#58: Harrisburg, PA 10/11/16

The Harrisburg city council had a smorgasbord of issues to consider on Tuesday night. And 99 percent of them came from one kindly, train-loving citizen.

“First, my request to city council: please have police officers on Second Street Wednesday night and Thursday–and especially Friday and Saturday night. Check the Sawyer’s restaurant for noise violations. This summer when they had special music concerts, they shut off the music concert by ten o’clock in the evening at the latest. Sometimes, people are not as good.”

The aged man folded his slender arms in front of him, a large black glasses case protruding from his shirt pocket. He spoke haltingly, clearing his throat directly into the microphone–which made it sound like someone was piledriving just outside the chamber.

This man has a clear message: shhhhhhhh.

“Also, there are some fellows who play music instruments on the sidewalk at the pizza shop next to Zembie’s on Friday and Saturday nights. And sometimes they get loud. And my request is to please have police officers there and check on them and make sure they cut off their music by ten o’clock in the evening at the latest.”

But before you label him a run-of-the-mill city hall gadfly, I’ll have you know that this man can do more than lodge noise complaints. In fact, he’s a regular Ferdinand Magellan–traveling the globe from Central Pennsylvania to as far away as Eastern and Western Pennsylvania. And he knows a thing or two about the romance of the rails:

“Okay, another issue: I asked the city of Harrisburg and the state to support adding one additional passenger train on the Amtrak line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. The train we have now, it’s a good train. It’s a beautiful, thrilling ride, but the schedule requires at least one overnight stay in Pittsburgh and the hotels that I checked in Pittsburgh are awfully expensive.”

It was barely perceptible, but as he talked more and more about the trains, you could tell THIS was the thing that truly excited him.

His bumper sticker reads “My Other City Council is a Train.”

“And one other thing: back in June, I went on a beautiful Amtrak train trip that was fantastic from Harrisburg to Philadelphia and Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., and then going across Northern Virginia and West Virginia, and then overnight to Chicago. And the ride I liked the best was going across Virginia and West Virginia and went over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Praise god and the Amtrak people! And the other railroad people also did a great job!”

Hey, Amtrak, are you hiring spokespeople? This guy praised god AND Amtrak people in the same breath! Can you at least give him free rides for life between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh?

Speaking of spokespeople, Council President Wanda Williams had her own exciting transportation announcement:

“I’m proud to say that my husband won the ‘direct support professional’ for the state of Pennsylvania,” she grinned with pride. “He was chosen among 200 other applicants. He represented the state of Pennsylvania in Chicago.”

Then, the bombshell.

“His picture is now on the billboard going towards I-83 south.”

Other council members chuckled approvingly. “Okay!” “Yeah!” they murmured.

“Drive slowly–my husband is watching you.”

Final thoughts: It’s a three-way tie, folks: 10 out of 10 stars to the citizen commenter, the council president’s husband, and trains. Hooray, trains!


Interview #12: Jefferson City, MO Mayor Carrie Tergin

Last month was International #CityHallSelfie Day, and one particular mid-council meeting collage caught my eye:

Turns out, this artwork came from Jefferson City, Missouri’s shutterbug Mayor Carrie Tergin. We got deep into selfies, public comments, and whether mayors are important.

Q: How many times per week do you take mayoral selfies?

A: Boy, I wish I counted! I’m a pretty active mayor. I have a big Facebook following. If I’m at an event and people see me, they say, “we want to get a selfie with the mayor!” It’s just kinda become my thing!

Q: Has anyone ever called you the Kim Kardashian of Central Missouri?

A: [Laughs] No! I’ve never, ever, ever had that impression, actually.

Q: Let’s try to make that a thing. In what circumstances other than #CityHallSelfie Day would you take a selfie during a council meeting?

A: That’s NEVER happened until City Council Selfie day. We’re at at the pre-meeting and–I have to give credit to two other council representatives: Councilwoman [Erin] Wiseman and Councilman [Ken] Hussey–both said during our pre-meeting, “did you know today’s #CityHallSelfie Day?” And I said, “What?!” That was not even on my radar! So they’re all laughing, then we went over to council chambers and took more selfies.

Q: We have some footage of those selfies:

A: When we present proclamations or if we have a group there, I always try to stop and say, “hey let’s get a picture.” Then I post it and share it. I know the council probably would say, “here she goes again, getting out her camera.” But for some people that come to city council to talk about what’s important to them, this is their moment to shine.

Q: And it might be the only time that person comes to a city council meeting, so you make it count. Which reminds me, during an interview in 2015, you said this:


How often did you show up to comment at city council meetings?

A: Probably several times a year. As we found the city taking down some older homes, I found myself at the podium a lot.

Q: What advice would you give Carrie Tergin, the public commenter, at being better at influencing Carrie Tergin, the mayor?

A: I think the key is to be precise and…

Q: Brief?

A: Focused. Brief is part of that. People come before the council and they don’t necessarily know what they’re asking for.

Q: At council meetings, what’s the difference between being mayor and a regular council member?

A: The mayor presides over the meeting, but doesn’t have a vote unless it’s a tie. Some would say, “you don’t have a vote, so are you really that important?” Absolutely. Even a mayor without a vote still is charged with guiding the council. The [former Mayor John] Landwehr Rule was, “you’re not gonna clap and you’re not gonna boo.”

Q: As mayor, do you now see public commenters from your days as a citizen and still have a connection with them?

A: Oh, yeah. Some of those folks that, we were together championing causes back in the early to mid-2000s, we’re still saying, “wow, look at how much we’re accomplishing now.”

Q: Do you think they see you as the one who “made it?”

A: No, it’s not about me. I think what they see is that they supported me, and their support is what was key.

Follow Mayor Carrie Tergin on Twitter: @CarrieTergin

It’s International City Hall Selfie Day!

It’s here! It’s finally here! International #CityHallSelfie Day, which celebrates that time Moses led the Israelites to city hall and took selfies with Pharaoh–or something.

In the spirit of the holiday, City Council Chronicles will feature any selfie that is taken a.) WITH a city council member (mayors count, too) or b.) INSIDE OF a city council room. While I support neither kidnapping nor trespassing, I would point out that we are burning daylight, people.


From San Diego, California city councilman Chris Cate:

From Los Angeles city councilman David E. Ryu:

From the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado:

From the mayor on top of the fire truck’s ladder to the fact that someone even higher than him is taking his picture–to the fact that he didn’t even post HIS selfie, this is all just fantastic:

From Campbell, California, his heart is in the right place:

From Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix, Arizona, which we have chronicled:

Elsewhere, not in an underground war room, was Phoenix Vice Mayor Kate Gallego:

From the Mayor of Pensacola, Florida:

That sure as heck looks like a council chamber to me. From Santa Barbara, California:

From Columbia, Missouri with council member Ian Thomas:

A couple from Mayor Matt Surrency of Hawthorne, Florida:

More selfies with the cutout mayors of Las Vegas:

From Mayor Jim Lane in Scottsdale, Arizona:

From Mayor Dan Devine of West Allis, Wisconsin:

Normal, Illinois is technically a town, but that’s a disturbingly large council chamber for a mere town, so I’ll allow it:

From Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Sly James (this is my new desktop background):

From Provo, Utah Mayor John Curtis:

From city council member Dan Gookin in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho:

From the city of Folsom, California:

It’s not a city, but damned if Collierville, Tennessee wasn’t on the mother-fudging ball today:

From Palmetto Bay, Florida Mayor Engene Flinn:

From Roseville, Minnesota Mayor Dan Roe:

From Mayor BJ Murphy and city council in Kinston, North Carolina:

From the entire Kiksville, Missouri city council:

From West Linn, Oregon city council president Thomas  Frank:

From Jefferson City, Missouri councilman Ken Hussey:

From Mayor Andrew H. Scott of Coal Run Village, Kentucky. Perfect execution, your honor:

I’m hoping these people are the Johnston, Iowa city council and not a furniture delivery company:

From Lewisville, Texas council member TJ Gilmore, who took quite a selfie road trip today:

From the city of Grover Beach, California:

From the mayor’s chair in Atlanta, Texas (plot twist: this isn’t the mayor):

From the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s council member Anna America:

From the city of Auburndale, Florida, where weirdly only one city commissioner is taking a selfie, and this is not it:

From the city of Largo, Florida’s vice mayor Jamie Robinson:

From Gaithersburg, Maryland, the “Stepford Wives” of city councils:

From Shoreview, Minnesota councilman Cory Springhorn:

Terrific participation from Bemidji, Minnesota councilman Michael Meehlhause:

From Alder (the heck is that?) Maurice Cheeks in Madison, Wisconsin:

From Atlanta, Georgia’s city council president Ceasar Mitchell:

More from the cardboard mayors in Las Vegas:

Well, this one is from a dog. So, yeah:

This one traveled a long way: from Prince George, British Columbia, courtesy of Councilor Garth Frizzell:

This is the loop-holiest one yet, but in a brilliant way. The Shoreview, Minnesota city council meeting is ON THE MONITOR in the middle right:

Another one from Gahanna, Ohio: what looks to be city council members in the city council chamber. Score! Although is this really a selfie? I’m skeptical:

From Mayor Hillary Schieve of Reno, Nevada:

From the council chambers of Glendale, California:

With all the hubbub, I almost forgot my own selfie! From Denver, Colorado and YES–with city council members, IN the city council room:

Technically a town, not a city. But I’ll allow it. From Gilbert, Arizona with, I’m not mistaken, newly-minted Mayor Jenn Daniels:

Peekaboo from the mayor of Tigard, Oregon:

Now we’re cooking with gas! A group city council member selfie from Durham, North Carolina:

From the mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida:

From the city of Rogers, Arkansas:

From my friend in Baltimore–which, by the way, has one of my top city council chambers:

Let’s put the “inter” in International City Hall Selfie Day! This one’s from Toronto city councilor–and past City Council Chronicles interviewee–Shelley Carroll:

And another one with more councilors:

This selfie is from city hall reporter and past interviewee Dave Gong:

From Henry Parrish, III mayor of Cocoa:

Aw, yeah! Gahanna, Ohio is in the house:

Okay, Kansas, technically NOT A SELFIE and also NOT INSIDE OF the council room. But I’m not going to hold it against Jeff:

Now if you want to do a loophole correctly, follow the lead of Las Vegas:

From Mayor Justin Nickels of Manitowoc, WI:

From the city of Auburndale, FL:


10 Toronto City Council Facts to Impress Your Friends and Potential Mates

It was an electrifying week to embark on our first international city council review! Less electrified was my accountant, who has since advised me to “never, ever fly First Class to Canada again, you moron.”

Anyhow, there was waaaaay too much cool stuff about the Toronto city council to mention. So I’ll mention it all here in the form of a handy list.

1. They start very patriotically.

In the U.S., council meetings usually kick off with the Pledge of Allegiance and occasionally a prayer. In Toronto, a choir sings the Canadian national anthem on top of a sweeping video montage. Come on, America, where’s our inspirational stock footage?!


2. The mayor’s there!

In big cities, it’s unusual for the mayor to be in the room with the council. It’s even more unusual for the mayor to vote on the council. But in Toronto, the mayor is basically the 45th councilor.




4. They don’t look at each other.


Here’s an odd thing to watch: when councilors are asking questions to city staff, SOMETIMES they make eye contact like normal human beings. But usually, councilors don’t bother turning to look!

“There’s very few councilors who don’t know exactly where their camera is,” Councilor Shelley Carroll told me. “You pretty much get your media training on the job pretty fast.”

5. They can’t talk directly to people.


“Hey, Michael, what do you mean by that?” you might ask.

