#152: McMinnville, OR 2/27/18

Right away, McMinnvillians knew something special awaited at the top of the council meeting–almost as special as me calling them “McMinnvillians.”

“Because we’ve had a last-minute change in agenda, we’re going to ask for Chloe to come up and speak to us for about ten minutes,” announced council President Kellie Menke, “on the matter of a prototype that she has built.”

The 11-year-old Thomas Edison took her seat at the witness table in the vast gulf between the council dais and the audience.

“Could somebody help her get the microphone just a little closer?” requested Menke, noticing that the mic was not prepped for a much shorter human than normal.

“I am here as a support for Chloe,” clarified the woman to her left. “I’m her teacher.”

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Field trip!

“This project started in my language arts class. We watched a video on CNN for kids. There was a woman in San Francisco who created a mobile shower unit for the transient population,” explained the teacher. “We were talking about one day very soon, they’re gonna be the leaders of McMinnville.”

So, like any teacher looking to stimulate young minds, what did she do?

“I offered extra credit for anyone who came up with a creative solution.”

Chloe launched into a breakdown of her brainchild–a concept simple to understand, easy to visualize, and with a catchy name.

“The Wheel-A-Bed would be like a small–not necessarily a house, but like a shelter,” she described. “The idea is to make a small, about 7′ x 2′ x 2′ box-like shelter with a hollow inside. It would consist of a blanket or small mattress and small microwave for cooking food. The light bulb would be an LED light. The shelter would be solar powered.”

7′ x 2′ x 2′? That seems rather…casket-sized. But as Chloe pointed out, better this than a real casket.

“Homeless people need a shelter to keep them away from thieves, diseases, rain, criminals, and I think you get my point,” she said. Like a shrewd salesperson, she did momentarily acknowledge the device’s weakness.

“One con is the fact that the Wheel-A-Bed does only fit one person. It would be hard to think of just one way to fund a project like this. I know that my aunts, uncles, and grandparents would probably love to donate.”

“May she come up to show you her prototype?” inquired her teacher.

“Oh, we’d love to see it! Yes!” gushed council President Menke.

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Tiny House? More like “Slender House.”

Chloe walked slowly across the room, holding up the shoebox-sized model with wheels.

“Very creative!” “Very nice!” complimented the councilors.

“Good job, mom and dad!” exclaimed Menke.

It was certainly a unique prelude to a council meeting. But this isn’t San Francisco, after all. I don’t see how McMinnville–the Paradise of the Pacific Northwest–could benefit from Chloe’s alternative sleeping chamber.

“I can understand the resistance of having RVs, campers, and cars parked in people’s residential neighborhoods, but the people living in these vehicles are still considered homeless,” pleaded the next commenter. “They are still people but are choosing a different lifestyle than most.”

“I’m also here to speak to the RV ordinance,” admitted another woman. “I am really concerned about the fines.”

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Hmm, maybe the Wheel-A-Bed is more relevant than I thought….

“On March 21, we are going to allocate a certain portion of our workshop time to vehicular camping,” President Menke reminded everyone.

Well, Madam President, I know an 11-year-old visionary who I hope you invite!

Interview #67: Duluth, MN Councilor Noah Hobbs (with podcast)

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

Noah Hobbs is a first-term councilor in Duluth who has a strong opinion about how his city council should spend its time during meetings. He and I discuss the role of the council president, creative ways to cut off rambling public commenters, and (listen to the audio) I make my best attempt at convincing him to give me the “Distinguished Artist Award.”

Q: Let’s go back to December 2016. The council was considering a resolution to support the Standing Rock Reservation protests against an oil pipeline in North Dakota. You voted for it and seemed to say, “I’m fine with this, but it’s not really our turf.” 

A: Yeah, I think that focusing on core local government issues is where we should spend a large part of our conversation. All the press after that about a resolution that was nonbinding [and] didn’t really affect the day-to-day operations of the city….I do get a little frustrated when we get off-track. I’m not necessarily in the majority on the council with that point of view.

Q: I would point out that for weeks afterward, people came into the council meetings to praise you guys for that vote. Did that make you feel any better about it?

A: Not really. It was an organized effort to make the council–that took a beating from the business community–feel better. It was more a continuation of a story that didn’t have legs, that ended up having legs.

Q: This January, you ran for council president against then-Vice President Joel Sipress. Here is what he said:

What we’re really voting on here is two different understandings of the role of the council president. The argument that Councilor Hobbs has made involves a list of priorities. That’s a traditional role of a council president in large cities like New York or San Francisco where the council president is a power position that drives the agenda.

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Duluth, MN Councilor Noah Hobbs

Noah, would your first action as a New York City-style council president have been to declare the areas of the city where–HEY, I’M WALKIN’ HERE!

A: [Laughs] I do think it’s important to have a council agenda. Our core function is pretty much approving the budget for the mayor. You can have nine different councilors doing nine different things and at the end of the year accomplish nothing. Having an agenda is important to show that we do more than approve the budget.

Q: One criticism I do have of President Joel Sipress is that he is way too “Minnesota Nice” when he tries to cut off public commenters who have reached their time limit. If you were president, how would you cut off a time hog?

A: Yeah, as a born-and-raised Minnesotan, I don’t know if I could do much better. Maybe using the gavel to tap once to get attention and say they’ve got ten seconds left. But as a Minnesotan, that is something we struggle with.

Q: Have you ever thought about hiring some muscle to escort people from the podium?

A: I don’t know if the constituents would really enjoy hiring a bodyguard for council chambers. I think we should get a basketball buzzer. Get a shot clock and when it gets to zero, just have the buzzer go….There’s nothing unconstitutional about that.


