Interview #140: Seaside, CA Council Member Jon Wizard (with podcast)

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

Where should Seaside hold its July Fourth festivities? And would the council endorse a controversial state bill about policing? Jon Wizard walks through his first six eventful months on the Seaside council.

Q: As far back as March, the Seaside council was deliberating what to do for a Fourth of July celebration. You could have held an event at city hall or the local golf course. At that time, what was the Jon Wizard vision for July Fourth bacchanalia?

A: It was really a lively conversation for such a seemingly innocuous decision. For me, it was trying to balance accessibility with environment. The golf course is roughly 70 acres.  People can spread out, plenty of room to move around, and stunning views of Monterey Bay. However, it is on the edge of the city up a hill. Access is difficult. A majority of us decided that for those reasons, the accessibility and the closeness to downtown and city hall would be preferred. But ultimately, that’s not how it went.

Q: Let’s fast forward to June 11, less than a month from showtime. Council Member Jason Campbell stated that he wanted to stick with the less costly city hall option. To which Mayor Pro Tem Dave Pacheco responded that he would donate $2,000 of his own money to have the golf course celebration. Were you surprised?

A: I was surprised. We really focus on providing services and kid-friendly activities throughout the year. We do these large events that don’t cost a penny for the public. The Fourth of July is an expensive event. It was less expensive to do it at city hall.

Q: After the city staff heard the offer, they went into a huddle and came back saying, we can scrounge up some of the money. What kind of precedent do you think it sets that the council as a whole and one council member personally can find several thousand dollars to fund an event when that money could have gone toward social services instead?

A: Those are fair questions and I think it’s important to remember that budgets are set in the second quarter of each year. While the [recreation] department said that they were short, there was already money programmed for a Fourth of July event. Between the money that was already allocated, Council Member Pacheco contributed some money out of his personal funds. The city manager contributed some money. The local building trades council contributed their personal money. While Council Member Pacheco talked about how difficult it is to raise that kind of money in such a short time, if memory serves, all the money was raised that night.

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Seaside, CA Council Member Jon Wizard

Q: At the May 16 meeting, there was an item on the agenda that you put there. You were asking the council to endorse a state assembly bill changing the use of force guidelines for police. Mayor Pro Tem Pacheco had two major concerns. First, the effect on policing. And two, he wasn’t sure what he would be endorsing, given how legislation changes. What did you think of his points?

A: Legislation changes as it moves through the two houses before it reaches the governor’s desk. However, people in the state house are sometimes accused of not having support for their proposed legislation. That they just thought something up and decided it would be a good idea. I thought that Seaside as a historically diverse community–a community that is majority-minority–that it be important that our diversity be reflected in the support of that proposed bill.

Q: Unlike in other communities where the topic of policing brings people out in droves, for this debate there was not quite half a dozen people who showed up to comment. Do you think the debate would have been different if people were not so satisfied with the Seaside Police Department?

A: I think if there was more focus on our police department explicitly, there would have been more participation. I also think that the lack of participation was a function of the time of the evening. Because of all the other business we had to consider, I think it was after 11 p.m. by the time we voted. While there was more than a dozen people who were there to speak on this one topic, after 9 o’clock they had all left except for a handful of people.

Q: It’s not surprising to me that the placement of an item on the agenda can dictate who shows up and who sticks around and who ultimately speaks. Are you implying that because this was obscured farther down in the meeting, the lack of support that might have otherwise been there affected how council members voted?

A: There is a city ordinance that dictates the order in which things were heard. By no means was this item “buried.” I will say, though, that Council Member [Alissa] Kispersky made some comments about a lack of community input. She was moved to vote no against the resolution based on the participation. If we had heard this item at a different time, based on her own justification, she might have voted the other way.


Follow Council Member Jon Wizard on Twitter: @electwizard

Interview #137: Madison, WI Alder Samba Baldeh (with podcast)

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

Samba Baldeh is the District 17 alder who remembers quite clearly a fraught council meeting about funding for Southeast Asian mental health services. He also discusses his exchange with the police chief from three years ago after the chief’s accusatory blog post put Madison’s common council in the crosshairs.

