#176: Temecula, CA 11/27/18

“Are you in the audience this evening?” Mayor Matt Rahn scanned the room for one particular Boy Scout, which should not have been difficult given the scarcity of badges and uniforms in the crowd.

“We wanted to congratulate you on receiving the rank of Eagle Scout, which is the highest achievement in scouting. Let’s hear about your project!”

The scout stood uneasily behind the microphone and softly described his community service. “For my project, I decided to go with Rancho Damacitas [Children & Family Services]. I decided to go with a garden box and benches. But then they decided they didn’t want that anymore. They wanted to build a shed. So I agreed to make a shed for them.”

“God, you started off with a bench and made it all the way to shed,” the mayor exclaimed. “It’s a good thing they didn’t have an annex wing put on!” A group of teenagers grinned and snickered in the second row–although it was less a reaction to the mayor’s joke than to something they were doodling in their notebooks.

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I see you, kids.

Fortunately, they picked the right night to observe a council meeting, as the Temecula Valley Museum’s director stood to introduce visiting dignitaries from Daisen, Temecula’s sister city in Japan.

“They will be enjoying many of the amenities, including the duck pond, the Pechanga Great Oak Tree, and also San Diego,” she said. “They will also be our special guests in Santa’s Electric Light Parade.

“Please forgive me if I mispronounce their names.” She proceeded strenuously to sound out each name, but none of them appeared to mind as they strode to the front of the room for a group picture.

There was minor confusion as the mayor attempted to pass out certificates, but had no idea who was who. Thinking quickly, he flashed the papers to one of the visitors, who pointed him towards the correct recipient.

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Temecula council goal: learn Japanese

“Have you taken them to In-N-Out Burger?” Mayor Pro Tem Michael Naggar grilled the museum manager. “Not yet? And the Cheesecake Factory?”

“Where do we get those jackets like they have on?” quizzed Council Member Maryann Edwards, pointing to the branded jacket of one of the visitors.

“That’s a good question,” Mayor Rahn echoed. “Where did you get the Temecula jacket?”

“You can get those in the visitor’s center around the corner,” replied the city manager, to the pleasant surprise of the whole council.

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I predict five purchases in the near future.

The last large order of business–other than the teens’ excited whispering about something on one of their phones–was the dry but important matter of extending a construction permit for the Temecula Valley Hospital.

“I can personally vouch that because of the hospital–no exaggeration–it has saved the life of my father-in-law, it saved the life of my wife,” Mayor Pro Tem Naggar testified. “There is an impact of the helicopter flying over–it flies about 300 feet over my house. At first, it’s annoying until you think about who’s in that helicopter. Then you find out a little annoyance is meaningless based on what’s going on up there.”

“None of us could have dreamt that it would be this good,” echoed Council Member Edwards. “My husband has been a ‘customer’ on several occasions. How we ever got along without you, we will never know.”

With praise like that, I hope the Japanese delegation gets to visit the hospital–a far, far healthier alternative to the Cheesecake Factory.

#145: Nacogdoches, TX 12/19/17

It may be the week before Christmas, but Tuesday’s Nacogdoches city council meeting scheduled an unfortunate, bitter showdown between neighbors.

The source of strife: whether to rezone a Garner Street home–mere yards from the hospital parking lot–from “residential” to “medical.”

Representing the affirmative side was the homeowner, a short woman with a heavy twang who appeared nervous and saddened to be begging for relief.

“Our home has been on the market for several years. We’ve accepted offers that did not go through,” she explained in frustration.

“We have been approached by a cardiologist who is wanting to purchase our property and make it his office,” she said, adding that he was “a highly trained, kind, and caring person….No selfish or self-serving motivation.”

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So far, so good.

Her hand shook and she murmured “sorry” as she scanned the scattered paperwork on the lectern. “Could Mr. Wood speak about the property values?”

Mayor Shelley Brophy nodded sympathetically. “I would allow a brief statement.”

The supportive witness took the woman’s place. “They need to sell their home. When somebody offers you 15 percent more than what you’ve been saying–the only stipulation being the zone change–you have to pursue it,” he drawled.

