Month in Review: August 2016

During this Labor Day weekend, it’s a good time to remember all of the people who labor hard every week at city council meetings for hours and hours–or, sometimes, for 19 minutes. Catch up on where City Council Chronicles visited in the month of August.

P.S. If you didn’t see our appearance in last week’s Baltimore Sun, don’t worry–my intern spends 23 hours every day reading each newspaper in the country to see who mentions The Chronicles. And he finally found one!

Interview #10: Hampton, VA City Council Clerk Katherine Glass

Hampton’s city council clerk had some FUN stories, so let’s get to it! Katherine Glass told me about how to get the key to the city and the time she almost clotheslined President Obama.

Q: You’ve got a city council meeting in 48 hours–what was today like for you?

A: The mayor popped in and saw a group that does youth sports. He suggested that they come to a council meeting, but we already have three groups coming to be recognized. And two more got added. So I’ve got to figure out how we accommodate five groups and make everybody feel welcome, but we still get the business of the city done.

Q: Yeah, I don’t envy you.

A: My workflow is one week I’m getting ready for a meeting–or I’m having a meeting. We’re highly automated. I think Hampton was the second city in the country to go to iPad technology for meetings.

Q: You’re a trendsetter!

A: It came from [former] Mayor Molly Ward. She worked for the Obama administration for a while. I got to go and have lunch at the White House. Like, in the West Wing dining room! Very, very cool.

Q: Did you meet the president?

A: I wouldn’t say MEET him…we almost collided with him.

Q: You gotta tell me what happened.

A: I had just asked Molly, “do you pass Obama in the hall?” She goes, “not really.” I swear to you, not five minutes later, Molly was leading the way, [former city attorney] Cynthia [Hudson] was behind me, and I see all these men in black. And by the time I look back, Cynthia is at the intersection and he [Obama] just about runs into her.

Q: Oh, no.

A: And he says, “Hello!” She goes “Hello!” I was like, “that’s the flipping President of the United States! I could reach out and touch him!”

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Hampton, VA city council clerk Katherine Glass

Q: When you look at this city council, do you see any future White House officials? Congresspeople? A president?

A: Not in this group. I think they’re serving out of a love to the city. You’ve got two retirees…Teresa Schmidt is actually a preschool administrator…Billy Hobbs runs an automotive dealership. Everybody knows Billy. He’s just your average guy.

Q: So how do you describe your job?

A: Departments compile their information. They get it to me. I make sure it looks right and I put it in a packet. The packet goes out to council on Friday, so they have a good five days to review everything. My job while I’m at the meeting is to record their votes. I make sure the mayor signs all the new laws. I’m the funnel.

Q: “The funnel,” nice.

A: It’s an interesting job. You get calls from weird reporters that are like, “hey, I’m gonna watch your meeting.”

Q: Ugh, I hate those people.

A : Have you ever heard of Mark Malkoff?

Q: Nope.

A: He called with a bizarre request. He asked me, “what do you have to do to get the key to the city?” I’m like, I don’t know that we really have a key to the city! His thing was to do a road trip across the country and see how many keys to the city he could collect.

Q: Katherine. How does City Council Chronicles get a key to the city?

A: Something terribly creative.

Q: What about…I review your city council meeting and you mention City Council Chronicles DURING the meeting?

A: I can ask the mayor…I’ll see if Donnie can do that in his mayor’s comments.

Q: THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Shout-out #2: Hampton, VA

Way back in July, the mayor of London, Ohio mentioned City Council Chronicles at an actual city council meeting, calling it “pretty interesting.” That was one of the proudest moments in my life as a journalist–second only to the moment when I started calling myself a journalist.

I then named London a “Friend of the Chronicles” and encouraged everyone to visit such attractions as Los Mariachis restaurant and the Rib and Jazz Fest.

