that we were continually on the front page of the paper with some of the issues at our meetings. It’s very difficult to get things done when you have continual upheaval at your council meetings. A lot of it was to protect the city in general because there’s a lot of consequences to the public airing of discord at these meetings, when there’s a lack of professionalism. It was more about the city–34,000 people is what I think about every day.
Q: You were not really inside the “ring of fire” in those meetings. Was your experience different from those of the other council members?
A: There were a lot of fireworks at the meetings and I didn’t think it was very productive to have just one more person entering into the fray. So yes, I stayed out of a lot of it.
Summer vacation? We don’t need no stinkin’ summer vacation! There are WAY too many city council meetings to cover and–despite the work of our time travel research team–so little time.
We saw a little girl get stoked to shake hands with every council member, heard about multiple people getting kicked out of council meetings, and experienced our first meeting in another language. If none of that is ringing a bell, go peruse our June Month in Review page.
And if you’re still not convinced that June’s council meetings were all that cool, have I got the picture to prove you DEAD WRONG:
East Point’s council meetings are a roller coaster on top of a rocket ship on top of a volcano. Alexander Gothard has been a head-down, studious council member, but even he has earned the ire of mayors in those meetings. All I will say is: listen to the whole interview.
Q: I get the impression from your council meetings that Mayor Jannquell Peters gets impatient with you all because she wants to do things quickly. Is that why there is so much tension?
A: I wouldn’t say that. I would say just a difference of opinion on issues–that’s what made [things] divisive. The mayor wanted to get it done and the council members wanted to say, “wait, let’s look at this. Let’s make sure it’s as efficient as possible.” The mayor didn’t like that. We definitely respect each other and we have a good time.
Q: Well, it appears that the council members get along fine, but collectively, you don’t like the mayor. So it’s teams of 8 v. 1. Am I wrong here?
A: That’s interesting you should see it that way as an observer. The mayor is strong-willed. I do think that the city has a better image since she has been mayor. Yes, she tries to run an efficient meeting. But council members aren’t always going to agree with the way she runs it. In terms of the animosity, I don’t think it’s anything personal. I think it’s healthy to have disagreements.
Q: If you think it’s healthy to disagree, you’ll REALLY like what we’re going to talk about next, which is Earnestine Pittman, your former mayor. I saw something that blew my mind: on August 5, 2013, you were in your second year on the city council. About two hours in, you made a motion. The mayor immediately went on a rant about how it was a terrible idea. When you tried to argue, she threw you out of the meeting. What did you do after you left the chamber?
A: I honestly went to get a drink. I remember that very well. It was surrounding Center Park repair. There was no way that I was going to sit there and just let that item be skipped over. It was unfortunate, it really was.
Q: Do you wish the other council members had come to your defense?
A: No, they didn’t have to. When I was removed, I thought she was totally wrong. But being about the people–because that happened, the Center Park residents the very next meeting, I think eight residents came out to speak on behalf of that park. So despite me being kicked out, it was beneficial to the cause I was advocating for.
Q: Did Mayor Pittman ever apologize to you?
A: No. I told her how upset I was. She didn’t apologize and I didn’t expect her to.
Q: Did she at least understand your side of things?
Q: Mmm. If there’s one thing you could change about your council meetings, what would that be?
A: I’ll tell you something interesting: the new city of South Fulton, for anything to go on the agenda, the mayor has to approve it. I’m glad we do not have that in East Point.
Q: So you wouldn’t do anything that gives the mayor more control?
A: I would not.
Follow Council Member Alexander Gothard on Twitter: @CouncilmanAG
Quick! Put on your seersucker and chug a pitcher of sweet tea–the whole town’s a-goin’ down to watch the Cartersville city council dole out some Southern justice.
Yessir, today the fine men and women of the jury are deciding whether to change the zoning on a troublemakin’ patch of grass yonder. And the city’s brightest legal lights are here to deliver an Atticus Finch-worthy performance.
The judge–a.k.a. Mayor Matt Santini–narrowed his steely eyes at the packed room of onlookers. “Anybody’s welcome to get up and speak. However, if it doesn’t relate back to one of those 13 points–” he gestured to a PowerPoint slide with, ironically, only ten points, “–then we’re really not getting anywhere.”
With that, the Trial of the Century began. First up, attorney for the defense.
“This would be a distribution-type facility such as you see for Amazon,” the simple country lawyer drawled. “Those type of things are goin’ up these days. Seems like that man comes to my house every night with something my wife ordered on the Internet.” He flashed a smile to the jury.
The star witness for the defense was a 51-year resident of Cartersville with a lethal knowledge of local roads.
“I’m personally familiar with the traffic flow of the county. On my way over tonight, I clocked the mileage from the Waterford [subdivision] to the intersection of Erwin Street and Old Mill Road: 1.7 miles.” This modern-day Rain Man dazzled the jury with flashy testimony not seen since the O.J. Simpson trial:
“The natural flow of traffic is coming up 75 or 41 to 293 onto Old Mill. Or it’s gonna be going out Erwin to the South Bridge. Or it’s gonna be Old Mill to Douthit Ferry to 113 and then either going up to 61 to Dallas or Rockmart. Or it’s gonna be going Burnt Hickory Road to the new roundabout.”
Ladies fanned themselves. Gentlemen loosened their ties. Newspapermen chomped on cigars. Now, for the prosecution: a patrician man in a disarmingly-casual blue Polo approached with hands in pockets.
“I stand here before you trying to decide if I’m opposed to us having business coming into Cartersville,” he slowly pondered. “In the mornings and late in the evenings, if you’re coming out of Erwin Downs, you sit there at that stop sign for a good long while waiting for the traffic.” The Georgia night air was heavy with sweat and tension.
“If we add another 400 trucks–this is just my opinion if you don’t mind–but if they have the choice of going 293 or coming up across South Bridge to 41, you know where they’ll go,” he warned the jury, his eyes sliding from person to person to deliver his closing argument. “I’m opposed to it. I hate to say that I’m opposed to business coming into Cartersville.”
At this point, the mayor-judge interjected: “I should have said this off the top. There will NOT be a vote this evening on this zoning request. That will take place at our meeting two weeks from now.”
No verdict? Well, shucks! Thelma? Toss on another order of grits–justice is gonna take awhile.