#167: Iola, KS 8/27/18

A tall, thin young man strolled up to the lectern as council members patiently folded their hands and arms in front of them.

“I am the coordinator for the Libertarian Party of Allen County,” he announced. The introduction was entirely plausible, as his baseball cap and tan shorts were consistent with a minimal government/minimal dress code philosophy.

“Since this is only my second meeting so far, I’m a little lost. What is the purpose of a public hearing?”

Mayor Jonathan Wells leaned forward to help. “Generally, public hearings are to allow the public input on a specific issue–usually on things like budget or whenever we are doing a demolition or condemning a house.”

“I see,” nodded the lanky libertarian, despite this intrusion of Big Government into his comment time. “I would like to start off with reading a bit from the city code.”

He turned to his notes and quoted city policy to the silent council members. “In chapter one, article five: ‘the objective of the investment program shall be to aggressively manage and invest all public monies to relieve demands on the property tax and reduce the cost of public services.'”

He looked up. “I would really like to emphasize the relief on property tax and to reduce the cost of public services. I would appreciate if the council keeps in mind my desire for lower taxes.”

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Look at all the tax money wasted on those extravagant folding chairs.

“I’ve seen in the officially-approved minutes of the special meeting on July 16, Council Member…Murick–”

“MYrick,” corrected Eugene Myrick.

“–mentioned a private trash service, to which administrator [Sid] Fleming noted that having heavy trucks on our streets that the government does not control may be more damaging.”

He delivered his bottom line. “As a libertarian, government control of anything is fundamentally and philosophically threatening to me.”

Before the council could thank him for traveling on the fundamentally-threatening government streets to the fundamentally-threatening government building to broadcast his views over fundamentally-threatening government cameras, they leapt ahead to discuss another possible menace: people.

“Do we really need two recreation directors? AND an administrator assistant?” Council Member Myrick quizzed. “I’m not saying, ‘cut ’em. Get rid of ’em.’ But once that position becomes open, can we just not fill that again?”

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I seem to remember the city code mentioning reducing the cost of public services….

But Council Member Aaron Franklin pumped the brakes on the HR Express. “I think we’re approaching this from the wrong direction,” he frowned. “We need to focus on staffing the city with the right people in the right places for the right reasons. And not look at this as, ‘we need to cut things across the board.'”

He urged everyone to check their libertarian impulses. “I know that everybody wants to cut. But if we go into a study trying to find the result we’re looking for, we’re gonna have failed before we even start.”

“The intention of this is not to get rid of anybody that is currently employed,” Council President Nancy Ford maintained. “It is just if there is a vacancy, determine whether that needs filled. That shouldn’t upset anyone. If they’ve already all picked up that workload and split it among them, you know, that’s part of having a job!”

That’s true. And if the city ends up being short-staffed, there is at least one person willing to come in and read the city code for free.

#99: Medicine Hat, AB 4/17/17

From inside the gigantic semi-circle of the Medicine Hat city council, an equally gigantic subject emerged: how much reading do councilors REALLY want?

“I always wondered whether we needed more reporting, not less,” Councilor Les Pearson fired a shot across the bow of the anti-report lobby. “I’m wondering if council can be advised in a briefer form in a more frequent basis.

“It’s draining, I guess, on some people–on me in particular,” Pearson admitted with the exasperation of someone who had just forced an Encyclopedia-length government report past his eyeballs. “I guess I would like smaller bites along the way.”

“The intent,” Chief Administrative Officer Merete Heggelund replied, “is that you should be able to get the gist of it from the top” pages. She held her thumb and index finger less than an inch apart, measuring out 20 to 30 sheets of paper max. “It’s not that we expect council to have read 500 pages of financial information.”

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Pearson: “NOW you’re telling me?!”

“This is good, spirited conversation,” said Councilor Robert Dumanowski without a hint of enthusiasm–but also without irony.

“Quarterly reports are indicative of the industry and market world, etc.,” he launched into an exhaustive stem-winder that made my skull numb for a solid two-and-a-half minutes. I regained lucidity during his closing argument.

“I could go on and on and on, but the reports will only be bumped a single month. It’ll still be, I’m sure, an award-winning financial report,” Dumanowski reassured fellow Hatters.

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Trust me: this man DID read all 500 pages.

At this point, the meeting was more than three-quarters of the way over and the council was galloping through the budget like a Mountie on horseback. Prospects for a record-scratch, edge-of-our-seats moment were dim.

But dimness? Thy name is Councilor Bill Cocks.

“I can recall–and he shall remain nameless–a former councilor who voted in favor of the budget but NEVER voted in favor of the tax increases to support,” Councilor Cocks glared out from over his bow tie into the camera. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Yikes. While this was more “passive” than “aggressive,” the T-word touched off a nerve.

“I’m not happy we’re having a tax increase,” