#117: Park City, KS 7/11/17

Emotions were running high at City Hall as Mayor Ray Mann called the meeting to order with a tearful farewell to an old friend.

“Daniela,” he murmured, “for the last time in this building that has served us well, would you call the roll?”

That’s right, the doors are closing on fabled Hydraulic Street and the message was clear: don’t leave anything behind tonight.

“We’ll be closed Thursday and Friday and Monday,” announced the city administrator. “We’ll be moving from this facility to the new facility.”

“We’ve got movers in place. So it’s gonna be a busy day Thursday and Friday,” the mayor observed, glancing sideways at a couple of the council members as if to say, “you’re still coming to carry boxes, right?”

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The new Park City Hall, I’m assuming

But rather than rest up and conserve their energy, the council found themselves thrust into the middle of an existential crisis.

“What has happened is the Kansas legislature decided to take a more proactive approach encouraging people to use their seatbelts,” an employee explained to steely glances. “They established a ‘Seatbelt Education Fund.’ Fines for seatbelts will increase from $10 to $30, and $20 will be sent to fund this.”

Then he revealed the kicker: “They’ve also added a section that says that no county or municipality can change it. Because we have an ordinance on the books that says the seatbelt fine is only $10, we have to change it.”

Council Member Tom Jones jumped in sounding about as enthusiastic as someone who’s been asked to move an entire city hall. “We don’t have any choice,” he sighed.

He added, seemingly with sarcasm, “they’re ‘helping’ us out again.”

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“Could they also help us load the vans on Thursday?”

But while Park City was cleaning up its ordinances, there was a lingering question: who would clean the brand new City Hall?

“They come in and clean the building while staff is not there?” quizzed Council Member George Capps.

“Yes, sir,” the clerk answered.

Capps seemed astonished. “What have you done to check their security?”

“They go through an extensive background check and get fingerprinted,” she assured him. “And those same individuals will have to clean every week.”

“Okay,” he eased up. “Thank you.”

Getting fingerprinted to clean a city hall? What kind of top-secret, classified, national security information are they stor–hold on. I just noticed something: EVERYONE is wearing official Park City-branded shirts! Man, that mayor runs a tight ship here.

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I DEMAND YOU SEND ME ONE OF EVERY COLOR, MAYOR!

As the meeting wrapped up, people shared their fond–and not so fond–memories from the Fourth of July.

“I thought the holidays went real good, except all the fireworks really got the dogs upset,” Council Member Capps smiled wearily. “I, for one, got bit. It’s just the price we pay, I guess.”

While I admire his cavalier attitude in the face of, well, sharp teeth, someone else paid zero price for his canine encounter.

“I was able to be part of the pet judge contest,” bragged Council Member George Glover. “They had ‘wagging tail dog’ and ‘best sit-up dog,’ ‘best trick dog’….It was good to be part of that.”

To that, Council Member Melvin Kerr retorted, “I think I was the most popular councilman. I was handing out the ice cream!”

With a hearty laugh, the last meeting in the old City Hall was over. Onward to greener pastures!

Final thoughts: Seriously, I would like a shirt please.

#112: Auburn, WA 6/19/17

As council members idly chatted while awaiting the mayor’s arrival, a little girl shuffled quietly to the middle of the chamber.

She planted herself in front of the dais and wiped her nose on a flowing blue skirt. After several moments of silent staring, she caught the attention of Councilmember Yolanda Trout-Manuel.

“Come on up,” Trout-Manuel called, waving to the staircase beside her.

The little girl bolted away wide-eyed. “Mommy!” she yelled. Then she whirled around and sprinted to the staircase. “I’mbusy!I’mbusy!I’mbusy!” she chanted, scaling the steps to the dais.

“DESTINY ROSE!” bellowed the mother as her daughter marched around the desk shaking hands with council members. “Come on,” she hissed angrily as the girl jumped into her front row seat and began kicking excitedly.

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WARNING: Do not try to invite yourself onto a dais if you are not a cute little girl.

Mayor Nancy Backus gaveled open the meeting and the girl’s mother immediately slid behind the podium.

“My main concern is with the sex offender registry. Level 2 and Level 3 are required to give notifications. Why not Level 1?” she quizzed the council. “Someone I know is on that registry before I even knew he had contact with my daughter.”

