This week, we take a listen back to some of the spiciest, most compelling, and most art-filled interview segments in the past several months. If you have a friend who you’ve been dying to introduce to the magic of city council meetings, sit ’em down and have them listen to this!
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
For the last city council meeting of 2016, I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful council chamber: ornate chairs, delicate chandeliers, intricate woodwork. It looked more like the set of “Hamilton” than a municipal building.
But the room was also deeply, deeply confusing: the six council members were crowded into a single wooden desk–cafeteria style. The council president had her own luxurious dais in roughly the next ZIP code.
And then, there was the graphics department:
However, the phrase “lipstick on a pig” sprung to mind, as the beautiful room was consumed by a series of irate public commenters tearing each council member a new rectum and–occasionally–making sense.
“Regarding the Uber issue,” a woman in a baggy blazer slowly wound herself up. “What is an ‘Uber?’ Is it generic? Is it a brand name? Is it a transitive verb? Is it a modifying adverb? I’d like to know.”
I had absolutely zero read on whether she was kidding. My heart said she wasn’t, and my head said, “oh, god, this is gonna get worse.”
“I picked up some statistics. Our seven new electric motorcycles–” she continued.
“Okay, this is about Uber and Lyft,” cut in Council President Leesa Perazzo with some exasperation. “It’s NOT about electric vehicles.”
“Well,” the woman huffed, “these can be hooked up if it’s electric motorcycles. There are many acres of forestland being destroyed for motorcycle lanes!”
Uh, point…taken? I’m sure all of the Uber drivers with electric motorcycles are quaking in their helmets.
The next commenter was a tiny balding man in a sweater vest who spoke with a slight impediment and even slighter enthusiasm.
“I’d like to speak on what I call ‘my two cents’ on the smoking ordinance. When I found that this council had passed us a law, I went, ‘seriously? Did the council pass that without realizing some people are not gonna like it?'”
He was referring to a new ordinance banning people from smoking in cars when minors are present. Also, he was apparently new to the concept that city councils do things people don’t agree with.
He sagely added, “I don’t think anybody in the government has been using the brains or common sense…things.”
Well, this has been enlightening. And another anti-anti-smoking commenter stomped to the podium. “If you have custody of those children and you tend to be in a car that’s bought and paid for, that’s your personal property! You can do anything you want with your personal property!” he fumed.
Amen! That’s the same logic I use to run a dog-fighting ring in my basement and cook meth in my RV. Read the Constitution.
And if the comments from the public hadn’t soured the mood enough, Councilman Vincent Riggi stood up to seal the deal. “Just to clarify the vote on the smoking: YOU brought up that it’s our part to not abstain, Madam President. I don’t know WHY that left-handed shot had to come out. That’s certainly my prerogative to abstain,” he snapped.
“I thought we were beyond that, but I guess we’re not. And I thought YOU were beyond that, but apparently not.”
“I won’t answer any of the other nonsense I heard tonight,” he slammed the microphone down.