And if I were a Toronto city councilor, I would respond, “Through the speaker, they talk to each other by saying ‘through the speaker.'”

Explained Carroll: “You’re not supposed to take somebody on. Canadian cities try to treat themselves like they’re a House of Commons.” Yes, we wouldn’t want councilors to confront each other…any more than they usually do (see below).

6. They vote DING DING while a chime DING DING rings.


When councilors vote with their machines, they hear a steady pulsating chime–imagine an autotuned version of a garbage truck’s back-up beeper. It’s kind of hypnotic. I wonder if anyone has dozed off while voting.

 7. A lot of people ACTUALLY watch.


8. You don’t get to talk forever.


Councilors have a time limit on asking questions. The speaker butts in when they are done to say, “that was your last question.” And then she cuts their mic! Given how Toronto’s council meetings often stretch into double-digit hours, you better believe time limits are necessary. But I have yet to see another council that plays stopwatch cop like this.

9. They are very polite.


Of course they’re polite–this is Canada! There were so many “sorrys” that I lost count. Like in this exchange between Councilor Josh Colle and the deputy city manager:

Colle:  What has been the increase in property taxes collected?

DCM: $303 million, I believe.

Colle: Sorry, that’s TTC fares.

DCM: No, sorry, that’s property taxes.

Colle: You might have it the other way around?

DCM: Sorry.

On the other hand,

10. They openly bicker.

The council has a “bylaw,” which members invoke if they think someone is behaving poorly–for example, by insulting the staff. Councilors can also challenge Speaker Frances Nunziata on her rulings. In return, the speaker sometimes snaps at them about wasting time and keeping the noise level down. During the Rob Ford shenanigans, antics were even worse:


#35: Boston, MA 7/13/16

Grab some chowdah and pahk your cah in the yahd–today we head to Boston!

Immediately, I knew that the MVP of this council meeting would be city clerk Maureen Feeney, who called roll in the most legit Boston accent this side of Bunker Hill.

“Councilah Flehrety [Flaherty]…Councilah MaCaathy [McCarthy]…Councilah Wooah [Wu],” she blurted out like a hotdog vendor at Fenway Park.

As a pastor stepped to the dais to offer the day’s prayer, it raised an important question: why is the Boston city council meeting in the concrete basement of Montresor from “The Cask of Amontillado”?

“Fah the love of gahd, Mahntresoah!”

Councilors got down to business, with the clerk helpfully narrating the big issues:

“Dahket numbah 0993: accept for the city of Bahstan a donation from the Coast Gaahd. The boat and trailah will be added to the Habah Patrol and will benefit the city of Bahstan.”

“Dahket numbah 0823, sponsored by the mayah: Bahstan Latin School pahtial boilah replacement.”

But it wasn’t all trailahs and boilahs–there were serious problems facing the council as well.

Gas leaks: “There are anywhere from 1,300–which was a conservative estimate–[or] double or triple that,” Councilor Matt O’Malley cautioned.

LGBTQ youth: “Of the youth studied, one in five attempted suicide in the past year,” Councilor Josh Zakim fretted.

People without IDs: “Getting a formal identification card is burdensome for certain communities–undocumented immigrants, residents who are experiencing homelessness, transgender,” Council President Michelle Wu wu-arned.

Yikes, I haven’t seen this much chaos in Boston since any given Red Sox game.

Hey, closed captioning: start spelling with an accent ya chowdahead!

But all was not lost. Riding in like Paul Revere was Councilor Ayanna Pressley. “I’m rising to create a little peer pressure for everyone,” she said cheekily. “If your spouse’s birthday falls on the same day as the council meeting, you will now feel the pressure to do the same thing I’m doing: happy birthday, sweetheart! Thirty-nine years young!”

Let’s see…13 council spouses…52 council meetings per year…the odds of another birthday happening are…gosh, where’s a math-savvy MIT janitor when you need one?

