Interview #128: Dubuque, IA Council Member Luis Del Toro (with podcast)

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

Luis Del Toro entered the Dubuque council in 2016 and explains how he became a bit of an iconoclast, not shying away from dissent or from pushing policy changes. Plus, he clarified why council members seemed so critical of the renters and landlords who came before the council to ask for a ruling.

Q: I noticed a little over a year ago that people started coming into the council meetings to speak about source-of-income discrimination. How did Dubuque get roped into the fight for economic justice?

A: When it came to housing choice vouchers, the city got themselves in a little bit of hot water with [the Department of Housing and Urban Development]. We had some ways that we were trying to divvy those out, and that was seen as discriminatory by HUD. We had to come up with a plan, but we had citizens petition us to make the acceptance of those vouchers mandatory. We’ve opted to not get to that step yet.

Q: Right, the more moderate solutions were what your council voted on in early 2017. However, all of a sudden, Council Member Kevin Lynch broadsided the commenters in the room, scolding them for not working cohesively. How did you feel about that?

A: What he’s referencing is we had a source-of-income committee that was a combination of organizations within our city as well as the landlords that were supposedly trying to come up with a plan for us. What seemed to come out of that was more of an us-versus-them them perspective. They weren’t listening to each other. They couldn’t agree upon what presentation they wanted to bring before council.

Q: The council members seemed to be saying, “you all should have agreed on your own rather than come to us to decide for you.” That took me aback because that is what the government does all the time: it resolves policy disagreements by deciding what is the law. Were these council members offended that they had to make a decision on something?

A: I wouldn’t necessarily say that. I think it was the expectation of having a lot of smart people in the room and a lot of individuals that are very capable of coming up with a solution that actually showed some partnership between the two groups.

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Dubuque, IA Council Member Luis Del Toro

Q: I get the impulse to chastise the two sides, but isn’t it a bit naive to think that two groups of people with very different economic interests will find the common ground that you think they have? Was this a small town expectation of civility that you were projecting onto them?

A: It could be viewed that way. We are a little bit smaller and we’ve always prided ourselves in being able to find answers to problems that seem a little bigger than we are.

Q: On February 18 this year, you proposed an emergency cancellation policy for city council meetings in cases of inclement weather. I assume this covers blizzards, floods, and deluges of presidential candidates?

A: Well, apparently yes! We did vote later that evening to change our upcoming meeting next year due to the caucusing here in Iowa. But right now, our only provision within our city code is we can make adjustments to our meeting date and time 30 days in advance. Obviously, a lot of things can happen in 30 days. This year, we had wind chills that were 60 below. Travel wasn’t advised. We had no provision in place that gave us the opportunity to delay our council meeting to possibly the next evening.

Q: Do you think the criticism from other council members and the mayor that “the council meeting must go on and we’ve managed in bad weather before” is a healthy attitude to have?

A: No, not at all. I respectfully disagree. It should come down to valuing the safety of our citizens as well as ourselves and city staff in trying to get to these meetings. There was a no-tow ban put in place. If you were out on that road and you went into a ditch trying to navigate our icy streets, no help was coming for you. With frostbite that could occur in five to ten minutes, those are dangerous conditions to expect individuals to attend a meeting.

Interview #10: Hampton, VA City Council Clerk Katherine Glass

Hampton’s city council clerk had some FUN stories, so let’s get to it! Katherine Glass told me about how to get the key to the city and the time she almost clotheslined President Obama.

Q: You’ve got a city council meeting in 48 hours–what was today like for you?

A: The mayor popped in and saw a group that does youth sports. He suggested that they come to a council meeting, but we already have three groups coming to be recognized. And two more got added. So I’ve got to figure out how we accommodate five groups and make everybody feel welcome, but we still get the business of the city done.

Q: Yeah, I don’t envy you.

A: My workflow is one week I’m getting ready for a meeting–or I’m having a meeting. We’re highly automated. I think Hampton was the second city in the country to go to iPad technology for meetings.

Q: You’re a trendsetter!

A: It came from [former] Mayor Molly Ward. She worked for the Obama administration for a while. I got to go and have lunch at the White House. Like, in the West Wing dining room! Very, very cool.

Q: Did you meet the president?

A: I wouldn’t say MEET him…we almost collided with him.

Q: You gotta tell me what happened.

A: I had just asked Molly, “do you pass Obama in the hall?” She goes, “not really.” I swear to you, not five minutes later, Molly was leading the way, [former city attorney] Cynthia [Hudson] was behind me, and I see all these men in black. And by the time I look back, Cynthia is at the intersection and he [Obama] just about runs into her.

Q: Oh, no.

A: And he says, “Hello!” She goes “Hello!” I was like, “that’s the flipping President of the United States! I could reach out and touch him!”

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Hampton, VA city council clerk Katherine Glass

Q: When you look at this city council, do you see any future White House officials? Congresspeople? A president?

A: Not in this group. I think they’re serving out of a love to the city. You’ve got two retirees…Teresa Schmidt is actually a preschool administrator…Billy Hobbs runs an automotive dealership. Everybody knows Billy. He’s just your average guy.

Q: So how do you describe your job?

A: Departments compile their information. They get it to me. I make sure it looks right and I put it in a packet. The packet goes out to council on Friday, so they have a good five days to review everything. My job while I’m at the meeting is to record their votes. I make sure the mayor signs all the new laws. I’m the funnel.

Q: “The funnel,” nice.

A: It’s an interesting job. You get calls from weird reporters that are like, “hey, I’m gonna watch your meeting.”

Q: Ugh, I hate those people.

A : Have you ever heard of Mark Malkoff?

Q: Nope.

A: He called with a bizarre request. He asked me, “what do you have to do to get the key to the city?” I’m like, I don’t know that we really have a key to the city! His thing was to do a road trip across the country and see how many keys to the city he could collect.

Q: Katherine. How does City Council Chronicles get a key to the city?

A: Something terribly creative.

Q: What about…I review your city council meeting and you mention City Council Chronicles DURING the meeting?

A: I can ask the mayor…I’ll see if Donnie can do that in his mayor’s comments.

Q: THANK YOU SO MUCH.