Interview #146: Superior, WI Mayor Jim Paine (with podcast)

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

Jim Paine ran into a surprise the day of his second-term swearing in: a stalemate on the Superior council, as no one could claim the council presidency. He discusses why some councilors would not allow him to break a tie, plus gives insight into the student councilors who attend the meetings.

Q: Superior has a coterie of youth councilors–students–who sit in the front row of the council dais every meeting. But I have never seen them say or do anything. They just sit quietly for an hour or more. Is this some kind of alternative detention that you’ve worked out with the school district?

A: You’re the first person to ever ask me about them, but I’m glad you did! This program should be very valuable. I’m going to confess to a little bit of angst here that they don’t participate more. I’ve been in that role–not as a high school student, but part of my local political career began because when I was a university student here, I pushed for more student representation in local government. The Superior mayor at the time laughed me out of his office.

Q: Wow.

A: I was working at a bar at the time and I stormed up and down the bar that night raging about the mayor. It turned out the county board chairman was sitting at the bar and invited me to invent a student seat for the county board, which I did. So I wish that they did participate more. At the county board, those students would let us know everything that was going on in the high school, even if we didn’t care at all! Quite frankly–I don’t think I’ve ever said this locally–I wish they would jump right into the debates. They have working microphones like everybody else. If they ever hit that button in the middle of a hot debate, I’d recognize them immediately.

Q: These kids, these youth councilors, do they have some sort of expectation of what they’re supposed to do in the council meeting?

A: There probably is a misunderstanding between us and them. They’re selected by their high schools to participate. For them, it’s largely a learning exercise. They’re there to watch, listen, and learn. What I’ve communicated to them is they should act as representatives. They should speak up. Now, in their defense, it’s an intimidating environment. Our council debates–if you say something, you’re likely to be challenged. I think they’d get a little bit of leeway being kids, but I know they have opinions.

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Superior, WI Mayor Jim Paine

Q: On April 16, you and half of the council were sworn in to new terms. The next order of business was to elect a council president–someone to fill in for you and assign councilors to committees. There were two candidates for the job: Ruth Ludwig and Brent Fennessey. The result of the vote was Fennessey had five votes, Ludwig had four, and there was one abstention. No one clinched the six-vote majority. Did you know that would happen?

A: The real behind-the-scenes politics there is Councilor Fennessey had the presidency largely locked up months before if there was no change in the council at the elections. There was no change. But one of the councilors who had largely been committed to Councilor Fennessey flipped. He started talking to Councilor Ludwig and decided to vote for Ludwig. That led Councilor [Dan] Olson–who is very close to Councilor Ludwig, but he is much closer politically to Councilor Fennessey–it was fine for him to vote for Councilor Ludwig as long as Fennessey still had six votes. With one of Fennessey’s votes flipping to Ludwig, the vote was 5-5. If it had gone 5-5, I would have voted for Councilor Ludwig and everybody knew it. [Olson’s] abstention prevents an election.

Q: Councilor Olson bizarrely tried to get you to commit to not voting in the event of a tie. I know in politics you shouldn’t take things personally, but hearing that from Dan Olson, that must have been hard not to take personally.

A: I supported him in his first election to city council. He supported me in my election as mayor. I guess I did take that personally–[Ludwig] had the votes. But he said no. I was a little bit offended at the idea that transparency means I should give up the one thing I was there for.

Q: If the two options, as they appeared to be, for the rest of your two years in office were to not have a council president or to draw cards to resolve the tie, would you have continued to be opposed to the cards?

A: Yes, absolutely. We had a council vice president at that time who was capable of exercising authority. So the business of government was fine.


Follow Mayor Jim Paine on Twitter: @JimofSuperior

Interview #145: Jefferson City, MO Mayor Carrie Tergin (with podcast)

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

Carrie Tergin, the #SelfieWithTheMayor extraordinaire, returns to review the 2019 top 10 city council selfies list. Later, she also reflects upon the council meeting that took place hours before two natural disasters struck Jefferson City.

