Summer may be winding down, but the city council meetings are heating up! The biggest news out of August was International City Hall Selfie Day. You can check your social media for the thousands of images generated on the holiest of high holidays or you can peruse my Top 10 list instead. I also invited a top selfie expert on the podcast to pick an ultimate winner.
Of course, we saw our fair share of drama in city council meetings, including two mayors who raised their voices at council members and an entire council meeting that very quickly turned into a bonfire. If you missed that Jerry Springer plotline, go scan the August Month in Review.
And if you don’t know why this man is pointing at heaven…it’s because he’s pointing at heaven. But the reason will blow your heathen mind:
Amber Waldref and I had a very deep discussion about the regular public commenters (there are tons) at her meetings, an incident involving a presidential walk-out, and her approach to getting the audience on her side.
Q: How would you describe council President Ben Stuckart’s style of running your meetings?
A: It’s easy to criticize, but if you had to do it yourself–because I’ve had to–it is difficult. You have to have a strong constitution and you can’t be afraid of calling people out. I take a little bit softer approach than council President Stuckart does. I don’t know if that helps or hurts me.
Q: When you run the meetings, how do you handle it?
A: It’s all about preparation. Usually you’re given at least a couple days notice so you can get your head in order and research agenda items–make sure you understand where things might go astray and check in with council members to make sure no one’s going to throw in a crazy motion at the last minute.
Q: When you said you take a “softer” approach, that word, when you connote it with being a woman, it’s like, you’re a better listener, you’re more “motherly”–or whatever it conjures up. Is that what you meant?
A: I think it’s just the tone of your voice and the sincerity of your statements. If someone comes up and gives a comment, [say] “thank you” instead of giving a sarcastic, “NEXT!” They may be a difficult person to listen to. They may have something they’ve said a thousand times and you’ve heard it. But you just smile and in the tone of your voice, sincerely say, “thank you for your comment.”
A: You still need to be firm. I think it’s how the tone of the meeting can be set by just making a joke at the beginning or making light of something–getting the crowd to chuckle and getting them on your side. Those are some tricks I use.
Q: What are we talking about here? Knock-knocks? Limericks?
A: I usually use self-deprecating humor. Or, “oh, since council President Stuckart is out, I’m going to be nice to all of you. Haha!”
Q: [Laughs] So, is what you’re talking about not so much “kindness” but “acting?”
A: No, I think it’s about a state of mind. It’s probably easier for me because I don’t have to chair [the meeting] every week. If you were president every week, it’s hard to have that approach. I think you’re at an advantage if you’re only doing it every three months. People maybe have a different perspective on you.
Q: It’s like a substitute teacher: you might think you could get away with things or you might wish you had that teacher all that time.
A: Yeah, I want to be the cool substitute teacher.
Q: [Laughs] One of these meetings you should just put on the Minions movie and forget about the agenda! Are things any different in the small conference room that your meetings are in now versus your old council chamber?
A: It’s a more intimate space. We’re on the same level as the people speaking to us. Which I appreciate. It creates a more casual atmosphere. I think that’s why people are speaking out of turn. There’s plusses and minuses.
Oh, god, I almost hurled. Okay, let’s try it again: the Spokane city council meeting was bo
BORING. There, I did it.
Mind you, I never find council meetings boring. But for the love of Pete, just check out what was on the docket.
“The Friends of the Library has been a treasured supporter of the Spokane Public Library since 1973, and the Spokane Public Library is deeply grateful for their support,” read librarianly Council Member Karen Stratton.
Terrific. Council Member Mike Fagan, you chaired the Public Safety Committee today?
“You bet. There was a wonderful article in The Spokesman regarding how the fire department is looking to include not only men but women and minorities,” he said.
Again, terrific. Is anything WRONG in this city? You, sir! Public commenter in the bad-to-the-bone leather jacket! Have you got something stuck in your craw?
“I started on a project that–I didn’t know what I was doing–to build my garage in [my wife’s] garden,” he led in while gripping the podium. “TOTAL compliments to your inspectors and the Planning Department! They’ve been wonderful in helping me–not knowing what I’m doing.”
Well, that about does it, folks. We’ve got five minutes left–all for a basic emergency ordinance to refinance some park bonds.
“This is just your basic refinance of some park bonds,” explained Council President Ben Stuckart, “so we can pay them off and it’ll get us a lower interest rate. We have one person signed up for public testimony.”
A blonde-haired woman with a long skirt and sandals breezed up to the podium. I wonder which city department she’ll compliment this time.
“I’m not a whole lot familiar with bonds, but it seems to me it’s a lot like payday loans. It’s for like, you know, rich politicians in the city,” she grumbled, waving her arms in the general direction of the council members. “It’s hypocritical that you guys–the council doesn’t have any regulations like that and–
Council President Stuckart bristled at this suggestion. “No. This is part of the park bond that the citizens voted over 70 percent for,” he interjected during her criticisms. “I’ll let you have more time, but it’s NOT something we’re just doing without a vote of the citizens.”
The woman, unfazed, parried to a different line of attack. “But it’s not an emergency. It should be just like the poor man. If you can’t go out and borrow five different payday loans or whatever, why do you get to call a park bond an emergency?”
“You want me to describe it to you?” Stuckart again interjected. This time, she blazed ahead.
“REAL emergency is creating homeless people! Tearing down neighborhoods and not letting them get a payday loan! That’s my comment.”
As she walked away, President Stuckart could not resist one more retort. “It’s called an EMERGENCY ordinance because it requires five votes instead of four,” he called.
But she was already gone.
Final thoughts: I have to admit, the meeting turned out to be electrifying after all. I’m suddenly interested in bonds and payday loans! 10 out of 10 stars to both.