#179: Clawson, MI 12/18/18

It was the type of announcement that separates the city councils who take the winter holidays seriously from those who are, well, Scrooges.

“Every year we have beautification awards,” explained a representative from the Parks and Recreation Department. “People can call in houses they see around town that they really like the way they’re decorated.”

She added, “our Parks and Rec Advisory Board also goes out and are each assigned a section of town. They kind of score all the houses. The top five point-getters were the ones we give awards to tonight.”

With that, the five chosen families strolled to the front of the chamber for a photo. Many of them sported some type of seasonal attire–from the more discreet Santa pin and St. Nick hat to the more flashy necklace of Christmas lights and festive sweaters.

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The decorators

If you were expecting this Yuletide cheer to be followed by three French hens, two turtle doves, or even six geese a-laying, city attorney Jon Kingsepp disappointed you–but only slightly–by talking instead about backyard chickens.

“Fifty years ago, they were barnyard animals. Dinner table items. That’s no longer the case,” he explained.

“Chickens are great in most cases, unless you’re a neighbor that doesn’t want chickens next door to you,” Mayor Debbie Wooley observed dryly.

Kingsepp sighed. “There are two ways to look at that. There’s one that can say, ‘I don’t like chickens next to me because they’re loud and they’re gonna attract vermin.’ The other approach is, ‘if you like cats and dogs next door, then what is the difference with chickens?’ The noise level of a chicken is extremely low.”

“I want zero” chickens, shot back Council Member Paula Millan. “Not because I don’t like people’s chickens but because I don’t want them in my backyard. I just don’t.”

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Beware the Butcher of Clawson

She paused. Although her reaction was intense, it was not, in fact, poultryphobic. “I don’t think it’s the animal that’s really the problem,” she admitted. “I would assume it’s most likely the owner. If you have a neighbor that cares only about themselves and not the people around them, there’s an issue.”

A woman in the front row seized on a lull in the discussion and launched into a tutorial on chicken care. Rather than cut her off, surprisingly, the mayor allowed a microphone to be passed down.

“Great pets,” she boasted of her own chickens. “No one ever knew we had ’em. My aviary was spotless. The rats cannot get into it.

“There are rats in our neighborhood. A lot of ’em. But they never came for my chickens.”

A posse of women from the earlier home decorating contest were sitting two rows back in their Christmas sweaters nodding vigorously.

“My grandchildren–24 grandchildren–played with those chickens like a puppy. They were very sweet,” she argued, while one of those 24 grandchildren slumped in his chair next to her asleep.

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Dreaming of poultry playtime at grandma’s

Chickens may have been quiet and kind. Heck, they could have been the cure to cancer. But Council Member Millan was immovable.

“Some of my neighbors have been on our block since they built their homes in 1967. They don’t want chickens in their backyard,” she insisted. “Their perception is not that they are pets.

“It’s not against the animal. It’s about, ‘I moved to a city. Didn’t move to a farm. Where’s it gonna end?'”

She shrugged. “We have to address the ‘where’s it gonna end’ thing.”

Perhaps next year, Clawsonians can decorate an aviary and win the beautification contest. Then people might realize that chickens can be family, not food.

#176: Temecula, CA 11/27/18

“Are you in the audience this evening?” Mayor Matt Rahn scanned the room for one particular Boy Scout, which should not have been difficult given the scarcity of badges and uniforms in the crowd.

“We wanted to congratulate you on receiving the rank of Eagle Scout, which is the highest achievement in scouting. Let’s hear about your project!”

The scout stood uneasily behind the microphone and softly described his community service. “For my project, I decided to go with Rancho Damacitas [Children & Family Services]. I decided to go with a garden box and benches. But then they decided they didn’t want that anymore. They wanted to build a shed. So I agreed to make a shed for them.”

“God, you started off with a bench and made it all the way to shed,” the mayor exclaimed. “It’s a good thing they didn’t have an annex wing put on!” A group of teenagers grinned and snickered in the second row–although it was less a reaction to the mayor’s joke than to something they were doodling in their notebooks.

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I see you, kids.

Fortunately, they picked the right night to observe a council meeting, as the Temecula Valley Museum’s director stood to introduce visiting dignitaries from Daisen, Temecula’s sister city in Japan.

“They will be enjoying many of the amenities, including the duck pond, the Pechanga Great Oak Tree, and also San Diego,” she said. “They will also be our special guests in Santa’s Electric Light Parade.

“Please forgive me if I mispronounce their names.” She proceeded strenuously to sound out each name, but none of them appeared to mind as they strode to the front of the room for a group picture.

There was minor confusion as the mayor attempted to pass out certificates, but had no idea who was who. Thinking quickly, he flashed the papers to one of the visitors, who pointed him towards the correct recipient.

