#123: Goldsboro, NC 8/7/17

If you had asked me to write the plotline for a council meeting in a small southern town, there is no way I would have invented anything as riveting as the actual Goldsboro city council meeting.

“My favorite time of the night: public comment period,” swashbuckling Mayor Chuck Allen boomed as onlookers stirred in their seats. He had barely finished his sentence before an elderly man swaggered to the podium, shouting his name and address.

“How are you, sir?” Council Member Mark Stevens greeted him warmly.

“I’m doing wonderful! Everybody’s bright-eyed and enjoying the meeting,” hollered the man. He planted his entire body in an immobile slouch and made his position crystal clear.

“In behalf of all the fine, clean, Christian people who live in Goldsboro and wanna keep this a safe and clean city,” he thundered, “we the clean, Christian people do hereby OPPOSE Sabbath morning sale of alcoholic beverages.”

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Oh, my god. It’s Footloose.

Heads nodded in the crowd.

“It’s a threat to the church. It’s a disgrace to the community. Thank you for your vote against it.”

In a first for me, he then commenced his own round of applause, which citizens and a few council members joined as he retreated from the microphone.

A petite woman with a shock of white hair took his place. “I attend Adamsville Baptist Church. Serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sunday will be a bad influence on the young people.”

She frowned deeply as if looking into the eyes of Satan himself. “If we have our people setting in the bar on a Sunday morning, they are missing an opportunity to attend one of our many churches.”

I should mention, the council was voting today on the “Brunch Bill” to allow alcohol sales starting at 10 a.m. on Sundays. And if you couldn’t tell, there was a teensy bit of opposition from a very specific demographic:

“You have one person–one person ONLY–that is looking at you HARDER than we are,” bellowed a graying church deacon, pointing skyward.  “It’s the man upstairs.”

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People are literally sitting in pews here.

“Amens” flitted across the room. But the president of the downtown merchants’ association strolled to the podium to argue on behalf of the local heretics.

“Seventy-one percent of downtown merchants are in favor of the Brunch Bill. The merchants feel the bill will bring new businesses to Goldsboro,” he countered, rattling off all of the neighboring cities and counties that had Sunday morning sales.

A hostile silence, broken by a single boo, greeted the heathen as he walked off.

Another local bar owner, clad in a neat button-up shirt and a tidy haircut, stared at the mayor and asked a simple question.

“We have alcohol sales starting at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday. So what’s the difference with Sunday?”

Mayor Allen eyed the gallery as various parishioners muttered, “it’s the lord’s day.”

“The LORD’S day,” the man repeated for emphasis. “THAT’S the difference. So now this is an issue of religion.”

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If I may answer on behalf of the audience: “Yeah…so?”

“There are many sabbaths,” this barkeep-cum-professor lectured the council. “Sunday is not the ONLY sabbath. We’re making laws based on religion. I would refer you to the First Amendment.”

Having heard both sides for almost a half hour, Mayor Allen called for the vote. “All those in favor, raise your right hand.”

He and three council members voted aye. The remaining three voted no. The teetotalers had lost.

Council Member Stevens vented in frustration. “For those who were disappointed in this situation, you know…keep praying. The lord will keep you safe.”

#107: Lynn, MA 5/23/17

Nothing could have prepared me for the shocking twist in this week’s Lynn city council meeting.

A mild bit of controversy confronted the council right out of the gate: whether to give one convenience store a wine and malt beverage license.

Witnesses rotated to the podium like they were on a carousel, impressively arguing their case in no-nonsense, rapid-fire succession.

“I’ve known the owners at least 60 years. They’re a reputable family,” a man in a tan suit nodded.

“I work in the area and think it would be an improvement. That’s it,” another man grunted.

“I really think we have enough liquor stores,” countered a woman wearing a crucifix around her neck. “I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel.”

“Too close. Very close,” a rival liquor store owner complained with arms crossed.

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Citizens of Lynn are nothing if not excruciatingly direct.

With each side fielding an equally compelling roster of testifiers, what would the council decide?

“This issue has come up a number of times,” a gravelly-voiced Councilor Peter Capano rubbed his eyes. “There’s just very strong neighborhood opposition, so I’d just make a motion to deny this.”

The rest of the council fell into line and unanimously shot down the license.

Council President Darren Cyr shoved his glasses onto his forehead and gazed across the chamber. “Any other business?”

“Motion to adjourn–” one councilor spoke up.

“No. I…no,” muttered Cyr strangely. “I wanna say something.”

From the back of the chamber, a man began speaking out of turn. Cyr instantly grew livid.

“HEY, JEFFREY! QUIET,” he screamed, slamming the gavel against the wooden desk. “IF I HAVE TO SAY IT AGAIN, I’LL ASK YOU TO LEAVE.”

