Interview #77: Westminster, CO Former Councilor Alberto Garcia (with podcast)

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

Alberto Garcia prefers “recovering councilor” to “former councilor,” which is appropriate because he had a lot to recover from. We talked about the two explosive issues of his final year in office: trash hauling and divisive comments by one of his colleagues.

Q: Alberto, we are talking two months after your council term ended, meaning you can say whatever you want. No, consequences, baby! Tell me–and please use as many F-bombs as you’d like–what is something you’ve been keeping bottled up inside about the Westminster council meetings?

A: If I was on council, I would go with the, “we have a wonderful team. We have great staff.” And all that is true.

Q: But….

A: But I cannot begin to describe to you how long these meetings were. I can tell you, many times that was not absolutely necessary. Sometimes you just say, “come on, we’ve talked about this for two hours. Let’s vote!” There is a cartoon I saw once in which Donald Duck and Porky Pig run for city council. Donald Duck wins. Then in his very first council meeting, he looks up at the clock and it’s 2 a.m. And the mayor says, “now on to agenda item number two.” And that is how I felt frequently!

Q: [Laughs] Well, Westminster has audio, but no video, of its council meetings. So I have no idea what your council chamber looks like, but let me attempt to describe it based on what I’ve heard. If I say anything that’s not accurate, please stop me right away.

A: Sure.

Q: Here we go: fully-nude can-can dancers. Burmese pythons. Air thick with hookah smoke. Heads of councilors who lost reelection mounted on the wall–

A: I’m still waiting for you to say something inaccurate.

Q: Perfect. Are you going to talk to your former council colleagues about getting on the same page as every other civilized municipality–plus Hoboken–and video steam these meetings?

A: I am going to raise this issue in the coming days about why we insist on staying in the past and not showing full transparency.

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Westminster, CO Former Councilor Alberto Garcia

Q: One of the big issues from earlier last year was how the city was thinking about switching to a single trash hauler instead of the 13 or so trash hauling companies that operate now. Were you surprised that Westminster residents were massively protective of their garbagemen?

A: In the four years I was on council, that’s the thing that surprised me the most. I did not realize people’s affinity went: their parents, their children, and their trash hauler.

Q: How hard was it for you, the government, to focus on the facts when people were showing up to the meetings channeling Ayn Rand, talking about liberty and economic freedom?

A: I think that was our biggest mistake: “this is the right thing to do. It’s about sustainability, protecting our environment.” We had to go back to the very beginning and try to convince people that recycling is even necessary! This is a community that does not like change. There is a fear of change.

Q: One of your colleagues, Bruce Baker, made controversial comments during several meetings in a row. If you had been in his position, ideological outlier on a council, would you have adopted his approach?

A: Something I admire is that Councilor Baker did not mind voting no. If I was on a council, I would not take his tactics of attacking my colleagues. If I did not get the outcome I wanted, I would still feel comfortable voting no.


Follow Alberto Garcia on Twitter: @AlbertoinWesty

#47: Victoria, TX 8/30/16

Nothing gets me in a good mood to watch a city council meeting faster than seeing seeing disclaimers like this:

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Boo yah! In and out in less time than a network sitcom! Mayor Paul Polasek, what’s the first item on your agenda?

“First item on our agenda is items from council,” the mayor announced from somewhere beneath his Tom Selleck mustaches. “Do you have anything you wanna discuss?”

“Mr. Mayor, if we can put on the agenda for next meeting to talk about recycling?” Councilmember Andrew Young suggested.

City Manager Charmelle Garrett smiled at the quizzical councilmember and spoke patiently. “You can even talk about it tonight. It doesn’t have to be specifically on the agenda.”

“I kind of thought that, but…” Young trailed off into a grimace, waiting for someone to pry the rest of the thought out of him.

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You can hide a lot of thoughts in Councilmember Young’s hybrid bathrobe/blazer.

“Unless,” the city manager tried to read his mind, “you want it for the public purpose?”

This was like pulling teeth. “Eh, give them an opportunity to come up here and speak…if they’d like,” the councilmember shrugged. Is this guy for real? To be clear: absolutely no one is stopping the good people of Victoria from talking about recycling at ANY council meeting.

Case in point–first public commenter of the evening, the school superintendent:

“I’m here this evening to speak regarding the benefits of the recycle program,” the shiny-domed super read from his book report. “Continuing with the current recycling program would cost Victoria households $2.92 per month.”

