Interview #94: McDonough, GA Councilwoman Sandra Vincent (with podcast)

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

Sandra Vincent has been on the McDonough city council for over a decade and only recently experienced her first meeting about tattoos and piercings. We also covered her frustration over a park and what that meant for a business owner who wanted to comment upon it.

Q: Last year, there was one part of the city employee handbook that bothered you–the council was trying to limit tattoos and piercings. Was this the first time in your more than a decade on the city council that this subject came up?

A: There have been other times we discussed dress code. I don’t recall there being another time when we specifically were creating policy that descriptive around tattoos. Tattoos, even though I don’t have a tattoo and don’t particularly like them, culturally there are more young people who are into tattoo wearing. To say that we’re not going to hire individuals with tattoos above the neck is to limit ourselves.

Q: How surprised were you that the others did not see it your way?

A: I was extremely. I think I had a weeklong debate with my four daughters. What was even more odd is that there were people presenting in the audience that evening who represented the local chamber [of commerce], one of which had tattoos and a mouth piercing!

Q: No way!

A: I was sitting there thinking, this is a professional woman that has just presented this amazing piece to us. She has tattoos and piercings and we’re saying that if you exemplify those characteristics, that’s not considered professional. I almost felt like I had been propelled back about 20 years.

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McDonough, GA Councilwoman Sandra Vincent

Q: At the meeting on April 18, 2016, you moved to add a discussion of the Overlook subdivision park to the agenda. But other council members said they had already told people that there would be no discussion and therefore it should stay off the agenda. How sympathetic were you to that reasoning?

A: I wasn’t. Initially, the Overlook discussion was on the agenda. In that chamber were somewhere between 50 and 75 individuals from the Overlook community who had come out. Somebody took it off [the agenda].

Q: After you gave a presentation despite the mayor trying to gavel you down, the audience applauded and you left the chamber. Do you remember where you went?

A: I walked outside of chambers through the back door to try and capture myself. I went out and did have a conversation because those are people that I represent. I think the most heartbreaking thing was an elderly gentlemen–he just kind of looked at me and said, “Ms. Vincent, what do we do now?”

Q: When you came back in the room, you and a public commenter had an exchange in which you wanted her to state that she did not live in the city, despite owning a business there. Did you have a history with that person?

A: The commenter had concerns regarding the park. My response concerning whether or not the individual lived in McDonough was germane to the fact that there were almost 75 individuals who live in the city that were refused an opportunity to speak. We’re talking about specific issues for a particular geographic area and this business is across town. I don’t see how it’s fair to not disclose the fact that the person is not a resident.


Follow Councilwoman Sandra Vincent on Twitter: @sandravincent

Interview #75: Fresno, CA Councilmember Esmeralda Soria (with podcast)

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

Esmeralda Soria is in her first term on the Fresno council and discusses the elaborate gift-giving protocol for the outgoing council president with me. Plus, we analyze one difficult meeting involving the politics of religion.

Q: Each year, a different council member becomes the president. At the end of their term in January, they apparently get to pick out a parting gift for themselves. Can you tell us what the council is getting current president Clint Olivier?

A: We’re still working on that. I think people were very impressed by the last gift–the sign that says your name and then “President” at the bottom, which is what our former president, [Paul] Caprioglio, received.

Q: In 2015, Council Member Steve Brandau got a photoshopped picture of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz smoking a cigarette with tattoos all over his body. When you saw that, did you think, “huh, that seems like a perfectly wholesome and normal thing to give someone?”

A: Well, I don’t think that they were trying to be normal. I think they were trying to add a little humor to the parting gift! I think that was the intent.

Q: Let’s go back to May of this year. Council Member Garry Bredefeld looks at the wall behind you in the council chamber where it says “City of Fresno.” He says to himself, “this is missing something.” How did you first learn what he wanted to do?

A: It was something that Councilwoman–I forget her name–out of Bakersfield…[she] had sent an e-mail. Not just to him, to everyone. He was the only one that it caught his attention and thought it was a great idea to bring to Fresno. That’s how I first learned he was interested.

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Fresno, CA Councilmember Esmeralda Soria

Q: What you’re referring to is putting in big letters behind you, “In God We Trust” under the name of the city. You had over 40 commenters show up on both sides–cheering and yelling, calling this “needlessly divisive.” In the end, you and the entire council voted in favor of this. Did you have any unease over how the process went?

A: At the beginning, there was. I even expressed that to my council colleague. I felt that it wasn’t something the city needed to debate. It became a very divisive issue. But for me, I didn’t see anything wrong with putting our country’s motto on the dais. It wasn’t about religion. Every council meeting, we have an invocation. We invite people from all walks of life to do the invocation because we value diversity.

Q: I’ve got to say, I’ve watched a lot of your council meetings. It’s hard to take away a message that all gods are welcome given how frequently people refer to Jesus Christ in the invocation. Do you see how the actual proceedings would suggest that the council is not totally neutral?

A: I can see that. I can tell you–at least when I have the opportunity–I have the Sikh community come in here, someone from the Muslim community come, and it’s not about Jesus. It’s not a complete representation, but I can see your point.

Q: Did any of the extreme arguments you heard in that May meeting change your initial opinion?

A: I thought to some degree it was a waste of valuable time. The debate didn’t have to be that extensive.


Follow Councilmember Esmeralda Soria on Twitter: @Esmeralda_Soria

#135: Springdale, AR 10/10/17

“Before we proceed,” Council Member Kathy Jaycox stopped the meeting cold in its tracks, “could we recognize some guests in the audience? They’re here because they are trying to earn badges.”

