Interview #83: Grande Prairie, AB Councilor Dylan Bressey (with podcast)

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

Dylan Bressey is in his first term on the Grande Prairie city council and he came to my attention for obvious reasons. We talked about all the work he puts into his council meeting recaps, plus he gives prospective council commenters some advice on how to keep things relevant.

Q: I noticed that during your swearing in, unlike other councilors you did not say, “so help me, god” nor did you put your hand on a religious text. So, sir, are you excited that you are going to hell?

A: [Laughs] You know, it’s actually quite the opposite. I’m a member of the clergy and something that I’m very conscious of is I’m very uncomfortable with religious politics. I really intentionally asked not to take my oath on a Bible, taking seriously Jesus’s words not to do that.

Q: Interesting. That hasn’t brought you any bad luck or hellfire since then, has it?

A: Well, it hasn’t yet, but we’ll see what my eternal destiny might hold because of it.

Q: On February 10, someone tweeted at you

To which you responded, “I disagree about the hashtag, but council feels a lot like school, so I could get behind #bresseyforvaledictorian.” In what way does your council feel a lot like school?

A: Every week it feels like I’m getting hundreds of pages of documents that our administration is asking us to read. I’m digging through online databases. And I’m even writing a lot of papers. I do a lot of blogging. So I really am treating this like school.

Q: On your website, you really set the bar high for what city council members can do to explain everything about their jobs to their constituents. This thing is an encyclopedia for what, why, and how the city council does its business. How long does it take you to write up a summary of a given council meeting?

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Grande Prairie, AB Councilor Dylan Bressey

A: As I’m processing it, I’d say it takes me probably an hour and a half to just do the writing. And then I get somebody to proofread it, I tweak it, I post it on the website.

Q: Some council members tweet out their feelings about council meetings. Others put it on video. I’m sure there’s at least one guy in Vermont who uses puppets or something. What is the advantage in writing out, beat by beat, the proceedings of a council meeting from your point of view?

A: I really don’t like this thing we have going on today where we seem to talk about less and less information more and more passionately whenever we talk about government. It really helps me learn the materials. There’s been quite a few times where I’m writing a blog post and I get halfway through and I realize as I struggle to explain it that I don’t really understand what I just wrote. So I have to study again, call, ask a few questions.

Q: Part of your website is the FAQ. You offer to give people tips on preparing a presentation for council. Let’s say I’m a homeowner in Grande Prairie and my problem is–this being Canada–my neighbors are playing Celine Dion loudly at 4 a.m. and throwing empty maple syrup bottles on my lawn. I want the city to fine them. How do I convince the council to take this problem seriously?

A: Well, I think you’ve already got a good start there. You’ve got a clear problem and you’ve even got a solution you’re suggesting to us. Something we struggle with is sometimes people aren’t able to clearly frame their concern and how they’d like the city to act on it. And that’s hard for us to take a cue from. So coming in with specifics is good.


Follow Councilor Dylan Bressey on Twitter: @DylanBressey 

#109: Saginaw, MI 6/5/17

Somebody, put up the balloons and the streamers! At the Saginaw city council meeting, we’ve got birthdays in the house.

“It is my honor to give this proclamation,” grinned Mayor Pro Tem Floyd Kloc as three stocky gentlemen from the Kiwanis Club clustered at the podium. “I’m also a member, so it’s quite special to me!”

“Be it resolved,” he read, that the city “does extend this expression of gratitude to the Kiwanis Club of Saginaw for their service over the past 100 years.”

A proud centenarian stepped forward. “One of our signature projects is buying dictionaries for all the third graders in Saginaw public schools. Last year we bought 386 dictionaries, I believe.”

Dictionaries? As in, old-fashioned autocorrect? Classy move.

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More importantly: are you buying the children Snapchat filters and fidget spinners?

The Kiwanis may have been turning 100, but I hope they know how to respect their elders–because an even more senior group was also blowing out candles.

“I represent the Plumbers & Steamfitters Union, Local 85. We turned 125 years old on May 1,” a significantly younger man informed the council.

“I am a little partial to Local 85,” admitted Council Member Michael Balls coyly. “My son attained his journeyman card through the plumbers union and he lives in a big beautiful home with a three-car garage and stuff like that.”

Balls nodded with the satisfaction of a proud dad. “It’s been real rewarding to him.”

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“However, if my Father’s Day present this year isn’t a Porsche, I will disown him.”

As it turned out, Saginaw was about to witness another son do right by his dad.

