#174: Monroe, NC 11/6/18

Things were looking optimistic for the developers of the quaintly-named Veronica Springs subdivision.

“I’m that odd-shaped square in the middle of this project,” the pastor of the Community Church of the Nazarene announced at the lectern while looking very pastoral in glasses and a sweater vest. “At first I wasn’t sure that I wanted 200 homes built around us like that.”

However, he continued, “we’re in support of it. We decided that it was a good thing for this community. Affordable housing is something we need, and we’ll try to be a good neighbor.”

It was a compelling endorsement to have the lord’s representative on the project’s side. But I wonder, could god possibly send a mixed message through another messenger?

“I ran across an interesting article on Cain and Abel,” began a white-haired man now standing at the microphone. “The practice in ancient time was the father left everything to the oldest son. The reason for that? So it didn’t constantly get subdivided. It would get to the point where people couldn’t sustain themselves on that little land. I think that’s a real important point to consider.”

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Amen

It would be an important point if the future homeowners were grazing cattle and not driving down the road to the Walmart Supercenter for groceries. But there was a more insidious, moral implication to the subdivision.

“We have moved from a predominantly rural to a predominantly urban society,” he continued. “Like with the Tower of Babel, people were supposed to disperse and multiply and they tried to exalt themselves with the tower.”

“Well, there is the war, and the good and evil is done by self-centeredness. That’s what takes us away from god. Urban settings tend to push people toward the self-centeredness–”

“Thank you. We’re gonna stay on track with the public hearing,” Mayor Bobby Kilgore gently nudged the speaker away from the microphone at the end of his three rambling minutes. With no further communications from god, the council moved on.

“Here comes ducky,” council members heckled an employee as he approached the lectern. “Quack, quack!”

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Is this hazing?

The man grinned at the apparent inside joke and proceeded. “We request that the industrial parks owned and developed by the city of Monroe be exempt from the ‘naming of public facilities and lands in recognition of individuals’ policy.”

He added, “the industrial park’s name is significant and needs to be really a brand, not attached to a person.”

“I don’t think it’s good to exclude us from naming,” countered Council Member Surluta Anthony.

“It’s not excluding you. You’re the naming entity.”

“We just don’t have a part in giving the suggestion of names?” she asked.

“You can,” was the reply. “The name can be whatever city council decides.”

Council Member Lynn Keziah was satisfied with this names-but-not-names suggestion. “Motion to approve the amendment to exempt city-owned industrial parks from the naming policy.”

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“City Council Chronicles Industrial Park” is still on the table.

“This is only going to be for industrial parks?” Anthony clarified.

“What I just read,” Keziah replied resolutely.

In case anyone was not 100 percent clear on the new policy, they would have to figure it out on their own time because the council promptly approved it and breezed on to more important matters.

“Thanksgiving is coming up. We give our employees Thursday and Friday,” pointed out Keziah. “I think we should give them Wednesday. Traveling time to get to where they’re going.”

“They’re already smiling in the audience!” Mayor Kilgore exclaimed. The employees had good reason to, for the council voted to make the five-day weekend a reality.

Interview #75: Fresno, CA Councilmember Esmeralda Soria (with podcast)

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

Esmeralda Soria is in her first term on the Fresno council and discusses the elaborate gift-giving protocol for the outgoing council president with me. Plus, we analyze one difficult meeting involving the politics of religion.

Q: Each year, a different council member becomes the president. At the end of their term in January, they apparently get to pick out a parting gift for themselves. Can you tell us what the council is getting current president Clint Olivier?

A: We’re still working on that. I think people were very impressed by the last gift–the sign that says your name and then “President” at the bottom, which is what our former president, [Paul] Caprioglio, received.

Q: In 2015, Council Member Steve Brandau got a photoshopped picture of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz smoking a cigarette with tattoos all over his body. When you saw that, did you think, “huh, that seems like a perfectly wholesome and normal thing to give someone?”

A: Well, I don’t think that they were trying to be normal. I think they were trying to add a little humor to the parting gift! I think that was the intent.

Q: Let’s go back to May of this year. Council Member Garry Bredefeld looks at the wall behind you in the council chamber where it says “City of Fresno.” He says to himself, “this is missing something.” How did you first learn what he wanted to do?

A: It was something that Councilwoman–I forget her name–out of Bakersfield…[she] had sent an e-mail. Not just to him, to everyone. He was the only one that it caught his attention and thought it was a great idea to bring to Fresno. That’s how I first learned he was interested.

