Interview #115*: Takoma Park, MD Mayor Kate Stewart (with podcast)

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

Kate Stewart oversaw a tough series of council meetings last year in which crowds showed up to protest a tiny retail development. She explains why she wanted to hear suggestions instead of resistance and why abandoning the project would also have been unfair.

Q: In the first half of 2018, your council received substantial heat from residents opposed to Takoma Junction–a 1.4-acre parking lot next to the grocery co-op that was intended for future retail stores. How hard was it to remember that this is a city of 18,000 people and you are hearing on a given night from not even 100 of them? So really, what seems like life or death in the council chamber is not the end of the world for thousands of others.

A: That’s correct. We had online comments. We held a number of open houses. We also did a day on the actual lot–we sketched the outside of what the development may look like. People could come, stand, and be like, “okay, this is how far it is from the street” to get a sense of it. The important thing to remember is that the opportunity to provide public comment at a city council meeting is just one way that people express their views.

Q: At one point in a meeting, a woman started to read off a list of opponents and went well over her time. She turned away from the microphone and continued to yell, and you called a recess. Did that get the meeting back on track or was there another way you could have handled that?

A: I think it’s really important that people stick to the three minute comment period. We had people who had been there waiting their turns who needed to get home to children. The reason I called for a recess was because the energy in the room was getting so antagonistic, particularly the folks who opposed the development. The way that they were heckling and saying things was really not conducive to a good public meeting.

Q: The racial equity statement in the development ordinance asked several questions about the development, without providing any policy predictions. Do you think the people who questioned the racial equity implications were right to demand better?

A: I think it’s always important to demand better. When I asked the resident activists who criticized us for this to provide us with ideas, their ideas were basically, “we just don’t like the project!” I think if you’re going to be pushing your local government to do something, not just being critical, but actually coming with ideas. Local government is set up as this antagonistic relationship between government and residents–it’s one that truly bothers me. To do the job well, I rely on residents to push us but also to come to us with ideas.

Screen-Shot-2017-11-22-at-4.59.13-PM.png
Takoma Park, MD Mayor Kate Stewart

Q: A lot of the people complaining about racial equity were older white people. Don’t get me wrong, those are the ones who you want to care about racial equity. How did it feel to watch a room of liberal white people yell at each other over how to save a food co-op and black and brown people?

A: I think Takoma Park is not unique. When it comes to any type of change, there are very strong feelings. I was talking to somebody the other day–the person told me that this urban planner, when they do meetings regarding development projects, their first rule is to start with the youngest person in the room to have them talk about what they want. When you’re talking about a development project, you’re probably talking about something that’s going to be there for 30-40 years. So starting with somebody in their twenties, that’s the person for whom you’re creating this space.

Q: There were two arguments that I heard repeatedly from the opponents. One was that they weren’t opposed to development; they were just opposed to this development. And the second was how divisive all of this was. They’re saying, “it’s on you, the council, to unify the community,” by which they meant giving them what they wanted. Were you in any mood to unify the community given that some of them were now trying to recall you?

A: My concern for folks who wanted to delay the project or have us hit the restart button is that would make some people happy, but the folks who wanted the project, that would make them unhappy! That wasn’t a compromise! For them, that would be stopping a project they like. I did not see that as a way to bring the community together.


Follow Mayor Kate Stewart on Twitter: @KateforTakoma

*Interview 115 was previously omitted in the numbering order.

Interview #127: Baltimore, MD Councilman Kristerfer Burnett (with podcast)

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

Kristerfer Burnett was in the large freshman class of 2016 on the Baltimore city council and does not shy away from the role that guns, violence, and policing play in the council’s business. He discusses a contentious hearing about mandatory minimum sentences and a bizarre inquiry into whether the fire department threatened bike advocates.

Q: Councilman Brandon Scott does something small but noteworthy each meeting. At the end, when your council holds a moment of silence, he asks the council vice president to announce the homicide total to date. My first thought upon hearing this was, “why would anyone advertise their city’s worst attribute repeatedly in a public council meeting?” So why would you?

A: I think it’s something that we have to own. The violence in Baltimore is unbelievable. It is debilitating to our city. As policymakers, we have a responsibility to address that. We’ve also started to add the victims of the opioid crisis for the same reason. We had over 700 opioid-related deaths last year. That needs to be the headline. I’m not one that feels like cities should try to always put their best foot forward, an image or façade that things are okay.

