#89: Sheldon, IA 3/1/17

It was an exciting day in Northwest Iowa: the city of Sheldon was expecting!

No, not a newborn. Rather, a fully-grown library director.

“We are successful?” Mayor Katricia Meendering inquired with a coffee cup poised at her lips in case a spit take was necessary.

“Yes!” a city employee blurted out enthusiastically.

“Wonderful,” said the mayor, taking a relaxed sip of joe.

“It’s taken us a little bit but we’re happy with Nicole Morgan, who we found from Oskaloosa,” the employee explained, anxiously scanning the council members for a reaction.

There were nods of approval around the room.

“Family?” the mayor quizzed offhandedly. She quickly chuckled and added, “I’m just kidding, you don’t have to answer that.”

The woman was clearly caught off-guard, but didn’t want to say no to Sheldon’s head honcho. “Oh, um, she has family in the area. She’ll be commuting for a bit.”

Okay, folks, let’s not get TOO personal. She hasn’t even started–

“Maybe she could come introduce herself at some point?” city attorney Micah Schreurs inquired hopefully.

“Maybe you could find out what kind of flowers she likes?”

“Sure,” the staffer responded hesitantly. “We’ll…let her acclimate a little bit first.”

“Yep. Get her feet wet. Then…the first meeting in April!” Meendering barked. She immediately broke into another awkward laugh. “I’m just kidding.”

Perhaps. But if I were Nicole, I’d hold off on the unpacking until I made an appearance at city hall.

In a thrilling turn of events, the library wasn’t Sheldon’s only source of breaking news. The mayor coyly waited until the sleepy middle of the meeting to drop this bombshell on the other unsuspecting Cornhuskers: her exclusive tour of the Crossroads Pavilion.

“Wow,” she deadpanned. “If you have not had the opportunity to see the most recent updates they have done…wow. It’s absolutely breathtaking.”

This modern engineering marvel was so inspiring, there was apparently only one word to describe it.

“We were there at noon. Two, three guys [were] putting the floor down and…wow,” she murmured.

Interior of Crossroads Pavilion

But the praise had barely died down before Council Member Pete Hamill brought up a subject that was distinctly not-wow.

“For dog and pet owners, be responsible for your pets. Just heard of two incidents in the past ten days of one person being bit by a dog,” he frowned, propping his elbow on the dais. “And then another person walking their dog being attacked by two strays.”

“Oh, my,” exclaimed the startled mayor. “I thought you were going to talk about ‘doody business’ because I’ve been getting a lot of calls on that.”

Council members silently watched her fold her arms in annoyance.

“That’s serious. I think the doody is serious too, but…” she trailed off.

Not as serious as a dog-mauling was the implication. Let’s hope the new library director isn’t watching. She might just choose to stay in bite-free Oskaloosa.

Final thoughts: Clearly the V.I.P. (Very Important Pavilion) here was Crossroads. I give it 8 out of 10 stars for the “wow” factor.

#69: Laurel, MD 11/28/16

It’s the holiday season, so you know what that means: the eggnog is flowing, the mistletoe is hanging, and city council members are bragging about how THEIR winter festivities are the best thing since sliced gingerbread.

“I’d like to welcome everyone back from the Thanksgiving holiday. I hope it was a healthy one,” Councilmember Frederick Smalls warmly greeted the room. “I will say, however, that I did try a new recipe. It’s Brussels sprouts with Gruyère cheese.”

He added a lackluster, “Mmmm,” as he glanced sideways down the dais.

Councilmember Donna Crary picked up on the signal.

“I will disagree,” she pursed her lips, “with Mr. Smalls. That Brussels sprouts recipe was given to me at the same time. It’s not healthy.” Councilmember Smalls loudly guffawed as the sign language interpreter mimed laughter.

“Do you know what’s healthy? That weak-ass tea you’re serving.”

But enough about Thanksgiving. It’s almost Christmas! Your Honor, when will we all get to meet Santa?!

“On December the 10th at 9 a.m. sharp, Partnership Hall will be holding the Breakfast with Santa,” Mayor Craig Moe read from his notes in a non-festive monotone. “Any tickets left?”

“Sold out!” someone yelled from the audience.

Mayor Moe looked into the camera–right into my disappointed eye holes. “Cancel that. We’re sold out.”

Whatever. I’m not disappointed. I’m not crying. These tears are just me being allergic to PEOPLE WHO GET MY HOPES UP.

“The holiday decorating contest will take place as well,” the mayor tried to reassure me. “If you’d like to nominate somebody or yourself, you can dial 301-725-7800. Or you can let my office know. We encourage you to get your decorations up and submit your nominations.”

Hey, mayor: stay in your lane. Laurelites, if YOU have a nomination for best holiday decoration, send it to City Council Chronicles. I’LL be the arbiter of taste around here.

This is my nomination for deadliest stare.

That wraps up the yuletide news: it was time to do the People’s Business. “Ordinance number 1894,” announced Council President Michael Leszcz. “An ordinance amending the Laurel city code Chapter 17, ‘Traffic,’ Article III: ‘Stopping, standing, and parking.'”

He looked to either side. “Any discussion?” Nope. “Call the roll.”

As the clerk went down the list, something bizarre unfolded. Mayor Moe leaned back in his chair and caught the eye of Councilmember H. Edward Ricks at the far end of the dais.

NO. VOTE NO, mouthed the mayor.

All of the other council members were glancing at their papers, completely unaware of this not-so-secret communication.

“Mr. Ricks?” the clerk called out.

Ricks gave a pause. “Yes,” he slowly said, sounding beleaguered.

The mayor stared daggers at Ricks.

How is she going to translate this?

“Mayor Moe?” the clerk said.

He did not respond. Council Member Ricks stonily eyeballed the mayor. The pause was so pregnant, some of the other council members stopped shuffling their papers and glanced at Moe.

“Concur,” muttered the mayor at last.

“That concludes the normal agenda,” President Leszcz continued, blissfully clueless about what transpired.

At this point, His Honor broke into a grin and chuckled. I have no idea if this was a playful joke or if the mayor was genuinely pissed. He’s a more wily character than I gave him credit for.

All I know is this: Santa better watch his back in Laurel.

#65: Lawrenceburg, TN 11/10/16

Small-town charm was on full display at the Lawrenceburg city council meeting. From the Mayberry-like feeling in the room, you’d barely know that the country was in turmoil outside of city hall.

“We’ll be closed tomorrow for Veterans Day. The parade starts at 11 o’clock,” solemnly announced Mayor Keith Durham. “So guys, if you wanna ride with my dad, he’s got his truck ready to go.”

Wow, an official councilmobile! Crank up the bass and fasten on the truck nuts, boys! Oh, but bring a Snuggie, says Hizzoner:

“You’re welcome to ride with us in the back of the truck. It may be a little chilly. But we’ll have lawn chairs.”

It’s how Caligula would have traveled if his dad owned a truck.

Seat belts not included

“Next, gentlemen: a resolution for the city of Lawrenceburg to reappoint Gary Hyde as the representative to the Regional Solid Waste Planning Board,” the council’s reader said.

The mayor scratched his nose and glanced at Hyde across the room. “Are you okay with that, Gary?”

“Yes, sir,” the man responded stiffly.

“We have appointed people without their permission, you know,” the mayor explained to chuckles.

Your Honor, feel free to appoint me to anything you want without my consent. Solid Waste…Liquid Waste…Human Waste…I would be proud to represent your city at the waste level.

“Next, gentlemen: a resolution to approve the purchase of a 2009 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 crew cab from Mike James for the use of Lawrenceburg Parks and Recreation Department. Purhase price is $10,500.”

Council Member Jamie Sevier stopped writing and looked up. “How’d this deal come up, Chris?”

Chris Shaffer, the city administrator, elaborated: “This was approved in the budget to replace the old black van that Parks and Recreation uses. Pam looked at this vehicle and felt it was a good deal.”

“I know Mike was asking $13.5, Pam?” Council Member Ronald Fox inquired.

“Yes, sir,” Pam called out.

“And they talked him down from $13.5 to $10.5 so I believe it’s a pretty good deal,” he nodded at Pam’s negotiating expertise. “It looked like a pretty good truck.”

Mayor Durham frowned. “Are you going to sell the ‘mystery machine’ as a result?”

File photo of the Parks and Recreation director

The city administrator grinned. “We’re gonna try to.”

“Might save it for Halloween!” Council Member Fox quipped.

Or perhaps the next parade. I’m sure you could fit lawn chairs and four councilmen inside–and Papa Durham could use his truck bed for less fleshy cargo.

“All right. If you’re in favor of this, let me know by saying aye,” the mayor boomed. Everyone was an “aye.”

But Fox was already waxing nostalgic for the van. “Mayor, maybe they can paint this pickup black!”

Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to Pam for knocking $3k off the asking price. She should be allowed to ride in the truck with you guys.

#64: Hackensack, NJ 11/1/16

EDITOR’S NOTE: This meeting was insane. Therefore, I turned my review into a dramatic reading. For your listening pleasure:

It was a typical day at the Hackensack city council–which, for a normal person, would be absolutely terrifying.

A tall man lumbered to the podium, his shoulders hunched and his hands meaty.

“Richard Salkin in Hackensack, New Jersey,” he announced.

From the back of the room came a heckler’s yell. “WHAT ADDRESS?”

The man, Salkin, threw up his hands and made it clear: do not f*ck with me.

“I’m not going to be interrupted by Lenny Nix. It’s just not gonna happen.”

Mayor John Labrosse smacked his gavel from his high perch. “Lenny! Do not interrupt. He said Hackensack. That’s fine.”

“Everything is fine. This wood is bulletproof, right?”

Ohhhh, mayor. Things were anything BUT fine. Because Mr. Salkin wheeled around and pounced on his accuser.


I assure him: at this point, no one was having a good time–especially now that he started talking about his wife’s lawsuit against the very city council members he was shouting at.

“The case soon will be awaiting a trial date–” he began, before Mayor Labrosse jumped in with the gavel.

“Mr. Salkin, I hate to interrupt you, but we’re not going to discuss current litigation.”

This only made his veins pop harder. “I don’t CARE if you discuss it or not! I can speak about whatever I want. Please reset it since I was interrupted!” he hollered at the timekeeper.

What came next was a verbal avalanche of biblical proportions. A tsunami of hatred aimed at the mayor and Deputy Mayor Kathleen Canestrino.

“Mr. Labrosse and Mrs. Canestrino seem to enjoy vilifying victims of your misdeeds. I am speaking out to expose what you have done. My wife has been the victim of your cheap shots. There is no longer any insurance coverage to protect the taxpayers in Debbie’s case thanks to your incompetence and your venomous motivations!”

The man looked directly into the camera–into my eyes. I nearly jumped out of my La-Z-Boy. “Anyone who watches this on YouTube, if you have any questions, you’re very welcome to call me. I’d be thrilled to explain it you.”

Believe me: I have many, many questions. But I totally, 100 percent will not be calling him. He is scary.

Please stop looking at me.

But if you thought the madness ended there–oh, no. Oh, no, no, no. It was time for another council member to get toasted in the hot seat.

“I actually had a question for Mr. Battaglia,” a woman in a scarf looked dead-on at kindly old Council Member Leonardo Battaglia. “Can you explain what you meant during the last meeting when you said that there would be ice cream and 19-year-old girls at the SportZone?”

Battaglia, caught off guard, spoke in halting, accented English. “That was a joke I told to the guy, Chris, because I saw him many times at Dunkin’ Donuts having ice cream with 19-year-old girls, and they were not his daughter.”

“What’s funny about that?” demanded the woman.

“Because I saw him many time in working hours. And that was not right what he was doing.”

I literally cannot believe what I’m hearing. I don’t know who’s more ridiculous: him for making the terrible joke or her for deconstructing the terrible joke. But she wasn’t done raking him over the coals:

“You’re how old, sir?” she asked. He did not reply.

“It’s actually pretty disgusting for a council member to make such a comment and expect it to be funny when it denigrates women. You should apologize.”