Q: August 15 was International #CityHallSelfie Day, sponsored by our good friends at ELGL.org. Where would you like to start?

A: I’m going to start by saying there are some really great city hall selfies. Number six is going to be my number three. What I like about this is they were able to Photoshop their city hall in the backdrop of the selfie. You know what? If you can put city hall there, you can put city hall anywhere. That’s one of my top three.

Number five, he’s going to get an honorable mention because he’s really rocking an awesome hat. I gotta give him credit for his selfie with the hat because we all need our sun protection and everybody, wear your sunscreen. He gets an honorable mention for taking care of himself because as mayors, we don’t always do that!

Number three on your list is my number two: Port Adelaide Enfield, Australia. I thought, how cool! It’s international and I also liked it because it highlights the civic groups. It highlights this youth team and the next generation of leaders.

Your number one is my number one. Of course it’s the ’80s! The electric guitar–what is that movie with the “maniac–“?

Q: Flashdance!

A: Flashdance! The “maniac” shirt, I’d wear it to a council meeting if I had it. Then you get down to the Darth Vader and Princess Leia–it’s more like “Prince Leia.” It’s really well done. These two city hall selfies are way out in front.

Q: For the folks who have listened to this program now for three straight years and still have sat out for #CityHallSelfie Day, what can you say to persuade them that taking pictures at city hall is more than a millennial craze?

A: It’s an everyday craze for sure. The more you get into it, the more fun it is. I can be walking down the sidewalk and people will approach and say, “oh, you’re the mayor! Can we please take a selfie?” I love that because it means that people are recognizing their mayor and they want to be part of the story.

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Jefferson City, MO Mayor Carrie Tergin

Q: On May 22, you had an emergency council meeting in which you were hearing a lot about potential flooding in Jefferson City. Was the possibility of a tornado even on your radar?

A: No. Absolutely not. No way. Almost our only concern was this flood. Listening to [the meeting], you hear it and you want to say, “guys, here’s what’s getting ready to happen. Oh, my gosh, it’s coming!” You want to go out there with a warning and say, this tornado is coming in a matter of hours. It’s kind of wild to listen to that and know that that was hours before the tornado and here we were very focused on the flood.

Q: Ever since the flooding and tornado, almost every meeting for the past three months has had some mention of the disaster. Is the damage and the rescue and the recovery something that people need to talk about or is it something that people want to talk about?

A: It’s something that we’re living everyday. It’s not just a part of our conversation. It’s a part of our lives and it will be for years to come. #JCStrong is real. It’s a real thing. Communities have it. Not every community’s tested to the point where they have to know that. We are completely changed.


Follow Mayor Carrie Tergin on Twitter: @CarrieTergin

Interview #144: Belmont, CA Vice Mayor Warren Lieberman (with podcast)

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

Warren Lieberman has been a Belmont council member for 13 years, and there have been a few notable changes. He discusses the mock council exercise he helped institute for second graders and what policies they pretended to pass.

Q: On October 17 of last year, your council welcomed second graders into city hall for a mock council meeting. Tell me why Belmont started bringing the niños into the council chamber.

A: For a long time, Belmont’s second graders have come to visit city hall. Typically they would see the council chambers and they would be told about the council meeting and they would meet the mayor. And I thought, you know what? That doesn’t really give the second graders a good picture or understanding of what happens. So I suggested to make it more interesting, why don’t we actually stage a mock council meeting? We assigned some of the second graders to be council members, some to be city staff, some to be members of the public, and we created a 15-20 minute exercise.

Q: What concept did these kids have the hardest time grasping? Was it amending a motion on the floor before voting on the underlying motion? Or sitting still?

A: While we can’t mimic everything that happens in a council meeting, I think for sure the second graders who were members of the public, they certainly had fun giving the council a piece of their mind.

Q: You’re dividing up these roles and obviously there can only be one mayor. In a class of 25 second graders, how do you pick the best candidate?

