#125: Warren, MI 8/22/17

This week’s Warren city council meeting began with as much subtlety as a kick to the groin.

“Mr. President, I’d like if we could separate check #58071,” Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Colegio wagged her pencil in visible irritation. “I called and asked for the invoices for that item. I filled out a [Freedom of Information Act request]. And this council voted for the administration to give us specifications for the basin project.”

She frowned deeply. “I paid $332.50 out of my own pocket for a FOIA when the administration REFUSED to answer a council request on probably the largest project the city’s gonna do.”

Like a detective who’s spotted the inconsistency in a murderer’s testimony, Colegio shrugged nonchalantly as if to say, “I’ve got you, m–f’er.”

“The original contract amount was approved 3/8/17. The date of my FOIA was May. I’m not sure why THIS,” she brandished the smoking-gun invoice, “wasn’t in my FOIA that I paid $322.50 for.”

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Exhibit A

She had now grown fully livid, slamming her papers down on the dais. “Mayor, I am disgusted by the lack of respect. When you were on council you would’ve screamed your head off about that.”

With one councilwoman having ripped into the mayor, it was only logical that two more councilmen rip into each other.

“The motion is on the floor,” President Cecil St. Pierre sharply cut off Councilman Keith Sadowski as he tried to make a motion of his own.

“But you can make several motions under Robert’s Rules,” Councilman Sadowski leaned back in his chair and protested. “I can make a motion to–what’s the problem?” he recoiled after St. Pierre shot him a dirty look.

“I’m just TELLING YOU,” St. Pierre retorted, “you can–”

“We never follow the rules up here anyway,” angrily snapped Councilman Sadowski.

“I’m trying to follow the rules!” roared President St. Pierre. “I don’t make the Robert’s Rules of Order–”

“You don’t follow them either,” Sadowski spat.

President St. Pierre reeled in disbelief. “Are we gonna argue back and forth?!”

The nine people watching in the audience remained silent.

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Not a good night for Robert’s Rules

At this point, the council president turned to the city attorney to ask why Mayor Pro Tem Colegio’s request ($332.50, remember?) got the cold shoulder.

“There’s certain documents we were not releasing because the nature of the FOIA request–we didn’t have to,” pinstripe suit-clad attorney Nathan Vinson replied calmly and slowly. “I don’t know if she wants copies or what.”

“I was told,” the mayor pro tem rebutted, “there were other documents I couldn’t have pertaining to ‘attorney-client privilege.'”

President St. Pierre raised an eyebrow. “Mr. Vinson, do you know what she’s talking about?”

“No,” Vinson said curtly.

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“The mistrust is THIS high.”

“Are those documents ready to be viewed tomorrow?” Council Secretary Robert Boccomino pressed. “The ones that were requested?”

“Yes, they’re still in Ms. Michaels’s office,” volunteered Vinson.

Councilman Sadowski swiveled and tried to suppress a grin as the lawyer’s words sunk in. “So wait…you said you DON’T know what documents they are. But you DO know what documents they are?”

“It’s my understanding,” Vinson defended himself and for the first time appeared flustered, “that there’s a group of documents marked ‘attorney-client privilege.’ Are you [Mayor Pro Tem Colegio] waiving attorney-client privilege?”

“She IS the client!” Councilman Scott Stevens blurted.

“No, she’s an individual who made a FOIA request!” the city attorney sputtered.

“She handed you the FOIA at this table!” yelled an incredulous Stevens.

Councilman Sadowski shook his head. “This is nonsense.”

Yep.

“I’m gonna give my opinion,” interjected bespectacled Councilman Ronald Papandrea. “I don’t think it’s worth fighting over. I really don’t.”

Well, he may not have been paying attention for the past half hour, but Papandrea certainly succeeded in getting everyone to chuckle. The council voted to force-release the documents.

Interview #54: Cheyenne, WY Mayor Marian Orr (with podcast)

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

Marian Orr is the new mayor of Cheyenne and from what I can tell, she learned how to run an efficient council meeting in practically no time. She shares her secret study tool with us and also reveals the one physiological liability that she has to keep in check. If you enjoy procedures, you’ll love this!

Q: You don’t preside over a city council–you preside over a “governing body.” Why is Cheyenne TOO GOOD for a city council?!