Q: On July 3, 2018, the judiciary committee held a hearing about the fire department. Councilman Ryan Dorsey read a letter that you all received from an advocate of bike lanes accusing the fire department of parking a ladder truck in front of her house as a threat. What was being alleged here and why were you, the council, involved?

A: There’s been a lot of resistance from the fire department to the construction of bicycle infrastructure. The argument they were trying to make, albeit poorly, was an attempt to basically argue that by narrowing the roads with bicycle infrastructure, it would make it more difficult to navigate. Some streets are very narrow and their equipment is pretty large. What I didn’t quite understand was, it looks like they got the ladder truck up to me [in a video from the fire department]. The council got involved because there was an attempt by Council Member Dorsey to strike out of the fire code these guidelines that would have prohibited the construction of bike infrastructure due to roadway widths.

Q: Yeah.

A: On a lighter note, when we received that video the day before the hearing, Council Member Dorsey and I–I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this–we’re two millennial legislators. We’re like, “what do we do with the DVD? I don’t even know where to put this!” I literally had no way to watch it for several hours because my laptop didn’t have a DVD player.

Q: [laughs] 

Screen Shot 2019-03-08 at 1.27.57 PM.png
Baltimore, MD Councilman Kristerfer Burnett

The overriding concern was why the fire department filmed their video outside the home of one of their opponents. How satisfactory did you find the fire chief’s response that it was not intentional?

A: That particular roadway is a very long one. That bike lane is also one of the longest in the city. If they needed to prove a point on that particular street, they could have done it pretty easily without being in front of the house. I was extremely disappointed in the fire chief on that one and told him so.

Q: That was about accountability for the fire department, so let’s shift to accountability in policing. In the judiciary committee on July 25, 2017, there was legislation which would have established a punishment of one year’s incarceration for anyone who carried a firearm within 100 feet [yards] of a place of public assembly. Right away, multiple council members offered stories of their experiences with gun violence. Is it fair to say that most if not all Baltimore council members have a direct connection to the escalating homicide numbers that we hear at every meeting?

A: That is correct. One of my high school teammates on the football team lost his life to gun violence in 2017. It’s very much something that has hit almost all of us, if not all of us, at some point.

Q: Councilman Scott argued at the hearing that it’s easier for people in black areas of Baltimore to be in violation of this proposed law. There wasn’t really a racial divide that I noticed at the meeting. There were a bunch of people for and against it. Did you see the proposal as fundamentally racist?

A: Yes and here’s why. A lot of my colleagues were very well-intentioned in their support. They felt this is an answer to a problem that we all agree is a problem. You do see patterns of over-policing in black communities without this law. Some of my colleagues were not thinking about that part of it. I represent some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baltimore. There is a knee-jerk reaction to say, “we need more cops.” I don’t think their support was because they want to lock up more black people, but I think the unintended consequence would have been that.


Follow Councilman Kristerfer Burnett on Twitter: @CouncilmanKB

Month in Review: August 2018

If ever there was a time to start following City Council Chronicles, it was August. And I’ll give you one hint why:

International #CityHallSelfie Day.

That’s right, we picked the top 10 city council selfies and showcased them to the world! But we had plenty of other serious news to cover, too. Have you heard of the mayor with a rat infestation?

Or the seven city council members who blocked an anti-discrimination measure?

That is some pretty serious fare. But you can also find more lighthearted segments with the council member who reenacted a medical drama and a role-playing exercise for teen engagement.

To engage yourself in a whirlwind of activity, check out the August Month in Review.

And if you aren’t a big reader, you’re in luck, because we’ve got images galore like this one:

Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 9.50.58 AM.png

Interview #102: Jefferson City, MO Mayor Carrie Tergin (with podcast)

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

Carrie Tergin is famous for her “selfies with the mayor” and is therefore the foremost authority to appraise our International #CityHallSelfie Day Top 10 List. On the podcast, we welcome her back to talk about city hall art, and then discuss one time her own council meeting took a series of unexpected twists.

Q: Mayor, where would you like to start?

A: I have to tell you, these top 10 selfies are just exquisite. We have Waldo, Florida and it was his first selfie! Mayor Louie Davis, to share your very first ever selfie on #CityHallSelfie Day–and he may or may not know this–the requirement is that he’s gonna have to send regular selfies. He can’t just do the one. We wanna see that continue, so don’t disappoint me.

Q: I am inspired that it is never too late to start taking selfies!

