Michael McQuillen is the Republican District 4 councilor and minority leader on the Indianapolis-Marion County city-county council. Despite his council’s long name, he tries to make quick decisions on votes, including the difficult ones involving unseating the council president. We talk about those occasions, his perfect attendance, and more.
Q: I hope it is not too late in the year to congratulate you for winning a perfect meeting-attendance award in 2017. Why does the Indianapolis council prefer to honor people who attend all of the meetings instead of my preferred method of shaming people who miss any meetings?
A: That’s actually my crowning achievement for 2017, so we can’t take that too lightly. But seriously, I think it’s something that’s been done for 40, 45 years and I’m just caught up in the minutiae of it now.
Q: You’ve been on the council for ten years. How many of those years have you had perfect attendance?
A: I’m probably about a 50-50 hit or miss. But I generally hit all the council meetings, occasionally will miss a committee meeting here and there.
Q: Okay, gotcha. Well it actually was five out of the ten, and I appreciate you pretending like you didn’t have that memorized. Very convincing! In your second year on council, Republican Council President Bob Cockrum decided to alternate the adjournment between his vice president and the minority leader, rather than have the minority leader do it always. How strongly do you feel about being in charge of that part of the meeting?
A: Being the minority leader, there are very few bells and whistles that that person gets to use. The reading of the memoriams at the end of the meeting is one of the very few. As you point out, that has been my responsibility for the last several years now on council. I don’t know where it would rank in the hierarchy of importance in the council meetings, but I do enjoy brushing up on tricky last names sometimes when I’m on camera.
Q: Sure. I mean it’s ceremonial akin to the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance. So would you be pretty protective if someone tried to take that away from you?
A: I guess I probably would. Again, it’s one of the few things that puts the spotlight on the minority party for just a very few minutes at the end of the meeting.
Q: Earlier this year when the council was choosing whether to retain the council president or elect a challenger, the vote stayed open for a really long time. Do you recall what was going on that took people that long to decide?
A: I’ve never understood in the ten years that I’ve been on the council why some councilors, especially if they know how they’re going to vote on an issue, sit there and wait to hit the button and be perhaps the last person. That’s great if you want to be on the news as the councilor that “made the decision” on how the vote goes. It’s not really true that that’s the way it works, but sometimes that’s how it’s perceived. My personal philosophy has always been to hit that red or green button immediately and move on.
Q: Is that something you’re obligated to do as the leader of the caucus? Or might that be why you’re the leader of the caucus: because you’re so darn decisive?
A: Good point. I do try to throw the button down fairly early for that reason. But also again, I just don’t want to be the last man standing. A few years ago there was a vote on overriding the former mayor’s veto. I was the only person to hit a red button that night. It was 24-1. But it was kind of lonely sitting there at the end of the 60 seconds the board was open and having one lonely, little red button up there.
The meeting of the City-County Council of Indianapolis-Marion County (a.k.a. the “Most Hyphenated Council” in the country) began in the most democratic of fashions: with applause for pretty much everybody.
“I’d like to introduce an Orange Township resident, active guy in the community, good friend,” Councilor Michael McQuillen announced, leading the claps for his man in the audience.
Taking a step up from “active guy,” Councilor Scott Kreider introduced two firefighters. Claps.
Not to be outdone, Councilor McQuillen grabbed the mic again. “We have a former city-county council member in the audience.” More claps.
“I want to acknowledge this month being Black History Month,” cut in Councilor LaKeisha Jackson, “and that we give a round of applause for Black History Month.” Raucous claps.
With no one being able to top Black History Month, the councilors settled in for the business portion of the meeting. But suddenly, Council President Stephen Clay dropped a bomb so large it could have leveled a less-emotionally prepared council chamber.
“In an effort to preserve this institution and advance the people’s agenda, Councilor [Vop] Osili and I have agreed to the orderly transfer of power,” Clay read emotionlessly from his prepared statement.
“My letter of resignation from the office of the president will be presented tonight. I will call upon Democrats and Republicans to support this transition,” he warned sternly, “thus averting any political filibustering.”
Picking up the gavel in preparation to slam it, Clay noted, “I give the gavel to the parliamentarian.” The chamber applauded one last time as Clay stood up, shook hands, and departed for greener pastures–or whatever you’d call the place where the rest of the councilors sit.