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Fresno, CA Councilmember Esmeralda Soria

Q: What you’re referring to is putting in big letters behind you, “In God We Trust” under the name of the city. You had over 40 commenters show up on both sides–cheering and yelling, calling this “needlessly divisive.” In the end, you and the entire council voted in favor of this. Did you have any unease over how the process went?

A: At the beginning, there was. I even expressed that to my council colleague. I felt that it wasn’t something the city needed to debate. It became a very divisive issue. But for me, I didn’t see anything wrong with putting our country’s motto on the dais. It wasn’t about religion. Every council meeting, we have an invocation. We invite people from all walks of life to do the invocation because we value diversity.

Q: I’ve got to say, I’ve watched a lot of your council meetings. It’s hard to take away a message that all gods are welcome given how frequently people refer to Jesus Christ in the invocation. Do you see how the actual proceedings would suggest that the council is not totally neutral?

A: I can see that. I can tell you–at least when I have the opportunity–I have the Sikh community come in here, someone from the Muslim community come, and it’s not about Jesus. It’s not a complete representation, but I can see your point.

Q: Did any of the extreme arguments you heard in that May meeting change your initial opinion?

A: I thought to some degree it was a waste of valuable time. The debate didn’t have to be that extensive.


Follow Councilmember Esmeralda Soria on Twitter: @Esmeralda_Soria

#109: Saginaw, MI 6/5/17

Somebody, put up the balloons and the streamers! At the Saginaw city council meeting, we’ve got birthdays in the house.

“It is my honor to give this proclamation,” grinned Mayor Pro Tem Floyd Kloc as three stocky gentlemen from the Kiwanis Club clustered at the podium. “I’m also a member, so it’s quite special to me!”

“Be it resolved,” he read, that the city “does extend this expression of gratitude to the Kiwanis Club of Saginaw for their service over the past 100 years.”

A proud centenarian stepped forward. “One of our signature projects is buying dictionaries for all the third graders in Saginaw public schools. Last year we bought 386 dictionaries, I believe.”

Dictionaries? As in, old-fashioned autocorrect? Classy move.

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More importantly: are you buying the children Snapchat filters and fidget spinners?

The Kiwanis may have been turning 100, but I hope they know how to respect their elders–because an even more senior group was also blowing out candles.

“I represent the Plumbers & Steamfitters Union, Local 85. We turned 125 years old on May 1,” a significantly younger man informed the council.

“I am a little partial to Local 85,” admitted Council Member Michael Balls coyly. “My son attained his journeyman card through the plumbers union and he lives in a big beautiful home with a three-car garage and stuff like that.”

Balls nodded with the satisfaction of a proud dad. “It’s been real rewarding to him.”

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“However, if my Father’s Day present this year isn’t a Porsche, I will disown him.”

As it turned out, Saginaw was about to witness another son do right by his dad.

But the circumstances were anything but cheerful.

“Proclamation in memory of Brent R. Smith, whose rich and abundant life came to a close on March 3, 2017,” read Mayor Pro Tem Kloc, standing to shake hands with a long line of bereaved family members.

The bespectacled teenage son then stepped up to the microphone.

“I’d much rather have my dad up here receiving this honor,” he said while family members folded their arms behind him.

“He was greatly influenced by his grandpa. They were best friends and they’re most likely hanging out right now as I speak.”

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😥

“All of his hope and trust was in Jesus Christ,” he continued quickly, so as to avoid becoming too emotional. “He and my mom raised the three of us kids to be god-fearing Christians as well.”

While the audience stared silently at the floor, the boy punctuated his eulogy with plainspoken Midwestern piety:

“My dad did so much for so many people. There’s one thing that we know for sure in all of this: when my dad was standing before god, he heard the words, ‘well done, good and faithful servant.'”

From the back row, a slow clap began. Council Member Brenda Moore slapped the table and stared kindly at the Smith daughter.

“I came in with the young lady and I told her she was so beautiful. You are beautiful,” she repeated in a grandmotherly tone.

“And thank you so much–mom, family–for sharing your husband with the city of Saginaw.”

Then, ending the council meeting on a note of good fortune, she revealed: “I hope that you start to enjoy the sunny weather. I’m actually gonna plant a garden this year with the help of my friends. We’re gonna plant a garden!”

And with that, the cycle of life, death, and birth was complete in the span of a single city council meeting.