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Temecula council goal: learn Japanese

“Have you taken them to In-N-Out Burger?” Mayor Pro Tem Michael Naggar grilled the museum manager. “Not yet? And the Cheesecake Factory?”

“Where do we get those jackets like they have on?” quizzed Council Member Maryann Edwards, pointing to the branded jacket of one of the visitors.

“That’s a good question,” Mayor Rahn echoed. “Where did you get the Temecula jacket?”

“You can get those in the visitor’s center around the corner,” replied the city manager, to the pleasant surprise of the whole council.

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I predict five purchases in the near future.

The last large order of business–other than the teens’ excited whispering about something on one of their phones–was the dry but important matter of extending a construction permit for the Temecula Valley Hospital.

“I can personally vouch that because of the hospital–no exaggeration–it has saved the life of my father-in-law, it saved the life of my wife,” Mayor Pro Tem Naggar testified. “There is an impact of the helicopter flying over–it flies about 300 feet over my house. At first, it’s annoying until you think about who’s in that helicopter. Then you find out a little annoyance is meaningless based on what’s going on up there.”

“None of us could have dreamt that it would be this good,” echoed Council Member Edwards. “My husband has been a ‘customer’ on several occasions. How we ever got along without you, we will never know.”

With praise like that, I hope the Japanese delegation gets to visit the hospital–a far, far healthier alternative to the Cheesecake Factory.

#144: Virginia Beach, VA 12/12/17

“I would like to note that our city clerk, Ruth,” Mayor Will Sessoms nodded toward the petite, white-haired woman seated behind stacks of binders, “this will be her last meeting.”

“We love you, we appreciate you, and we will miss you,” he added, leading the entire council in a standing ovation. “Bravo!” someone hollered as Ruth waved politely.

“All right, Ruth,” joked the mayor upon resuming his seat. “Back to work!”

With emphasis on “work”–for not two minutes later, the electronic voting board had a spastic fit and refused to respond to the clerk’s commands.

“It’s not working,” Ruth muttered. “Is everybody aye?”

“Aye,” responded the council in somewhat unison.

“Thank you,” acknowledged Ruth, recording the vote manually. Yikes. With the board on the fritz, can Virginia Beach really afford to lose its clerk now?

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May god help them all.

But what to my wondering eyes should appear? But old Saint Nicholas–looking very austere.

“Merry Christmas, everybody,” announced a commenter wearing a Santa Claus hat.

“Hi, Santa,” answered council members cheerfully.

“This [item] is about the city manager’s pay, correct?” faux Santa inquired.

“This is extending his contract for the same salary,” corrected Mayor Sessoms.

“I think the city attorney may have a different opinion of that,” Santa gestured to the lawyer, who responded in a quintessentially surgical fashion.

“If you look at the red line, there is an increase. BUT it is an increase that y’all voted on in July. There is no increase in THIS contract,” he clarified.

Santa nodded. “I think these salaries are out of whack with the real world. Go out and look at the free market and see what you can get for a more reasonable amount.”

Methinks the line between Santa and Scrooge is a bit blurry today. The mayor huffed.

“His background at the Army Corps is exceptional and we are thankful for those talents,” he defended the city manager.

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Mommy, why is Santa talking about the free market?

But if the man in the Santa hat was miserly with the manager’s pay, he was downright Grinchlike about the controversial–and unceremoniously-named–“Interfacility Traffic Area.”

“I thought I would read you my letter to Santa,” he brandished a red envelope cartoonishly labeled “TO: SANTA, NORTH POLE.”

“Dear Santa: Mom and Dad want to get me a huge ITA for Christmas and I don’t want one! Who wants a bunch of new development, parking garages, a solid waste transfer station, and more debt? Not me, Santa.”

This routine continued for several minutes, with the man addressing Santa Claus in absentia and the audience stone-faced behind him. But remarkably, he planned a phenomenal dismount. He whipped out a wrapped present from his bag and, in mock surprise, opened it theatrically:

Subsequent public commenters were far less operatic, but no less angry about this big, bad ITA. After Council Member Barbara Henley (her name plate read “Council Lady”) pointedly questioned a critic, a diminutive woman stepped to the lectern in disgust.

“Your horns are showing!” she scolded.

Council Member Henley balked. “I’ve listened to so much misinformation, I’m about to explode.”

“Oh, please do! We would enjoy something different for a change,” the woman retorted to further antagonize Henley.

After listening politely, Henley addressed the bloc of opponents in the audience.

“I apologize if I appeared to lose my cool, but I just couldn’t stand another minute. The ITA is not a creation of the city. The Navy was very concerned that there be no more houses in that high-noise zone,” she calmly explained.

“The city became the owner of a lot of those properties by willing sellers asking the city to buy. This plan is NOT saying we should begin development. On these sensitive areas, we should come up with uses…trails. Baseball parks.”