But the circumstances were anything but cheerful.

“Proclamation in memory of Brent R. Smith, whose rich and abundant life came to a close on March 3, 2017,” read Mayor Pro Tem Kloc, standing to shake hands with a long line of bereaved family members.

The bespectacled teenage son then stepped up to the microphone.

“I’d much rather have my dad up here receiving this honor,” he said while family members folded their arms behind him.

“He was greatly influenced by his grandpa. They were best friends and they’re most likely hanging out right now as I speak.”

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😥

“All of his hope and trust was in Jesus Christ,” he continued quickly, so as to avoid becoming too emotional. “He and my mom raised the three of us kids to be god-fearing Christians as well.”

While the audience stared silently at the floor, the boy punctuated his eulogy with plainspoken Midwestern piety:

“My dad did so much for so many people. There’s one thing that we know for sure in all of this: when my dad was standing before god, he heard the words, ‘well done, good and faithful servant.'”

From the back row, a slow clap began. Council Member Brenda Moore slapped the table and stared kindly at the Smith daughter.

“I came in with the young lady and I told her she was so beautiful. You are beautiful,” she repeated in a grandmotherly tone.

“And thank you so much–mom, family–for sharing your husband with the city of Saginaw.”

Then, ending the council meeting on a note of good fortune, she revealed: “I hope that you start to enjoy the sunny weather. I’m actually gonna plant a garden this year with the help of my friends. We’re gonna plant a garden!”

And with that, the cycle of life, death, and birth was complete in the span of a single city council meeting.

#26: San Francisco, CA 6/7/16

San Francisco is a beautiful city of beautiful people–with an oddly sterile name for its city council: the “Board of Supervisors.”

What’s even more unwieldy is that the supervisors don’t even sit together! Five of them are at one desk and five of them are at the other, facing off middle school dance-style. The board’s president is perched high above the riff-raff, making for one difficult game of duck-duck-goose in the chambers.

The supes wasted no time in living up to the militantly-liberal stereotype of the City by the Bay.

“Today, I am submitting a carbon tax on nonrenewable energy that will support the maintenance and expansion of San Francisco’s urban forest,” Supervisor John Avalos announced–a blue recycling bin fittingly stationed behind him.

“I am introducing a ballot measure to expand democracy for immigrant parents by allowing non-citizens the right to vote in school board elections,” boasted Eric Mar. He had been adorned earlier with a puffy lei, which seemed on the verge of tipping over the slender supervisor.

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The City by the Lei

It was time for San Fran’s famously freewheeling public comment period. Anyone could take two minutes to speak “on items within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Board,” the clerk warned.

That quickly went out the window as the first man stepped up, speaking slowly in Arabic. I only understood two words: “Mohammad Ali.” (I’m guessing the supes won’t be able to do much about that one.)

My heart grew two sizes upon seeing the next speaker, who wore a t-shirt reading “IN DUE TIME, CHRIST DIED FOR THE UNHOLY.” Something tells me the Board of Supervisors won’t have jurisdiction over what he has to say, either.

“I got on the Alex Jones Show and was able to make the announcement that the times of the gentiles has ended. As a matter of fact, May 20 was exactly 7,365 days from the end of the times of the gentiles. Jesus Christ is coming soon.”

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If Jesus is coming soon, I wonder if He’ll sign up for public comment.

A woman in a suit stepped up. “I want to speak to item number 49. We urge you instead to support the governor’s proposal. This is a statewide bill and it has statewide benefits.”  Oops! Someone with a legitimate comment was allowed to slip through. How embarrassing!

Thankfully, she was the only one.

“Thank you [Board] President Breed and all the members of the cabal,” sneered a guy with a Dostoyevsky-length novel written in tiny words on his t-shirt.

In sharp contrast was a Samuel Jackson lookalike in sunglasses who swaggered to the podium, recording himself with his phone. “Good evening, supervisors…particularly my sisters in the back there,” he hollered out to Supervisors Malia Cohen and London Breed.

“My name is Ace. And I’m on a case. I’m putting the city on notice, specifically our African American, black sisters,” he gestured toward the likely-uncomfortable female supes. “I been in politics back when y’all was little girls. But now you’re women! I’m proud of you!”

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Can I follow you on Vine, dude?

The buzzer sounded, but he continued talking as he backed out of the room, videotaping himself the whole way.

“Next speaker, please,” the clerk sighed over the noise.

Final thoughts: With a city council meeting that was as eclectic as its residents, I give San Francisco 1 giant puffy lei.