Q: I’ve heard of aldermen and alderwomen and even alderpersons, but Madison is the only city I have found whose council members are called “alder.” What do you know about why Madison uses that term?

A: I think Madison is just trying to be politically correct. We can be a female, male, transgender, or people who may identify however they want to identify. I think that is the reason why. A lot of people are confused when you tell them, “I’m an alderperson.” They generally don’t know what that means.

Q: On the night of February 26, there were $115,000 that the council had to direct toward mental health services for Hmong elders. Had you ever experienced this combination of fear and anger before, like what you were hearing from the Hmong community?

A: I do remember this meeting very vividly. Apart from the anger, just the sadness of the event. The community became divided as to who should actually provide these services. Who do we give the money to? That is where the meeting became very deeply personal.

Q: During the public’s testimony, Alder Barbara McKinney raised a point of order about the neutrality of the translation services. Do you know where the concern about the accuracy of translation was coming from?

A: She was sitting next to the interpreters and the people giving testimonies. I think what she observed was people were talking to each other, whispering to each other to an extent where she felt like the interpretation was not neutral. The mayor interjected and said we are doing our best. Even the interpreter did say that it’s difficult to interpret the Hmong language.

Q: The provision of health service was getting wrapped up in race and cultural competency. Do you think this was a healthy debate or was there unnecessary vilification taking place?

A: I do think we shouldn’t have gotten here. I spoke to some of the leaders in the community and let them know that it is important that some of these issues be resolved outside of the public domain. We could have had a better discussion around the money part and how we allocate it. I didn’t think there was a need to vilify each other to the extent we did. The best way was to find a way to resolve the cultural or the societal issues outside of the council. Once it came to council, it basically was difficult to control.

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Madison, WI Alder Samba Baldeh

Q: You mentioned the virtue of resolving conflict before it reaches the council meeting where you don’t have a control over the arguments or what people say, and then it can look messy to the public. There was a similar incident in June 2016 that falls in that category. Your council was about to vote on an additional $350,000 to have a consultant examine the practices of the police department. Your police chief, Michael Koval, has a blog. On the evening of June 5, he published a piece about this report where he started out with “bring it on,” saying the police have nothing to hide. But suddenly, the six paragraphs that followed included this language: “to the Common Council: you are being watched….this is a pre-emptive first strike from me to you.” What was your reaction to his accusations that your council was letting him and his officers down?

A: I think the police chief really was not being very fair in his assessment of why morale was down with his police force. Almost every item that came to council with regards to police funding was approved. That is the first thing we can do to show support for the police department. All the events that they invite us, leadership was part of it. Other council members who could be part of it also took part. I think it was an ill-informed assessment. I also do not believe police leadership should come to council or use their electronic access, like a blog, and threaten community leaders.

Q: I’m sure he would agree with you that the council has given his department money, but that’s not his complaint. What he’s saying is, when people come into this meeting and they talk smack about my department and my officers, a defense from the council is nowhere to be found. So yes, you’re giving us money, but it’s almost like you’re paying us off to sit back and take all this abuse. I really need you, the council, to push back, on this vilification of us that’s happening right in front of you.

A: If people from the community come to testify, they can say whatever they feel about the police. How does that bring credibility to the people of the city if we’ve just been called all these names, and now we have to sit there and defend the person who’s calling us all these names? It’s our responsibility to educate people about the police work and make them feel good about their police force, but it’s also the responsibility of the person who leads that police force to make sure the community have a good view of the department.


Follow Alder Samba Baldeh on Twitter: @aldersamba

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

Interview #127: Baltimore, MD Councilman Kristerfer Burnett (with podcast)

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

Kristerfer Burnett was in the large freshman class of 2016 on the Baltimore city council and does not shy away from the role that guns, violence, and policing play in the council’s business. He discusses a contentious hearing about mandatory minimum sentences and a bizarre inquiry into whether the fire department threatened bike advocates.

Q: Councilman Brandon Scott does something small but noteworthy each meeting. At the end, when your council holds a moment of silence, he asks the council vice president to announce the homicide total to date. My first thought upon hearing this was, “why would anyone advertise their city’s worst attribute repeatedly in a public council meeting?” So why would you?