When Henley concluded, the mayor leaned forward. He glanced over at Ruth again. “Would you like to say anything?”

She rose. “Thirty-nine years, one-and-a-half months. You’ve been very gracious. And I’ve been very dedicated. I thank you.”

#131: Mobile, AL 9/19/17

You can’t simply snap your fingers in municipal government and make things happen. But you can sure as heck show up to public comment and TELL people to make things happen.

“It’s really long overdue and it’s something I want to get done,” a woman clad entirely in white ordered Mobile council members. “We need to get this done.” (“This” being renaming Glennon Avenue to “Dr. Yvonne Kennedy Avenue.”)

“I talked with Councilman [Levon] Manzie this morning,” she narrowed her eyes at him. “We’re going to have Dr. Kennedy’s name on the pole?”

“Yes, ma’am,” acknowledged Manzie.

“We’re also going to have Glennon Avenue on the pole?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“We wanna put a permanent plaque and–can I have my way with this? Doing what I want to do?” she inquired.

“No, ma’am!” Manzie exclaimed.

“I love having my way!” she threw up her hands and chuckled.

“I think Councilman Manzie hears you loud and clear,” intervened Council President Gina Gregory as the woman retreated in satisfaction.

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The lady’s got vision!

Success! Could there be anything more slam-dunk than a street named after a scion of the community?

Yes: Christmas.

“I’ve always enjoyed Elfapalooza,” a kindly man in a pink shirt smiled. “I’ve never actually put on my pointed ears and gone down in my tights. And, uh–”

“I’m visualizing that right now,” President Gregory deadpanned, prompting raucous laughter.

“Maybe if you give ’em the $40,000, I’ll do that this year!” the man replied.

“Might be worth it,” Gregory considered with a smirk.

He was, of course, referring to $40,000 proposed to revive the “North Pole Stroll.” It was a hot topic for a cold season, and Council Member John Williams was ready to wrap that present.

“This payment will be for holiday events and decorations,” he cheerfully made the motion.

But just as Christmas needs a Santa Claus, it also needs a fiscally-responsible Grinch.

“We’ve been assured that they’re going to have a robust Christmas celebration in downtown,” Council Member Manzie protested. “We don’t know what those activities will cost, so I’m a little hesitant.”

He added, logically, “if it’s a great success, the expectation will be that we need to continue [payments]. I would hate to start something and not continue in perpetuity.”

Council Member Fredrick Richardson attempted his own Scrooge impersonation. “Sometimes we need to leave well enough alone,” he grumbled.

“I think,” he softened, “we need to go back with the Christmas parade. It brings joy in the hearts of all.”

President Gregory called for a vote. It failed. The man in the pink shirt would not be wearing his elf ears and tights after all (although we can mark that in the “good news” column.)

Yikes. If the Mobile city council said no to Christmas, what would they say “yes” to?

“On Wednesday, I had the honor of being interviewed,” announced Council Member Manzie. “Michael Karlik runs a website and podcast called City Council Chronicles.”

“He came up with some new catchphrases for District Two. I promised I would play it in the meeting, but I can’t get it to function here,” Manzie admitted, trying to recall the catchphrases. “‘District Two: We have a Hardee’s.’ ‘District Two: Walk on the wild side!'”

“Well, Michael,” Gregory mused, “I’m guessing you’re watching….’Seventh Heaven?'” She glanced around as her colleagues giggled at her own district catchphrase.

“‘District Seven…Heaven.’ You gotta rhyme!” she insisted.

Council Member Richardson leaned into his microphone. “Did you get that, Mike?”

Yes, sir!

#70: Lisbon, IA 11/28/16

Don’t be fooled. Lisbon’s population may be just 2,200 people–but its December calendar is packed tighter than a Tokyo subway car at rush hour.

“Holiday Jubilee proclamation,” Mayor Beryl O’Connor adjusted her eyeglasses and read the sweeping decree. “Whereas holiday celebration is an effective tool for fostering local pride and maintaining community character, I, Mayor of Lisbon, proclaim December 10, 2016 ‘Lisbon’s Holiday Jubilee’ and call upon the people of Lisbon to join their fellow citizens in participating in this special occasion.”

Harken, Lisbonites! Your leader calls upon you to spread cheerfulness maximus! (What exactly does that entail?)

“We’ll be having activities during the day starting out with breakfast with Mrs. Claus,” city administrator Connie Meier explained. “The parade lineup will start at four. This year we changed the theme to ‘Parade with Your Pets.’ So you can dress your pets up in Christmas sweaters and walk them in the parade.”

With this news, my heart grew three sizes. Granted, this is Iowa, so I imagine there will be several cows in festive XXL upperwear.

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Pictured: Director of the Lisbon Chamber of Commerce

“Next month is kind of a busy month,” warned the city administrator. “Lisbon Schools is having all of their concerts on Monday night. December 12 would be our next regular council meeting–there is an elementary K-3rd [concert] at 6:00 and [grades] 4-6 at 7:15. On December 19th, there’s also the high school band and choir concerts.”