She stomped away from the podium to scattered applause. But oh, goodness. Look who stomped back up: Lenny, the heckler from earlier. He was wearing a sweatshirt and headphones. And he spoke at the volume of a sonic boom:


Those headphones play the nonstop sound of German artillery.

With that, Lenny wandered away from the podium–still with the headphones and still screaming at the top of his lungs.


The mayor sounded so, so tired. “We won’t talk about you at all.”

“GOOD,” Lenny hollered as Hackensack’s finest escorted him out.

The mayor turned to the middle-aged woman next in line. “Sorry, Mrs. Davis.”

“That’s all right. I am a registered nurse. I understand,” she said patiently as Lenny screamed from the back. “I just want to say that this is one of the first meetings I’ve been to that sounded like a city council meeting should be.”

Lady, I hate to tell you, but you’re not even close.

#63: Pasadena, TX 11/1/16

This week, we go to Pasadena! No, not the home of movie stars and the Rose Bowl. But rather, the home of even COOLER STUFF.

Exhibit A: barely half a second after the Pledge of Allegiance, the entire council and packed audience sharply pivoted 90 degrees to face the sacred flag of Texas.

“…with liberty and justice for all. Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.”

Oh, I’m sorry–you guys DIDN’T know the Texas Pledge of Allegiance? Pfft, this is why the country is going down the tubes at warp speed.

After sitting down, each council member had the opportunity to make announcements. As it turns out, the most pressing issue in Pasadena was…Council Member Cody Ray Wheeler’s backyard lagoon?

“About 12 days ago, I had someone drive through my fence into my pool,” he recalled fondly. “Before the gentleman could get out of his car to my house, the police were already there. So I appreciate them doing that.”

“What I’m saying is, the pool party is cancelled.”

Council Member Cary Bass was ever so curious about the young people with matching t-shirts in the front row. “We got Keller Middle School! I think you are gonna sing a song for us today,” he teased the kids, as the room chuckled. “They’re lookin’ at me goin’, ‘there’s no song. We’re gonna talk.'”

And, tragically, they did opt for talking over singing.

“This year, we will be collecting nonperishable food items for the food drive,” one child read at the podium as the other middle schoolers stood in formation. Suddenly, she barked: “Rangers, lead the way!”

To which everyone behind her chanted,  “ALL THE WAY UP!”

Everyone in the chamber laughed. “Allll the wayyyyy up!” Mayor Johnny Isbell repeated singsong.

I’ll take 500 of those shirts, please.

Well, shucks–between the cute kids and Council Member Wheeler’s pool being ruined, this was just the perfect council meeting.


“I’ll be supporting this,” Mayor Isbell said of a bill that would keep insurance premiums for city employees low, but raise premiums on retirees.  “I think it’s a good deal for the city.”

Almost everyone agreed–except for Council Member Pat Van Houte, who voted no.

“Council Member Van Houte votes no….against the city employees. Great,” the mayor mumbled, clacking his gavel. “Okay–”

“Mayor,” Council Member Van Houte leaned forward incredulously. “What did you say?”

Children, leave the room. This is Texas and people have guns.

His Honor paused and stared at her, searching for words. “What did I say? I don’t remember what I said.” He sounded genuinely bewildered. “I said, ‘Council Member Van Houte votes no on the insurance rate employees…for the employees.'”

He shot her a dirty look. “Did that bother you?”

Look, I’ll admit that the mayor, who was talking like a librarian with a sore throat, was hard to hear. But he DEFINITELY did not say THAT.

“It sounded like you said something else,” Van Houte shot back skeptically.

Mayor Isbell brushed her off. “I’m sure it’s on tape, whatever that is.”

Final thoughts: City Council Chronicles exists solely to quash minor verbal feuds. I wouldn’t say the mayor’s pants are on fire, but I do give 10 out of 10 Pinocchios to his revisionist history.

#61: Grand Forks, BC 10/24/16

Yes, two weeks before a presidential election, we visit Canada. You know–to scope out city council meetings (and real estate).

It may be October up there but, folks, the Grand Forks city council was HEATED like a hot tub in Cabo!

“I brought forward for your consideration five properties,” that are “unsightly,” the city’s bylaw officer announced.