But even this orderly transfer was thrown into momentary disorder when Councilor Leroy Robinson raised his eyebrows and his hand. “Shouldn’t the vice president receive the gavel as opposed to the parliamentarian?” he quizzed.
A constitutional crisis was averted as the parliamentarian calmly agreed. Vice President Zach Adamson hustled over to the chair and opened the floor for presidential nominations.
“I nominate Councilor Vop Osili,” announced Councilor Maggie Lewis.
“Are there any other nominations?” asked the parliamentarian to silence. “The effect of closing nominations with only one candidate will have the effect of electing Councilor Osili as president.”
With no one disputing the outcome, it was official. The new president strode to his seat and with a reassuring smile, delivered a message best characterized as: “there’s a new sheriff in town.”
“Our council has shaken the confidence of our constituents.” He paused. “But that was yesterday. It is time for us to get back to business. And we will start with the next item on the agenda.”
With a calm, steady hand steering the ship, the rest of the meeting proceeded with only minor hiccups.
“Madam Clerk, can you set the, uh…?” Osili backtracked after forgetting to open the voting machine. “All right, let’s go!”
A few minutes later, “proposals numbers 56 and 57 were referred to the Metropolitan Economic Development Committee,” Osili read, glancing up from his notes to the chair of the committee.
She was nowhere in sight.
The council patiently waited while someone rushed to fetch Councilor Jackson. Within minutes, she reappeared, power walking back to her seat.
“I apologize Mr. President,” Jackson blurted. While the old president might have chewed her out six ways from Sunday, President Osili remained serene. As he might say, some councilors shake the confidence of their constituents.
We are burning through Lebanons like beer cans on a bonfire. Our second stop on the whirlwind Lebanon tour is Indiana, where someone at city hall is a virtuoso with video graphics.
“First order of business will be the, uh, Pledge of Allegiance,” Mayor Matt Gentry announced, before being upstaged by a rippling animation of Old Glory.
It’s tough to follow a screen-wiping flag, but one hotshot developer in a blue button-up sure tried. “There is, was, and still is a demand for nicer rental housing in downtown Lebanon. We’re dealing with a lot of young professionals. That is the kind of lifestyle they’re looking for.”
Yes, I bet many young professionals yearn to move to Lebanon, Indiana for the famous [look up something to put here] and the legendary [don’t forget to write something].
Youthful Councilor Corey Kutz wanted to know how the monied classes were living in Lebanon’s rival city. “What did the amenities look like? I know they’re maybe fetching $1,000 [per apartment] in Zionsville, but are they getting a pool? Are they getting a gym?”
The developer waved off the Z-town envy. “We’re in ‘downtown.’ We’re not sitting out in a corn field,” he slammed Zionsville, which is a puny little burg known only for [find literally anything interesting]. “We’ve got a historic gymnasium. You can’t compete with that!”
But sadly, Lebanon has a dark, noisy underbelly.
“I am Lebanon resident,” a bearded public commenter addressed councilors. “Grew up here, very proud of our community. And the two things I always brag is: we’re very neighborly and we LOVE the Fourth of July. We celebrate like no other city in central Indiana.” Yeah, shove that up your tailpipe, Zionsville!
But when you love something too much, sometimes the relationship turns ugly. “Saturday night, I sat up until 11:45 listening to what sounded like cannon shots right outside my bedroom window.”
And did he take this lying down? F*ck no. “I started looking into the ordinances,” this proud Lebanoner announced. “I found one that was passed in 1875 and it specifically mentions fireworks. It says they’re only to be set off on four days: July 4, Christmas, January 1, and Presidents Day.”
Councilor Kutz was kutzcerned. “Indianapolis just updated theirs [ordinance]. We could use a revamp on that….I don’t think it’ll happen before the fourth though.”
“I’m not trying to be a party pooper,” the commenter protested.
The role of party pooper went instead to the police chief, who stepped up to the mic.
“If it was up to me, there’d be no bass speakers, no dogs, and no fireworks allowed in the city, period.” The room erupted in laughter, but the chief looked as serious as a funeral. “I’d ban everything. Make it all quiet.”
Final thoughts: If the chief has his way, maybe Lebanon will at last have a cool factoid to its name: the quietest city in central Indiana.