Interview #58: Edinburgh, SCT Councilor Susan Rae (with podcast)

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

Susan Rae is a brand new Green Party councilor in Edinburgh and she has a terrific sense of humor! The Edinburgh city council had a hiccup after no political party won a majority when the council convened in May–plus, no one wanted to form a coalition until after the surprise election the prime minister called for June. We talked about that sticky wicket, plus all of the traditions of her council.

Q: Can you describe your council chamber?

A: It has beautiful stained glass windows and very old, very large desks. They have lids that open so you can hide everything in there. And large seats–I’m very tiny, only five foot tall. So my feet don’t actually touch the ground. They kind of swing!

Q: What do you hide in your desk?

A: I hide my cigarettes and my lighter and some biscuits in case I get hungry.

Q: The Lord Provost (a.k.a. mayor) makes a grand entrance every meeting: someone announces his arrival, everyone stands, and two other fancily-dressed people in white gloves follow him and put the mace into his high-backed chair. As an American, I’m thinking, there have got to be mayors over here who would LOVE their entrance announced with an entourage. Do you think it’s excessively formal?

A: I don’t feel it’s very necessary but there are traditional elements within the council that do like to keep the tradition of the mace and the sword. I’m very desiring of taking in a lightsaber one day. We [in the Green Party] all have our own! I would probably have to stash it in my desk.

Q: Well, yeah, you’d have to take out the cigarettes and the biscuits to fit it in there probably.

A: [Laughs] The traditional part has a place. It’s all on display, all of the silverware, the keys to the city–

Q: Wait, the keys to the city are just sitting out in the open in the chamber where anyone can take them?

A: We take them to Holyrood Palace and present them to the queen. Then she gives us them back and says, “you’re really good at looking after my city. Keep the keys!” So we did that recently.

Edinburgh, Scotland Councilor Susan Rae (and the keys to the city)

Q: Each of the parties has a section of the room where you all sit together. And generally if the Conservatives are all standing to vote, Labour will not be standing. Are you allowed to disagree with your party and be the only person to vote for something?

A: It depends on the party. Some parties have a whip system and you have to follow the whip’s instruction. We tend to agree on things or we vote with our conscience. Labour and SNP operate a whip system and the Conservatives always vote together.

Q: I don’t know what the penalty is…death, maybe, if you don’t vote with them?

A: I don’t think it’s death quite yet. But I think you can be suspended from the group or they don’t let you have biscuits in your desk.

Q: That’s a steep penalty indeed.

A: The role of a councilor is to look after the people in their ward. I would rather people voted for what the people in their constituency want, not for what their party want.

Follow Councilor Susan Rae on Twitter: @susan4leithwalk

#3: Muscatine, IA 4/7/16

If something smells musky, it’s gotta be the Muskies of Muscatine, Iowa! This Thursday’s city council meeting was as hot as a stick of fried butter here in the “Pearl of the Mississippi.” From an arts center imbroglio to a puzzling piece of park, these Hawkeyes stayed hawk-eyed on the People’s Business.

“Tonight we have a special guest,” mayor Diana Broderson hinted, smiling toward the podium and the local V.I.P. standing astride it. “Sophia Aguirre is going to read the proclamation done for the Muscatine Volunteer Week.”

Whoa, talk about a surprise drop-in! Mayor Broderson booked the 2016 Miss Muscatine Outstanding Teen for a primetime Thursday night appearance?!

I was starstruck as Her Highness daintily read the declaration of April 10-16 as volunteer week for all Muskies. Applause erupted among the common rabble and the council members giddily lined up for a photo of this once-in-a-lifetime brush with royalty.

Miss Muscatine Outstanding Teen thunderously addressing her subjects

After this red carpet moment, the council turned to less glamorous fare. “We’re gonna move on to number five in our agenda,” Mayor Broderson announced. Number five? Where were numbers two through four? Had they been executed at Miss Teen Muscatine’s request?

“If there is anyone in the audience that would like to discuss an item not on tonight’s agenda, please step to the podium,” the mayor thundered.

One citizen approached warily.

The councilmembers licked their lips, ready to pounce on their foolhardy prey.

“I wanted to propose making Third Street a one-way to deal with traffic flow instead of making Second Street into a two-way,” this fair Muskie beseeched her overseers.

“I guess if…” she paused, searching for the words that would get her out of the lion’s den unscathed. “If it’s possible, we could vote on it as a referendum.”

A vote! BY THE RABBLE? I shuddered and turned away, expecting the mayor to tear into her, ripping tendon from bone.

“Thank you. We’ll talk about that further,” she said.

Ah, mercy. The mark of a benevolent lord.

“Let’s move on to section 9A,” Mayor Broderson said, clearly showing not a care in the world for her rupture in the chronological order of space-time.

Section 9A was a proclamation for Sister City Day in Muscatine. The mayor stamped the holiday on April 3, to honor Dro…Droh–“boy this is gonna be tough,” she muttered–Drohobych, Ukraine; Kisolovodsk, Russia; Ichikawamisato, Japan;  Ludw-well, you get the idea. Weird names. The council stood to take a photo with the proclamation.

“We should have all worn our Sunday best today,” the mayor mused.

“I’ll look a lot thinner behind you,” one ample-bodied councilman grunted to another, squeezing into the plus-sized and clearly corn-fed group.

Paparazzi were out in force

Moving on to item 11–yes, 11, thanks to a power-mad mayor–the contract to repair the Muscatine Art Center. There was only one bidder, so open-and-shut case. Moving right along-

“We received one bid?” Councilman Tom Spread cried out.

“There were actually two bids for the project,” a gray-haired city bureaucrat sighed. “The lady delivering the bid for the second contractor got confused and went to the county administration building. She was 10 minutes late, so we couldn’t open that bid.”

Too bad. So sad. Leave her in the dust, boys.

“How do you vote, Tom?” the mayor asked.

“Aye,” Councilman Tom responded.

“Allen?…Bob?…Santos?…Scott?…Phil?…Mike?” All ayes.

Next up, accepting a small portion of Sevig Street for the designation-

“Where’s Sevig Street?” the baritone voice of Councilman Mike Rehwaldt boomed.

Over by the Wal-View development, the city manager called out from the front row, to the councilman’s satisfaction.

Final item, approve an updated master plan for Riverside Park. There was-

“Riverview Park? Is that…the park right opposite that small boat harbor?” Councilman Rehwaldt again interrupted. “Isn’t that Riverveiw Park?”

“Riverside Park,” Councilman Santos Saucedo corrected.

Again, the city manager to the rescue: “Riverside Park is basically Cedar Street down to the boat launch.”

Councilman Rehwaldt crossed his meaty arms, satisfied at learning two new things about his city today.

Councilman Mike “Where is this? Do I live here?” Rehwaldt

With the councilman’s appetite thus satiated, this council of Muskie elders, like the mighty Mississippi River, faded into the night.

Final thoughts: Two words: Miss. Muscatine. Nothing could top that kind of cameo. I give this meeting 10 out of 10 tiaras.