A: We have a strong mayor form of government. When council meets during their Committee of the Whole, THAT is a city council meeting. But when they add me, it becomes a meeting of the governing body.

Q: I’ve heard you are an honest poker player, which is generally not a good thing in poker! Would you say that being a bad poker player is a disadvantage to running a governing body meeting?

A: I don’t have much of a poker face and I don’t know if that serves me well. People really know what it is I’m thinking and–I’ve always had this since being a kid–when things get heated, so does my neck. Even staff can tell when I’m a little on edge because my neck gets really red.

Q: That’s your tell!

A: I have a tell.

Q: Do the other councilors know about this or is it something you’ve kept with your close friends?

A: I believe it is so obvious that if they haven’t paid attention, they must be sleeping.

Q: How did you prepare for running a meeting before you were sworn in?

A: I spent about half a day with our city clerk who is the queen of Robert’s Rues of Order. She was kind enough–people probably don’t know this, so I’m giving the secret away–she wrote a script for me that I was able to pretty closely read from. I’d say it took the first two months to feel like I can run a meeting without a cheat sheet.

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Cheyenne, WY Mayor Marian Orr

Q: I will be filing a Freedom of Information Act request to get that script, so prepare yourself. Did she give you stage directions, like, “say this (inquisitively) or say this (angrily)?”

A: Boy, I think that now she regrets not putting in stage directions! It was, “if this happens, say this.” She would leave a blank as far as “Mr. _______” and I could write in “Johnson” made the motion. But, oh! There were colors. If a motion passes, it was green. If a motion fails, she would have it in red. It was very helpful.

Q: You have begun to crack down on people who don’t ask or answer questions by first saying “through the mayor.” Why do they need to do that?

A: We have had some meetings where city council has had multiple questions of staff. I believe it’s a better way to keep hold of the meetings. [Staff] feel they are being “put upon the stand” for questioning and it is a way to slow down and temper some of the discussion.

Q: Some councilors have seemed resentful when you reminded them of this rule. Did you perceive that?

A: I did feel that. There is heated debate and we end up leaving the dais shaking hands. Individually, I’ve got a great rapport with every member of council.


Follow Mayor Marian Orr on Twitter: @gofishwyo

Interview #51: East Point, GA Council Member Alexander Gothard (with podcast)

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

East Point’s council meetings are a roller coaster on top of a rocket ship on top of a volcano. Alexander Gothard has been a head-down, studious council member, but even he has earned the ire of mayors in those meetings. All I will say is: listen to the whole interview.

Q: I get the impression from your council meetings that Mayor Jannquell Peters gets impatient with you all because she wants to do things quickly. Is that why there is so much tension?

A: I wouldn’t say that. I would say just a difference of opinion on issues–that’s what made [things] divisive. The mayor wanted to get it done and the council members wanted to say, “wait, let’s look at this. Let’s make sure it’s as efficient as possible.” The mayor didn’t like that. We definitely respect each other and we have a good time.

Q: Well, it appears that the council members get along fine, but collectively, you don’t like the mayor. So it’s teams of 8 v. 1. Am I wrong here?

A: That’s interesting you should see it that way as an observer. The mayor is strong-willed. I do think that the city has a better image since she has been mayor. Yes, she tries to run an efficient meeting. But council members aren’t always going to agree with the way she runs it. In terms of the animosity, I don’t think it’s anything personal. I think it’s healthy to have disagreements.

Q: If you think it’s healthy to disagree, you’ll REALLY like what we’re going to talk about next, which is Earnestine Pittman, your former mayor. I saw something that blew my mind: on August 5, 2013, you were in your second year on the city council. About two hours in, you made a motion. The mayor immediately went on a rant about how it was a terrible idea. When you tried to argue, she threw you out of the meeting. What did you do after you left the chamber?

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East Point, GA Council Member Alexander Gothard

A: I honestly went to get a drink. I remember that very well. It was surrounding Center Park repair. There was no way that I was going to sit there and just let that item be skipped over. It was unfortunate, it really was.

Q: Do you wish the other council members had come to your defense?

A: No, they didn’t have to. When I was removed, I thought she was totally wrong. But being about the people–because that happened, the Center Park residents the very next meeting, I think eight residents came out to speak on behalf of that park. So despite me being kicked out, it was beneficial to the cause I was advocating for.

Q: Did Mayor Pittman ever apologize to you?