A: Absolutely. And the “Where’s Waldo?” I mean, you can do so much with that. Number eight, we have Cary, North Carolina. I have to say, I’m going to give this a number two on Mayor Tergin’s list. Why? Because she has a Snapchat filter. Wow! And a bitmoji on top of it. If you don’t know what either one of those are, you’re gonna have to get with the program!

Q: Has Jeff City ever had a Snapchat filter to your knowledge?

A: Oh, as a matter of fact we have. Shame on me for not taking a selfie with it. Uh-oh. That’s our challenge: figuring out how can we elevate our selfie game? Congrats, Lori. You are my number two choice.

A: This next selfie in Maryland, which is the multi-angle selfie–a selfie within a selfie within a selfie, so basically the “infinity” city hall selfie–that would be my number one. I mean, you can’t hide. When you talk about transparency, when you talk about open government, I don’t know how you can get any more open than that. If you look in there, you’ll just be looking really to infinity to see all of the infinite selfies that are shown in this picture. Really good job on all the action.

Q: I appreciate all of your critiques. I think everyone who entered this competition was a winner, even though they didn’t know I was turning it into a competition! We do have to get back to the serious business of council meetings in Jefferson City. On March 5, I noticed that you could not have a meeting due to the lack of council members. When did you find out that was the situation?

A: Well, sitting there waiting for the council meeting to begin and looking at the clock and starting to say, “where is this councilman and that councilman? Is everybody okay?” And then realizing that “oh, this person did say they were going to be out of town.” At the time I thought, what do you want me to do? You want me to sing? You want me to entertain you? We’ve got everybody here, so how do we have an entertaining time without actually conducting any city business?

Carrie_Tergin_MUG_t755_h1f43f7b56c24e46f1697509bc706c7070b84ccda
Jefferson City, MO Mayor Carrie Tergin

A: That particular night, though, we were also waiting on the crew for the U.S.S. Jefferson City. We have a submarine that is named for our city. We had crew members that were in from Hawaii visiting their namesake city. They had planned to stop by that evening. The cool thing was, even though we had no official business, we were able to spend quite a bit of time with the crew members, have them talk about their experiences. We were able to focus that entire time on our military and all they do for our country. In that moment of panic that “we don’t have a quorum and what are we going to do,” it was almost like it was meant to be, really. It was one of those moments that turned out to be one of my favorite council meetings ever.


Follow Mayor Carrie Tergin on Twitter: @CarrieTergin

Interview #62: Jefferson City, MO Mayor Carrie Tergin (with podcast)

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

I talked to Carrie Tergin last year about her reputation for taking “selfies with the mayor.” But after this year’s International City Hall Selfie Day, I HAD to get her take on the 2017 artwork.

Q: A couple of weeks ago it was International City Hall Selfie Day and I’d like us to critique some of the city council selfies that people sent in. Let’s start with your image. What’s going on there?

A: This is Cardboard Carrie decked out in the eclipse glasses. Councilman [Rick] Mihalevich, who had to run the meeting in my absence, really got a workout and took several pictures. I’m very impressed with Rick and his form.

Q: Of the top 10 city council selfies, did you have a favorite one?

A: First of all, I loved every single one! This Columbia, South Carolina–the gentleman holding it up, he’s kind of got his mouth open. You can tell it might be his first selfie ever. It makes me think of maybe my dad if my dad were to take a selife! He really made an effort.

The second one would be Ocean City. That is, like, wow–Mr. Fuzzy Britches? How impressive! Why didn’t we think to bring Darco, the police dog?

I would say my top choice was Madison, Wisconsin. It almost looks like Maurice Cheeks is standing in the center of the world. He has literally put Madison at the center of the world and that would be my top pick.

Q: Maurice Cheeks’s selfie also has excellent product placement–he’s holding a City Hall Selfie Day sticker! But Mayor, if you came into a council meeting and noticed a big stain on the floor and the police chief told you, “that is from our horse that we brought here after hours and he pooped on the floor,” what would your reaction be?

A: I think I may frown on that just a little bit! I mean, hats off to our police officers, our firefighters, and honestly, that includes our police dog, Darco. It includes Mr. Fuzzy Britches the horse. That’s something else I liked about [International City Hall Selfie Day]: when you recognize those who keep our city safe.

Q: Carrie, I heard an anecdote at one of your council meetings that Jefferson City stopped making public commenters give their address because people were getting fan mail from prisoners who were watching. Is that true?