“I was worried about her getting through this. It’s real emotional for her.”

The final speaker on the woman’s side was unmistakable: bald, bespectacled, and wearing robin’s egg blue scrubs, he was undeniably the aforementioned cardiologist.

“The key thing about this property is the proximity to the hospital,” he explained in accented English. “There’s a patient coming with a heart attack, you attend them and take care of them.”

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Do no harm

Brushing aside traffic concerns, he gestured widely while elaborating upon the simple math. “I see 12, 15 patients a day, three days a week over an eight-hour period. Which means two cars coming and going an hour. That is NOT a traffic increase.”

Stepping up in opposition was a steady stream of neighbors on Garner Street, deeply disturbed about the decay of safety, the rule of law, and the moral fiber of the neighborhood.

A woman with long, dark hair and glasses appeared torn. “I have a lot of sympathy for the Morgans. I consider them friends. They’ve been neighbors for a long time.” She hesitated but for a moment. “For the greater good, please preserve our neighborhood.”

“We have two very small children,” a young mother pleaded. “We purchased this house with the vision of raising our little girls on a nice, quiet residential street where our children could play safely. It would absolutely destroy the integrity and appeal of Garner Street.”

“Apartments, offices, ambulance, hospice, nursing home, psychiatric hospital, boarding house, halfway house, or cemetery,” another man rattled off a list of boogeymen allowed by this “medical” rezoning.

Having sat quietly for half an hour, the council leaned forward to make an uncomfortable decision.

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It’s a tough call.

“I’ll make a motion to deny the zoning change,” Council Member Garth Hinze offered bluntly.

“Doctor, you’re very well respected around town,” he addressed the cardiologist, then turned to the homeowners. “I feel your pain. But for the greater good…that’s why I voted the way that I did.”

“Mr. Norton, do you have comments?” Mayor Brophy turned to her left.

“I don’t have any comment.” Council Member David Norton wrung his hands and muttered quietly: “I’m a little surprised.”

With that, the vote was 4-0 to deny the doctor his office and the homeowner her sale. But the “integrity” of Garner Street? Mostly in tact.

#137: Maumelle, AR 10/16/17

Tragedy plus time equals comedy. But how much time is needed?

Well, if you’re the mayor of Maumelle–not a lot.

“I’ll need to let you know that Council Member [Rick] Anderson will not be here tonight. He is in the hospital,” Mayor Mike Watson blurted out at the top. Without missing a beat, he added dryly, “I think that’s a valid excuse. I don’t know if that’s what I’d pick for MY excuse. But he can do that.”

While my imagination wandered to what, exactly, the mayor might think up for his excuse, Council Member John Vaprezsan invoked Anderson’s name in the pre-meeting prayer. Pointing to the victims of wildfires, shootings, and hurricanes, he concluded ominously, “we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few minutes.”

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The mayor looks to be about 16″ from heaven.

With all this talk of death and infirmity, it was about time for some goods news. And it came from a surprising place: the bank account.

“Our financials look better this month. We’re right at budget,” an employee at the lectern gestured to a colorful graph on the wall. “The yellow is–okay, first of all….” She paused and was clearly battling mixed emotions about the yellow portion of the chart.

“I revised all these charts because somebody didn’t like the colors and I didn’t really like the colors either,” she vented to the council members, who squinted their eyes to better comprehend her predicament.

She inhaled and got back on track. “As you can see, we’ve got $5.5 million [cash on hand], so we’re well covered.”

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Yellow? All I see is green.

The mayor abruptly swiveled in his chair and reached down for a few well-covered things of his own.

“We’ve got the budgets here.” He lifted a stack of binders, sliding them down the dais. “Take the one that’s got your name on it. Don’t take somebody else’s just to be ornery,” he scolded preemptively.

“I was still making changes after lunch today.” He let out an exhausted chuckle. “It’s not an excuse, but I’ve looked at it so much, it’s hard to catch mistakes in it now.”