A: I think it’s something that we have to own. The violence in Baltimore is unbelievable. It is debilitating to our city. As policymakers, we have a responsibility to address that. We’ve also started to add the victims of the opioid crisis for the same reason. We had over 700 opioid-related deaths last year. That needs to be the headline. I’m not one that feels like cities should try to always put their best foot forward, an image or façade that things are okay.

Q: On July 3, 2018, the judiciary committee held a hearing about the fire department. Councilman Ryan Dorsey read a letter that you all received from an advocate of bike lanes accusing the fire department of parking a ladder truck in front of her house as a threat. What was being alleged here and why were you, the council, involved?

A: There’s been a lot of resistance from the fire department to the construction of bicycle infrastructure. The argument they were trying to make, albeit poorly, was an attempt to basically argue that by narrowing the roads with bicycle infrastructure, it would make it more difficult to navigate. Some streets are very narrow and their equipment is pretty large. What I didn’t quite understand was, it looks like they got the ladder truck up to me [in a video from the fire department]. The council got involved because there was an attempt by Council Member Dorsey to strike out of the fire code these guidelines that would have prohibited the construction of bike infrastructure due to roadway widths.

Q: Yeah.

A: On a lighter note, when we received that video the day before the hearing, Council Member Dorsey and I–I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this–we’re two millennial legislators. We’re like, “what do we do with the DVD? I don’t even know where to put this!” I literally had no way to watch it for several hours because my laptop didn’t have a DVD player.

Q: [laughs] 

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Baltimore, MD Councilman Kristerfer Burnett

The overriding concern was why the fire department filmed their video outside the home of one of their opponents. How satisfactory did you find the fire chief’s response that it was not intentional?

A: That particular roadway is a very long one. That bike lane is also one of the longest in the city. If they needed to prove a point on that particular street, they could have done it pretty easily without being in front of the house. I was extremely disappointed in the fire chief on that one and told him so.

Q: That was about accountability for the fire department, so let’s shift to accountability in policing. In the judiciary committee on July 25, 2017, there was legislation which would have established a punishment of one year’s incarceration for anyone who carried a firearm within 100 feet [yards] of a place of public assembly. Right away, multiple council members offered stories of their experiences with gun violence. Is it fair to say that most if not all Baltimore council members have a direct connection to the escalating homicide numbers that we hear at every meeting?

A: That is correct. One of my high school teammates on the football team lost his life to gun violence in 2017. It’s very much something that has hit almost all of us, if not all of us, at some point.

Q: Councilman Scott argued at the hearing that it’s easier for people in black areas of Baltimore to be in violation of this proposed law. There wasn’t really a racial divide that I noticed at the meeting. There were a bunch of people for and against it. Did you see the proposal as fundamentally racist?

A: Yes and here’s why. A lot of my colleagues were very well-intentioned in their support. They felt this is an answer to a problem that we all agree is a problem. You do see patterns of over-policing in black communities without this law. Some of my colleagues were not thinking about that part of it. I represent some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baltimore. There is a knee-jerk reaction to say, “we need more cops.” I don’t think their support was because they want to lock up more black people, but I think the unintended consequence would have been that.


Follow Councilman Kristerfer Burnett on Twitter: @CouncilmanKB

Interview #121: Salt Lake City, UT Council Member Charlie Luke (with podcast)

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

A historic council chamber. Mayor’s question time. And colorful, sometimes impassioned public commenters. These are the hallmarks of Salt Lake City’s council meetings that Council Member Charlie Luke walks us through.

Q: There is an aspect of your meetings that we don’t find in too many American councils: “questions to the mayor.” Why does this happen in your meetings?

A: Tradition. I don’t know when that practice started. It’s been rather hit and miss with mayors actually attending. A lot of times when they are there, we’re just happy that they are there. We’ve just been following the tradition.

Q: At the mayor’s question time of September 18, 2018, council members were upset that the mayor was not present to answer questions about the controversial Inland Port. Isn’t it unfair to say that the mayor doesn’t show up to answer questions when in fact your council oftentimes has nothing to ask her?

