Interview #20: Mesa, AZ PIO Kevin Christopher (with podcast)

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

If you saw the Mesa city council meeting review, you’ll recognize Kevin Christopher as the announcer of a HUGE agenda. But did you know he once reported on city council meetings? He did–and he has the stories to prove it!

Q: You were a journalist covering city council meetings in the early 1980s. How were meetings different in the ’80s other than, obviously, uglier eyeglasses?

A: Yeah, and interesting hair and fashion! I think the biggest change is the technology. Nowadays, it’s very easy to find out the agendas.

Q: Were there always a lot of spectators?

A: I think because [Midwesterners] have deep roots, they tend to be a little more passionate about issues. We always had pretty good crowds. Madison had like 20 aldermen–for a population of about 250,000–

Q: Wow! Chicago has 50 alderman, and they certainly have more than double the population of Madison.

A: Even that’s huge. Fifty people! Cincinnati had nine. Mesa has seven.

Q: What do you think is the ideal number of city council members?

A: I think seven or nine is good.

Q: When you started in Cincinnati, Jerry Springer was there. Did he stand out at all during council meetings?

A: He was pretty colorful. He was very charismatic and personable and I think that’s what was very appealing.

Q: You’ve sat through city council meetings in Cincinnati, Madison, and Mesa. Take me down the list–who stuck out?

A: I think the most memorable was a woman in Cincinnati. It wasn’t her real name, but she went by Fifi Taft Rockefeller. She claimed to have affairs with presidents and Winston Churchill. She’d be at city council almost all the time.

Mesa, AZ Public Information Officer Kevin Christopher

A: Generally you put like a three-minute limit on people to speak. And in Madison, they didn’t do that. I’m thinking, “no wonder these meetings go six and seven hours.”

Q: They had no time limits?

A: No! I thought that was insane.

Q: It is! Other than running egregiously long meetings, how did council members treat you in the media?

A: As long as you were fair, they treated you very well. I remember in Cincinnati, they all enjoyed the microphones and cameras. If it wasn’t a particular hot button issue being debated at the time, they would get up in the middle of the meeting and you could go to the back of the room and talk.

Q: For your current job in Mesa, you read the entire agenda–45 items–and it took you eight whole minutes to get through. Do you prepare for that? Do you do vocal warm ups?

A: I look it over. There’s a few tricky–with restaurants and things that are in Spanish. My favorite of all time: a liquor license application for “What the Hell Bar & Grill.”

Q: Are there any memorable moments from Mesa?

A: When I first came to the city, we had one council member, Tom Rawles, who decided back in 2007 he was not going to stand for the Pledge of the Allegiance. So he kind of pulled a Colin Kaepernick. This was a protest against the war in Iraq. All of a sudden we started getting these people showing up at meetings and criticizing him. He actually got police protection for a few days to be safe. I’m not sure what he’s doing now.

#59: Mesa, AZ 10/17/16

It’s a troubled time in America. People are confused. Searching for answers. They want a calm, steady presence to chart the way forward.

Ladies and gentleman, I think I found the hero we are looking for at the Mesa city council meeting.

His name? Kevin Christopher.

“Good evening, mayor and council members. These are the items on the consent agenda,” the bespectacled, baritone-voiced city employee announced.  Then, attempting the unthinkable, he turned a standard agenda-reading into a can’t-tear-your-ears-away vocal marathon.

“Item 3A–liquor license application for Algae Biomass Organization. One-day civic event. Wednesday, October 26. 7418 East Innovation Way South. Item 3B–liquor license application for All Saints Roman Catholic Church Knights of Columbus. One-day fraternal event. Sunday, November 5. 1534 North Recker Road.”

Minutes ticked by. The man raced through FORTY-THREE items without so much as a drink of water!

“Item 6G–authorizing the city manager to enter into a subgrantee agreement for grant funds for the Fire and Medical Department’s Rapid Response Team.”

Captain’s Log, Day 14: We’re halfway through the agenda.

Not stumbling and not slowing down, the captions sped by underneath him as he rounded an incredible EIGHT MINUTES OF NONSTOP READING!

“Item 9A–subdivision plat. Bella Via Parcel 15 located on the east side of Signal Butte Road. Mayor and council members, these are the items on the consent agenda.”

Although I was giving him a standing ovation at home, Mayor John Giles was unfazed by Christopher’s oral Olympics.

“Please cast your vote,” he deadpanned. In less than two seconds, six “ayes” popped up and Christopher’s Last Stand was no more.

Switching to public comment, puzzlingly, there were two people at the podium.

Buenas tardes,” a diminutive woman introduced herself.

“Good afternoon,” the man in the maroon shirt repeated.

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Mayor Giles interrupted, “but I notice you’re using an interpreter. So we’ll allow a total of six minutes.”

Six minutes–or, as it’s known in Mesa, a “Three-Quarters Christopher.”

I should have paid attention in high school Spanish.

Honorable miembros de concilio–”

Translator: “Honorable council members…me and my brothers come here to ask for our rights…for a place to live….We know that you have a heart….Thank you.”

One of her brothers, in matching red, took her place at the podium to clarify:

Translator: “The moving us out that the City of Mesa has tried to do…along with the owner of the mobile home park….you can help us but you haven’t wanted to….The mobile home park of Mesa Real has not been able to be helped.”

Mayor Giles furrowed his brow and tightened his grip on his pen. “Fernando, would you translate that there is a sheet of paper with frequently asked questions related to the Mesa Real trailer park?”

Seriously, Your Honor? An FAQ? Not so much as an “I feel your pain” or “si, se puede?”

The mayor grimaced and anxiously ruubbed his chin as the translator conveyed the message. Council members eased the tension by staring at their cell phones and tablets.

Finally, Mayor Giles adjourned the meeting not with a whimper, but with a sick guitar riff. Crank it:

Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to Kevin “The Reader” Christopher and whoever added that outtro music. And negative 10 stars to everyone else for not helping the trailer park.