A: We put the names in a hat and just picked one out. I would say that for second graders, public speaking does not always come naturally. So sometimes, even after you selected the mayor, you need to help encourage them.

Q: What kinds of laws did those second graders pass? And is this why Belmont’s official city animal is Kayden’s family’s puppy?

A: [laughs] I’m not sure that there’s a connection! The focus of the meetings are on some type of park or recreation item. I believe one year, one of the mayors tried to bring in a zoning ordinance. I’m not quite sure how well that one worked.

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Belmont, CA Vice Mayor Warren Lieberman

Q: In 2018, your council had to fill a vacancy. How detailed were the procedures for doing so and how much could you improvise?

A: The council basically by law has two ways to approach things. You can either appoint somebody and there are certain time limits. Or you can go to an election.

Q: You all had this batch of resumes and you voted on your top candidates. All of them happened to be commissioners. Would it have made sense to say on the application that there would be a preference for commissioners to get that seat, such that everyone else who didn’t have that experience wouldn’t have wasted their time applying?

A: I wouldn’t see it that way. Certainly for myself, I try hard to look at the type of experience that folks have had. Some might be commissioners. Some might be school board members. Some may be active in the Rotary Club. If you had that kind of qualifier, it would discourage people from applying. From my perspective, I would always be considering them.

Interview #143: Golden, CO Mayor Pro Tem Casey Brown (with podcast)

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

Casey Brown was a proponent of letting 16 and 17-year-olds vote in Golden’s municipal elections. He discusses the merits of that council proposal, as well as a resident-initiated campaign to place a moratorium on housing construction in the name of “neighborhood character.”

Q: I was shocked to see your council take things a little too far for my taste last year when you sent a measure to the ballot to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections. Who came up with this idea? Is this something you got from these violent video games that I hear are destroying our country?

A: [laughs] No, this is actually an idea that has popped up in other cities around the country. It’s something that’s been adopted in a number of other countries as well. It was a neat idea I thought. There was a lot of studies that showed when you lowered the voting age, those individuals became engaged voters for the rest of their lives.

Q: I’ve watched quite a few of your council meetings and I daresay the average age of people who come before you to speak is probably in the forties. Do you think that people are suspicious of young people playing a role in government because they’re not hearing young people play a role in government?

A: I do. It was challenging to overcome some of those preconceived ideas people had about whether 16-year-olds were ready for it. There was even some 16-year-olds who questioned whether they were really ready for it!

Q: There is one other campaign that played out publicly in your council meetings beginning early this year. Can you explain how Golden limits new housing construction?

A: This is often what we call in Golden the one percent growth limit–it’s technically a 0.9 percent growth limit. This is an idea that Golden adopted in 1996, but it’s a way of restraining the growth in residential developments.

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Golden, CO Mayor Pro Tem Casey Brown

Q: In January, you had several residents saying that development was out of control and asking for a moratorium on housing construction until you could revise your city codes. Where was this sentiment coming from?

A: There’s been such a growth in population across all communities along the Front Range. The infill development especially here in Golden has been happening at a bulk and size and scale that was really out of scope with the existing character of the neighborhoods. There was a real frustration and angst about what they were seeing in their neighborhoods–bigger, denser, of a different architectural style, and not really compatible with their existing neighborhood character.

Q: When you heard the word “moratorium,” what do you envision they were asking for?

A: I think what they were asking for is just to put a stop to all development. Just make it stop. I think that’s a reasonable desire, but it’s not a desire that we could really fulfill. It’s not that we want to make everything be old timey, historic Golden. But at the same time, there was clearly some new development that really was not compatible.

Q: It struck me that many of the people–if not 99 percent of them–who spoke, were older than 30. Going back to the 16 and 17-year-olds who you wanted to be able to vote, do you feel that their interests were represented in the moratorium debate?

