This past Tuesday was Election Day in the United States, which means there were plenty of city council races to keep track of. We provide you with some updates on a handful of city councils profiled on previous podcast episodes.
A whirlwind of activity has buffeted the Prairie Village council–starting with the onset of live streaming earlier this year and ending in an aborted council meeting earlier this week. Council Member Tucker Poling describes his at-times-incredulous reaction to some of the developments.
Q: I am talking to you in the third week of September, which means you had a council meeting a few days ago. How did that go?
A: It went about as well as council meetings go when nobody shows up!
A: I had a nondiscrimination ordinance on the agenda and suddenly, the few hours before the meeting, we had four council members text or email the city manager and say that they couldn’t make it. Therefore, we did not have a quorum and we could not meet and hilarity did not ensue. I was not happy about it.
Q: You know Prairie Village and you know these council members. I don’t want it to sound like I’m blaming you when I say: should you have known this was coming?
A: I will say no. In my knowledge, it’s never happened before in this way. It’s been very rare we have more than one absence. At the time, I–let’s say I “lost my chill” a little bit, as the younger people say. I had no chill on that evening! [laughs]
Q: [laughs] Well that sounds perfectly “dope” and thank you for not being “extra” despite your lack of “chill.” And–I’m sorry, there’s something else that’s bugging me. Can you explain what was before you council on August 20 of this year?
A: That was Councilman Ron Nelson’s proposal for us to adopt the principles of the convention to end all discrimination against women. All Ron was asking for was a resolution saying that we support equity and equality for women and girls.
Q: On August 20, the first thing that happened was that council members argued against the resolution. How did you feel about what you heard?
A: I felt mind-numbingly confused and disappointed. I was flabbergasted that this was controversial. We had people in an open, public meeting talking about conspiracy theories about the UN [United Nations].
Q: The resolution was not passed and sent back to staff on a vote of 7-5. Of the six council members who canceled at this week’s meeting for your anti-LGBT discrimination proposal, how many of them also voted to shoot down the anti-gender discrimination proposal?
A: All of them.
Q: Some of them were suspicious of the UN, and I guess I get that a little. It does feed into the caricature of middle America. But others were arguing that “all lives matter,” right? That, “why can’t we have a nondiscrimination again men too?” And others seemed to think there was no inequity in Prairie Village. I’m curious, if your council meeting had happened on Monday, would you have expected that same argument to come up about sexual orientation?
A: Yeah, there definitely would have been those same objections. “We don’t have any discrimination in Prairie Village. This is all ‘political.'” Which is just very confusing to me because the idea that the human condition does not apply in Prairie Village and all the flaws that we have as human beings somehow don’t apply in nice, upper class communities like ours–that’s pretty blind in my view.
Q: It occurred to me that people who said, “if we pass this, it’s just an admission that something is wrong here”–ironically, by not passing it, it gathered all this attention and people asking, “what is wrong with the Prairie Village council that they can’t pass this?” It had the opposite effect.
A: That’s exactly right. It’s bizarre that people think that by not acknowledging something, that’s just going to go away. And people are not going to notice that you’ve chosen to not acknowledge that equity issues exist everywhere.
Follow Council Member Tucker Poling on Twitter: @TuckerForPV
“Last week, as you all know, I went to Washington, D.C.,” Mayor Laura Wassmer casually mentioned her Kansas and Nebraska mayors’ powwow at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We had quite a dog and pony show,” she continued, gingerly stepping around all of the names she was dropping. “Kellyanne Conway talked a bit about working to help the opioid crisis. Ben Carson talked about affordable housing.”
She paused. “They made the point over and over, there are a lot of great things happening at the White House that is not being reported by the media–and asked that we pass that along.”
Consider it passed! Just think of all the people who haven’t pleaded guilty! Everything’s great!
And you know where else great things were happening? Right there in the Prairie Village council meeting, where it was a very big week for city administrator Wes Jordan.
“Wes, this is a very big week for you!” Mayor Wassmer glanced slyly over to him. “Not only is it your birthday on Thursday, but SOMEBODY has been with Prairie Village for 30 years as of Wednesday.”
“Woo-woo!” came an anonymous catcall as applause broke out.
The mayor went down the line of compliments, from the professional–“I think of how conscientious he is”–to the…intimate.
“There’s the perfect hair. The forever perfect hair,” she observed, although the video quality was not good enough to independently confirm. “We have your favorite ice cream cake in the back. And more importantly–”
Mayor Wassmer disappeared under the desk for a moment, then emerged brandishing a giant, shiny blue object.
“–your own Prairie Village street sign!”
“Speech! Speech! Speech!” yelled Council Member Brooke Morehead.
The only thing standing between the council and ice cream cake was a tiny bit of official business. Namely, a resolution “in support of the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” It seemed like the kind of routine measure that would pass without a fight.
But then the fight began.
“I will vote no because I’m not comfortable placing our city under international law when the U.S. Senate refuses to ratify the treaty after nearly 40 years,” announced Council Member Morehead defiantly.
“By passing this resolution, it could be mistaken that we are endorsing its tenets on civil rights, reproductive rights, and gender relations.”
“There are probably places where men are discriminated against, arguably,” Council Member Dan Runion echoed in the vein of “All Lives Matter.” “It’s a feel-good measure. Why pull one group out and treat them differently?”
Council Member Ron Nelson was incredulous at what he was hearing. “There are 189 state-nations that have adopted the Convention. There are seven that have not,” he retorted. “Those are Palau, the Holy See, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga. And last and, sadly, least: the United States.”
“It frankly amazes me that we can say highlighting that there should not be discrimination against one class of people minimizes others’.”
Council Member Jori Nelson stared down at her notes. “We’re proclaiming this to be Diaper Week and Electric Car Week. And we’ve done Peanut Butter Week.” She clenched her fist. “It is MY opinion that women’s equal rights is more important and should take precedence over peanut butter, diapers.”
“I’m not sure what–what–if we’re…I’M certainly not trying to equate this resolution with Peanut Butter Week!” shouted Council Member Andrew Wang. “We are creating an enormous act of discrimination by passing this resolution while there has NOT been any shred of evidence that we have a problem.”
“I don’t know why this anxiety exists because a United Nations entity thought that this was important,” pleaded Council Member Chad Herring.
Council Member Morehead reiterated her firm opposition. “I’m a successful business owner. Longtime mom, grandma. I think I’m a pretty good role model.”
She caught the eye of an employee in the back. “Jamie! You, lady, you’re doing a terrific job. And you, little girl back there? Yeah, you’re doing wonderful!” She leaned back. “You are tying yourself to the United Nations. We don’t need it!”
Council Member Jori Nelson’s hand shot up. “When you speak about women as ‘little girls,’ or not addressing the staff as educated and intelligent, I think it’s demeaning.”
She glowered across the dais and pointed angrily at Morehead. “They’re not little girls. They’re women.”
“Make no mistake,” Council Member Ron Nelson interjected softly, “a vote that no, this resolution should not be adopted, is a vote that there should be discrimination against women.” It appeared the council was evenly divided in this standoff. All of a sudden–
“Motion to refer to staff,” Council Member Runion moved to ditch the resolution entirely for the night after a half hour of anguish.
The mayor called for a vote. Seven hands went up in favor. Five against.
It was a disheartening ending to the meeting. And an even more bizarre beginning to Diaper Week.