This being Canada, Councilor Beverly Tripp politely raised her hand to speak. “I would be wondering about perhaps seeing some visuals of these properties. Would that be possible? I’d be willing to go down to these places and take a look at them.”

“The latter would not be appropriate, to visit the site,” Mayor Frank Konrad gruffly shot her down. Luckily, a field trip would not be necessary: we have pictures. Okay, let’s take a look at this so-called unsight–

“Is it appropriate to show photos when there’s a live stream on the Internet?” Councilor Colleen Ross pointed directly at me through the camera. “That would be my suggestion–turn off the camera. We’re showing people’s personal property.”

The mayor didn’t hesitate. “That’s probably a reasonable request.”



Listening to the bylaw officer narrate the photos, I was f–ing livid. “That is a picture taken through a bramble hedge. There’s three snowmobiles and a pile of other debris. There’s also two other vehicles in the front yard,” he said. I’ll take his word because YOU BLINDED ME.

Suddenly, a giant hand removed the lens cap. Sweet light, we meet again! Just in time for the property owner to make her defense:

“I’ve been out of the country for the last few months. I have come to ask for an extension.” Her tone was more indignant than apologetic. “So, yeah. What can you do for me?”

Mayor Konrad was unimpressed with her unrepentence. “Is the statement that this has been going on for a year affirmative?”

She waved him off. “The vehicles weren’t mine. They were my husband’s. When he passed away, I had no need for this ‘hobby’ he had.”

The mayor paused carefully, not wanting to berate a widow. “If you’re looking for an extension, how long are you looking for?”

“A month. Jetlag was huge,” she chuckled.

On second thought, go back to the lens cap.

Councilor Tripp was oozing  with empathy. “I really fail to see any grossly unsightly premises there. I really do feel it would be appropriate to give her the month leeway to work at getting the vehicles removed.”

“The vehicles for sure. The rest of the stuff I can’t promise because of the way the weather is right now,” the citizen sneakily attempted to weasel out of cleanup duty.

Mayor Konrad desperately tried to sound the alarm that the council was being taken advantage of.

“Next spring is NOT really a viable option,” he glanced around uneasily. But the council had chosen a side–and it wasn’t his.

“She’s been away. She’s only been back a week!” nodded Councilor Christine Thompson sympathetically.

“We would be setting a precedent here–” the mayor tried to argue, before Councilor Ross interrupted him.

“No. That’s the beauty of community action. We can work with individuals based on their needs,” she checkmated him.

With the women of the council united, the mayor folded. Fine, one month it is.

“That is wonderful,” the citizen sighed. “Absolutely!”

Interview #18: Hot Springs, SD City Administrator Nolan Schroeder (with podcast)

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

Nolan Schroeder is demographically a bit different from other city managers. We talked about college, ethics, and council meeting start times–among other things.

Q: I reviewed a Hot Springs city council meeting last month. How accurately did I capture the aura of that meeting?

A: I would say the accuracy was spot-on.

Q: Yeah, it was!

A: It brought a smile to my face to say the least.

Q: Can you describe what the city council meeting room looks like?

A: We used to meet in this kind of hallway environment. It was about a year ago we switched over to a theater. It seats 400 and thankfully we have not reached capacity yet.

Q: Have you ever had a drama teacher walk in and be like, “we’ve got a rehearsal for ‘The Music Man’ in ten minutes! Everybody out!”

A: We just consider those “communications from the public.”

Q: I’m assuming you became city administrator of Hot Springs after working a couple of desk jobs…you took a year off of college to backpack through Europe…you worked retail for a bit. Then five or six years later you got this job, right?

A: [Laughs] I finished grad school in 2014 and started literally weeks after I finished school.

Q: What?! This was your first job out of college?

A: I’m 26 years old. This is my first job out of school.

Q: Oh, my god.

Hot Springs, SD City Administrator Nolan Schroeder

Q: What have you done as city administrator?

A: We–don’t laugh when I tell these accomplishments–but we completed some audits. We were behind on those. We passed a new personnel policy. New safety policy. Our sales tax revenue has gone up since I’ve been here. I can’t say if that’s because of the work we’ve done–

Q: I’m not a journalist, so I can say it’s because of the work you’ve done.