A: That’s a really interesting thought. When we think about our younger residents, we tend to think of them being concerned about other issues outside of planning and zoning. We tend to think, are we creating the right recreational amenities? Are we creating transportation and transit options for them? But it’s an interesting point because I think they have a real stake in what gets decided as well in the planning code.


Follow Mayor Pro Tem Casey Brown on Twitter: @BrownforGolden

Interview #142: Denver, CO Former Councilman Rafael Espinoza (with podcast)

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

Rafael Espinoza was the District 1 councilman in Denver for the past four years before stepping down this summer. From meeting attendance to the non-televised public comment sessions, he took issue with some of his council’s operating procedures. Plus, he explains on the podcast how he rapidly made up his mind during a divisive vote on affordable housing.

Q: Unlike most cities out there, your council does not hold public comment during the meetings. Why not? And as a follow-up: how dare you?

A: That was an interesting debate. I very much supported having public comment be televised. Basically we were advised by the city attorney to not do that because once you open public comment, you can’t shut it down. You cannot dictate or control what the individual speaks to. In order to maintain the ability for individuals to speak, but maybe not broadcast things that are not really good to broadcast, the decision was to hold that prior to the actual televised meeting.

Q: So if I’m hearing you correctly, there was a fear that mild-mannered Denverites would be more vulgar, crude, and insulting than all of the other cities that do televise their public comment?

A: There are some usual attendees that take every opportunity they can in public comment to speak. There was concern expressed by members of council that those individuals would take that opportunity to expound upon whatever theories they had.

Q: I noticed that the pre-meeting comment, although not televised, was on your personal Facebook page. Is anyone live streaming the half-hour public comment session now that you are no longer on council?

A: No. I took exception to the fact that we were fearful of having public comment. I took it upon myself to live stream it directly from the dais. But I didn’t bother asking permission. I didn’t think it was a big deal because anybody in the audience could do the same thing. But it did come out years later at a retreat–“hey, you’re doing that and you never bothered asking us.” I was like, “does anyone take issue with it?” And there were enough members of council that did that I ceased making that broadcast.

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Denver, CO former Councilman Rafael Espinoza

Q: Denver has council meetings. It has committee meetings. But it also has a unique third type of meeting called the “mayor-council” meeting. Each week, the council members sit around the table, and your mayor–who is not a part of council–comes in to chair a legislative update between the branches of government. These meetings are typically under a half hour, sometimes under ten minutes. If this is the time for the legislature and the chief executive to be in the same room at the same time, I would expect a little more give and take. What was your impression?

A: It is the lone chance where council is sitting at the table with the mayor in a public forum. Early on I did take advantage of that opportunity to try and raise certain concerns. That wasn’t very well received. It’s more of a perfunctory thing.

Q: I noticed that it was very rare for all council members to show up to the mayor-council meetings. What was your philosophy on showing up? Speaking now as John Q. Voter, should it matter to Denverites whether council members are having face time with the mayor?

A: I think it would be important to have face time with the mayor. I was a regular attendee until I wasn’t. There was a lot of things that were on the consent agenda that I took issue with and I wished we were questioning. I’m notorious on council for wanting to question things. For me personally, it made my skin crawl at times to be sitting in there being deferential when there were things there that I thought should be called out and questioned.


Follow former Councilman Rafael Espinoza on Twitter: @CD1Rafael

Interview #141: Aurora, CO Council Member Nicole Johnston (with podcast)

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

After public commenters demanded that the Aurora council speak out against an ICE detention center in Aurora, Council Member Nicole Johnston and some of her colleagues attended a nationwide, pro-immigrant protest at the facility. However, a small splinter group caused an uproar with their behavior, and one of her colleagues held her publicly–and unfairly–responsible in a council meeting.

Q: At the June 24 council meeting, there was a long list of public commenters. Many of them were there to speak against the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Aurora. Why was immigration and the ICE facility coming up now?

A: There is a history. We have a center that is overseen by this private GEO Group. But there was an internal investigation that gave a series of infractions. We’ve had outbreaks of measles and chickenpox, which affects our first responders if they have to come in. They can leave being exposed. Nationally and locally, we’ve been looking at this.

