#144: Virginia Beach, VA 12/12/17

“I would like to note that our city clerk, Ruth,” Mayor Will Sessoms nodded toward the petite, white-haired woman seated behind stacks of binders, “this will be her last meeting.”

“We love you, we appreciate you, and we will miss you,” he added, leading the entire council in a standing ovation. “Bravo!” someone hollered as Ruth waved politely.

“All right, Ruth,” joked the mayor upon resuming his seat. “Back to work!”

With emphasis on “work”–for not two minutes later, the electronic voting board had a spastic fit and refused to respond to the clerk’s commands.

“It’s not working,” Ruth muttered. “Is everybody aye?”

“Aye,” responded the council in somewhat unison.

“Thank you,” acknowledged Ruth, recording the vote manually. Yikes. With the board on the fritz, can Virginia Beach really afford to lose its clerk now?

May god help them all.

But what to my wondering eyes should appear? But old Saint Nicholas–looking very austere.

“Merry Christmas, everybody,” announced a commenter wearing a Santa Claus hat.

“Hi, Santa,” answered council members cheerfully.

“This [item] is about the city manager’s pay, correct?” faux Santa inquired.

“This is extending his contract for the same salary,” corrected Mayor Sessoms.

“I think the city attorney may have a different opinion of that,” Santa gestured to the lawyer, who responded in a quintessentially surgical fashion.

“If you look at the red line, there is an increase. BUT it is an increase that y’all voted on in July. There is no increase in THIS contract,” he clarified.

Santa nodded. “I think these salaries are out of whack with the real world. Go out and look at the free market and see what you can get for a more reasonable amount.”

Methinks the line between Santa and Scrooge is a bit blurry today. The mayor huffed.

“His background at the Army Corps is exceptional and we are thankful for those talents,” he defended the city manager.

Mommy, why is Santa talking about the free market?

But if the man in the Santa hat was miserly with the manager’s pay, he was downright Grinchlike about the controversial–and unceremoniously-named–“Interfacility Traffic Area.”

“I thought I would read you my letter to Santa,” he brandished a red envelope cartoonishly labeled “TO: SANTA, NORTH POLE.”

“Dear Santa: Mom and Dad want to get me a huge ITA for Christmas and I don’t want one! Who wants a bunch of new development, parking garages, a solid waste transfer station, and more debt? Not me, Santa.”

This routine continued for several minutes, with the man addressing Santa Claus in absentia and the audience stone-faced behind him. But remarkably, he planned a phenomenal dismount. He whipped out a wrapped present from his bag and, in mock surprise, opened it theatrically:

Subsequent public commenters were far less operatic, but no less angry about this big, bad ITA. After Council Member Barbara Henley (her name plate read “Council Lady”) pointedly questioned a critic, a diminutive woman stepped to the lectern in disgust.

“Your horns are showing!” she scolded.

Council Member Henley balked. “I’ve listened to so much misinformation, I’m about to explode.”

“Oh, please do! We would enjoy something different for a change,” the woman retorted to further antagonize Henley.

After listening politely, Henley addressed the bloc of opponents in the audience.

“I apologize if I appeared to lose my cool, but I just couldn’t stand another minute. The ITA is not a creation of the city. The Navy was very concerned that there be no more houses in that high-noise zone,” she calmly explained.

“The city became the owner of a lot of those properties by willing sellers asking the city to buy. This plan is NOT saying we should begin development. On these sensitive areas, we should come up with uses…trails. Baseball parks.”

When Henley concluded, the mayor leaned forward. He glanced over at Ruth again. “Would you like to say anything?”

She rose. “Thirty-nine years, one-and-a-half months. You’ve been very gracious. And I’ve been very dedicated. I thank you.”


#122: Poulsbo, WA 8/2/17

There was no shortage of eyebrow-raising announcements in Poulsbo.

Mayor Becky Erickson set the bar ever-so-slightly off the ground with her unorthodox but low-key warning that “after we leave here, we’re gonna go to the third floor. A conference room setting is a little more conducive to an active conversation.”

Fair enough. A change of venue is good for the circulatory system. But the good vibes instantly dissipated as Council Member Gary Nystul flagrantly stoked an intra-governmental rivalry.

“It’s my privilege once a year to point out to my two Navy associates–Warrant Officer [Council Member Jim] Henry and Commander [Council Member Kenneth] Thomas–that August 4 is the Coast Guard birthday.”

He smirked and prepared to rub in his superiority. “Occasionally the Navy doesn’t follow our directions. One day in Hawaii they didn’t follow our directions right out of the shipyard. They put it into a reef!”

Who among us hasn’t crashed a battleship into a reef?

The mayor quickly interjected. “You’re walking on dangerous ground, Mr. Nystul! Very dangerous ground.”

“Choppy waters” would have been the more appropriate image, but point taken.

Speaking of danger, quick: cue the Musgrove!

“When an earthquake or something happens is NOT the time to figure out: where do I get food for Fluffy?” Council Member David Musgrove insisted. He gestured to an emergency-preparedness handout decorated with a pensive-looking cat.

“It’s like taking care of an elderly parent. You need to do the same stuff.” (Note to self: stock up on cat food for grandma.)

Cat sold separately

But if residents didn’t have time to prepare themselves for a disaster, Council Member Musgrove offered a logical alternative. “Tomorrow, 10:30 a.m., there’s a walk-through of the Poulsbo cemetery.”

Council Member Connie Lord struck a compromise between death and doomsday prep. “The mayor has opened up city hall as a cooling station,” she announced helpfully.