A: Absolutely not because most of our questions are going to be related to the items at hand. Especially when there is an issue where there is substantial council disagreement with the administration, there would have been questions for the mayor. That’s where a lot of the frustration was.

Q: So would it not be more realistic for the mayor to show up to the contentious issues, where maybe council members have given her a heads-up in advance that there will be questions, rather than expect her to come to every meeting just out of tradition and sit through silence while no one asks her anything?

A: We have roughly three formal meetings a month. In my opinion, it is not unreasonable for the mayor to attend those meetings. If we were having multiple meetings a week, I think your point would be valid. I don’t think it is asking too much for the mayor of the capital city of Utah to take an hour out of her agenda to sit through our meeting.

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Salt Lake City, UT Council Member Charlie Luke

Q: One year ago, your fellow council members–and you especially–were all set to fund 50 new police officers for Salt Lake City. Would you briefly explain why you wanted those extra cops while I go back to the car and run your license?

A: The response times for non-emergency crimes have been increasing steadily over the past few years. We knew that what we were tasking them [police] with was unsustainable. If we were going to get those response times down, the only way we could do it would be to add more officers.

Q: For half a year, there was an extraordinary amount of people–mostly young, but not always; mostly black and latino, but not always–who spoke up meeting after meeting against the police officers. Their message to you was that A.) more cops don’t mean better safety, B.) we and our communities actually don’t feel safe around police, and C.) you, the all-white city council, have a distorted experience with police that is not our reality. Your reaction to that is what?

A: Nationally, there have been issues with police and racial issues around the country. In the seven years I’ve been on council, we’ve worked closely with the police chief to better train our officers to deal with de-escalation. I’m not discounting what any of them have said. My life experience as a middle-aged white male is much, much different from people of color, women, and others. I’m not ever going to discount what they’re saying. But I am going to go off of numbers and what we’re looking for as a city.

Q: I don’t think that any of the commenters ever said explicitly that this increase in officers was emblematic of racism or white supremacy. But the message clearly was, “the city uses the police to intimidate and in some cases kill us.” I know that you strongly support the additional officers, but can you think of anything that would have to happen with the police in Salt Lake City for you to believe the argument they were making?

A: It’s not that I don’t believe the argument. I do believe that there is legitimate fear and concern. All I can do is try to improve the situation. I can’t go back and fix things that have historically happened. Since we do have to have law enforcement, let’s make them as best-trained as they can possibly be.


Follow Council Member Charlie Luke on Twitter: @CharlieLukeSLC

Interview #112: Minneapolis, MN Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins (with podcast)

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

The Minneapolis council has been proactive about addressing racial inequity, despite outside events making it a challenge. Andrea Jenkins describes how she felt about council members’ reactions to an equity training earlier this year.

Q: On August 1 of this year, there was a committee of the whole meeting in which you all sat through a racial equity training. Would you be surprised if I told you that I’ve been hosting this program for two years and this is the first racial equity training I’ve seen a city council do?

A: Yes, I thought every city council in America was doing racial equity training. That’s not true?

Q: No! I hate to let you down because that is wildly off-base, but what did you hope to accomplish with this training?

A: Well, we’re trying to get the council members woke. The main thing we wanted to accomplish was to have a common understanding and common language that everybody can start with. It dispels the opportunities for people to come in with their own perspective. If we can lay the groundwork for one common understanding, that was the purpose.

Q: I’m glad you brought that up because that was actually the part of the training that hit a roadblock. Council President Lisa Bender said she was uncomfortable participating in an exercise in which council members’ discussions about their early experiences with race would be televised. What did you make of that?

A: Boy, I was really–I was disappointed. We ask people to support us in being representatives. And then we are not willing to share details about our own experiences, our own lives, that could help bring understanding to why we make some of the decisions we make. I know that council President Bender is very open about some really vulnerable parts of her life. It would be really eye opening and compelling for people to understand some of her experiences around race. It wasn’t just council President Bender–I mean, if you watched the meeting, there were a number of council members who were reluctant to share that information. Sometimes there’s really powerful strength in being vulnerable.

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Minneapolis, MN Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins

Q: There is another event we need to discuss that happened before the racial equity training. Can you explain what precipitated your June 27 committee of the whole meeting?