Mayor, if you need someone to proofread the budget–and clandestinely add some puns and emoji–send it to me. My fee is a tiny $5.5 million in cash on hand.

Council Member Steve Mosley leaned forward like an intrigued professor who just thought of a reason to reference some fascinating new research. “I don’t know how many folks saw–this doesn’t have anything to do with us.”

He opened a newspaper. “It talks about Farmington, Arkansas. They recently found that they had some embezzlement going on for $1.5 million over seven years. He was basically taking money home. All they noticed was that traffic ticket revenue had gone down.”

He folded the paper and let the damning accusation settle in.

“Things can happen. So everybody has to stay alert.”

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One more reason for me to look over your budget!

Not to be outdone in the field of literacy, Council Member Vaprezsan gestured to his own magazine.

“I got the City & Town. If you haven’t had the chance to look at it, it’s pretty neat.” Not at all subtly, Council Member Jess Holt reached across and snatched the publication.

“Council Member Holt’s picture is ALSO in the magazine,” noted Vaprezsan as Holt flipped through it with fixation.

“So is Council Member [G.K.] Timmons and City Clerk Tina Timmons!” exclaimed Holt.

Whew! Maumelle made the news without a scandal.

#103: Dublin, IE 5/8/17

Councilors were packed tighter than marshmallows in a Lucky Charms box at the Dublin city council chamber. And as with any group of Irishmen this size, things quickly got heated.

The subject was innocent enough: a tame discussion about the maternity hospital. But suddenly, Councilor Paddy Bourke stared down Lord Mayor Brendan Carr.

“On a point of order, I think it would be safer if the members of the board left the room–and that includes yourself,” he demanded.

Lord Mayor Carr, a member of the hospital’s board, pointed his pen defensively. “There’s a lot of us on different boards around the city. And no one’s ever asked to leave the chamber.”

But he dialed back his annoyance and gestured around the room. “I’ll leave that up to the council to make the decision.”

“I don’t think we should create a precedent of the people who are best informed having to leave,” argued Councilor Rebecca Moynihan in disbelief. “Otherwise, we should resign from all the boards. I don’t think that you should leave, Lord Mayor.”

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Will he or won’t he?

Another councilor began yelling for a point of order. Carr glared at him, warning, “there’s another councilor before you.”

As the belligerent councilor persisted, the Lord Mayor sharply cut him off. “I chair the meeting!”

At this point, the clearly un-amused Councilor Daithí Doolan was all but ready to smother this ruckus and head to the pub.

“There’s certain elements in this chamber tonight trying to gag ourselves and straightjacket ourselves. It’s ridiculous,” he groused. “We’re adults. If people want to leave the chamber, feel free to leave. I trust councilors to make the right decision.”

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“I will not be straightjacketed. In fact, I will barely be jacketed.”

Having gauged the temperature of the room and the purity of his intentions, the Lord Mayor reached his decision. “I have absolutely no conflict of interest. I don’t intend to leave the chamber.”

After this wee bit o’ discord, I reasoned that the meeting would be smoother than a field of four-leaf clovers from here on out.

I thought wrong.

“There was a challenge that came in from a member of the public,” Carr announced three hours into the meeting, referring to a citizen complaint, “and we have to try to resolve it.”

He glanced up at the clock. “We’re now agreeing to suspend the meeting and I’ll ask everyone who’s a member of the Protocol [Committee] to meet and come back.”

THAT sent councilors into a frenzy.

“Point of order! Are YOU telling ME we’re about to break up this meeting,” Councilor Kieran Binchy hollered into the microphone, his voice rising throughout the rant, “in order to hold a separate meeting so the Protocol Committee can make decisions in PRIVATE?!”

Other councilors nodded and grunted in support. Now I know where the term “Fightin’ Irish” comes from.

“You cannot convene a meeting right now!” Binchy exclaimed with wild eyes.

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“This is TOO MANY MEETINGS!”

“There was an issue that came in from the public,” the Lord Mayor patiently explained. “We were then given legal advice that the Protocol Committee should meet–please sit in your seats.”

