Interview #97: London, ON Councilor Virginia Ridley (with podcast)

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

How much time should city councils put between heated debates? First-term Councilor Virginia Ridley has some suggestions. Plus, on the podcast we discuss bullying, meeting schedules, and affairs.

Q: I want to go to October 27, 2015. Not to get too specific with the listeners, but there was a report from the city administration about arts funding that the council asked for earlier that year. And Councilors Jesse Helmer and Mohamed Salih did not feel city staff had given you what you requested. So they made a motion to refer the report back to the administration. How often does council vote on something in a meeting and then people don’t follow it?

A: At the beginning of our term, I think it happened more frequently than it should. We had a relatively new council. We had a number of bumps in the road and maybe council’s direction was misunderstood.

Q: So after a bit of debate here, you stood up and offered a motion to reconsider. The council voted on the Helmer-Salih motion, which was defeated, so they moved on to your reconsideration motion. However, the mayor suddenly told you that you were ineligible to make that motion because you were absent from the original meeting. How were you feeling at that moment?

A: Oh, I was angry. We had already established that if we vote no to the motion on the floor, we could do reconsideration right next. You see there was no pause. Within three seconds, it’s, “oh, no, you actually can’t make that motion.” It certainly angered me quite a bit.

Q: Right, one vote can certainly affect a subsequent vote in council. And it did seem a bit suspect that the mayor did not have this information on the screen before he, I guess, clicked “end” on the voting and announced the result. But I’m sure he did the best he could…except for the fact that you learned MINUTES AFTER that vote that you ACTUALLY WERE in attendance and could make the motion! Did you have a realization of, “oh, god. If that was incorrect, what else in our records is inaccurate?”

A: I knew all along I was correct. It was one of those, in the moment, not having the proof at my fingertips. I would agree with you. What other errors could potentially happen here?

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London, ON Councilor Virginia Ridley

Q: At this point, the city manager stands up. He responds to the initial complaint that this report is not what the council ordered by stridently defending the staff. How justified was his pushback?

A: I don’t know if I could say that absolutely he was in the right. That statement probably escalated things more than they needed to. The way our council works is the night before, we would’ve had a committee meeting. That would’ve been Monday night. On Tuesday night, council would confirm and re-debate all of the committees that had happened. We were having the same debates the second time.

Q: I mean, doesn’t that open itself up to the situation we just witnessed? That if you didn’t win the argument on your first night, you get to re-litigate the argument on the second night?

A: The fact that we do it one day apart, people haven’t had the opportunity to reflect. If we’re there until midnight on Monday and we’re back 16 hours later, people haven’t had time to walk away from the situation, think about it, talk to their constituents.


Follow Councilor Virginia Ridley on Twitter: @virginia_ridley

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A Very Council Christmas: The Chronicles’ Holiday Special

‘Twas the night before Christmas / And throughout City Hall,

Not a mayor was stirring / Nor a council near-brawl.

 

Public commenters were nestled / All snug in their beds,

While concocting some brand new complaints / In their heads.

 

When on people’s phones / There arose a loud clatter.

They opened up iTunes / To see what was the matter.

 

With a square yellow icon / People gave a small nod past,

For they knew what it was: / A brand new podcast.

CCCXMAS

Yes, my friends, this is a special holiday edition of the City Council Chronicles podcast, covering highlights from our best interviews–including all the gifts, challenges, and vintage audio recordings I’ve offered my guests through the months. This “best of” is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM and right here:

You will hear excerpts from:

Interview #57: Christchurch, NZ Mayor Lianne Dalziel (with podcast)

Interview #65: London, UK Assembly Chair Jennette Arnold, OBE (with podcast)

Interview #71: Port Moody, BC Mayor Mike Clay (with podcast)

Interview #64: Mobile, AL Council Member Levon Manzie (with podcast)

“A Higher Expectation”: The Council Meeting and the Confession (with podcast)

If you liked what you heard, please give the podcast a five-star rating on iTunes and like our Facebook page. You’d be giving me everything I asked for on my Christmas list!

Month in Review: September 2017

We had a smörgåsbord of “firsts” in September: the first time we saw a husband bring his wife roses at a council meeting. Our first podcast interview with a knight (even though she claims she’s not a knight). And our first “Best Thing, Worst Thing” story that profiles a non-American city.

And hey! We finally marked our territory in one of the three states that City Council Chronicles had not visited: Montana. Now, it’s only Rhode Island and New Mexico that need to get with the program. Check out which states we did profile with our September Month in Review.