Cyr braced himself on the podium. “As council president, this is probably the toughest moment that I’ve had,” he stared solemly at the ground. “I’m gonna ask Councilor Trahant to make a statement.”

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A statement? I don’t like the sound of this.

He sniffed, then continued in his thick Boston accent. “I’m gonna stand beside him because he’s my brothah. He’s my friend. I’ve known him since I was five years old. I respect him more than I respect any other man.”

Oh, god. What horror is about to befall us? This feels like something out of a mob movie where someone gets 86’ed.

Councilor William Trahant hugged a tearful Cyr.

“Well, this a tough way for me to get up here, but I gotta do what I gotta do,” Trahant nervously gripped the microphone. “As everybody knows, about six months ago I had a pretty bad heart attack. I’ve got a leak into my valve and I need a little more time to rest.”

The room was dead silent as Trahant glanced from face to sympathetic face. “I’m so sad I have to leave. You guys–” he began to cry as Cyr rubbed his back. “You guys did everything for me. You’re like family.”

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😥

Other councilors wiped their eyes. Trahant hung his head and searched for the right words.

“I just gotta get better. And I’m gonna get better. I love you very much.”

He received a standing ovation as he stepped down, hugging everyone on the trek back to his seat.

“May god have his hand on you, Billy,” called out President Cyr over the applause.

“Love you, Billy,” Councilor Brian LaPierre whispered.

Final thoughts: For easily being the saddest meeting I’ve seen, I give Councilor Trahant 10 out of 10 “Get Well Soon” cards.

#30: Lincoln, NE 6/20/16

Sometimes Nebraska lives up to its reputation as “the interesting man’s Kansas.”

But sadly, this week the Cornhuskers on the Lincoln city council were focused 100 percent on the soul-crushing, time-dragging nuts and bolts of the People’s Business.

“Can you please tell us about your application?” Vice Chair Leirion Gaylor Baird smiled at the nervous Middle Eastern man wanting a liquor license.

“I just applied…for selling beer for my restaurants. I’m trying to sell only beer.”

Silence.

“So…this is an existing business?” Councilman Carl Eskridge probed.

“Yes. I’m trying to sell just beer.”

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He is also the University of Nebraska’s intramural basketball coach, apparently.

But Councilman Roy Christensen had some bad news for this shifty-eyed beer slinger.

“I’m going to vote to disapprove your application,” the councilman kindly but firmly informed the sweaty applicant. “I don’t want you to take this personally.”

As mild as this exchange was, it was nothing compared to the coma-inducing Q&A between Councilman Jon Camp and the city’s pension officer.

JC: Considering the assumed rate of return is 7.5 percent or 6.4 percent…but really that 3.23 percent is before you’ve had those distributions.

PO: The 3.2 starts with the beginning value and recognizes all the tax receipts and how the values of the underlying asset change in terms of the income we receive from dividends and interest.

JC: It would appear on the investments that we only made $2.4 million when you take dividend, realized gains, and you subtract the losses.

PO: The investment earnings, if you factor all that in, is 3.23 perce–

Holy mother, I’m going to stop here. Not only was this incredibly dry, but they were the two most monotone, low-voiced people I’ve seen outside of a librarians’ convention.

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Before Councilman Jon Camp started talking, his hair was jet black.

Suddenly–mercifully–in the home stretch, we saw some action in the outfield.

“I would move to delay a vote” on the storm water plan, Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm beseeched her colleagues, “until July 11.”

But Councilwoman Jane Raybould made it clear: De-lay? No way!

“I am not going to support the motion because we heard loud and clear from our voters. To say that we’re not going forward with those projects when the voters vote in affirmation of these projects is sort of disingenuous.”

Tempers flared. Knuckles cracked. A vote was taken on a delay. The tally?

3-3. A tie.

“Uh, so,” Vice Chair Gaylor Baird fumbled, “the motion fails on a tie?”

“Any vote of the city council requires four votes to pass,” Councilman Christensen nodded.

Then, a move no one saw coming:

“I would be willing to vote,” piped up Councilman Eskridge, who originally voted AGAINST a delay, “in such a way that it WOULD be delayed.” The Midwestern Benedict Arnold sheepishly avoided eye contact with everyone but the floor.

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“Lol, j/k guys. I wanted to vote the other way all along.”

Cross-talk ensued. Lawyers were summoned. Fast-thinking Councilman Camp swooped in to finish her. “I move we delay this to July 11.”

The do-over vote was done-over. Result? 5-1.

A fuming Councilwoman Raybould silently rested her chin on her fists, thwarted by one rascally traitor.

Final thoughts: I gotta hand it to Councilman Jon Camp. He lulled us almost to sleep before surprising us with a quick-draw vote. I give him 3.23 percent…or 7.5 percent–wait, or