Well, imagine my surprise when, during the final 30 seconds of last week’s Hampton, Virginia city council meeting, I watched Mayor Donnie Tuck say this:

Mayor: There’s one last mention I’d like to make–and I apologize for missing this earlier–and that is of a young man who visited Hampton earlier this week. His name is Michael Karlik of the councilchronicles.com. And he was visiting Hampton and learning more about our city council meeting’s work–how they work. And I understand he’s watching us online tonight during our live stream and so welcome, Michael.

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Well, knock me down with a dandelion! Out of ALL of the websites out there dedicated to reviewing city council meetings, the mayor chose to mention ours!

I wish I had something to give His Honor in return. Unfortunately, all of my gold medals are tied down in Rio, so what I have left in the warehouse is this priceless mug:

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With this shout-out, I am officially naming Hampton, Virginia a “Friend of the Chronicles,” which gives them the right to take the lunch money of any smaller, nerdier city. Also, I would encourage readers that the next time you visit Hampton, find Mayor Tuck and buy him a pint at the local St. George Brewing Company. And after you get nice and buzzed on Imperial Stout, remember to stand up on a bar stool and scream at the top of your lungs, “YOU’VE BEEN CHRONICLED!”

P.S. Check back on Monday to see how this shout-out came to be!

#42: Hampton, VA 8/10/16

Major–MAJOR–bombshell at the Hampton city council meeting.

“Before we begin, I’d like to deviate from our normal agenda,” Mayor Donnie Tuck abruptly announced. “Vice Mayor, would you please read?”

“A motion to deviate from the order of business to evaluate the benefits of moving the public comment,” read Vice Mayor Linda Curtis from her notes.

Move the public comment? To where, North Carolina?! Please explain, Your Honor!

“We’ve looked at how we’ve done our public comment section in the past. There’s been a time when it was before the meeting started, then it was moved to the end of the meeting.” The mayor folded his hands.

“What we’ve decided to do was to move it to a point in our meeting where we have our public hearings–following THAT we will have public comments.”

This is madness. Insanity. I’ve never felt more scared…AND MORE ALIVE.

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Mayor Tuck is SO BUZZED from moving the public comment.

Now the fun part: “Would the representatives of the Bay River Rumble 12-and-Under Grey Softball Team please come forward?” the mayor asked as the young athletes marched down the aisle.

“These ladies recently returned from Buffalo, where they won the NSA World Series Championship for girls fast-pitch softball.” He grinned from ear to ear. “We have some backpacks for you.”

After passing out the souvenirs, the mayor again broke into a smile so contagious that Olympic athletes aren’t allowed near it. “I hope my fellow council members will pardon my exuberance but I invited another group to come down”–a summer camp for English language learners.

“We had a wonderful time,” the camp’s director told the council, surrounded by her campers. “Mayor Tuck, I just want to thank you again for inviting us–” she looked to the dais, but His Honor was already sneaking up behind her. “Here you are!” she laughed as he ambushed them with more gift bags.

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Watch out! He’s behind you! BEHIND YOU!

Finally, time for high-risk, high-reward: public comment…IN THE MIDDLE.

Guinea pig #1 was an older man who slid on his glasses and opened a red folder. “I wanna congratulate Mayor Tuck on his sex–successful election,” the commenter complimented the new mayor–and the mayor’s wife, apparently.

He took aim at, surprisingly, the public comment period itself. “I feel speakers should be heard at the beginning of the meeting. Also, they should be allowed five minutes to speak because at times you have got more to say and three minutes is not enough.” Ironically, this was not one of those times–he finished in well under three minutes.

Next up was a beefy guy who skipped congratulating the mayor for his sex and went for the jugular. “I’m in agreement with the public comments back to the beginning and I’ll tell you why. You got families with kids, you got elderly people, and you have handicapped people. To put them through two or three hours to save them for the end is just wrong. It’s ‘we the people,’ not ‘we the Hampton city council.'”

(It’s true. I’ve read the Constitution and nowhere does it mention the Hampton city council.)

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“Peekaboo.”

This Sage of Southeast Virginia left the council with a final deep thought: “the bricks out front, you need to regrout ’em.”

Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to anybody who pays attention to the grout at their city hall.