And if you haven’t seen the first country music video we’ve encountered that everybody is talking about (well, everybody who watches the Fayetteville, North Carolina city council meetings, that is), plug in your headphones and jam out here:

Interview #65: London, UK Assembly Chair Jennette Arnold, OBE (with podcast)

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

Jennette Arnold is a Labour Party Assembly Member who has been chair for several terms. We discussed how London Assembly meetings are radically different from U.S. city council meetings–plus some juicy stories about former Mayor Boris Johnson.

Q: Madam Chair, I see you are an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. 

A: I am.

Q: So, “Most Excellent Order”…are you a knight?

A: [Laughs] Only an American would ask that question! Knights are men and the equivalent of a knight would be a baroness and I’m not that. I’m just straightforward Jennette Arnold, OBE.

Q: Gotcha. In the U.S., most city council meetings cover things like zoning, passing laws, and honoring groups in the community. What is the primary function of your assembly meetings?

A: Our governmental structures are very different. The main power that we have is whatever the mayor does, we have the power to call him in front of us so that he can give an account to Londoners through our questioning….Scrutiny is relevant, it’s informed, and you can bring it alive by using case study and evidence from Londoners.

Q: What do assembly members get out of the questioning and what does the mayor get out of it?

A: I think there is something about the political exchange that is adversarial. I’m sitting in the chair aways thinking, “is this member going too far?” That’s in terms of inappropriate language, going outside the mayoral remit, getting personal. My job is to always be monitoring and when I see a member has just about reached the line, to come in and remind that member he has now stepped over the line.

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London, UK Assembly Chair Jennette Arnold, OBE

Q: You had some tough questioning of previous Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson. But if a Conservative assembly member grilled your Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the crowd was cheering that member on, would you shut down that applause?

A: No, I wouldn’t. My job isn’t to stifle the feeling of the meeting. If you’re chairing a charged meeting, you have to be very careful in terms of the interventions. I don’t see it as my job to stop what I call that “energy,” which is a reflection of people’s feelings.

Q: Has a constituent ever come up to you after a meeting and said, “I saw what you did there and I like that you gave the mayor the business?”

A: I can refer you back to the applause in the chamber with the questioning I carried out of Boris Johnson. I remember a school closure. What this school was looking for was for their mayor to hear their case. A cross-section of the school came and I was speaking on their behalf. And I didn’t know that they brought a cake. [Johnson] was not listening. He was not making the proper responses for the young people.

Q: Hmm.

A: I said, “oh, come along. They brought a cake for you! Don’t be so mean!” Everybody laughed and he laughed and it took the heat out of the room. At the end of the meeting, I met the young people downstairs and he just happened to be passing. It was lovely to see the young people surrounded him and there was no getting away from them!


Follow Assembly Chair Jennette Arnold on Twitter: @JennetteArnold

Shout-out #2: Hampton, VA

Way back in July, the mayor of London, Ohio mentioned City Council Chronicles at an actual city council meeting, calling it “pretty interesting.” That was one of the proudest moments in my life as a journalist–second only to the moment when I started calling myself a journalist.

I then named London a “Friend of the Chronicles” and encouraged everyone to visit such attractions as Los Mariachis restaurant and the Rib and Jazz Fest.

Well, imagine my surprise when, during the final 30 seconds of last week’s Hampton, Virginia city council meeting, I watched Mayor Donnie Tuck say this:

Mayor: There’s one last mention I’d like to make–and I apologize for missing this earlier–and that is of a young man who visited Hampton earlier this week. His name is Michael Karlik of the councilchronicles.com. And he was visiting Hampton and learning more about our city council meeting’s work–how they work. And I understand he’s watching us online tonight during our live stream and so welcome, Michael.

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Well, knock me down with a dandelion! Out of ALL of the websites out there dedicated to reviewing city council meetings, the mayor chose to mention ours!

I wish I had something to give His Honor in return. Unfortunately, all of my gold medals are tied down in Rio, so what I have left in the warehouse is this priceless mug:

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With this shout-out, I am officially naming Hampton, Virginia a “Friend of the Chronicles,” which gives them the right to take the lunch money of any smaller, nerdier city. Also, I would encourage readers that the next time you visit Hampton, find Mayor Tuck and buy him a pint at the local St. George Brewing Company. And after you get nice and buzzed on Imperial Stout, remember to stand up on a bar stool and scream at the top of your lungs, “YOU’VE BEEN CHRONICLED!”

P.S. Check back on Monday to see how this shout-out came to be!

Shout-out #1: London, OH

A few weeks ago I chronicled the London, Ohio city council meeting. To refresh your memory, it was a real humdinger, with the mayor’s “fun fact” being that he lit a barrel on fire downtown. You know–the People’s Business.

Well, a little Buckeye Birdie told me that London City Hall took notice.