Uh-oh. Is it time to take the missiles to DEFCON-2, Your Honor?

“Is your daughter in band or anything?” the mayor muttered to Council Member Nathan Smith.

“The 19th is out for me,” he winced. “And she’s in basketball, so Tuesday nights tend to be interrupted too.”

Thankfully, the crisis was defused: they agreed to double up the meetings on December 5.

“What’s wrong with the lights?” Mayor O’Connor spontaneously blurted out. “One side of the street comes on and five minutes later the other side of the street comes on!”

“It’s where the photo eyes are placed–” the public works director started to answer.

“I have no idea what that means,” the mayor stared blankly.

The director patiently explained this complex marvel of modern engineering. “The photo eyes are detecting the sunlight. When the sun’s coming across, it will still be shining on one photo eye and there will be enough shade on the other one that it’ll keep ’em on.”

“It’s called photo eye?” she cautiously inquired. “If I tell somebody that, they’ll think I know what I’m talking about?”

The public works director humored her. “Yep.”

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This picture was taken with a photo eye

While he had the floor, there was something else he needed to get off his chest for the good of the city:

“This it the second time in twelve months we’ve had problems with our spiral screen” at the wastewater plant. (Mayor, if you say “spiral screen” people will NOT know what you’re talking about.)

“I know everybody’s reading these wrappers, and their sanitary wipes and wet wipes are saying they can be flushed. Please, [I’m] asking people not to flush.”

He exhaled. “So yeah, that’s my little soapbox speech.”

Final thoughts: Stop flushing the wet wipes! Geez.

#68: Garden City, MI 11/21/16

Three days before Thanksgiving, the Garden City council was ablaze in festivity. I don’t know if everyone was hopped up on cranberry sauce or had been mainlining gravy in the bathroom, but city council members were chomping like Santa’s reindeer to do the People’s Business.

And it all kicked off with this electrifying audiovisual overload for the National Anthem, complete with a booming choir and tear-jerking stock footage:

What’s even more American than a waving flag? How about a waving Santa:

“I wanted to remind everybody that immediately following the Santaland Parade this Saturday, we will have Santa down at the old farmers market,” the city’s downtown development director reminded all the good little girls and boys.

“We will have cookies and hot chocolate for everybody and I believe the mayor will also be handing Santa the key to the city.” Hold the phone, mayor. Don’t you know how Santa works? He doesn’t NEED a key–he just slides down the chimney at city hall. DUH.

And speaking of sliding, a lady from the county commissioner’s office was all smiles about her own early Christmas present: a shiny new road.

“It’s looking GOOD!” she marveled. “I don’t know if you’ve been down on Cherry Hill Road but it is smooth as a whistle! They were working like ants. I’m like, WHOA!”

As a whistle! That is impressive! Most roads I’ve ridden on are smooth as a bumpy graham cracker. Clearly some deal with the devil was made here to get a whistle-smooth piece of turnpike.

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“This road is slicker than a stick of butter in a microwave.”

However, the city council meeting was about careen through some deep potholes. And like most headaches, it started when the mayor opened up public comment on a contract to purchase discounted gasoline.

“How much money?!” shouted an elderly man in a neon safety vest as he hunched menacingly behind the podium.

“We’re getting it for 98 cents a gallon,” Mayor Randy Walker patiently explained.

“HUH?!” the man screamed.

“Gasoline for the police cars, fire trucks,” the mayor raised his own voice.

“BP has it $1.98!” the man slurred in disbelief.

“We get it cheaper. They don’t have to put all the taxes on it,” Mayor Walker reassured his accuser. “That’s a pretty good deal. I’ll take that.”

The elderly man, satisfied that Santa Claus wasn’t pulling a fast one on the taxpayers, turned and sat down.

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Why is everyone else not wearing their protective safety gear?!

Next, it was Mayor Pro Tem Pat Squires’s turn to talk turkey. Clad in a pink “Santaland Parade” hoodie, she read from her notes. “I move to purchase an aerial lift truck from Wolverine Freightliner. Our old one is 26 years old and it is not able to be used anymore according to the state of Michigan.”

Well, that didn’t sit right with Mr. Vesty McYellington, who immediately shuffled to the podium.

“You can fix it up!”

Mayor Walker was insistent. “It’s 26 years old. We gotta get a new one!”

“Why buy a new one?! Fix it up! It’s my money! My tax dollars!” raspily bellowed this modern-day Scrooge.

But the mayor had made his list and checked it twice. “Oh-kay,” he sighed. Then the council voted: Garden City was getting a new truck under the tree.

Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to Santa for delivering a smooth road, new truck, and amazing gas prices to Garden City. See you at the parade!