#140: Fort Morgan, CO 11/7/17

“In the interest of brevity, I’ll try to keep it as short and concise as possible,” city attorney Jason Meyers promised. I was skeptical. No lawyer can resist the allure of long, drawn-out soliloquies–and that was exactly what council members would get here.

However, I immediately became less concerned about the length of the monologue and more concerned about the dire situation erupting in Fort Morgan.

“Every year the state legislature passes another set of bills that restricts the ability of the municipal court to operate,” Meyers began solemnly. “More recent changes have stated that if anybody is in custody on a jailable offense, regardless of whether they’re indigent, they have to have a court-appointed attorney available at the time they’re talking to a judge.”

Seems reasonable enough, yes? Right to counsel. Habeas corpus. Gluteus maximus. The bedrock of our country!

“How do we have a court-appointed attorney available every Wednesday, whether we have cases?” Meyers asked rhetorically. “We’re paying an attorney to sit there just in case.”

Ah yes, the other bedrock of our country: money. But listen, buddy, if you knew this was gonna cause problems, you should have said something about it earlier.

“I did go to the legislature two years ago and testify,” explained Meyers. “I got grilled for about 30 minutes. It felt like hours. In essence, they don’t care about the rural communities. This is the result.”

I care about you.

The council listened stoically to the scenario. I am sure this can be resolved without drastic measures.

“We removed jail as an option for most municipal court violations. You can still be written into municipal court for assault and disorderly [conduct] and resisting arrest. We just can’t put you in jail for it anymore if this passes,” he concluded.

“This” being the following proposal from Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Northrup: “I would offer a resolution eliminating jail as a possible penalty in Fort Morgan municipal court cases and request to schedule a public hearing.”

Mayor Ron Shaver waited a beat. “Roll call.”

A string of lighted domes blazed green in front of council members as everyone voted yes. Let that be a lesson: if you’re looking for a place to resist arrest for being disorderly, Eastern Colorado is the promise land.

Ooh…the orbs!

There was little time to dwell on the fate of the jail or ponder the imminence of anarchy. Winter was fast approaching and Fort Morgan had a reputation to uphold:

“When people ask, ‘why are we the Christmas Capital of the Plains,’ it’s because we do more in the four weeks before Christmas than any other community in Colorado,” city manager Jeffrey Wells bragged to the council–and, technically, to any other council in earshot.

“I would tell anybody to try and take us on,” he challenged brazenly.

“You may have seen in the paper,” Wells continued, “that our very own [Director of Public Works] Steve Glammeyer was awarded the–”

He halted in search of the name.

“William E. Korbitz!” yelled someone from the side.

“–the William E. Korbitz Award with the Colorado Chapter of the American Public Works Association,” recovered Wells. “So thanks a lot, Steve.”

Hell yes, Steve.

The room broke into applause and Wells grinned fiendishly. “He HATES it when we do this.”

“Do it again!” someone hollered. A second round of applause and whoops thundered down for Steve. Luckily, they could get as disorderly as they wanted–it’s not like they’ll go to jail.

Interview #11: Asheville, NC Mayor Esther Manheimer

Watching the Asheville city council meeting last month, I noticed the particularly steady guidance of Mayor Esther Manheimer. What was her deal? How does a first-term mayor run such smooth meetings?

In this interview, Her Honor told me about gaining confidence, her fascination with tribal customs, and when she ejected a troublemaker.

Q: Before you were mayor, you were a regular council member. How are council meetings different now that you’re in charge?

A: You’re of more of a facilitator. You’re making sure everyone has their voice heard. You can’t just space out. If you’re a council member, you can choose to just not know any of that.

Q: When you were a council member, did you avoid knowing the rules?

A: No, no, no. I love all things Roberts Rules. Especially with my anthropology major as an undergrad–tribal customs.

Q: What’s the most well-run city council meeting you’ve seen besides, obviously, the ones you run?

A: As a lawyer, I have appeared before many county commissions and city council meetings. I like a well-run meeting where the chair keeps the questions focused. Sometimes you can watch it unfold in front of you and they’re veering off into territory that’s not even in front of them and the chair is not controlling that.

Q: When you were just a council member, how did the mayor run meetings compared to your style?

A: She did not corral the troops ahead of the meetings, so it was a little more chaotic. I try to make sure we’re prepared.