Sure enough, during last week’s city council meeting, His Honor the mayor had a few choice words for the Chronicles:

Mayor: Now on to the mayor fun fact. Some of you already know we’re starting to get some national attention. There’s a man out there by the name of Michael Karlik who has a hobby of reviewing city council meetings from all over the United States…everybody has their own hobbies, I guess.

[Collective sigh from council members. One councilwoman lays her head on the desk.]

Hobby? I think you meant “public service,” sir.

Mayor: I’m not sure how he stumbled upon ours, but he did. And he wrote about us and tagged me on Facebook and Twitter. And it was about our June 16 meeting. Most of the focus was on my mayor fun fact last month, which I talked about lighting a barrel on fire in downtown London for the movie. So I thought I would pay him the ultimate compliment by making him my mayor fun fact for this meeting.

I am genuinely honored, Your Honor! I’m sure the flaming barrel feels the same way!

Mayor: The writing was actually very witty and well done, I thought. I got a good laugh out of it and it was pretty interesting, so if you guys want to go back and look at it, most of you guys were mentioned in the article. It’s under councilchronicles.com. So you guys can check that out. I just thought it was pretty funny.

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Is anyone else crying because they have something in their eye?

I am deeply grateful to the mayor for his shout-out at the city council meeting. So much so that I am officially naming London, Ohio as a “Friend of the Chronicles.” With that status, of course, comes the right of prima nocta over all other city councils, plus this trophy.

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Readers, if you ever find yourselves passing through London, remember to stop and give the mayor a pat on the back and a smooch on the cheek. Then gently whisper in his ear, “You’ve been chronicled!”

#29: London, OH 6/16/16

Grab a spot of tea and a bite of porridge, for we’re off to London! And I do mean one bite of porridge: the London, Ohio council meeting was over so quickly, you’d barely have time to boil water.

Getting started took some effort. As the camera rolled, council members giggled and gossiped with each other.

“Did you get my e-mail?”

“The one foot’s broken, but the other one’s swollen.”

“It’s been awhile since you’ve been here!”

“They only X-rayed the ankle.”

Council President Jennifer Hitt swayed her chair back and forth, patiently glancing to each side of the dais. When the endless chatter finally died down, alas! Council Member Brenda Russell hastily retreated to a back room with her cell phone glued to her ear.

“You’re holding up the meeting,” President Hitt teased when Russell eventually reappeared.

Finally, five whole minutes into the “meeting,” the meeting began.

“I did go to the Ohio Mayors Association meeting today,” boyish, bow tie-clad Mayor Patrick Closser announced. “But I wanted to get back and tell you guys my mayor fun fact.”

Something MORE fun than the Ohio Mayors Association meeting?! Please, Your Honor, talk quickly so I don’t die of anticipation!

But first, the mayor channeled his inner IT guy: “If you haven’t seen the city’s new website, check it out. Tell me what you guys think.”

Then his inner tough guy: “You all heard about the drug sweep that took place last week. Dope dealers: we’re gonna get ya. We’re gonna find ya.”

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Fun fact: only my grandpa and Mayor Patrick Closser call them “dope dealers.”

“Now, time for the fun fact.” FUN FACT! FUN FACT! “I was able to light a 55 gallon metal barrel on fire in the middle of downtown. Which was awesome.”

…Oh-kay. I’ll take his word for it being awesome. So why was London’s head honcho dabbling in pyrotechnics?

“The movie Last Riot: Madison has been filming in town for a couple weeks. During the night shoots, I got the overnight shift from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and Mr. [Joe] Mosier [the safety director] would come in–and NOT bring me breakfast. They needed some extra people to help. They said, ‘would you light a barrel on fire?'”

Everyone nodded approvingly. I guess this is as fun as fun facts get here–although I remember when Ohioans used to light an entire RIVER on fire.

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Doesn’t that look fun?

Not everyone had such a kickass week, though.

“Probably going to touch on a sore subject,” sighed Council Member Rex Castle, “but Mr. Mosier mentioned last meeting about property owners taking pride of their property.”

He became livid at these scofflaws. “There are some places that are just terrible to look at. Step up, people! Take pride in your city! Take care of your properties!” Now he was in a full lather. “They’re talking about the Zika? Possible pandemic? We keep this stuff mowed down, it’s gonna be in best interest of people’s health in this town.”

The council silently absorbed his rage. After a pause, President Hitt graveled the meeting to a swift close.

“Look at that. I doubted the time!” she laughed.

“Take care of business right, you get in and out,” sagely observed Council Member Russell.

Meanwhile, Council Member Megan Douglas worriedly whispered, “do you know if they’re spraying for mosquitoes?”

Final thoughts: I give this meeting 0 out of 1 flaming barrels.