The police commander reassured her: “all registered sex offenders are supposed to be on the King County website.”

She frowned. “He is not there.”

The cop kept his poker face and steady tone. “When we get done here, I’d be happy to speak with you.”

No sooner was that matter resolved than a soft-spoken older woman approached the microphone.

“I’d like to say thanks for the quick follow-up on my concerns from last time,” she smiled shyly. “Also, um, I baked some cookies for you guys. They’re gluten free.”

Mayor Backus nodded approvingly. “That is very, very sweet of you, Mary.”

Wow, talk about going above and beyond the call of duty in Auburn! If the commander sorts out that sex offender issue in time, he could be on the receiving end of a box of Tagalongs next meeting.

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But seriously: you couldn’t have left a little gluten in there?

“On Saturday, the Valley Civil Disturbance Unit was held at Renton city hall,” Mayor Backus updated council members. She added with a chuckle, “we were made aware of how elected officials can get in the way of law enforcement in a civil disturbance.”

I presumed she wasn’t talking about chaining herself to a bulldozer, which she confirmed by rattling off all of the situations where council members need to duck and cover: “sit-ins, protests, protesters locked in ‘Sleeping Dragon,’ use of lethal munitions….”

Sleeping Dragon? That sounds more like a yoga pose than a restraint technique. Either way, I’d want to be far, far away when the dragon wakes up.

“Let law enforcement do their job,” she warned her colleagues.

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“I did learn some SWAT techniques if we’re rushed by little girls again.”

“One final thing,” the mayor added. “Last month there were some comments made at the study session about actions taken to exclude council members from meetings and events.”

She gazed out sternly while addressing no one in particular. “Our staff goes above and beyond for EVERYONE. There is NO place in this council chambers for campaigning and I hope we can focus on the work of the city.”

With that cryptic message, the meeting ended. Hopefully, the offending party knows to stay in line–or else they might end up in Sleeping Dragon position.

#99: Medicine Hat, AB 4/17/17

From inside the gigantic semi-circle of the Medicine Hat city council, an equally gigantic subject emerged: how much reading do councilors REALLY want?

“I always wondered whether we needed more reporting, not less,” Councilor Les Pearson fired a shot across the bow of the anti-report lobby. “I’m wondering if council can be advised in a briefer form in a more frequent basis.

“It’s draining, I guess, on some people–on me in particular,” Pearson admitted with the exasperation of someone who had just forced an Encyclopedia-length government report past his eyeballs. “I guess I would like smaller bites along the way.”

“The intent,” Chief Administrative Officer Merete Heggelund replied, “is that you should be able to get the gist of it from the top” pages. She held her thumb and index finger less than an inch apart, measuring out 20 to 30 sheets of paper max. “It’s not that we expect council to have read 500 pages of financial information.”

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Pearson: “NOW you’re telling me?!”

“This is good, spirited conversation,” said Councilor Robert Dumanowski without a hint of enthusiasm–but also without irony.

“Quarterly reports are indicative of the industry and market world, etc.,” he launched into an exhaustive stem-winder that made my skull numb for a solid two-and-a-half minutes. I regained lucidity during his closing argument.

“I could go on and on and on, but the reports will only be bumped a single month. It’ll still be, I’m sure, an award-winning financial report,” Dumanowski reassured fellow Hatters.

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Trust me: this man DID read all 500 pages.

At this point, the meeting was more than three-quarters of the way over and the council was galloping through the budget like a Mountie on horseback. Prospects for a record-scratch, edge-of-our-seats moment were dim.

But dimness? Thy name is Councilor Bill Cocks.

“I can recall–and he shall remain nameless–a former councilor who voted in favor of the budget but NEVER voted in favor of the tax increases to support,” Councilor Cocks glared out from over his bow tie into the camera. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Yikes. While this was more “passive” than “aggressive,” the T-word touched off a nerve.

“I’m not happy we’re having a tax increase,” Councilor Julie Friesen hunched over and grimaced. “We don’t have a choice. We have to do this.”

You could almost see the Stockholm Syndrome set in. “I’ll support this, but, you know–who wants to? We don’t want to do it!”