And what’s even better than a Boston birthday? A Boston boast-day:

“My office was contacted by the comptroller in New York City looking for information on our free sunscreen in the parks program,” Councilor O’Malley bragged. “This is a public health service that we are offering at zero cost to the taxpayer. New York City is piloting it this summer at their city pools.”

He gave a sly grin. “So I wanted to congratulate the great city of New York for ONCE AGAIN following Boston’s lead.” The other councilors whooped and guffawed like it was the second coming of the Boston Tea Party. (I admired their restraint for not also chanting “YANK-EES SUCK!”)

Councilor O’Malley gives the traditional Boston gesture of respect.

And on that note of being BRIEFLY, on ONE thing, SLIGHTLY better than New York, the council adjourned for some Dunkin’ Donuts and a packy of Sam Adams.

Final thoughts: What a wicked pissa of a council meeting! For slipping an F-U to New Yorkers, I give this meeting 8 out of 10 deflated Patriots footballs.

#34: Riverton, WY 7/5/16

Wyoming may be the Wild West, but this week’s Riverton city council meeting was anything but rowdy. It was downright calm. Sedate.

Even–as you’ll see–sad.

There was a glimmer of drama at the top of the hour, as some dum-dum booked the city council meeting AND the Finance Committee meeting for the same time. Great, now everyone has to wait on some loooooong, booooooring committee. Grab a pillow!

“I would move for claims to be paid in the amount of $189,402.59,” Council Member Martin Cannan began.

“I’ll second it,” responded Council Member Holly Jibben–coincidentally the second and only other person on the Finance Committee. “All in favor say aye.”

Two ayes–one bass, one soprano. “Meeting adjourned,” Council Member Jibben leaned back as the meeting fizzled after 55 seconds.

Hey, Riverton, do they make your committees in men’s sizes?

The camera zoomed out to reveal Mayor John “Lars” Baker with shirt sleeves rolled up. He tapped his pen impatiently as the first public commenter approached–a man with a bushy mustache and a shirt as red as the Wyoming sunset.

“My wife and I, we have a, uh,” the man started, suddenly bracing himself against the podium, his voice cracking. “Excuse me…two-year-old German Shepherd. My wife caught the dog eating a piece of tar paper in our backyard. There’s tar paper, fiber glass insulation, home insulation” from a nearby construction project.

“May 3, our dog had a seizure. Up to this date he’s had nine seizures.” The man clutched his mouth and fought back tears.

“They’ve got all kinds of stuff stacked–it gets shredded in the wind and blows right into our yard. I would hope something can be done. We had to put a dog down two years ago,” he broke down once more at the memory, “and I don’t wanna do it again.”

Sometimes city council meetings are sad, boys and girls.

Mayor Baker uncomfortably attempted to play grief counselor. “Well, this has certainly been quite an ordeal for you,” he winced.

A staff member jumped in: “We do quite often talk to [construction crews] about a lot of that. But obviously we need to do it more,” she looked into the citizen’s tearful eyes sympathetically.

“We’ll keep plugging away,” the mayor mumbled, staring blankly at the man with the sick dog. “Okay? Thank you.”

His Honor didn’t exactly radiate empathy. But here’s the thing: Mayor Baker does not show any emotion. Calling him “low energy” vastly exaggerates the amount of energy he has. The man could put a case of Red Bull to sleep.

Someone pump up the mayor–he’s deflating!

Look no further than his reaction to news that the airport just added a flight. “We need to encourage people to use the airport,” the city administrator cheerfully explained. “Many of us attended the ribbon cutting ceremony. I think we put five passengers on there and they all felt like celebrities!”

Terrific story, yes, your honor?

“We’re excited about this airplane and, uh…boy, I just hope that people will fly,” the mayor sighed, sounding neither excited nor hopeful. “If people respond to that and fly Riverton, we will be in the airline business again.” I cannot convey how truly funereal Riverton’s mayor sounded. Except to tell you–I’m not exaggerating–that he barely paused before adding:

“The other thing today…we had a funeral for Dianne Tippets.”