Follow Councilor Noah Hobbs on Twitter: @Hobbs_Duluth

Interview #17: Former San Francisco, CA Board of Supervisors President David Chiu (with podcast)

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

David Chiu was president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors (their term for “city council”) from 2009-2014. If you know ANYTHING about San Francisco, it’s that things can get weird there. And believe me: Chiu has seen plenty of weirdness. Now a state assemblymember, he talked to me about nudists, F-bombs, and his out-of-body experience.

Q: Your Board of Supervisors has a famously unruly public comment period. What are some of the more quintessentially San Francisco moments that you remember?

A: Oh, yes. We had a debate about whether our residents could walk around naked. I remember when the vote didn’t go the way that the nudist activists wanted, they protested by disrobing in the chamber in front of the television. There are a number of individuals who are regular public commenters. We have Walter, who likes to sing. Another individual had a very Christian conservative message.

Q: In January 2009 when you got on the Board, on your very first day you were chosen as president. Had you ever been to a Board meeting before you got elected?

A: I had.

Q: And what about that meeting made you think, “I want one of the most aggravating jobs in San Francisco?”

A: [Laughs] At that time, San Francisco City Hall was pretty darn dysfunctional. We had elected officials who could not stand to be in the same room as each other, who would bicker through the press. And I thought we could do a better job of trying to bring folks together.

Q: When you walked up to the president’s chair, the first thing you said was, “this is unexpected.” Was it REALLY unexpected? When you left the house that morning, what odds were you giving yourself? Be honest.

A: Extremely low. At the exact moment when the clerk said I had the six votes to become president, I had one of those out-of-body experiences. It slowly dawned on me that someone had been elected Board president. And I then realized, “oh, my god. I think it might have been…me!”

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Former San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu

Q: Were there any supervisors who were consistently thorns in your side? And followup question, it was Chris Daly wasn’t it?

A: Well, he did threaten to haunt me for the rest of my political career and uttered a very famous phrase in San Francisco to me, saying, “it’s on like Donkey Kong.”

Q: …

A: [He] was famous in his last year for saying that he was going to drop an F-bomb in every meeting. After he said that, I decided to go and purchase a bar of soap which I very publicly gave to him.

Q: Nice. So now you are in California Assembly. Which has more comfortable chairs, the Board of Supervisors or the state Assembly?

A: I think the Board of Supervisors is actually a little more comfortable.

Q: So when you’re sitting in your objectively inferior Assembly chair–

A: I would say “older”…less ergonomically-fitted chair.

Q: –do you think, “I am so glad I don’t have to sit through another g–d– Board of Supervisors meeting?” Or are you thinking, “what I wouldn’t give to trade this for a Board meeting?”

A: [Laughs] It’s just a very different experience. Very different ambiance.


Follow Assemblymember David Chiu on Twitter: @DavidChiu

#26: San Francisco, CA 6/7/16

San Francisco is a beautiful city of beautiful people–with an oddly sterile name for its city council: the “Board of Supervisors.”

What’s even more unwieldy is that the supervisors don’t even sit together! Five of them are at one desk and five of them are at the other, facing off middle school dance-style. The board’s president is perched high above the riff-raff, making for one difficult game of duck-duck-goose in the chambers.

The supes wasted no time in living up to the militantly-liberal stereotype of the City by the Bay.

“Today, I am submitting a carbon tax on nonrenewable energy that will support the maintenance and expansion of San Francisco’s urban forest,” Supervisor John Avalos announced–a blue recycling bin fittingly stationed behind him.

“I am introducing a ballot measure to expand democracy for immigrant parents by allowing non-citizens the right to vote in school board elections,” boasted Eric Mar. He had been adorned earlier with a puffy lei, which seemed on the verge of tipping over the slender supervisor.

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The City by the Lei

It was time for San Fran’s famously freewheeling public comment period. Anyone could take two minutes to speak “on items within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Board,” the clerk warned.

That quickly went out the window as the first man stepped up, speaking slowly in Arabic. I only understood two words: “Mohammad Ali.” (I’m guessing the supes won’t be able to do much about that one.)

My heart grew two sizes upon seeing the next speaker, who wore a t-shirt reading “IN DUE TIME, CHRIST DIED FOR THE UNHOLY.” Something tells me the Board of Supervisors won’t have jurisdiction over what he has to say, either.

“I got on the Alex Jones Show and was able to make the announcement that the times of the gentiles has ended. As a matter of fact, May 20 was exactly 7,365 days from the end of the times of the gentiles. Jesus Christ is coming soon.”

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If Jesus is coming soon, I wonder if He’ll sign up for public comment.

A woman in a suit stepped up. “I want to speak to item number 49. We urge you instead to support the governor’s proposal. This is a statewide bill and it has statewide benefits.”  Oops! Someone with a legitimate comment was allowed to slip through. How embarrassing!

Thankfully, she was the only one.

“Thank you [Board] President Breed and all the members of the cabal,” sneered a guy with a Dostoyevsky-length novel written in tiny words on his t-shirt.

In sharp contrast was a Samuel Jackson lookalike in sunglasses who swaggered to the podium, recording himself with his phone. “Good evening, supervisors…particularly my sisters in the back there,” he hollered out to Supervisors Malia Cohen and London Breed.

“My name is Ace. And I’m on a case. I’m putting the city on notice, specifically our African American, black sisters,” he gestured toward the likely-uncomfortable female supes. “I been in politics back when y’all was little girls. But now you’re women! I’m proud of you!”

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Can I follow you on Vine, dude?

The buzzer sounded, but he continued talking as he backed out of the room, videotaping himself the whole way.

“Next speaker, please,” the clerk sighed over the noise.

Final thoughts: With a city council meeting that was as eclectic as its residents, I give San Francisco 1 giant puffy lei.