Interview #131: Durham, NC Council Member DeDreana Freeman (with podcast)

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

DeDreana Freeman describes Durham’s procedure for providing translation services at council meetings, plus a handful of contentious issues that turned out large numbers of emotional commenters: including alleged anti-Semitism and a planned railyard close to an elementary school in a wealthy neighborhood.

Q: Durham’s population is, I believe, about 15 percent Hispanic. Occasionally you do have Spanish speakers come in to comment to your council. I was a bit surprised at the March 4 meeting this year to hear a woman give her remarks in Spanish and no translation for her was present. One commenter even criticized the city for it. Why was that unavailable here?

A: If it’s not requested in advance, no one’s made available to do translation. Same thing for sign language or disability. The plan is to try and make it more visible how to make that request. I think it was a well-timed smack on the wrist. “You guys need to be paying attention to this.” I appreciated it.

Q: When Durham was firing on all cylinders, you had a robust method of handling translation. In January 2018, you had a vacancy on the council and the other council members had to fill that spot. It’s my understanding that there was English-to-Spanish translation in the room for people who picked up headsets from the city. How much effort did that take to coordinate the realtime translation?

A: There are service providers in the city who offer this service. All we do is make a phone call. It’s not difficult, it’s just a matter of being aware.

Q: In April 2018, there was a meeting that touched upon human rights, race, and institutionalized discrimination. If I gave the listeners ten guesses, they probably wouldn’t come close to knowing what you spent two hours of that meeting talking about. Why was Durham, North Carolina concerned about…Israel?

A: I don’t think the concern was around Israel. I think it was specific to the claims that our police were engaging in militarized training.

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Durham, NC Council Member DeDreana Freeman

Q: Who was making those allegations?

A: There were a number of groups making those allegations. Apparently there was a pamphlet from the Israeli military police that presented that Durham was one of their clients.

Q: At this meeting, the council was voting on adopting a statement that Mayor Steve Schewel wrote whose message was: Durham will not adopt military-style training for its police force, mainly because that exacerbates the problem of racial profiling. However, there was this introductory paragraph of the letter:

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It turns out that mentioning Israel and police training in the same thought was enough to cause some people–and by “some” I mean 50 public commenters–to put the gas pedal to the floor on accusations of anti-Semitism. Did you sense whether Mayor Schewel, who is Jewish himself, felt bad that he inadvertently dragged your council into an accusatory environment? Or did he appear, as I would have, that “I don’t understand what you’re mad about?”

A: I’m not sure. I know that we all stood firm behind the chief’s response to the accusation that we were doing militarized police training. Folks can be offended, but it doesn’t mean that the offense was intentional. It’s okay to hear back that you are offended.

Q: Almost a year later, have you studied up on anti-Semitism and now feel that “yes, I see where they are coming from”? Or are you still mind-boggled that the mere mention of Israel for some people is like using the N-word?

A: I think I understood it then, it was just more important to make clear that we were not engaged [in militarized training]. I’ve had plenty of conversations to hear perspectives that are different from mine. I can completely be empathetic to the feeling of the sentiment that was received.

Q: So if you truly felt you were being anti-Semitic with this statement, you would’ve owned that? You would’ve avoided it in the future?

A: Of course. If I thought it was the case, I would. I’ve encouraged everyone who’s had anything to say about this situation to say what you need to say. It is when you speak for yourself that you get what you need out of it.


Follow Council Member DeDreana Freeman on Twitter: @Freeman4Durham

Month in Review: November 2018

Turkey. Cranberry sauce. Council meetings?

In November, there was plenty to be thankful for in municipal governance, as we witnessed several provocative council meeting moments worth reviewing.

Remember the city council that grew some “jacket envy” after seeing a group of international visitors?

Or the city that was running out of space to list its sports victories?

Surely you recall the council member who brought Donald Trump into a meeting in a bigly way?

But it was also a month for fresh ideas for how to run a council meeting. For example: conduct a racial equity training. Or have high school students present new policies.

To see what we served up on the Thanksgiving dinner table, visit the November Month in Review.

And if you are curious about whether anyone has raised the roof in a council meeting, this guy answers that question:

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#174: Monroe, NC 11/6/18

Things were looking optimistic for the developers of the quaintly-named Veronica Springs subdivision.

“I’m that odd-shaped square in the middle of this project,” the pastor of the Community Church of the Nazarene announced at the lectern while looking very pastoral in glasses and a sweater vest. “At first I wasn’t sure that I wanted 200 homes built around us like that.”

However, he continued, “we’re in support of it. We decided that it was a good thing for this community. Affordable housing is something we need, and we’ll try to be a good neighbor.”