A: [Laughs]

Q: One thing I heard from another city manager is that when the public had a problem with the city and were criticizing staff at council meetings for not doing anything about it, he wished the city council would defend the staff.

A: We were able to pass a new code of ethics that states if you have direct criticism of an employee, you don’t just lash out or nod your head along in agreement if someone is lambasting a city employee.

Q: Is there anything the council members can do or have done that makes your life difficult?

A: Yes. They can not read their packets! We prepare council packets for them. I’ll do notes on each agenda item and give–at the very most–a four line summary of what the item is.

Q: You’re kind of a professor here. You have a lesson plan. You assign the reading….So can you tell when some people have done the reading, and some people are BS-ing their way through?

A: Yes! Part of my job is to read people. You can certainly tell who is prepared for the game and who is hoping somebody else answers for them.

Q: If you could change one thing about the Hot Springs city council meetings, what would it be?

A: The start time. It’s in our ordinance that we start at 7 p.m. People that work a full eight hours and have to go to the meeting…there’s some fatigue that sets in.

#60: Spokane, WA 10/17/16

I can’t believe I am saying this.

This week’s Spokane city council meeting was b

Oh, god, I almost hurled. Okay, let’s try it again: the Spokane city council meeting was bo

Sorry. Bor

BORING. There, I did it.

Mind you, I never find council meetings boring. But for the love of Pete, just check out what was on the docket.

“The Friends of the Library has been a treasured supporter of the Spokane Public Library since 1973, and the Spokane Public Library is deeply grateful for their support,” read librarianly Council Member Karen Stratton.

Council Member Karen Stratton was runner up in the Librarian Lookalike Contest.

Terrific. Council Member Mike Fagan, you chaired the Public Safety Committee today?

“You bet. There was a wonderful article in The Spokesman regarding how the fire department is looking to include not only men but women and minorities,” he said.

Again, terrific. Is anything WRONG in this city? You, sir! Public commenter in the bad-to-the-bone leather jacket! Have you got something stuck in your craw?

“I started on a project that–I didn’t know what I was doing–to build my garage in [my wife’s] garden,” he led in while gripping the podium. “TOTAL compliments to your inspectors and the Planning Department! They’ve been wonderful in helping me–not knowing what I’m doing.”

“Did I mention I don’t know what I’m doing?”

Well, that about does it, folks. We’ve got five minutes left–all for a basic emergency ordinance to refinance some park bonds.

“This is just your basic refinance of some park bonds,” explained Council President Ben Stuckart, “so we can pay them off and it’ll get us a lower interest rate. We have one person signed up for public testimony.”

A blonde-haired woman with a long skirt and sandals breezed up to the podium. I wonder which city department she’ll compliment this time.

“I’m not a whole lot familiar with bonds, but it seems to me it’s a lot like payday loans. It’s for like, you know, rich politicians in the city,” she grumbled, waving her arms in the general direction of the council members. “It’s hypocritical that you guys–the council doesn’t have any regulations like that and–

Council President Stuckart bristled at this suggestion. “No. This is part of the park bond that the citizens voted over 70 percent for,” he interjected during her criticisms. “I’ll let you have more time, but it’s NOT something we’re just doing without a vote of the citizens.”

Note to public commenters: stop. wearing. black.

The woman, unfazed, parried to a different line of attack. “But it’s not an emergency. It should be just like the poor man. If you can’t go out and borrow five different payday loans or whatever, why do you get to call a park bond an emergency?”

“You want me to describe it to you?” Stuckart again interjected. This time, she blazed ahead.

“REAL emergency is creating homeless people! Tearing down neighborhoods and not letting them get a payday loan! That’s my comment.”

As she walked away, President Stuckart could not resist one more retort. “It’s called an EMERGENCY ordinance because it requires five votes instead of four,” he called.

But she was already gone.

Final thoughts: I have to admit, the meeting turned out to be electrifying after all. I’m suddenly interested in bonds and payday loans! 10 out of 10 stars to both.