Step under the mistletoe and get kissed by the FANTASTIC set of council meetings we reviewed in December! The season may have been cheery, but residents of Garner Street certainly were not. Neither were the anti-Interfacility Traffic Area (that’s the last time I will ever type that phrase) activists in Virginia Beach.
No sooner had the cameras turned on than Mayor Pro Tem Steve Baker made an aggressive opening bid.
“I’d like to suggest that we move the ‘communications’ before the closed session. So that as we move into closed session, we can just adjourn–” he gazed to the audience with hands outstretched “–without holding these folks here all night.”
Multiple council members simultaneously assented. “Seconded by several people all at the same time,” Mayor Phil O’Dwyer observed dryly.
Speaking of the audience, a substantial number of chairs were filled–and for good reason. Tonight, there was a LOT the good people of Berkley needed to get off their chests and on the record.
“I’m a physician. I come today not with my physician hat on,” a balding man with glasses but no hat whatsoever introduced himself, “but my president’s hat for the Berkley Rotary Club. Every year we have an annual pancake breakfast.”
He brandished a colorful poster. “I’m leaving some flyers. I did not bring any tickets to sell.”
However, I quickly realized what he was “selling” was indeed not pancakes, but rather the very existence of the Rotary itself.
“I’m concerned that our club may be going away,” the man frowned and looked from face to face. “We normally have about 25 members. Every year it’s been dwindling. People move. People retire. People die.”
A woman behind him stroked her chin. A man in a white moustache looked stricken. The speaker continued:
“We’re down to six members, which is a pretty sad state. In the past from Berkley, we’ve had city managers, we’ve had police chiefs, we’ve had librarians. We really have no members representing the city.”
He stood rigidly and delivered the heartbreaking news directly at the mayor. “If we don’t have a successful pancake breakfast, the six members are going to go away. So I’m pleading with the city that we can get some representation in our club.”
Whoa. Normally, people come in to ask city councils for money or services. In this case, he just needs somebody–anybody–to show up. This isn’t some obscure quilting club; it’s the Rotary. If it falls, who will look after the city? The Neighborhood Garden Coalition?
I don’t think so, mayor.
Whatever the fate of Rotary, his cry for help resonated with the next commenter–the man with the moustache–who was listening closely.
“Proud citizen of Berkley,” was his gruff identification. “We need more citizens to step up. Volunteer. Such as the Rotary Club. The Parade Committee. The Beautification Committee.”
He kept it to all of 30 seconds. “Step up and help. Thank you.”
As if some invisible composer had orchestrated the whole thing, the next woman was spearheading the aforementioned Holiday Parade Committee. And I’ll give you one guess at what the Committee needs:
“Like everybody else, we’re looking for volunteers to help us on our parade staff,” she announced. “We would like to extend an invitation to our mayor and city council when Santa Claus will be given the key to the city.”
“You are assuring us tonight,” interjected Mayor O’Dwyer in his authentic Irish brogue, “that Santa Claus will be there?”
“Absolutely,” she nodded solemnly. “We’ve gotten word from the North Pole that he will be coming down Twelve Mile and he’ll be greeting all the little children–and adults.”
It’s the holiday season, so you know what that means: the eggnog is flowing, the mistletoe is hanging, and city council members are bragging about how THEIR winter festivities are the best thing since sliced gingerbread.
“I’d like to welcome everyone back from the Thanksgiving holiday. I hope it was a healthy one,” Councilmember Frederick Smalls warmly greeted the room. “I will say, however, that I did try a new recipe. It’s Brussels sprouts with Gruyère cheese.”
He added a lackluster, “Mmmm,” as he glanced sideways down the dais.
Councilmember Donna Crary picked up on the signal.
“I will disagree,” she pursed her lips, “with Mr. Smalls. That Brussels sprouts recipe was given to me at the same time. It’s not healthy.” Councilmember Smalls loudly guffawed as the sign language interpreter mimed laughter.
But enough about Thanksgiving. It’s almost Christmas! Your Honor, when will we all get to meet Santa?!
“On December the 10th at 9 a.m. sharp, Partnership Hall will be holding the Breakfast with Santa,” Mayor Craig Moe read from his notes in a non-festive monotone. “Any tickets left?”
“Sold out!” someone yelled from the audience.
Mayor Moe looked into the camera–right into my disappointed eye holes. “Cancel that. We’re sold out.”
Whatever. I’m not disappointed. I’m not crying. These tears are just me being allergic to PEOPLE WHO GET MY HOPES UP.
“The holiday decorating contest will take place as well,” the mayor tried to reassure me. “If you’d like to nominate somebody or yourself, you can dial 301-725-7800. Or you can let my office know. We encourage you to get your decorations up and submit your nominations.”
Hey, mayor: stay in your lane. Laurelites, if YOU have a nomination for best holiday decoration, send it to City Council Chronicles. I’LL be the arbiter of taste around here.
That wraps up the yuletide news: it was time to do the People’s Business. “Ordinance number 1894,” announced Council President Michael Leszcz. “An ordinance amending the Laurel city code Chapter 17, ‘Traffic,’ Article III: ‘Stopping, standing, and parking.'”
He looked to either side. “Any discussion?” Nope. “Call the roll.”
As the clerk went down the list, something bizarre unfolded. Mayor Moe leaned back in his chair and caught the eye of Councilmember H. Edward Ricks at the far end of the dais.
NO. VOTE NO, mouthed the mayor.
All of the other council members were glancing at their papers, completely unaware of this not-so-secret communication.
“Mr. Ricks?” the clerk called out.
Ricks gave a pause. “Yes,” he slowly said, sounding beleaguered.
The mayor stared daggers at Ricks.
“Mayor Moe?” the clerk said.
He did not respond. Council Member Ricks stonily eyeballed the mayor. The pause was so pregnant, some of the other council members stopped shuffling their papers and glanced at Moe.
“Concur,” muttered the mayor at last.
“That concludes the normal agenda,” President Leszcz continued, blissfully clueless about what transpired.
At this point, His Honor broke into a grin and chuckled. I have no idea if this was a playful joke or if the mayor was genuinely pissed. He’s a more wily character than I gave him credit for.
All I know is this: Santa better watch his back in Laurel.