A: A week prior to that meeting, there had been a police-involved shooting of a young, black man who–it was under dispute whether or not he was armed, whether or not he was fleeing and was shot in the back. And so tensions in our community was really, really, really high.

Q: In that meeting, Council Member Cam Gordon wondered whether the city council needed more of a role in the police department. He proceeded to draft that exact charter amendment–which did not sit well with a number of people, including the public safety committee chair, Alondra Cano, who said she was “disgusted by the privilege” of the motion. What did you make of that?

A: I interpreted her use of the term “privilege” to suggest that it would’ve potentially been more appropriate for her to have made that–or someone who had those kinds of experiences–as opposed to Mr. Gordon, who has not lived those kinds of experiences.

Q: So speaking with terms of racial equity, it’s easier for someone who has benefited from the system to look at it and say, “something’s wrong. We need to fix it,” and to have people listen to him, than it might be for someone who belongs to a historically-oppressed group to say the same thing and perhaps get ignored when they say it.

A: I think that is absolutely true. Yes, I agree with that.


Follow Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins on Twitter: @annapoetic

#172: Weyburn, SK 10/22/18

The camera zoomed out from the golden falcon resting on the table next to Mayor Marcel Roy. Its wings were raised, anticipating a takeoff. It was a spot-on mascot for a city council meeting, even if the agenda tonight was less than explosive.

“In 2018 September in comparison to 2017, the crimes against persons had decreased by one. Crimes against property has decreased by 14,” Councillor Mel Van Betuw read in a monotone from the police commission’s meeting minutes.

“At the end of September there were five dogs and 20 cats at the shelter, none fostered.”

All of a sudden, this routine report on cats and dogs pivoted to the major national event of the week with the drop of a single word.

“The board discussed the timeframe between recreational cannabis usage by police and reporting for duty,” Van Betuw announced. “The mayor suggested it be the same as in the military, which is 24 hours.”

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You let your military do the dew?!

He continued, “the board instructed the chief to advise his members that they require all police officers to go at least 24 hours from the time of cannabis usage before reporting for duty.”

Twenty-four hours? It’s hard to call it “recreational” cannabis when you have to plan it a day in advance. Mayor Roy chimed in with an explanation.

“With all this recreational marijuana going forward, there’s a lot of different issues. Calgary has issued a 28-day no-use of recreational marijuana, which basically gets down to null and void. The military has two [policies]: eight hours if you’re doing paperwork and 24 hours if you’re doing vehicles or weapons.”

He added, somewhat unnecessarily, “once the officer is on duty, there should be no use of recreational marijuana.”

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Only medicinal

From there, it was time to hear from the youth council mayor. Unsurprisingly, the city’s youth had also heard about their friend Mary Jane moving to town.

“Some business that was discussed included cannabis legalization and the impact on the youth,” the youth mayor said. “We also talked about a youth council social media strategy. We will make an Instagram page. We will continue to discuss ways to engage the youth in Weyburn and provide entertainment for young people as well.”

Non-drug-related entertainment was the subtext–although it’s nice that the youth now have options.

“The youth council made a motion to recommend that council appoints Lincoln Alexander to fill the last vacant seat on the youth council.” The youth mayor pointed out, “Lincoln is present tonight.”

“Welcome, my friend!” exclaimed Councillor Dick Michel as he made that very motion.

“Lincoln?” Mayor Roy nodded toward the audience. “Step up, if you would please.”

The new councillor joined the mayor for a picture, jokingly adjusting his shirt to pantomime the mayor buttoning his suit jacket. Both of them grinned.

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Good improv

Rounding out the day’s youth news, Councillor Michel performed his civic duty by bragging about the city’s sports teams.

“On Friday, the Weyburn Bantam Young Fellow Falcons captured the league title in football!” he proclaimed. “Weyburn defeated the Moose Jaw Razorbacks in Moose Jaw to claim this title. Gentlemen: a job well done.”

“I am going to the mayors’ caucus and administrators’ meeting on Thursday,” Mayor Roy remarked. “I will make note to the mayor of Moose Jaw that we beat them there. We will make sure that this well known at the mayors’ caucus.”

I’m happy to do my part here!