Carr held up his hand while pleading for councilors to listen–with some difficulty. “Someone show a bit of respect somewhere!”

“This is ridiculous,” Councilor Binchy wailed as Carr opened the voting machine. “This isn’t the way to do business!”

Unfortunately for him, three-quarters of councilors sided with their Lord Mayor. The meeting was recessed.

Special Feature! “Best Thing, Worst Thing”

This is an exciting new episode of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project. Usually, I storm into town, do some interviews, hear about the history, and package it together into a neat bundle for you. This time, we tag along with a few locals as they go about their day and get a more colorful listening experience.

For an explanation of the project, check out the page here. If you’re ready to hear a group of folks talk about the best thing about where they live and the worst thing about where they live, head over to the City Council Chronicles podcast to download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.

Episode 6: Colby, Kansas

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Photo source: Google Street View

Colby is technically a city of 5,400 people in the northwest corner of Kansas–but it’s tempting to call this a “small town.” Agriculture is important here, but Colby also has a community college and medical center. In this episode, we tag along to a Rotary Club meeting, participate in a tornado drill, and try not to get blown away by some fierce wind. We hear from a librarian, a hospital executive, a newspaper publisher, a principal, a tax preparer, and a retired city employee.

#7: Troup, TX 4/12/16

City council day in Troup, Texas only comes ’round once a month. This tiny outpost of 1,900 people doesn’t need some fancy city hall with desks and microphones and such. They’re perfectly fine with foldin’ tables and the chairs you’d sit on in a high school cafeteria.

Heck, Troup is so easygoing that they’ll do a meeting without two of their five councilmen. Too bad for those guys: Councilman Gary Salyer brought potato chips and he wasn’t shy about passing them around!

The first order of business was for the mayor to approve a change in ambulance services. “I am prepared to sign it right now so you can leave with it,” Mayor Joe Carlyle said to some guy the hospital sent, adding his John Hancock to the note in blazingly fast legislative efficiency.

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The Troup City Council chamber doubles as the place where you go to learn about timeshares

The man thanked the mayor, announcing that “I’m gonna run over and give Neil some moral support at this other city council” in Henderson. He ran out, leaving the council with an audience of me.

“I’m on a diet. I’m gettin’ 400 calories a day right now,” the mayor groused, sipping a Big Gulp of something-or-other.

“Have one of these,” Councilman Salyer exclaimed, tossing the mayor his bag of chips.

“You drinkin’ all the whiskey you can?” city manager Gene Cottle inquired, jokingly (I think). Note to the council: I will spot you some dough for cushioned chairs and 1,600 more calories for your mayor.

Cranky as he was on his diet, the mayor took to complaining about the trains running through town and backing up traffic. “We’re gonna go and express dire concerns because it’s been about as bad as it’s ever been.”

At this point, everyone in the room raised their hackles about those darn trains.

“Again on Easter Sunday…Couldn’t get across the tracks!…Saturday, and then the Sunday morning…”

They agreed to complain some more and then moved on.

“We have several employees who are celebrating their tenth anniversary with the city in May, ” said the city manager. There could be a little shindig at the next meeting, but…

“I will not be at the May city council meeting,” he admitted.

“If we don’t have any pressing business,” let’s cancel it, said Mayor Carlyle. “Would there have to be a public notice that we’re canceling the meeting?”

“We just have to post it beforehand,” responded the secretary.

“I should be up to 800…900 calories by then,” the mayor mumbled, sipping his cup.

Finally: it seems the mayor’s wife has had some ugly-looking bathwater lately. Probably because the pump on well #2 blew itself up. This was hardly a crisis like the Fire of 1880 that destroyed the city, but still: it’s icky bathwater.

“If you let that water sit, you’ll notice that nothing settles out of that water,” the city manager noted, let’s say…reassuringly?

There was nothing they could do, so the council agreed to add it to the list of things to complain about.

Final thoughts: For a city plagued by tainted water, canceled meetings, and a questionable 400-calorie diet, the mayor showed great poise. I would give this meeting a rating, but sadly a train is blocking me, so oh well.