Summer may be winding down, but the city council meetings are heating up! The biggest news out of August was International City Hall Selfie Day. You can check your social media for the thousands of images generated on the holiest of high holidays or you can peruse my Top 10 list instead. I also invited a top selfie expert on the podcast to pick an ultimate winner.
Of course, we saw our fair share of drama in city council meetings, including two mayors who raised their voices at council members and an entire council meeting that very quickly turned into a bonfire. If you missed that Jerry Springer plotline, go scan the August Month in Review.
And if you don’t know why this man is pointing at heaven…it’s because he’s pointing at heaven. But the reason will blow your heathen mind:
This is an exciting new episode of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project. Usually, I storm into town, do some interviews, hear about the history, and package it together into a neat bundle for you. This time, we tag along with a few locals as they go about their day and get a more colorful listening experience.
For an explanation of the project, check out the page here. If you’re ready to hear a group of folks talk about the best thing about where they live and the worst thing about where they live, head over to the City Council Chronicles podcast to download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.
Episode 6: Colby, Kansas
Photo source: Google Street View
Colby is technically a city of 5,400 people in the northwest corner of Kansas–but it’s tempting to call this a “small town.” Agriculture is important here, but Colby also has a community college and medical center. In this episode, we tag along to a Rotary Club meeting, participate in a tornado drill, and try not to get blown away by some fierce wind. We hear from a librarian, a hospital executive, a newspaper publisher, a principal, a tax preparer, and a retired city employee.
Grab your banjo and hop a freight train with me down to Paducah, Kentucky. Home to Dippin’ Dots, the Paducah International Raceway, and the National Quilt Museum, y’all best mosey on over to city hall, where every Tuesday night Paducah Sun reporter Lauren Duncan watches the city commission meetings.
She talked to me about how everyone always gets along…or do they?
Q: How long have you been covering the city commission?
A: I have been here just two years–and today is my last day.
Q: Oh, no way!
A: I’ve got a city commission meeting tonight and [then] I’ve got a job in Chicago.
Q: Do you think the commissioners are planning a surprise party for you?
A: I don’t, but they have all been very kind to me. Paducah is a pretty small town–I run into them out and about.
Q: When you see them outside of council meetings, is it like when you were in school and you would see your teacher in the grocery store and it would feel super weird?
A: Haha, I get what you’re saying. One of our commissioners, he owns a coffee shop in town and so he is just one of your popular neighborhood guys. But he’s also the commissioner who get the most votes every year. He’s one of those people where if I weren’t a reporter, I’d probably be friends with him, you know?
A: This town is just like a PBS special. Our city commissioner who owns the coffee shop…we’ve got a train down by our river, and they were going to get rid of it because it was falling apart. He went out and painted it all up himself. He spent, like, a month with his wide-brimmed hat out there on top of the train.
Q: So I’m assuming everyone is pretty friendly during city commission meetings?
A: There has not been a single shouting match between the commissioners or the mayor or the city manager. That is mind boggling to me.
Q: It sounds like the “Stepford Wives”–everyone is happy and cookie cutter.
A: A lot of stuff happens behind closed doors. All of our meetings are live broadcast and I think there’s sort of a fear to have frank discussions.
Q: Is that a southern thing? A small city thing?
A: That’s something I’ve never seen before. I think it’s literally just the fact that they’re being televised and they’re nervous about public perception of having a heated debate that people can see.
Q: Suppose you and your best friend sign up for a cooking class, but she gets sick and has to cancel. Which commissioner would you invite to do the cooking class with you?
A: You’re basically asking who’s my favorite!
Q: Sure. Or who makes a great casserole.
A: That’s easy because he’s one of the most personable guys in town: it’s Allan Rhodes, the commissioner who owns the coffee shop and paints the trains.
Q: All around good guy. Regular Mr. Rogers.
A: He was the first guy I talked to here. I was looking for a place to live. Someone said, “talk to Allan Rhodes.” And he gave me all kinds of advice for moving here!
Q: Well, I hope there’s another Allan Rhodes waiting for you in Chicago.
After last week’s Fort Wayne city council meeting, I had some questions. And who better to ask than the lucky S.O.B. who gets to watch EVERY Fort Wayne city council meeting: Journal Gazette reporter (and high school friend of mine) Dave Gong.
He talked to me about surprises, being fair, and his reaction to a salty-mouthed councilman.
Q: On a scale of “fun” to “extremely fun,” how would you describe the council meetings?
A: Extremely fun…they are the highlight of my week.
Q: Noted! No sarcasm! What are you watching and listening for at these meetings?
A: Pretty much everything. You listen for back-and-forth and pointed arguments and the whole deal. Part of politics is we love a good show. Especially the media–we love a good show.
Q: Are there some councilmen whom you can depend on to say something…”out there?”
A: Well, “out there,” yeah. There are councilmen who are very consistent. Sometimes they’ll surprise you, which is always great. I like to be surprised.
Q: Yeah, that was wacky. Some of them visibly can’t stand each other.
A: They get that way. All city councilmen are like that when you’ve got ideologies–they clash. One guy will be insulting another one week and they’ll be best of friends the next. Fort Wayne, Indiana is one of the most functional cities I’ve ever worked in.
Q: Are they pretty friendly with you?
A: I think they know I can be fair with them. You’ll get reporters and outlets that specific councilmen don’t like. As far as I know, no one has ever told me that they absolutely hate me. Generally if you’re a journalist, someone somewhere hates you.
Q: Did I seem cool in high school?
A: Yeah…as cool as any of the rest of us were in high school. I don’t remember any of us going to a bunch of parties. There was a lot of laser tag.
A: Whatever my judge of “cool” is, it’s probably wrong….But from my standpoint, you were f*cking awesome.
Q: What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve seen happen?
A: That’s a hard one. Ninety percent of them are super mundane. After the election in November, the council was even more Republican. This guy got up and he starts railing about how all the Democrats are socialists and the Republicans should show backbone. And [Councilman] Glynn Hines, through his hands, coughed “BULLSH*T” into his hot mic.
A: In other places–you go to Chicago–you see swearing on the floor. I saw lawmakers, state elected lawmakers hurling insults at each other. But in Fort Wayne, that was unconscionable. It spurred a blog post from me–because I like that sort of crap–caused public apologies, and it was…beautiful, actually.
Q: Do you ever gossip about the councilmen to other reporters?
A: Sometimes. Paul Ensley was wearing a bow tie the other day and kind of looked like Pee-wee Herman.
Q: I saw that! So creepy.
A: He’s a fun one. He beat a 12-year incumbent in the primary.