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Friesen: “Oh, god. The taxes…they’re waiting for me outside!”

She turned to Heggelund for backup. “You might just explain to people what it would mean if we didn’t do this.”

The Chief Administrative Officer rubbed her chin and said without emotion, “we would have to find the money elsewhere. And we’re running out of places to find that money.”

What a doom-and-gloom way to end a meeting. Heck, even the Civic Recognition Awards were dogged by a rain cloud.

“I’m just a little disappointed that we had no recommendations–NOBODY was nominated for community inclusion or sports and recreation,” Councilor Pearson waved his fist in disdain.

“It’s really too bad that those people were not being recognized. I know there are people who made major contributions to sports and recreation and community inclusion.”

Final thoughts: For those of us who need a picker-upper, here it goes: the City Council Chronicles Sports and Recreation Civic Recognition Award goes to…Councilor Les Pearson! Hooray for closure!

Interview #43: Martinsville, VA Council Member Jennifer Bowles (with podcast)

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

Jennifer Bowles was 25 years old when she was simultaneously sworn in to the city council AND selected as vice mayor. But more impressively, she and I went to the same university! You’d better believe we talked about that.

Q: Let’s see what University of Virginia traditions you have taken part in. Have you been inside the steam tunnels?

A: Yes, but I don’t actually remember. [Laughs] I was with friends!

Q: Uh…is it fair to say there was some partying beforehand?

A: Yes, there was.

Q: Mmm, okay. Have you run naked across the Lawn?

A: I have not.

Q: You would remember if you did THAT, right?

A: I’d have recalled!

Q: Have you broken into the janitor’s closet in the Rotunda and drank from the human skull inside?

A: No.

Q: Okay. I made that one up, but it sounds like it could be a real tradition! Now, in 2015 you had been on the city council for one month, you had been the vice mayor for one month–but in February, Mayor Danny Turner let you run a city council meeting! What is the trick to running a meeting?

A: A lot of people told me to just take my time. They jokingly said, “the lawyer would help you out with Robert’s Rules!”

Q: It helped that the actual mayor was sitting next to you the entire time.

A: Yeah and I will say, another member of council had previously been the mayor and he was to the left of me. And the mayor was to the right. So I had two individuals who had run the meeting before to help me out.

Q: Oh, my god. You were swimming in mayors! Can you think of anything strange or unusual that’s happened in your city council meetings since you’ve been there?

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Martinsville, VA Council Member Jennifer Bowles

A: The biggest thing is the mayor has removed someone from a council meeting–and they’re now a city council member.

Q: Let’s talk about that removal. In 2015, Chad Martin–who is now your vice mayor–asked the mayor for an apology in public comment. The mayor turned him down and someone with Mr. Martin yelled out “pathetic” and “moron.” What was all that about?

A: So there was an issue about how a mural should have been designed. The mural was on a predominantly African-American side of town. Mr. Martin wanted the mural to be by an African-American artist. There was a meeting between myself, the mayor, the city manager [and Martin]. After that conversation, there was some things said between the mayor and Mr. Martin that I’d rather not repeat. I don’t get frustrated. I’m willing to talk to anyone.

Q: Is it true that you stopped televising your council meetings for a while?

A: We stopped televising [public comment] because maybe people were nervous to be on the television who wouldn’t speak up because they knew they would be on TV. So we tried to make it more friendly to those individuals.

Q: So people stopped showing up?

A: Yes. There were some people who never showed up again.

Q: In my mind, those people were showing up because they WANTED to be on TV and get their message out there. 

A: That would be my assumption. They were expressing an opinion so everyone could be informed.


Follow Council Member Jennifer Bowles on Twitter: @ViceMayorBowles

#92: Lynnwood, WA 3/13/17

From deep inside the state that sued Donald Trump, it’s no surprise that Lynnwood’s mayor kicked off the council meeting with a love-fest for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses.

“If you find people who are not feeling safe or welcome in this city, you can give them this card,” Mayor Nicola Smith flashed a densely-worded index card to the camera.

“It tells them what police do and what they don’t do with our immigrants and refugees. I’ve got LOTS more.”