It was a compelling endorsement to have the lord’s representative on the project’s side. But I wonder, could god possibly send a mixed message through another messenger?

“I ran across an interesting article on Cain and Abel,” began a white-haired man now standing at the microphone. “The practice in ancient time was the father left everything to the oldest son. The reason for that? So it didn’t constantly get subdivided. It would get to the point where people couldn’t sustain themselves on that little land. I think that’s a real important point to consider.”

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Amen

It would be an important point if the future homeowners were grazing cattle and not driving down the road to the Walmart Supercenter for groceries. But there was a more insidious, moral implication to the subdivision.

“We have moved from a predominantly rural to a predominantly urban society,” he continued. “Like with the Tower of Babel, people were supposed to disperse and multiply and they tried to exalt themselves with the tower.”

“Well, there is the war, and the good and evil is done by self-centeredness. That’s what takes us away from god. Urban settings tend to push people toward the self-centeredness–”

“Thank you. We’re gonna stay on track with the public hearing,” Mayor Bobby Kilgore gently nudged the speaker away from the microphone at the end of his three rambling minutes. With no further communications from god, the council moved on.

“Here comes ducky,” council members heckled an employee as he approached the lectern. “Quack, quack!”

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Is this hazing?

The man grinned at the apparent inside joke and proceeded. “We request that the industrial parks owned and developed by the city of Monroe be exempt from the ‘naming of public facilities and lands in recognition of individuals’ policy.”

He added, “the industrial park’s name is significant and needs to be really a brand, not attached to a person.”

“I don’t think it’s good to exclude us from naming,” countered Council Member Surluta Anthony.

“It’s not excluding you. You’re the naming entity.”

“We just don’t have a part in giving the suggestion of names?” she asked.

“You can,” was the reply. “The name can be whatever city council decides.”

Council Member Lynn Keziah was satisfied with this names-but-not-names suggestion. “Motion to approve the amendment to exempt city-owned industrial parks from the naming policy.”

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“City Council Chronicles Industrial Park” is still on the table.

“This is only going to be for industrial parks?” Anthony clarified.

“What I just read,” Keziah replied resolutely.

In case anyone was not 100 percent clear on the new policy, they would have to figure it out on their own time because the council promptly approved it and breezed on to more important matters.

“Thanksgiving is coming up. We give our employees Thursday and Friday,” pointed out Keziah. “I think we should give them Wednesday. Traveling time to get to where they’re going.”

“They’re already smiling in the audience!” Mayor Kilgore exclaimed. The employees had good reason to, for the council voted to make the five-day weekend a reality.

#170: Albemarle, NC 10/1/18

If there was any concern about the Albemarle city council’s attention to detail, their extensive combing of last meeting’s minutes laid those doubts to rest.

“Where it’s talking about the boarding kennel–it says boarding kennels are currently ‘now allowed’ in downtown,” Councilmember Chris Whitley read from the draft minutes. “Are they ‘now allowed’ or ‘not allowed’?”

“It should be ‘not allowed,'” replied city manager Michael Ferris.

Whitley nodded. He added, somewhat apologetically, “I promise I’m not going to nitpick in these things–”

“One other little correction,” interjected Councilmember Dexter Townsend. “Although I do concur with her comments, I think it was Councilmember Hall that congratulated Colleen Conroy on her win for ‘Dancing With the Stars’ instead of me.”

“And while you’re doing that,” Mayor Pro Tem Martha Sue Hall jumped into the fray of picked nits, “I congratulated Lisa on the play at Central School. It doesn’t make any difference to me but….” She trailed off, suggesting that it really would be nice to credit her for the item after all.

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Credit where it’s due

Mayor G.R. “Ronnie” Michael glanced down at the public comment list. He called the name of the only man signed up, who slowly approached the podium.

“I believe you have pictures before you concerning the condition of trees on Richardson Street,” he began. “I’m scared to walk down through there. I don’t need a rainforest and that’s what it looks like to me.”

“Looking at this first picture,” the mayor interjected, “there’s a utility pole–

“Yeah, there is,” muttered Mayor Pro Tem Hall.

“–there’s a wire going across from right to left. Y’all have been fortunate not to have some ‘other’ things occur.”

The city manager attempted to reassure everyone that a live electrical wire was not booby trapping Richardson Street. “I’d bet that’s not a primary electric line or else you’d have outages,” he speculated.

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Oh good, just a secondary electric line

“We wanna clean the street up but we don’t wanna put our lives in jeopardy either,” the man shrugged.

“Did they ever pick up the mattresses down there?” Councilmember Townsend wondered.

“That’s another problem,” sighed the commenter. “With all that overgrowth, people feel like they’re at the city dump.”

Council members nodded, thanked him for coming, and promised that someone would do something about the rainforest and mattress repository.