A: No. I told her how upset I was. She didn’t apologize and I didn’t expect her to.

Q: Did she at least understand your side of things?

A: No.

Q: Mmm. If there’s one thing you could change about your council meetings, what would that be?

A: I’ll tell you something interesting: the new city of South Fulton, for anything to go on the agenda, the mayor has to approve it. I’m glad we do not have that in East Point.

Q: So you wouldn’t do anything that gives the mayor more control?

A: I would not.


Follow Council Member Alexander Gothard on Twitter: @CouncilmanAG

Interview #43: Martinsville, VA Council Member Jennifer Bowles (with podcast)

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

Jennifer Bowles was 25 years old when she was simultaneously sworn in to the city council AND selected as vice mayor. But more impressively, she and I went to the same university! You’d better believe we talked about that.

Q: Let’s see what University of Virginia traditions you have taken part in. Have you been inside the steam tunnels?

A: Yes, but I don’t actually remember. [Laughs] I was with friends!

Q: Uh…is it fair to say there was some partying beforehand?

A: Yes, there was.

Q: Mmm, okay. Have you run naked across the Lawn?

A: I have not.

Q: You would remember if you did THAT, right?

A: I’d have recalled!

Q: Have you broken into the janitor’s closet in the Rotunda and drank from the human skull inside?

A: No.

Q: Okay. I made that one up, but it sounds like it could be a real tradition! Now, in 2015 you had been on the city council for one month, you had been the vice mayor for one month–but in February, Mayor Danny Turner let you run a city council meeting! What is the trick to running a meeting?

A: A lot of people told me to just take my time. They jokingly said, “the lawyer would help you out with Robert’s Rules!”

Q: It helped that the actual mayor was sitting next to you the entire time.

A: Yeah and I will say, another member of council had previously been the mayor and he was to the left of me. And the mayor was to the right. So I had two individuals who had run the meeting before to help me out.

Q: Oh, my god. You were swimming in mayors! Can you think of anything strange or unusual that’s happened in your city council meetings since you’ve been there?

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Martinsville, VA Council Member Jennifer Bowles

A: The biggest thing is the mayor has removed someone from a council meeting–and they’re now a city council member.

Q: Let’s talk about that removal. In 2015, Chad Martin–who is now your vice mayor–asked the mayor for an apology in public comment. The mayor turned him down and someone with Mr. Martin yelled out “pathetic” and “moron.” What was all that about?

A: So there was an issue about how a mural should have been designed. The mural was on a predominantly African-American side of town. Mr. Martin wanted the mural to be by an African-American artist. There was a meeting between myself, the mayor, the city manager [and Martin]. After that conversation, there was some things said between the mayor and Mr. Martin that I’d rather not repeat. I don’t get frustrated. I’m willing to talk to anyone.

Q: Is it true that you stopped televising your council meetings for a while?

A: We stopped televising [public comment] because maybe people were nervous to be on the television who wouldn’t speak up because they knew they would be on TV. So we tried to make it more friendly to those individuals.

Q: So people stopped showing up?

A: Yes. There were some people who never showed up again.

Q: In my mind, those people were showing up because they WANTED to be on TV and get their message out there. 

A: That would be my assumption. They were expressing an opinion so everyone could be informed.


Follow Council Member Jennifer Bowles on Twitter: @ViceMayorBowles

Interview #32: Lee’s Summit, MO Council Member Chris Moreno (with podcast)

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

Lee’s Summit city council meetings have been extremely contentious over the past eight months. Two council members have even called on each other to resign. One of them, Chris Moreno, is facing a recall election because some people are unhappy with his conduct at council meetings. But he remains steadfast. He talks here about his preparation for council meetings and how he deals with the criticism.

Q: On the day of the council meetings, what do you do to prepare? Do you have a ritual?

A: I just do a lot of studying. I do a lot of prayer, a lot of thinking about the agenda and the topic itself. I play a lot of worship music throughout my breaks.

Q: Interesting. When you were first elected, did you have to do an orientation on things like how to make a motion and how to debate?

A: Yeah, Robert’s Rules of Order and all that good stuff. I was a debater in high school, so I kind of knew [that stuff].

Q: Where did the debating team stand in the social hierarchy in your high school?