As she pushed a hefty stack down the dais, the mayor revealed another battle plan in the War on Unwelcomeness. “Starting next week,” she continued, “I will begin interviewing candidates for a new diversity, equity, and inclusion commission.”

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“There will be a test on this.”

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. (Quite literally, I don’t think this sort of thing happens in Kansas.) But lest you think Mayor Smith is running some kind of hippie commune, the public commenters were thirsting for a fight.

“If the council places the Regional Fire Authority measure on the ballot,” read a soft-spoken, sweater-clad man, “if this unfinished, uncertain plan is on the ballot, Lynnwood loses.”

He jabbed the air with his pen. “Your Honor, I challenge you here tonight to meet with me one night a week for the next four weeks to debate this, so the citizens can know. I challenge you and I hope you’ll accept.”

OH, A CHALLENGE?! If there’s two things I know about Mayor Smith, it’s that

1.) she cares about cleaning up Daleway Park and

2.) she NEVER turns down a challenge.

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This is Hamilton v. Burr all over again.

“Next on our list–” the mayor sighed, turning down the challenge.

“A couple weeks ago when I was here,” the next woman glared at the council, “I was concerned with what I witnessed from the mayor and the council in regard to not allowing citizens who had not signed up to speak.”

She paused sternly. “That was a little concerning. Hopefully that won’t happen again.”

Goodness, it sounds like we missed quite a kerfuffle. Fortunately, we were about to relitigate the offense. Speaking for the prosecution: none other than the mayor’s brash challenger. He strode to the podium for a second round of grievance-airing.

“I arrived at the sign-in table at 6:55 p.m., expecting to sign in on the sheet. There was no sheet to sign in on the table,” he narrated like it was the beginning to a crime thriller.

“I entered the council chamber knowing that council rules allowed those who had NOT signed in to speak AFTER those who signed in had spoken. When the time for citizen comments came, the mayor announced that ONLY those signed up on the sheet would be allowed to speak.”

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Exhibit A: Table (no sign-in sheet)

He stared dead-on at Mayor Smith like a detective who caught his prime suspect in a contradiction. “This is the first time in my 48 years in this city that such a breach of council rules has occurred.”

“We will be better,” promised Council Member Ian Cotton with a frown.

To lighten the mood, Council Member Shannon Sessions held up a prop of her own, a tiny booklet of the “Top 10 Strange and Wonderful Oddities” around Snohomish County.

“Top 10 Oddities?” Council Member George Hurst inquired. “We’re not on there, right?”

“You are!” Council Member Sessions shot back, as Hurst did a rim shot and laughter erupted.

Interview #33: Lewisville, TX Councilman TJ Gilmore (with podcast)

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

TJ Gilmore has been a city councilman since 2011. He’s also a Scoutmaster, an occasional tweeter of council meetings, and someone whose dad once came to watch him at city hall. He told me about the time someone got kicked out for using a naughty word!

Q: Some people probably don’t know that Texas has its OWN pledge of allegiance that you say at council meetings after the national Pledge of Allegiance.

A: That’s very true!

Q: When you moved to Texas and first heard the pledge, did you think, “this is cool! It’s doubly patriotic”? Or did you kind of roll your eyes and think, “this is such a quintessentially Texas thing to do”?

A: It is a totally Texas thing to do. When I was a small child, my father took a job in west Texas and I encountered it there for the first time. When we came back to live here in 2000, it popped back up and I went, “oh, there it is!”

Q: Can you remember any unruly or unexpected moments from your city council meetings?

A: The most entertaining one was almost two years ago, I think. We had a gentleman come in with his girlfriend and he decided that he wanted to talk about the Lewisville Lake Dam. We have a dam that’s run by the [Army] Corps of Engineers. It was in the news because it needed some repair.

Q: Mmhmm.

A: So he came in and was–I don’t know if he was showing off for his young lady–but he decided that he would go into a tirade about why the city was not fixing the dam. It’s run by the federal government, so when he was given those facts he decided to curse. At which point, Mayor [Rudy] Durham said, “that’s it, you’re out!”

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Lewisville, TX Councilman TJ Gilmore

Q: Did they look like they were on a date? Or were they coming in because they were concerned about the dam?