Mayor Michael flipped the page to an agreement with Pfeiffer University. “Council, we have a section in our agreement with them that talks about reversion. The request is we approve allowing staff to remove the reversion agreement.”

Councilmember Chris Bramlett gave his best shot at making that motion. “I move that we assign our whoever-it-is to remove whatever-it-is.”

Other council members snickered as the mayor patiently reworded the statement into something more proper.

“Allow staff to work with the economic development attorney that drew the agreement to remove the reversion,” he elaborated.

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Thanks, Mayor Whoever-You-Are

It wasn’t the last clarification he would have to make. Minutes later, Mayor Pro Tem Hall asked if she could table the business park design contract until their next meeting.

“Council, do you have any problem with tabling it?” Mayor Michael asked, receiving no reply. “Okay, we’ll table it.”

“Is there a reason?” Bramlett exclaimed, holding his hands palm-up in an exaggerated shrug.

“Council usually gives a gentleman’s agreement to allow a council member to ask for a continuance,” the mayor revealed.

Bramlett flashed a gentlemanly thumbs up and a smile. “Still learning!”

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

Podcast Recap: Heated Meetings

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

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During these hot summer months, why not make it even hotter by listening to some of the most contentious city council meetings featured on the City Council Chronicles podcast?

This week, we revisit:

  1. The takedown of a racist street sign–with Norman, Oklahoma Council Member Breea Clark
  2. A woman who had a traumatic encounter with the Lancaster, Pennsylvania police–with Councilwoman Janet Diaz
  3. Whether to fly the confederate flag on city property–with Danville, Virginia Councilman Lee Vogler
  4. Why the Greensboro, North Carolina city council decided to screen footage of police brutality in a crowded council meeting–with Council Member Justin Outling

Oh, and we did cover one feel-good moment in this episode: the award we recently won! Hooray!

Interview #88: Greensboro, NC Council Member Justin Outling (with podcast)

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

Few people have had as eventful a three years on their city council as Justin Outling has had in Greensboro. From the infamous transgender bathroom bill to screening police body camera footage in a meeting, we relived some of the most contentious moments in his council chamber.

Q: I noticed that every council meeting, you bring in a courier. Is this a position of honor or does it go to the city employee who’s about to be fired or what?

A: I think definitely more of the former than the latter! Greensboro city council has had a courier for quite some time now and that person’s task is to provide council with notes either from staff or from persons in the gallery. It’s traditionally a city employee from one of the many departments who has the pleasure of spending four or five hours with us on a Tuesday. Human conveyor belt is probably an apt description.

Q: But if they drop a bunch of files on the floor, they’re not gonna walk in and be fired the next morning in the Parks and Rec department, right?

A: If the call were mine, they would not be fired. But that’s really the city manager’s call. So all couriers in Greensboro, beware: don’t drop the papers!

Q: At one meeting, your Republican state representative came to defend the controversial North Carolina transgender bathroom bill. Do you as council members have to watch what you say about higher level politicians in meetings to avoid them retaliating against you?

A: I think there is a lot of strategy that one has to undertake in moving the ball forward and working with state legislators who do have the power to make your life difficult and act against the interests of the city. There are definitely occasions where you have to exercise restraint and do what you think is best for the city, not necessarily what’s best for your sanity.

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Greensboro, NC Council Member Justin Outling

Q: In the summer of 2016, there was an incident involving a white police officer who used excessive force against a black man and it was captured on body camera footage. Your council decided not only to release that video, but to do it at a council meeting, on camera, with a full room of onlookers. I can imagine council members in other cities going, “what? Why would you ever do such an emotionally-charged, embarrassing, or uncomfortable thing in a council meeting?” 

A: Allowing the citizens to actually see what happened and giving them an opportunity to express their frustration, their disappointment, and their hopes for the future–through that incident, it helped bring some members of the community closer together. It perhaps wasn’t the best for council members’ egos in terms of hearing a lot of unpleasant things from members of our community who were hurting like we were.

Q: As the footage was playing in that council chamber, I’m not sure what you were expecting to happen, but did it happen?

A: Yeah, I was expecting to see a lot of hurt on people’s faces, and that’s exactly what I saw. And it’s the same images I saw on the faces of my colleagues the first time we saw it in a closed session.

Q: Do you see a divide on your council between people who consistently think about what the proper role is for council members, and then others who are better at reacting to the mood of the room?

A: I think there is a divide. I would not characterize it as being better to reacting to the mood of the room. I think some people are much more willing to tell folks what they want to hear, notwithstanding the merit. The reality is that I’m an elected member of Greensboro city council. It is not about me feeling good about what I say and what I do.


Follow Council Member Justin Outling on Twitter: @JustinOutling