Mayor Erickson nodded. “The council chamber’s open. There’s bottled water in the fridge.” After thinking a second, she added, “bring a book. There’s nothing particularly exciting going on in here.”

However, the mayor was having a hard time keeping her story straight. Because not two minutes later, she revealed this HIGHLY exciting event:

“This coming Tuesday, I’m having ‘kitty hall’ here,” she bragged. “The Kitsap Humane Society and I are going to have a whole bunch of kitties/kittens/cats for adoption. So if you’re interested in a new feline furry friend, we’ll be out there.”

When you pick up your cat, get enough food to last through the earthquake.

The final news item came from Council Member Ed Henry and it was a whopper.

“In our codes, self-storage and mini-storage is allowed in the commercial zone,” he informed the council solemnly. “Is the council interested in putting self-storage in those other zones?”

He glanced around. “It is a timely matter.”

“We appear to be having a LOT of interest about putting self-storage along [highway] 305,” the mayor acknowledged.

“We have very limited space if we want to keep Poulsbo Pouslbo,” Henry fretted. “Tight and constricted.”

Mayor Erickson agreed to look into it. But immediately, she worriedly turned to the clerk as she remembered that everyone needed to trek to the upstairs conference room.

“Rhiannon, how are we going to do this? We haven’t done this before.”

The clerk promptly replied, “I see us going upstairs and continue our audio recording up there.”

With that, the cameras went dark and the citizens who came for the cooling station pulled out their books.

Special Feature! “Best Thing, Worst Thing”

Hey, City Councilheads! Today we debut a special, semi-regular feature called “Best Thing, Worst Thing.” (No, it’s not about the election.) For an explanation of the project, check out the page here. If you like storytelling and municipal lore, I think you’ll dig what the chef cooked up.

To dive right in, head over to the City Council Chronicles podcast and download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.

Episode 1: Castle Rock, Colorado

Source: Town of Castle Rock

Castle Rock is a town of 56,000 people located in Douglas County, 30 miles south of Denver. It is named after a distinct rock formation at the north end of the historic downtown. Outside of downtown, there are also several office parks, subdivisions, and the Outlets retail area. Castle Rock’s population is largely wealthy and white. Historically, Douglas County has been rural–home to ranchers. In the last several decades, it has grown dramatically as a Denver suburb. In this episode, we hear from a businesswoman, a pastor, a former Navy SEAL, and the town’s mayor.

#48: Groton, CT 9/6/16

It’s insane.

It’s reckless.

It’s a city council meeting…in under ten minutes.

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Nine minutes and forty-eight seconds, to be precise. I don’t care how fast you can talk–to let anyone less than a three-term council member attempt this stunt is a Chernobyl-level disaster waiting to happen. But hey, we’re all young once. I say if these kids want to “find themselves,” or whatever, who’s to stop them?

Let’s go zero to 60.

“Are there any recognitions, awards, memorials?” Deputy Mayor Keith Hendrick rattled off like a Texas cattle auctioneer.

“I have one,” jumped in Councilor Andrew Ilvento without missing a beat. “We had our back to school party, and the city is so great about helping put together something that is great for the kids. This year, the Navy came over and brought stuff.”

“Stuff?” Battleships? Torpedoes? Is there time for clarifica–

“K. Receipt of citizens petitions? I see none,” the deputy mayor raced onward. “Any communications and reports?”

Councilor Lawrence Gerrish downshifted and pumped the brakes. “I’ll be having a meeting…uh…very near future on Public Safety, uh, Committee…uh, review of ordinances.”

Spit it out!

My god, man! We don’t have time for pregnant pauses! Especially not with the hairpin turn Deputy Mayor Hendrick steered straight into:

“Councilor Ilvento is stepping down from the Board of Ed/Town of Groton/City of Groton/RTM Liaison Committee. We need someone to fill that position,” he grimaced, before delivering the kicker: “the next meeting is tomorrow.”

This was a risky maneuver. If no one volunteered, there would be a five-councilor pileup at the halfway point.

“I’m waiting on Councilor [Conrad] Heede,” the Deputy Mayor gestured to Heede’s empty chair. “I thought he expressed an interest in the past, but…is anybody interested in being on that committee?”

“Is that the meeting time always?” inquired Councilor Jill Rusk.

Councilor Ilvento attempted to entice her. “Yes, Wednesdays at 5:30 and they ALWAYS run an hour. They’re VERY good about–”

The Deputy Mayor cut him off to save precious seconds. “I think you had a conflict?” She nodded anxiously.

In the kind of shotgun decision making that might careen any lesser man over the guard rails, Deputy Mayor Hendrick peeled out of this jam in a cloud of smoke and tire tracks.

“I’m gonna see if we can get somebody. I have something scheduled for tomorrow, but if I cannot get someone there…I will show up late so we can be represented at this meeting.”

Great Studebaker’s Horse…it’s minute EIGHT and we STILL haven’t done the energy conservation project! Will they make it?!

Strutting quickly, the gray-haired energy engineer spoke as he rushed the table.

“We’re at the final stages of execution. The annual energy savings, it approaches about a million dollars.”

I call this guy “Quicksilver.”

“What does this do for us?” the Deputy Mayor fired off with 50 seconds to go.

“What does it do for us? It basically keeps the sub-base in a more competitive position.”

Fifteen seconds on the clock–it’s gonna be a photo finish! 3-2-1…DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?! It passes!

Final thoughts: We had a lot of fun here, but remember: speeding council meetings kill millions of Americans each year. Be safe. Never drink and run a city council meeting.