$2.92? Wow, that’s a huge bargain! Although this IS Texas, so everything seems huge. Even the bromances.

“We appreciate the work you do. We’re all very proud of y’all achievements,” the mayor beamed at the superintendent.

“We appreciate you very much, too,” the super boyishly grinned. I waited for one of them to say, “I wish I knew how to quit you!” but alas, no takers.

As if on a mission to prove Councilmember Young’s separate-meeting theory wrong, the next commenter was a tall glass of water who wanted to talk about–

“First off, I’d like to echo Dr. Jackson’s comments on the recycling program. I think it’s a small amount for us to continue. Me? The $3 extra a month is no problem.”

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“Hell, I’d give ya $4.”

Closing in on minute 14, the public works director had a brief presentation. “I’ve got some slides with some marked up changes  So this here is the planned project sheet:

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Oh, wow…that’s…hard to read.

“The projects that we have recommended removing, we’ve stricken the Nursery Drive project–”

Mayor Polasek jumped in. “When you say ‘stricken,’ we’re not cancelling these. We’re not NEVER gonna go back and do Nursery Drive. There’s some people out there that would kill us if we didn’t!”

Being Texas, I believe it! Annnnnnddd minute 19–fin!

Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to that chemistry between the mayor and the superintendent. Encore!

#27: Minot, ND 6/6/16

Chronicling the Minot city council was like a chef finally tasting his pièce de résistance. I take full credit for this meeting, which would not be online if I hadn’t talked to one of Minot’s city council members. (Okay, fine, I take partial credit.)

Needless to say, I was amped! It’s the first videotaped council meeting in the history of Minot (rhymes with “Why not!”). Everyone’s gon’ get cray for the camera!

“Ugh,” the kindly old citizen at the podium sighed. “No one can tell me that downtown doesn’t deserve or need traffic lights,” he warily–almost sleepily–said about Minot’s de-stoplighting plan.

“Pedestrian count is way down? Hmm. They took it in February 5, 6, and 7. Do you know what the weather was like on February 5? 23.9 degrees below zero.” Another heavy sigh. “All I can say is, Lance, shame on you. You should be spanked.”

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The Minot city council, in all its low-res glory.

In the no-camera days, Lance may very well have been spanked on the spot. Instead, the city manager had the opposite of a spanking to give: “I’d like to recognize two folks,” he announced, unfolding a fellow Minoter’s letter. “The alley behind my house had been damaged. I had nothing but a big muddy mess,” he read. But “there were two very nice men in the alley this morning. They were nice, pleasant, and hardworking. My alley is beautiful!”

He glanced up. “So what I’d like to do…if you guys would go up there, the president of city council is going to give you a city coin.”

The two heroic employees ascended to the dais amid rapturous applause to receive their lucre.

After the good vibes subsided, the city manager smirked across the room. “The coin rule is: next time you see [council] President Jantzer anyplace, if he doesn’t have HIS coin on him, he owes you an adult beverage of your choice.” The council guffawed.

He added: “I haven’t given him one, so I KNOW he doesn’t have one!” Everyone whooped, but the city manager had one more roast up his sleeve.

“Mr. President, I wanted to show you–because he’s not here–the mayor is going to be in the dunking booth this Friday. So for all of you that wants to partake in this…”

President Mark Jantzer demurred. “It’s very…unexpected news. But we appreciate it!” The other aldermen snickered, no doubt calculating the training regimen needed to sink Hizzoner.

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Woohoo! That’s 56 more people who might show up to dunk the mayor!

Finally, the council called on a sprightly young staffer named Jason to present the flashy new recycling plan. “We’ve got less than 10 years of capacity,” at the Minot landfill, Jason apocalyptically warned. “What we’re proposing is curbside recycling, picked up and emptied by collection vehicles–with mechanical arms to lift the carts, empty the contents in the collection vehicle, and return them to the ground,” he said, describing that newfangled contraption called “a garbage truck.” For any aldermen still confused, he played a video of one doing its duty.

The council, apparently impressed with this 20th-century technology, voted in favor of the recycling plan.

Final thoughts: beautiful. My best work yet. To the city of Minot, may you continue to videotape your council meetings till the landfill runneth over.