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

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

Joseph Geierman is the first-term District 2 council member who saw his city’s non-discrimination ordinance get held up in brief confusion at a council meeting last year. He explains why it was important to pass the legislation right away and the merits of speeding up council action generally.

Q: On November 5, 2018, the Doraville council was to vote on a non-discrimination ordinance. However, Council Member Pam Fleming wanted it to be a resolution and apply to businesses as well as individuals. What do you believe she was getting at there?

A: I think that Council Member Fleming maybe believed that we were trying to legislate morality by passing a non-discrimination ordinance. Really we were concerned about everyone in our city being treated equally. While I don’t think that she wants people to be treated unfairly, I think that she just had a concern with the concept of a non-discrimination ordinance.

Q: Procedurally, you would need to vote unanimously to waive the first reading and, if successful, would proceed to the final reading that night to pass it on a majority vote. But two council members said, “no, we don’t want to pass it tonight.” Other people responded, “well, we need a special meeting because this is pretty damn important.” Did you feel it was important enough to pass P.D.Q? You know your community; how much discrimination could there have been in the month between council meetings?

A: For us, the bigger impetus was we had been talking about it a lot. I think we were generating buzz in other cities. Since we passed it, several other cities in the area have passed it. Before we did it, no other city in Georgia besides Atlanta had passed a non-discrimination ordinance, and theirs had passed 20 years ago. We really wanted to make a statement with this and we didn’t want it to be pushed and maybe have other cities get ahead of us.

Q: We heard Council Member Fleming’s confusion about what the council had voted on and she moved to switch her vote. Were you surprised that she was surprised about what the council was doing?

A: I think she didn’t want to go to a special called meeting and she decided to go along with waiving the first read. She knew it was gonna pass. Why not go along and get it over with?

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Doraville, GA Council Member Joseph Geierman

Q: This kind of fake-out did surface again in January when your council held a public hearing for whether to allow a telemedicine services clinic in the city. Council Member M.D. Naser was the only one to vote against waiving the first reading. And again, someone attempted to call a special council meeting and the holdout council member caved in and changed his vote. Do you think there is any merit to changing the requirement of unanimity to waive the first reading?

A: I am certainly open to looking at that. The challenge is if we are only meeting on a particular day in a month and the next date is a month later, that’s a long time for a business to wait for their license just because someone feels like we should hear this all again and then vote yes. We should be looking at changing that because it’s a problem.

Q: I get that people have business before the council and it’s a bummer to make them wait for an additional month. But it also benefits the residents to have more than one occasion to give their opinion and it also benefits you all to reflect on what you’ve learned from meeting to meeting. Does the Doraville council prioritize speed over reflection?

A: I’m sure a lot of business owners would feel like they wished we were a little speedier! If there is serious legislation or a change in our rules or something that really would require a lot of public input, I do think that there probably should be a little more discussion about whether we should waive the first reading.


Follow Council Member Joseph Geierman on Twitter: @geierman

*Interview 111 was previously omitted in the numbering order.

Interview #90: Norman, OK Councilmember Breea Clark (with podcast)

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

Who would have thought that Oklahoma would be such an emotional hotbed for council meetings? In Norman, first-term council member Breea Clark has seen tensions run high over an obscure procedure, a street with an offensive name, and even a minor cultural proclamation.

Q: What is the Norman city council “rule of three?”

A: [sigh] Oh, the rule of three. It’s when three council members can choose an issue and force it on the agenda.

Q: Council members have some differing opinions on whether it is a good thing or, as someone else put it, a “bastardized” procedure.

A: I think you use the rule of three when you reach out to fellow council members and say, “hey, let’s talk about this” and they all tell you “no.” Having seen that process and the lack of communication when [other council members] used the rule, I personally will do everything in my power to never use that rule because it is so divisive.

Q: When I say the name “Edwin DeBarr,” what can you tell me about him?

A: I can tell you that he was one of the first four professors at the University of Oklahoma. He was a very knowledgeable man who spoke many languages. And I can then tell you that he went on to be a grand dragon of the Oklahoma KKK at the height of the brutality.

Q: People started showing up in your meetings and told council, “we have a street named after Edwin DeBarr and that is racist. Please change the street name.” The fact that it wasn’t happening immediately rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. At the October 24, 2017 meeting, the mood was tense. You’re sitting up there as a white woman with an all-white council–there was some shaming going on. How did you sense that the others felt when people were accusing you of being tone-deaf white people?