Mayor Doug Sprouse relaxed. “Sure. Would somebody like to tell us who’s here?”

The Boy Scout troop leader stepped to the microphone and ordered his young charges to their feet. “Gentlemen, if you’d like to stand. They’re working on their communication merit badge.”

“Okay,” the mayor replied, doing a little drumroll on his desk and smiling. “I don’t know how much communication you’ll learn from THIS bunch, but we’ll try!”

As soon as the Scouts settled back in their seats, the council took up the titillating issue of an emergency replat of the Sunset Industrial Park Phase II subdivision. Things went smoothly on the first roll call vote. But suddenly, the staffer at the lectern barreled ahead without warning.

“The next item is a–” she announced, before the mayor halted her for a necessary second vote.

“I’m just in a hurry!” she chuckled as the next roll call rolled on. “I’m doing my part to make it short!”

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Communications lesson: keep it short, but wait until people are done voting.

Now, under normal circumstances, updating personnel policies is hardly a mouth-watering affair. But today? Let’s just say: don’t judge a book by its heavily-tattooed cover.

“So, if someone’s trying to apply for a position,” Council Member Colby Fulfer mused, “we can still use discretion based on someone’s physical appearances or sources of income that could be questionable? Could we discriminate?”

“It depends,” replied Mayor Sprouse matter-of-factly. “We do have positions where we can have those requirements. They would be the obvious ones like personal appearance.”

Council Member Mike Overton threw up his hand and grumbled, “not in all departments can we have people looking at Jo-Jo the tattooed man!”

Wow. I would be more worried that a grown man chooses to go by “Jo-Jo” than the fact he has tattoos.

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I associate myself with these reactions.

At this point, Mayor Sprouse, who had apparently been sitting on a powerkeg of exciting news all meeting, finally lit the fuse. “As we’re looking at possible fire stations with a bond issue, I would really like to go look at one,” he prefaced.

“The best one sounds like it’s in the Kansas City area. I think it would be great to go up there and look at that.”

Field trip! I love car rides. Which brings up an important question: I am invited, right?

“We’ll just go when the most people can go,” Sprouse glanced around. “I know that the press will be invited.”

That’s me, baby! If the mayor is a man of his word, City Council Chronicles will happily ride shotgun on the party bus.

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Real talk: I’ll only go if the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette isn’t invited. 

“We would leave 7:30, 8 in the morning,” he continued, diminishing my interest slightly in this excursion. Immediately, crosstalk ensued as council members simultaneously tossed out their availability.

“What about the 23rd?” hollered one voice. As the mayor scanned his schedule, other council members nodded in agreement.

“I’ll have to cancel a couple of meetings, but I can move those,” the mayor assented.

“What could be more important than being with the council, mayor?!” Council Member Overton joked. The mayor pursed his lips and bobbed his head without further reply.

Final thoughts: I’ll see you guys on the 23rd.

Interview #13: Anchorage, AK Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson (with podcast)

Big news! For the first time, you can now listen to a City Council Chronicles interview in podcast form. Follow this link to City Council Chronicles on iTunes or click play:

It’s a very special interview, in which we travel way, way up to Anchorage and talk to the chair of the city’s assembly, Elvi Gray-Jackson. She told me about the betting pool she runs on the council and how she cold-calls audience members for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Q: How many people usually show up to the assembly meetings? And because this is Alaska, how many grizzly bears show up?

A: How many grizzly bears? You mean rude people?

Q: I didn’t know that was the euphemism. I was talking about actual grizzly bears. Either one.

A: Literal bears, no. On average we have an audience of about 100, maybe 120. For every meeting I’ll estimate what time I think we’re gonna end the meeting. There’s about six of us–when I get to the meeting tonight I’ll say, “okay, what’s your guess?” We have fun trying to guess what time the meeting’s going to end. And somebody wins.

Q: You run a betting pool for the meeting end times?

A: It’s just for fun.

Q: Who usually wins?

PA: I win a lot. Lately, some of my colleagues are getting pretty good at it. I like to make the meetings lively and fun. What I do different than what any other chair has done–usually after roll call we do the Pledge of Allegiance. And every other chair usually asks one of our colleagues to lead us. What I decided I was gonna do is, every meeting I’m going to arbitrarily pick somebody in the audience to come up to the podium and lead us. I like to engage the public.

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Anchorage, AK Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson

Q: It’s Alaska, so I’m assuming people are allowed to bring guns to the assembly meetings?

A: That’s an interesting question…yes. People are allowed to bring guns.

Q: So how many guns do you have on your person while chairing the meetings?

A: I don’t have a gun. I’m terrified of guns. Dick Traini, who’s my vice chair now, when he was chair, he had the dais area bullet-proofed. And I was thankful for that.

Q: Are there some council members who are thorns in your side?

A: I’m a dolphin. Dolphins could kill sharks. Dolphins always have a dolphin expression on their face and the sharks are constantly doing things to try and change that personality. But the dolphins just maintain it and the sharks finally calm down. In that respect, there are human sharks. I don’t let people push my buttons.

Q: …That’s an analogy I have never heard from anyone else before.

A: And I have a dolphin tattoo on my left shoulder.

Q: Last September you missed an assembly meeting because you were introducing Michelle Obama at the White House. Looking back, do you regret not being there to vote on the contract for the reservoir mixer phase II upgrades?

A: Absolutely no, I don’t regret not being there. I was representing Anchorage. I plan my entire life around my assembly meetings because I don’t want to miss them. We have the opportunity to do the assembly meetings by phone. I HATE doing assembly meetings by phone because you get elected and you need to do your job.