A: I was a basketball guy. I loved basketball and so when I was introduced to debate, I kind of was like, “this is not for me.” But I loved the challenge. I loved public speaking. Playing sports, my friends–I loved them all, but we weren’t exactly straight-A students, you know?

Q: Gotcha. So, it came out last year that allegedly Council Member Diane Forte improperly got city contracts for her own business. You were very critical of her and it bled over into the council meetings. You said this about her:

I personally do not believe that after the lies you told to the cameras and to this body, that this can continue to go on.

Here was her response:

To come on this council and try to destroy relationships that I have built in this city–if anyone’s going to resign, it’s not going to be me! It’s going to be you!

How do you think the other council members and staff felt while this was going on?

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Lee’s Summit, MO Council Member Chris Moreno

A: The context of this was: that was four weeks later and she was refusing to acknowledge her illegal business deals. For me, this isn’t personal. For me, it’s about government. We should not have politicians profiting off of taxpayer dollars.

Q: You are facing a recall election in April. Can you think of anything you said–or the way in which you said it–at the council meetings that you would have done differently?

A: No. I think I actually was more courteous than what I should have been. I couldn’t say right then and there, “you have deals that violated state law.” Looking back, I wish I would have.

Q: You once called the public comment at your council meetings a “Jerry Springer Show.” What would you do to reform it?

A: We have these people coming in with an agenda: to personally attack politicians on grounds that have nothing to do with city business. That being said, I’m not opposed to criticism. They have a right to do it. But we should not allow for a political campaign to take place at the dais.


Follow Council Member Chris Moreno on Twitter: @MorenoDadKC

Interview #11: Asheville, NC Mayor Esther Manheimer

Watching the Asheville city council meeting last month, I noticed the particularly steady guidance of Mayor Esther Manheimer. What was her deal? How does a first-term mayor run such smooth meetings?

In this interview, Her Honor told me about gaining confidence, her fascination with tribal customs, and when she ejected a troublemaker.

Q: Before you were mayor, you were a regular council member. How are council meetings different now that you’re in charge?

A: You’re of more of a facilitator. You’re making sure everyone has their voice heard. You can’t just space out. If you’re a council member, you can choose to just not know any of that.

Q: When you were a council member, did you avoid knowing the rules?

A: No, no, no. I love all things Roberts Rules. Especially with my anthropology major as an undergrad–tribal customs.

Q: What’s the most well-run city council meeting you’ve seen besides, obviously, the ones you run?

A: As a lawyer, I have appeared before many county commissions and city council meetings. I like a well-run meeting where the chair keeps the questions focused. Sometimes you can watch it unfold in front of you and they’re veering off into territory that’s not even in front of them and the chair is not controlling that.

Q: When you were just a council member, how did the mayor run meetings compared to your style?

A: She did not corral the troops ahead of the meetings, so it was a little more chaotic. I try to make sure we’re prepared.

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Asheville, NC Mayor Esther Manheimer

Q: Your previous mayor was a city council member, then mayor. You were a city council member, now mayor. Do you ever look from side to side at a meeting and think, “which one of these people is coming for my job?”

A: Not DURING the meeting but…[laughs] I definitely wonder, are there other folks who want to become the next mayor of Asheville? And then I think, do I wanna run for mayor again?

Q: …

A: …

Q: …DO you wanna run for mayor again?

A: I don’t know. I have three young kids. Politician, mommy–plus I’m a full-time working lawyer.

Q: It’s hard to have it all. Speaking of the other council members, do they act differently in private than they do on camera?

A: Oh yeah. Very different. I have the newer council members that are learning more about getting their voice and saying their opinion loud and clear in public. That’s a process every newly-elected person has to go through. And it’s a little scary.

Q: It’s also scary during public comment when people are calling you liars and con artists. How do you decide when to say something and when to just sit there?

A: We have gotten to know who is going to be constantly disappointed with us no matter what. To respond every time almost elevates the comment. I don’t think when we’re being told we’re liars, to say, “oh, I’m not a liar” is helpful. I won’t respond in those situations. Now, if someone is providing incorrect information, I will clarify it. Because there might be three people watching and so–apparently you’re watching, too. So, four people.

Q: Darn right.

A: The first time I had to throw somebody out of the meeting, I had him removed because he was directing his comments at staff and not at us. He was staring at the staff and I warned him several times that’s not appropriate.


Follow Mayor Esther Manheimer on Twitter: @EstherManheimer