A: I don’t think any of my colleagues intended to be tone deaf, but it was uncomfortable. I think those comments hurt a lot of feelings, but they shouldn’t have.

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Norman, OK Councilmember Breea Clark

Q: Some of the commenters called you out in a complimentary way to thank you for being a leader on the name change. Did any other council members come up to you and say, “I didn’t appreciate being called racist. I wish you might have told people to tone it down.” Did anyone lay that at your feet?

A: They did not lay that at my feet directly. I don’t think it’s my position to be the tone police. But how that all went down has created some very tense relationships with some of my colleagues. It changed everything. I will always regret the outcome of that. How they got a little beat up on the dais–I am the face of blame for that. We do not have the same relationship that we had before.

Q: Does that bother you?

A: Of course it does.

Q: Before you were a council member, there was a meeting the night of September 28, 2010. The council was considering a proclamation for GLBT history month. Have you ever listened to that meeting before?

A: I will be honest and say no, because I know what happened. I have seen pieces of the ugliness of our community since then and I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it.

Q: A week after that meeting, a 19-year-old gay man who had been in the audience and heard some of the anti-GLBT comments killed himself. Do you feel that the council, by allowing hate speech, might bear some responsibility?

A: [pause] That is a slippery slope. I wasn’t there that night. I’m glad I wasn’t there that night. But I wish somebody would’ve spoken up.


Follow Councilmember Breea Clark on Twitter: @clarkfornorman

Interview #68: Boise, ID Council Member Lauren McLean (with podcast)

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

In a first for City Council Chronicles, this week’s podcast guest gets her own piece of artwork to hang at city hall! I talk to Boise’s Lauren McLean about how her past as a dancer prepared her for council meetings. Plus, we spend a good while reliving the crowded council meeting from 2012 about an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance with a surprise ending.

Q: I heard that you did competitive Scottish Highland dancing until you were 20 years old. What are the similarities between Scottish Highland dancing and the Boise city council meetings?

A: Oh, good question! Let’s see…you have to be super nimble, have lots of energy, a good sense of timing…

Q: Mmhmm.

A: …and want to win.

Q: Nice. Has someone asked you that question before?! That was remarkably fast.

A: No! I just made it up right now.

Q: [Laughs] I love it! Your council has met in several places. What has been your favorite?

A: I really love our current chambers. We have this great piece of local art behind us that is an artist’s version of what Boise is to her. I love looking at the piece, turning around and looking at it occasionally when we’re in longer hearing nights. At one point, it disappeared for about a week. That’s when I realized how much our council members really liked the piece because we got it back right away.

Q: If I were to draw something inspired by this interview, would you hang that up?

A: Um, I might hang it up in my cubby at city hall. I’m so excited to see what I’m going to have up in my cubby/cubicle!

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Hang it!

Q: On November 13, 2012 you were over at the state capitol. You had hundreds of people there to speak on a non-discrimination ordinance based on sexual orientation. For the first hour-and-a-half, this massive room, plus overflow, had to sit through a mundane set of hearings about planning and zoning. If you could do it again, would you get to the juicy stuff right away?

A: Actually, I’m going to say [pause], I think we would make them sit through it again! It’s the only time we can get an audience that big that sees all the things we deal with.

Q: Most people outside Idaho think of it as a place with potatoes and people who don’t like gay people. Were you worried that by having a hearing on television about this topic, the image viewers would see is one anti-LGBT person after another? Or, even worse, one gay-hating potato after another?

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Boise, ID Council Member Lauren McLean

A: I wasn’t worried at all. I know our city. The image many people outside of the state have of Idaho is very different from the reality. Really progressive, vibrant, fast-growing cities and universities.

Q: Yeah, and the mood at times was actually pretty light. The mayor didn’t allow clapping, but he did let people do “spirit fingers.” Did the spirit fingers last beyond that one meeting?

A: They did! You don’t see them in council meetings, but when the proponents of the measure came back after the ordinance was passed, [the spirit fingers] came up again. It’s something that I see often in Boise now amongst council members and others–it’s lived on.


Follow Council Member Lauren McLean on Twitter: @laurenmclean