Interview #81: Middlesex Centre, ON Councilor Derek Silva (with podcast)

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

Derek Silva is in his second year as the Ward 4 councilor in Middlesex Centre and is a staunch advocate for video streaming his council meetings. He is leading the charge to get it done this year! Plus, we discuss whether his meeting time of 4 p.m. is a deterrent for potential councilors.

Q: Derek, you listen to the podcast so you are well aware that there is one HUGE problem with Middlesex Centre council meetings that I’ve talked about on here many, many times. And that problem is, say it with me–

(unison) Q: –video streaming. A: The Ward 3 Strangler.

Q: Wait, sorry, did you say the “Ward 3 Strangler?”

A: I said video streaming. What’s the Ward 3 Strangler?

Q: Uh, sorry, I misheard you. But yeah, video streaming. There is no audio visual evidence of your council meetings. What are your views on this travesty?

A: Part of the issue has been cultural. We do get a few folks at council meetings, but certainly past councils didn’t see it as a priority. I’m happy to report that in our search for new digital agenda software, staff is also using that opportunity to look into video streaming. I’m confident that for the next council session starting in December, live streaming will be there, maybe sooner.

Q: That is fantastic. Normally when I ask people that question, they’re like, oh it’s important…and I never hear from them again. But you’re saying you have a time! When you campaigned in 2014, you mentioned that streaming could be done at a cost under $1,000. How did you arrive at that figure?

A: I arrived at that $1,000 figure understanding that we are a small municipality. For the prices at the time, I didn’t see the need to invest a whole ton of money in getting a camera and start live streaming to YouTube. My direct comparison was to the city of London [Ontario], which bought multiple cameras which would automatically pan and tilt and zoom to the person speaking. And they were paying a private company to host the server. You keep adding all these extra layers and you realize this costs $40,000-$50,000. My point was, something is better than nothing, so let’s do something.

Middlesex Centre, ON Councilor Derek Silva

Q: In November, Deputy Mayor Aina DeViet asked for a list of start times of other municipalities in Ontario. Why did she want this? Are you guys having problems with your meeting start times?

A: Aina said that she had multiple people express an interest in running in the election this year. Which is great because in 2014, the only contests that Middlesex Centre had were in Ward 4 and for the school board trustees. Aina had been hearing from people who said, I’d love to run for council but Wednesday at 4 p.m.? Not gonna happen. I get that. Not exactly the most convenient time.

Q: Do you think there’s anything else scaring people away other than the meeting start time?

A: I think it’s a variety of reasons. If it was just attending meetings, I imagine lots of people would’ve run for office. But there are lots of people who aren’t built for a very customer service-type role in a lot of ways. It’s been said a lot lately, but there is definitely this misperception about what level of influence municipal politics has over your life. Municipal government has a much, much bigger influence and yet gets far less [of] pretty much everything.

Follow Councilor Derek Silva on Twitter: @DerekSilva 


Interview #64: Mobile, AL Council Member Levon Manzie (with podcast)

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

Levon Manzie is a reverend by day who served on the school board and recently won his second term as the District 2 representative. He shares how he benefits from having prayer in the council meetings, plus his thoughts on rules and compassion. And be sure to listen to the audio–I give him some suggested catchphrases for District 2.

Q: Every Mobile city council meeting opens with a prayer. Whenever you give that prayer, how is it different from the prayer you write for Sunday morning?

A: To be honest, it isn’t that much different because I really don’t write it. When I’m called upon, I seek inspiration. At that moment before a council meeting, I wanted god to bless what we were voting on. What we were deliberating over touches the lives of [thousands of] individuals.

Q: Have you ever watched someone else give the prayer and thought, “oof, that’s a little heavy handed?”

A: That has not happened to my knowledge. The scheduler tries to have a variety of ministers offer the blessing. Now, there have been some I thought were too long!

Q: [Laughs] Would you ever begrudge someone who says, “this is a business meeting. I don’t think it’s appropriate to be praying.”

A: I wouldn’t begrudge someone. But for me, I think prayer is most appropriate. Just last week to the right of us, Hurricane Irma. To the left of us, Hurricane Harvey. So I’m not ashamed about being mindful that we’ve been blessed and it’s most appropriate to acknowledge that. Again, those are my personal views. I believe most persons would pray specific to the city of Mobile or a general prayer asking for guidance in a general sense.

Mobile, AL Council Member Levon Manzie

Q: You were on the school board before this. Is the difference between school board meetings and council meetings like the difference between the minor leagues and the major leagues? Or between decaf coffee and a shot of espresso? How would you compare them?

A: I think decaf and espresso would probably be the best analogy. On the school board we dealt with one overarching theme, which was providing quality education. Everything was judged off of that standard. Every contract. Every appointment. Every vacancy. Here in the city, it’s not as single-focused.

Q: How would you describe council President Gina Gregory’s style at running meetings?

