#163: Middletown, OH 7/17/18

The atmosphere was pleasantly calm in the Middletown council chamber. Perhaps that had something to do with Mayor Larry Mulligan, Jr.’s preferred icebreaker: “If you’d please stand and join me in a moment of meditation,” he directed, precipitating a hush across the room.

If the vibe wasn’t mellowed enough, they certainly brought in the right person to finish the job: the director of the library.

“Book Mobile hit the road again. First time since 1988,” he announced with the excitement of, well, someone who works at a library. “Regularly stopping around 22 different schools, they’ve seen about 14,000 people on the Book Mobile.”

The first Book Mobile in 30 years? The first since the invention of the World Wide Web? Since Taylor Swift was born? The first since the U.S. and Russia were enemies and–well, okay, the Book Mobile didn’t miss that part. But like any 30-year-old, it can’t live with its parents and needs a place of its own.

“We have a garage project. That will be the permanent home for the Book Mobile,” the director said. “We’ll also have some staff there that can pull in, run in, restock the Book Mobile, and head back out. That’s exciting.”

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If the Book Mobile’s a-rockin’, the staff is restockin’.

A resurrected Book Mobile was only part of the reason to celebrate in Middletown. “We actually got compliments on the fireworks!” exclaimed Council Member Ami Vitori. “I think maybe they were a little longer this year. Just long enough to make everyone happy. AND THEN THEY KEPT GOING!” she breathlessly recapped the experience.

“Really enjoyed the activities downtown–First Friday, the ice cream social event,” Mayor Mulligan reminisced. “I heard they gave out over 350 pieces of ice cream. Some of us just stopped at the adult beverages and not the ice cream.”

Mewonders how many adult beverages it takes for someone to call scoops of ice cream “pieces of ice cream.”

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“I’ll take a cone with two pieces.”

But there was a bigger problem confronting Middletown–and it wasn’t the historical lack of book mobiles or compliments for the fireworks.

“Since my involvement with the city back on the financial oversight committee in 2004, you know that’s–man, 14 years ago. Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess,” the mayor deadpanned. “The roads have been a real area of concern.”

He continued on a long monologue with a message of: hey, we need to wake up and smell the asphalt.

“While I’m certainly not a proponent of higher taxes, the financial landscape has changed quite a bit. We need to come up with some creative solutions,” he warned. “While other cities are at a two percent tax or more, we’re still below that. We could really get a lot of paving done, truly extend those deteriorating roads another 25-30 years.”

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Without roads, how will the Book Mobile survive?!

The clerk read the giant text displayed onscreen. “An ordinance to impose an additional one-quarter percent income tax effective January 1, 2019 for period of ten years to be used solely for the construction, repair, improvement, and maintenance of streets and roads in the city.”

She paused, then added: “We’re not requesting any action until August 7.”

“Be aware,” the mayor mused, glancing around the dais to the three other council members present, “to make our August 8 deadline to get it on the ballot, it will require four votes from council.”

For the sake of the Book Mobile, I hope they have them.

#11: Oklahoma City, OK 4/26/16

Friction. Discord. Tumult. For a place nicknamed “The Big Friendly,” this week’s Oklahoma City council meeting was anything but. Put on some sunscreen and drink plenty of liquids–the People’s Business is about to get heated.

It all started out smoothly enough. Telegenic Mayor Mick Cornett handed awards to the basketball team and the police department. But when Hizzoner brought up the subject of new development in the city, one councilman lit up the mic.

“It’s basically equivalent to a Ponzi scheme,” cried councilman and spinal care doctor Ed Shadid. He was enraged at developers who plopped down houses on the edge of town, forcing the city to pay for roads and such. Meanwhile, his inner city neighborhoods were crumbling. “We’re building sidewalks while neighborhoods in the core don’t have sidewalks!”

“We put public dollars in some of those places before anybody was living out there,” this modern-day Robin Hood lamented. “I have kids walking in the middle of the street” because of crappy sidewalks.

Crotchety Councilman Pete White, elected way back in 1982 when Doc Shadid was barely out of diapers, grunted, “You’re not king. I’m not king. We need to get off the conversation and into action.”

The mayor called a vote: 8-1, with Shadid and his inner city kids losing.

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This beautiful road is the reason Councilman Ed Shadid’s kids have no sidewalks.

A citizen named Amber rose to address the council. Her husband was driving in a January snowstorm when he hit a pothole that majorly banged up their car. She sent the bill to the city, but the claim was denied.

“We do have images from Google Maps from 2015 that also show the pothole was visible,” Amber said, waving the picture.

“Do you have any other evidence?” Councilman Mark Stonecipher pressed.

“In 2011 there was a city agenda that discussed repairs and improvements that needed to be done on the street,” Amber answered slyly. Hold the g–d– phone. In this very room…in front of these very people…well, I’ll let the councilman connect the dots.

“What you’re saying is we were proposing to fix the road and we did not do that for that area?”

Amber: “Yes.”

Mic dropped. Mind blown. The council agreed they should probably pay the claim.

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Methinks they could have fixed that pothole if they heeded Councilman Ed Shadid’s warning.

It was time for councilmember comments. And Councilman John A. Pettis, Jr. had some muck to rake.

“It’s been a while since I’ve given the Ward 7 sermon,” he wheezed. “Normally my sermons are an hour. But I’ll do a sermon in less than 15 minutes.”

The target of his rage was the school district. “They have not been upfront and honest with us about their intention,” he fretted. And regarding recently-dismissed superintendent Rob Neu,  “I am glad that he’s gone.”

At this point, Councilman White snapped, “I don’t think this is any of our business.”

“I’m gonna talk about it and I did talk about it,” Councilman Pettis retorted.

“You can obviously talk longer and louder than I can but it doesn’t make you right,” Councilman White growled. The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Luckily, Councilwoman Meg Salyer grabbed her mic and rambled about the arts festival, putting everyone at ease.

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Councilman Pete White: “I’ve killed manlier men than you.”

Final thoughts: First we had councilman vs. city. Then citizen vs. city. And finally councilman vs. councilman. This was a slugfest and it wasn’t pretty. I give this meeting 4 out of 5 kids walking in the street.