#91: Reading, PA 3/13/17

Dateline: Reading City Hall.

A snowstorm was hours away from besieging the area. Inside the council chamber, city leaders were calm. But they were nervously watching the clock.

“I believe we have one speaker,” Council President Jeffrey Waltman scanned the crowd.

“Two,” the clerk corrected him.

“Chris, do you mind reading our public comment policy?” requested Waltman with a polite nod.

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I hope the snow doesn’t interrupt this video broadcast from, apparently, 1969.

Surprisingly, the policy was more detailed–and considerably harsher–than I am used to.

“Citizens may not approach the council tables at any time. Any person making threats or becoming unruly may be barred from speaking or cited,” a staffer read solemnly. “Failure to abide by these regulations could result in removal and/or citation.”

Wow. I could only imagine the kind of person who would’ve made those rules necessary. Luckily, I didn’t have to imagine–she was already standing at the podium.

“Greetings from your favorite, no-good, dirty, evil landlord,” a short-haired woman in a poofy jacket boomed at the council. “That’s the stereotype, so I just roll with it.”

She bulldozed straight to the point. “My housing permits WERE paid. The city HAD my money. They didn’t give me credit for it. What you got was FAKE news. BOGUS facts.”

Brandishing a newspaper, she ranted, “you know, the great freedoms we enjoy in this country allow people to be pretty slovenly with them. And I am referring to this word right here.” She jabbed a pen at the offending headline. “What happened here is NOT an error. And I think everybody knows it.”

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Oh

As she plopped back down, Council President Waltman glanced at Reading’s city auditor, who had a lighter, less bogus piece of news.

“I was able to attend the 12th Annual Battle of the Badges. It was Reading police and fire working as a team versus the Allentown police and fire.” Everyone inched to the edge of their seats in anticipation of the score.

“Reading’s team won by 7-6. Officer Pete Karpovich was the star of the game for Reading,” he announced with the enthusiasm of…well, an auditor.

Managing Director Glenn Steckman quickly cut in. “I think David failed to acknowledge the outstanding coaching of the game by the chief,” he said, prompting light applause for the fire chief sitting contentedly in the back.

“I was at the game,” Council President Waltman mused. “I was worried. If the police and the firemen are playing the police and the firemen, what do you do if a fight breaks out? Who do you call?”

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You call their mothers, obviously.

Speaking of fights, something was irking one of the city’s employees sitting up front.

“I have to respond to [the public commenter’s] point where she complains about a ‘bad neighbor’ who has not kept up their property. The neighbor is the Centre Park Historic District.”

The District, he spat, “has tried repeatedly–REPEATEDLY–to reach some accommodation so they could put ladders to make the repairs. She has been extremely difficult to work with.”

Immediately, Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz deftly steered to less choppy waters. “I think the point about being a good neighbor is what’s gonna help us get through the next day and a half as far as the snow goes.”

She added, “I have a little bit of money–if people want to shovel, they can come to me. I will pay for individuals to help shovel out our seniors.”

#81: Meridian, ID 1/24/17

Inside the vast Meridian council chamber, local holy man Pastor Larry offered an opening prayer that was part weather report–

“Dear Heavenly Father: we thank you for the snow, but for many of us you have given more than we need.”

–part community calendar–

“We look forward to the upcoming State of the City report.”

–and part international travel brochure.

“I asked a young Vietnamese lady why she moved to Meridian. She says, ‘I went online and saw it was one of the safest cities.'”

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Someone looked up Meridian, Idaho on the Internet? This sounds like fake news.

One of Meridian’s dedicated employees strode to the podium to brief council members on new fees for tidying up the parks. “Basically, we’re trying to recover the staffing cost to clean up before and after a party,” he explained. “There’s different prices based on the number of people likely to reserve that shelter.”

Council Member Luke Cavener raised an eyebrow in skepticism. “Can you share why it takes less time to clean up Centennial Park compared to Hillsdale Park? There’s a $10 difference.”

“Hillsdale Park, there’s a small splash pad there and a more significant playground,” explained the man. “As far as how much time it takes to clean one versus another, it depends on the party. Did they have a cake fight? It could be some people took advantage and they left a mess.”

A cake fight? Those Idaho Catholics are wilder than I thought!

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Maybe don’t do a wide shot of the audience?

But Council Member Cavener angrily shoved aside this sweet talk. “I personally struggle with the city playing favorites as to which shelters WE think are the most valuable.”

He eyeballed his notes. “It takes six staff hours to clean up Kleiner Park shelter A1?!”

Silence. After several uneasy moments, Mayor Tammy de Weerd offered a gentle correction.

“I guess we have to trust that personnel in the field have a grasp of the time commitments,” she said sternly. “I would also say–I’ve seen this personally–our staff is not just cleaning up. They’re running people out of shelters that want to be belligerent even though they didn’t reserve it. Our personnel play interference on a number of different issues.”

Cavener sat quietly. The mayor glanced out at the ghost town of seats.

“This is a public hearing. Is there anyone–gentleman–that would like to provide testimony?”

The one guy sitting with his child in the corner gave a polite smile and a wave, but said nothing. With Council Member Cavener voting “no,” the council passed the cleanup fees.

“Madam Mayor?” Cavener once more loaded up his artillery. “A number of weeks ago, we proposed the idea of a public forum for our citizens. I haven’t heard any progress made on that.”

Her Honor was startled. “I…don’t know. Was I there?” she asked incredulously. “If I don’t remember it, I can guarantee you, there was nothing that has happened.”

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Mayor: “Perhaps Mr. Benjamin Franklin would jog my memory….”

“I really like the idea,” Council Member Ty Palmer chimed in. “If nobody shows, so be it. If 25 people show, we’d like to hear ’em.”

“I’m kind of caught unawares,” the mayor murmured reluctantly, before offering her lukewarm endorsement. “We can bring back further information.”

Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to the people who have to clean up after the Meridian cake fights.