Q: You did bring up the federal inspector general’s report at the study session prior to the meeting. In response, Mayor Bob LeGare and Councilwoman Francoise Bergan both said they didn’t think Aurora should get involved in federal affairs. But this came about because you and Council Members Crystal Murillo, Allison Hiltz, and Angela Lawson–or “the Squad”–sent a letter to council expressing concern about conditions at this facility. Did you believe that your other colleagues didn’t know about the ICE facility?

A: We all know about the ICE facility. We were not asking our colleagues to develop policy to step on the feet of our federal government. We were just saying, “hey, this is wrong. We don’t want our community to think that we just stand by this. Please, as a council, let’s sign this unanimously and show strong support that we support our immigrant and refugee communities.” Only four of the ten council members signed that letter.

Q: That brings us to the evening of July 12–a Friday night. Where was Nicole Johnston?

A: I attended, along with many people throughout the country–700 cities–in a Lights for Liberty event. The purpose was to shine light on the atrocities that are happening in detention centers.

Q: The protest was at the detention center.

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Aurora, CO Council Member Nicole Johnston

A: It was. The protest started with a march. There were speakers speaking to the group. Simultaneously, there’s flagpoles–the American flag was flying. While we were speaking, a group of people had gone past this barrier, took down the American flag, put up a flag of Mexico, attempted to burn the American flag, and put up a pro-police flag–but they had defaced it. I did not know all of those details while I was several hundreds of feet away.

Q: The following Monday, there was a scheduled council meeting and the first public commenter to speak was actually Council Member Dave Gruber, who used his time to hold you and two of your colleagues culpable for the group’s actions. Do you think he planned to whip the audience into a frenzy?

A: I absolutely thought that was intentional. It was a packed house. On the side was a woman who had already been tagging me on Twitter, spreading lies. She was ready to record his speech. She downloaded it on a far-right group, which now has probably almost 30,000 views, saying that we were participants in [desecrating the flag].

Q: After he spoke, you tried to cut in, but Mayor LeGare told you that was not the procedure. Minutes later, Council Member Charlie Richardson moved to overturn his ruling and let you speak. How many times since you’ve been on council have council members attempted to overrule the chair?

A: This was the first. We did not organize that protest. When he [said in his comments to] imagine a loved one of a service member being presented with that desecrated flag, that personally insulted me deeply. I was married to a Marine for over 15 years. Council Member Gruber knew that military connection I had. To give that example was dirty, below the belt. It was something that I don’t know if I can get past.

Q: The editorial board of the Aurora Sentinel called for the council to censure Dave Gruber. How do you feel about that?

A: With our council rules, to censure someone we need six votes. If we don’t get the six votes, those that bring that charge forward of censure are responsible for paying all legal or attorney fees. If Council Member Gruber had an attorney to defend himself and we brought forward censure, if we did not get the six votes, we aren’t on the winning side.


Follow Council Member Nicole Johnston on Twitter: @nicoleforaurora

Podcast Recap: Christmas in July Special

On this week’s podcast, we celebrate Christmas in July with an incredible story from the Listener’s List, an update on past guests’ advancements, and excerpts from interviews. You can listen on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

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On this episode, you will hear segments from these full interviews:

1. Interview #111*: Doraville, GA Council Member Joseph Geierman (with podcast)

2. Interview #139: Homewood, AL Councilor Jennifer Andress (with podcast)

3. Interview #45: City of Sydney, NSW Councilor Christine Forster (with podcast)

Plus, you can listen to a segment of “Tear It Down,” an eight-chapter audio series about a small town whose government became wildly dysfunctional when political insurgent group formed seeking revenge: www.tearitdownpodcast.com.

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As always, City Council Chronicles’ sponsor is Dig Deep Research. They assist local governments in obtaining grant money and are eager to hear from potential new clients. Find out how they can help you today:

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