A: [Laughs] A couple of reasons: one is safety. When you’re at a council meeting giving your address, we do stream our meetings live. So, “oh, guess what? So-and-so who lives at XYZ? They’re not home right now!” You don’t want something to happen. And two: we welcome people whether you’re inside city limits or not.

Q: I saw that a Thomas Jefferson reenactor stopped by one of your meetings! How often does he come in?

A: In Jefferson City, we do celebrate as often as possible. The thought was, let’s have a birthday celebration for Thomas Jefferson and why not invite him to a council meeting?

Q: Do you think the next City Hall Selfie Day, you’ll get a picture with Thomas Jefferson?

A: He kind of photobombs a lot of my selfies because he’s on the city seal behind where the mayor sits!


Follow Mayor Carrie Tergin on Twitter: @CarrieTergin 

Special Feature! International #CityHallSelfie Day 2017

Unless you’re a sovereign citizen, yesterday was the yugest, bigliest day of the year: a celebration of local government called #CityHallSelfie Day! Naturally, that holiday is firmly up our alley.

On social media there are now hundreds–possibly thousands–of city hall pictures from around the earth. That is why I have curated the best city council selfies.

My criteria were stricter than a disgruntled warden. These pictures needed to

A. be taken by or feature a city council member/mayor; or

B. be taken in a council chamber; and

C. be a true selfie — i.e. taken by someone in the picture.

In a few weeks, we will have a municipal selfie expert on the podcast to help me judge the best city hall art! That being said, here are my top 10:

10. Springfield, IL

The layers here are incredible: while a reporter takes a selfie, another audience member takes a picture of the city council taking a selfie. Please tell me there’s a fourth cell phone somewhere so that the selfie chain can be even longer.

9. Westwood, KS

Ah yes, the power pose. While I think the intended vibe is “tough but fair,” it would also be appropriate to have a speech bubble reading, “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

8. Jefferson City, MO

It appears that Jeff City’s mayor, Carrie Tergin, stepped away from the council meeting–only to be replaced by a cardboard cutout wearing eclipse glasses! (My sources tell me the cutout also runs a helluva council meeting.) I love the spectrum of emotions from council members; they range from “meh” to “I AM HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE!”

7. Columbia, SC

There were oodles of voyeuristic pictures featuring people in the process of taking selfies. I like this one for two reasons: first, Columbia has set up their selfie station in advance–major points there. And second, this proves that you can have a good selfie or you can have a good portrait, but it’s hard to have a good portrait of a selfie.

6. Dallas, TX

Dallas lands a spot on the list thanks to this fellow gunning it through the city council selfie loophole. Not only is it ingenious to have a chart of all council members’ faces, but do you see that flamingo shirt?! Memorable for sure.

5. Franklin, TN

Hats galore! Witches in the back, viking in the front, and the mayor in a top hat inside the council chamber.  There aren’t nearly enough props in city government, so nice job raiding the costume store.

4. Madison, WI

Uh, paging all art museums: who wants this masterpiece on their wall?! Seriously, what a trippy and visionary take on a selfie by Alder Maurice Cheeks! I’m getting a bit nauseous, but part of me wants to put on some sitar music and ponder the circular nature of life.

3. Yuma, CO

I love a selfie with a story. What a heartwarming cosmic coincidence for this Yuma councilwoman!

2. Gaithersburg, MD

Gaithersburg had all hands on deck. Council Member Ryan Spiegel covered the outside perimeter, Council Member Neil Harris staked out the inside, and Mayor Jud Ashman took the extreeeeeeeeeeeme eastern part of Gaithersburg: Europe! Good teamwork, gentlemen.

1. Ocean City, MD

“OH, FOR GOD’S SAKE. WHY DIDN’T WE THINK TO USE THE HORSE?!” That’s what I imagine every media person in local government is saying this morning as they bang their head on a desk. Seriously, hats and helmets WAY off to Ocean City for setting next year’s bar at “getting a horse into a council chamber.”

Month in Review: February 2017

It’s almost April, which makes this the perfect time to look back at what happened in…February! The shortest month of the year was highly productive: it included our first ever State of the City Council Meetings Address (to a joint session of Congress, no less!), our first Australian city council meeting, and a tale of the councilman who saved San José.

So wander over to the February month in review and try not to get your hand stuck in a coyote trap, y’hear?

tcy2