Asheville, NC Mayor Esther Manheimer

Q: Your previous mayor was a city council member, then mayor. You were a city council member, now mayor. Do you ever look from side to side at a meeting and think, “which one of these people is coming for my job?”

A: Not DURING the meeting but…[laughs] I definitely wonder, are there other folks who want to become the next mayor of Asheville? And then I think, do I wanna run for mayor again?

Q: …

A: …

Q: …DO you wanna run for mayor again?

A: I don’t know. I have three young kids. Politician, mommy–plus I’m a full-time working lawyer.

Q: It’s hard to have it all. Speaking of the other council members, do they act differently in private than they do on camera?

A: Oh yeah. Very different. I have the newer council members that are learning more about getting their voice and saying their opinion loud and clear in public. That’s a process every newly-elected person has to go through. And it’s a little scary.

Q: It’s also scary during public comment when people are calling you liars and con artists. How do you decide when to say something and when to just sit there?

A: We have gotten to know who is going to be constantly disappointed with us no matter what. To respond every time almost elevates the comment. I don’t think when we’re being told we’re liars, to say, “oh, I’m not a liar” is helpful. I won’t respond in those situations. Now, if someone is providing incorrect information, I will clarify it. Because there might be three people watching and so–apparently you’re watching, too. So, four people.

Q: Darn right.

A: The first time I had to throw somebody out of the meeting, I had him removed because he was directing his comments at staff and not at us. He was staring at the staff and I warned him several times that’s not appropriate.

Follow Mayor Esther Manheimer on Twitter: @EstherManheimer

#17: Brush!, CO 5/9/16

I sh*t you not, the name of this city is “Brush!” With punctuation.

From the Brush! website: “The exclamation point after our name dates back to 1978 when the Brush Area Chamber of Commerce and the City Council began placing the exclamation point after Brush to emphasize a ‘can do attitude’.”

Well, okily-dokily. I actually have no problem with the exclamation point because I am excited–namely because the Brush! city council meeting was only 27 less-than-a-pizza-delivery minutes long!

The Brush! city logo also doubles as good advice from your dentist

City Attorney Robert Chapin asked the council to muster their can-do attitudes to send a letter to the governor. If Hizzoner doesn’t veto a particular bill, Brush! will have to pay for court-appointed lawyers. And that, Chapin fretted, would be awful.

“That’s gonna involve some additional administrative chores,” he wrung his hands. “It’s going to create some problems for us that we have not had to deal with in the past.”

But Councilor Jeanine Anderson wasn’t letting him pee on her leg and tell her it’s raining. “I think, you know, with the Constitution of this country, you don’t just jail people without the right to an attorney.”

“The city would have to pick up the entire cost,” Chapin protested.

“Maybe,” mused Councilor Anderson, “we could look at the ordinances where there is jail time and-”

“We could eliminate that. That’s correct,” the attorney concurred.

Mayor Chuck Schonberger butted in. “Do you know how often we have sentenced someone to jail?”

“Very seldom,” Chapin responded.

No jail time in Brush!? What kind of hippie commune are they running here?! But don’t go knock over the Shell station just yet: the council voted for the veto, with Councilor Anderson the only “nay.”

Speaking of the po-po, April 30 was Brush!’s drug take-back. “In the four hour span, we collected 168 pounds of pharmaceuticals,” the interim chief reported. “We’re just about double what we were in previous years.”

Jesus. Talk about a can-do-a-lot-of-drugs attitude. Maybe if they sold all that Oxy, Brush! could pay for a lawyer for the one guy they send to jail each year.

Where were all the citizens? Definitely NOT stockpiling drugs. Nooope.

“Was there any report form the council outreach on May 2?” Mayor Schonberger asked the room?

After a moment, Councilor Kimberly Dykes murmured, “we had no visitors.”

“That’s what I heard,” the mayor sighed, staring out at the empty council chambers. But then he brightened. “I noticed new tables out here.”

“Long tables,” the city clerk whispered excitedly.

Or,  as they are known in Brush!: “Long! Tables!”

Final thoughts: The only thing I love more than a speedy council meeting is a 168-pound motherlode of prescription narcotics. And the Brush! city council certainly had both. I give this meeting 11 out of 10 stars.