A: You know, she’s a veteran. She’s compassionate, sometimes allowing individuals to go over the alloted time so they can completely finish their thought. But she’s also orderly. And when people go off topic or when they abuse their time, she knows how to be strict.

Q: So you’re saying that compassion and rule-bending are just as important in some situations as being strict and treating everyone the same in every circumstance.

A: Well, one hundred percent. You have to be as compassionate or as strict as the person will allow you to be. If you’ve got somebody who is causing a ruckus in the meeting, there isn’t any room for compassion. But if you’ve got an individual who is impassioned about changes that are proposed for his or her community and they’re about 90 percent from finishing a complete thought and they’ve followed the rules, it’s incumbent upon you to judiciously allow some rule-bending. And I think she’s mastered that.

Follow Council Member Levon Manzie on Twitter: @lcmanzie06

Special Feature! “Best Thing, Worst Thing”

There is a lot of news to keep up with these days and it would be nice if someone explained what’s really important. Well, you’re in luck: there is a new episode of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project! For an explanation, check out the page here. Basically, you will be transported to a city or town where you (probably) have never been. You will hear from the locals about the things they like and the things they cannot stand.

So pack up your skis and put some hot chocolate in a thermos. Then head over to the City Council Chronicles podcast to download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.

Episode 5: Vail, Colorado

vail co.jpg

Photo source: Town of Vail

Vail is about 100 miles west of Denver in Eagle County, Colorado. Most people know Vail as home to the most popular ski resort in the country. But there is actually a town of 5,300 people who work at, ski on, or vacation near the resort. The town is fairly new–only 51 years old. It is a fantastic place for people who love the outdoors. But it is fairly remote in the Rocky Mountains. And it is increasingly adversarial for people who work there to also live nearby.  In this episode, we hear from a journalist, an events manager, a school board member, a house cleaner, and a rabbi.

Interview #31: Richmond, VA Councilwoman Kristen Nye Larson (with podcast)

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

We’re doing something different this week: on January 9, four new members of the Richmond, Virginia city council had their first meeting. One of them, Kristen Nye Larson, joined me right before the meeting AND the day afterward to bask in the fresh-council-meeting glow!

January 9, three hours before the meeting

Q: Does it feel like it’s the first day of school?

A: [Laughs] There’s definitely a little anticipation. We have an informal meeting at 4:00 and a formal meeting at 6:00.

Q: Are you worried that the older council members might say to you new people, “just follow our lead. You just got here. We know what we’re doing. Don’t try to rock the boat.”

A: They all seem really receptive. We’ll see how it actually goes. But you’re right. There are a lot of issues out there that we’re [the new council members] definitely going to come in the middle [of].

Q: Mmhmm.

A: We have four new council members. We have a new mayor. And on the school board, which I just rolled off of, there are eight new members out of the nine.

Q: Wow! You’ve been on the school board for four years, so you’ve got procedure down. Do you feel like there ain’t nothing getting past you in there?

A: The thing that is different about the council meetings is that they are televised live. That will be a bit of an adjustment. School board was taped and it would be showed a couple of days later. You definitely have to be conscious of how you look on camera. If somebody says something that you might think is unusual, you don’t need to show “unusual” on your face. You just need to show, “hey, that’s an interesting idea.”

Q: [Laughs] It’s like being at the State of the Union when they cut away to Congress. And if you’re caught falling asleep, your face will be on the Internet! Now, the meeting is at six, which is an awkward time. You’ve got the classic question: do I eat an early dinner, a late dinner, or do I have my food in the meeting and make everyone hate me?

A: Since we have this 4:00 informal meeting, council members have time to eat in between the informal and formal meeting. They sent around a menu–they bring food in for us. I think it’s, like, chicken and vegetables. I’ll take a picture for you.

Q: Please do!

Richmond, VA Councilwoman Kristen Nye Larson

January 10, 18 hours after the meeting

Q: How did it go?

A: It was short. I feel like the next meeting will be a little more robust. This is something that’s interesting: I was on school board and we sat in numeric order [by district]. But with city council, they get to choose their seats. So there was a whole seating chart that went around and phone calls, like, “what seat do you want?” I didn’t know it was such a big deal.

Q: When people were calling around asking for seats, do you know if anyone said, “I’d like to sit next to Kristen Larson!”

A: I have no idea if anybody requested to sit next to me!

Q: During your first-ever comments at the council meeting, you gave out your cell phone number on live TV. That was a bold move! How many hundreds of calls have you gotten since last night?

A: [Laughs] None! At least in Richmond, I think that’s an expectation [that you give out your number]. I think people feel empowered if they just have your number.

Q: One loose end from yesterday is that you guys had dinner delivered. And you thought it would be chicken and vegetables. You texted me a picture:

Photo source: Kristen Nye Larson

A: It was hot! And we had time to sit down and eat it. I know not every night is going to be like that!

Follow Councilwoman Kristen Nye Larson on Twitter: @kristenRVA