#127: Council Bluffs, IA 8/28/17

It took astonishingly little time for the Council Bluffs council meeting to go from zero to 11.

“I need to know what kind of right-of-way you guys are going to take,” the owner of a tire store fretted.

“Jack, I believe it would be just enough to do the sidewalks on the corner,” Mayor Matt Walsh informed him in a low, gravelly tone.

This upset the tire man even more. “They wanna come 25-foot into my parking lot to put the signs, street lights…I cannot afford to lose that kind of parking!”

“I don’t believe we’re talking about 25 feet into your parking lot–” the mayor tried to reassure him.

“I just cannot afford to lose any more parking,” repeated the man.

The mayor nodded, unmoved. “Perfectly understandable.”

“I’m not trying to be the bad guy. But I cannot afford to lose any more parking.”

I think he’s got it.

Mayor Walsh hunched over and calculated how to end the interaction. “I can’t answer you with any specificity tonight. I can get your phone number out of the phone book.”

The man thanked him, adding, “I cannot afford to lose any more parking.”

Councilmember Nate Watson flattened out his notes and mused about the dilemma. “I think there are a lot of competing interests, though I’d remind all of us that any further alterations to the master plan may test the patience of the funder of such improvements.”

The Funder? Who is this mysterious and impatient funder-who-must-not-be-named? And if he gets angry, how many virgins must the city sacrifice to appease him?

“Prepare the goat’s blood, madam clerk.”

“It’s primarily geared to making sure there’s enough space on the corner so we can meet the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Watson explained.

Abruptly, the tire store owner moved toward the front and began arguing back from the gallery.

The mayor remained placid. “It’s NOT authorizing them to take your property,” he said firmly. The man continued to protest.

Councilmember Watson nodded sympathetically. However, his sympathy was seemingly at its breaking point. “Your opinion matters a great deal, but it’s not the only one,” he replied gently.

The council moved on to talking about a parking garage. But Councilmember Al Ringgenberg ringgen-berated the whole concept.

“I question whether this is in the best interest of the city,” he frowned. “Not long ago we were provided documents and included is $2 million for [a] parking ramp down payment.”

He appeared deeply frustrated. “What I have a problem with is using general obligation funds that should be used to repair crumbling streets and sewers.”

Ah, yes. I see the design flaw.

Mayor Walsh grew visibly irritated, raising his voice. “So this is an ongoing diatribe of false statements–”

“Mr. Mayor, point of order!” Ringgenberg interjected in surprise.

“It’s my turn to talk, Mr. Ringgenberg,” the mayor thundered. “It’s my turn to talk!”

“First of all, the $2 million was NOT general obligation money. Second of all, we are the SECOND LOWEST city in Iowa with debt!”

Council members looked uneasily around the dais after the mayor concluded his angry rebuke.

Watson stared out to the audience. “There are a good number of young men here today for their communications merit badge.”

His face was expressionless as he added, “that’s what makes our country great. Stay involved.”

Final thoughts: I can’t imagine what kind of communications lessons were learned here, but 10 out of 10 stars to The Funder, if He’s watching. (He always is.)

#118: Rural City of Wangaratta, VIC 7/18/17

Hold your e-mails, Councilheads! I am aware that the Rural City of Wangaratta is not a city. Of course, the actual city is called Wangaratta. But Wangaratta has no council. So the Rural City of Wangaratta council is the city’s council.

I’m glad we cleared that up.

The meeting started off smoothly enough: Mayor Ken Clarke solemnly acknowledged the “traditional owners” of the land and their elders. A new conflict-of-interest policy for councilors was given a round of nods without comment.

Even the messiest subject you could think of–toilets–got a clean airing.

“Last year we conducted an assessment of all buildings, including the toilets,” a staffer explained to the council. “We want our toilets to be at their best. One of the findings is that we want to upgrade all of those toilets. The recommendation is that the council develops a public toilet improvement action plan.”

As requested, councilors dutifully approved the potty proposal. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the unsung hero who had to “assess” all of the toilets. That person’s nose–and possibly other body parts–is quite brave.

At this point, my heartbeat quickened as I realized I would witness “public question time,” an extraordinary opportunity for regular Rural City of Wangarattans (that can’t possibly be right…right?) to grill their elected leaders mano a (it was all men) mano.

“My question’s about the multi-deck car park. I’d like council to investigate how we can get out of the contract of the ongoing debt that’s going to be incurred by ratepayers,” a man in a maroon shirt beseeched councilors. “Also, whether council can find another purpose for the building.”

Can we get the toilet man to assess the car park too?

“We have a project to do a review of parking which will look at paid versus free parking, appropriate amounts of various time limits of parking,” the chief executive started to explain.

“Why do we need a review on parking? We know where everyone parks,” sharply retorted the commenter. “See whether the state government can get out of this contract or have an inquiry into why it happened.”

The chief executive remained measured. “Yes, and the review is really about whether we’ve got enough one-hour parking, enough all-day parking.” As for getting out of contracts, “it’s not for the state government to be making decisions about those arrangements,” he noted.

At this point, Mayor Clarke, sensing an intractable argument was nigh, stepped in.

“Malcolm, I think you’ve got to realize that the multi-deck car park [decision] was made by the previous council,” he flatly informed the inquisitor. “We would need to find a lot of money to get out of it at this stage.”

“Well, the state government should–”

“The state government will not fund it!” the mayor curtly cut him off.

The commenter barely paused before picking up his rhetorical sword and charging forward.

“So you’re saying the ratepayers are going to continue to be burned for the next seven or eight years? That’s just a waste of money.”

Mayor Clarke was becoming exasperated. “It’s NOT a waste of money if people use the car park.”

The reply was immediate and brief: “But they’re not.”

A long, uncomfortable pause set in. Councilors exchanged glances.

“Maybe all the councilors should have to park there,” he suggested bitingly. “Maybe you should make it that every council worker park there.”

One quick-thinking council staffer at the dais raised her hand. “My car’s there right now!” she revealed. As chuckles broke out, the tension evaporated.