A: I got the vibe that he was there to show off. Speak truth to power or something. That would be the first time I ever heard anybody drop the F-bomb in city council.

Q: I have noticed how relatively non-eventful Lewisville city council meetings are–which is what made this Facebook post of yours stand out to me:

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What do you remember from that meeting?!

A: It went fine! My dad is 6’4″. He still rides horses and used to work for Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a prison guard. He tells it like it is.

Q: Well, he should be the one to kick people out if they’re f-in’ around in there!

A: There’s one thing I know in my family: I’m not ever gonna be allowed to allow my ego to overstep its bounds.

Q: One council moment I want to ask you about…in September 2011, Councilman David Thornhill died of a heart attack. The next council meeting, there was a tribute video with pictures of him and a eulogy from his son. Is it hard sometimes to be fully present in the council meeting when something like that goes on?

A: Oh, sure. Part of the importance of being up there is to relate to people and what they need. I think it’s important that we recognize the things we lose, the things we gain–what had value.


Follow Council an TJ Gilmore on Twitter: @ThomasGilmore

Month in Review: December 2016

It’s a holiday, so enjoy your day off and remember to thank your city council members. We will be back on Wednesday with a new podcast interview. But in the meantime–hey, did you read EVERY council meeting review in December? Including the one with the border wall around the city council?

If not, you can do your part to Make America Great Again by browsing the month in review. And as always, you can listen to the regular and bonus podcast episodes (22 in all) on iTunesStitcher, and Player FM.

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Interview #30: West Hollywood, CA Mayor Lauren Meister (with podcast)

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

West Hollywood–or “WeHo” if you’re cool–is a progressive, strongly LGBTQ community in LA County. Its city council meetings are well-attended and are well-corralled by Mayor Lauren Meister. We talked about why she thinks council members shouldn’t be on electronic devices and about the time she evacuated the chamber!

Q: In the April 2016 council meeting, you became mayor and were sworn in by a drag queen! Why did you decide to do it that way?

A: We are West Hollywood, so we don’t always do things the usual way!

Q: You only give people 90 seconds to public comment. As someone who watches a lot of city council meetings, I think you’re doing the Lord’s work. I think you can get a decent argument out in 90 seconds.

A: If there are a lot of people, my goal is to try to get as many people in–if not everyone. The rest of the meeting may go until midnight. If they have more to say, they’re welcome to stay until the end of the meeting and to speak again. We’ll have 15, 20, 25 people come in to speak.

Q: When you do go that late, do you notice people’s attention and patience start to drop? Do you feel fatigued?

A: Definitely. I come with my triple-shot Starbucks, that’s for sure.

Q: In May of last year, you proposed banning electronic communications–like council members using cell phones or tablets–from the meetings. Why?

A: It just doesn’t look good if people are busy texting. During a public hearing when you’re supposed to be listening to the public–even if you’re just texting your mom, it just doesn’t look good.

Q: Do you have a “no cell phone rule” at the dinner table?

A: [Laughs] No! I guess some people are multi-talented and can do all these things at once but I think we should be paying attention.

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West Hollywood, CA Mayor Lauren Meister

Q: If you had to describe your style of running meetings in three words, what would you say, other than “speedy” or “efficient?”

A: Well, you’re taking away all my words! I’d say I try to run a tight ship.

Q: Do you have any memorable moments from the WeHo city council meetings?

A: It was actually at that meeting when we were talking about electronic devices, there had been a robbery and the suspects had driven to a neighborhood. And there ended up being a lockdown. I wasn’t getting any of the texts because of course I had my phone off!

Q: Oh, the irony! That’s why you need the cell phones, mayor!

A: Another [time], we were in the middle of a discussion and the fire alarms went off. It was 11 o’clock at night and I had a really good run where I was getting us out at 11. We ended up adjourning the meeting outside! Everything was fine. It was just someone who was doing steam cleaning in the garage.

Q: Do you ever have any movie stars come in to the meetings?

A: We have had one or two. Actually, recently we had someone who spoke at public comment.

Q: You had Marisa Tomei from My Cousin Vinny at the last meeting.

A: Yes, that is correct. I still gave her only 90 seconds, by the way!


Follow Mayor Lauren Meister on Twitter: @meister4weho