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] 

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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:

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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?

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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?

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Interview #40: Gaithersburg, MD Council Member Ryan Spiegel (with podcast)

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

In addition to being a part-time chicken daddy, Ryan Spiegel was ensnared in the infamous “city council walkout” of 2016. How did he respond? Take a listen!

Q: Something special happened to you guys: you got a new council member recently. There was a vacancy late last year and you, the council, got to appoint someone. How much of your decision was whether you could get along with that person at a council meeting?

A: That’s a big piece of it. There are, I’m sure, many councils you’ve covered that have been a bit more adversarial. Pretty much all of the candidates who applied for that opening are people who we could get along with.

Q: Yeah, you actually did that prior to this with Council Member Neil Harris. So you’ve got two people on the council who you personally had a say in appointing–

A: That’s right. And I won’t let them forget it!

Q: [Laughs] Let’s get into the tough issues: roosters. You were on the city council in 2010 when Gaithersburg banned roosters. Tell me what those meetings were like and please do use fowl language.

A: Well, look, I’m not going to squawk about something–

Q: Nice, nice.

A: And you can claw my eyes out–

Q: Boom!

A: One of the feathers in my cap has been my ability to listen to the public. Of all the controversial things we’ve dealt with, the ONE public hearing that had by FAR the largest attendance was about our chicken ordinance. Roosters can be loud, so we thought it was reasonable to ban roosters but to allow hens.

Q: Mmhmm.

A: We had cub scouts showing up with pictures of their little pet hen saying, “make sure our hens have a safe place in Gaithersburg!” When I was voting back in 2010, I had no idea that I would be one of the people who would have chickens in his own backyard. A few years ago, my wife found a company called Rent a Coop and surprised me by renting a little portable coop and two hens for the summer!

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Gaithersburg, MD Council Member Ryan Spiegel

Q: December 19, 2016. The city council was deciding whether to annex a parcel of land for development. It’s pretty mundane. But there was one vacant council seat and you were out sick, leaving three voting members. Council Member Robert Wu wanted to wait until a new council member was sworn in to vote. Your thoughts?

A: [The annexation] wasn’t exactly the most controversial thing in the world. It had been vetted, there had been public hearings….the charter allows us to have a vote of 2-1.

Q: Wu dropped this bombshell: he walked out of the meeting, taking away the quorum. You were watching at home–did you think you were delirious?

A: I was surprised that he got up and left. I think he believed he was doing something right. He was making some grand gesture. But I strongly disagree with the tactics.

Q: You texted the mayor, “I’m on my way.” You drove down, not so you could vote (due to a conflict of interest), but to have the quorum so the other two council members could vote. Did you want to be the hero?

A: No! There wasn’t a lot of strategizing here. It’s important for us to be doing the business of the city.


Follow Council Member Ryan Spiegel on Twitter: @RySpiegel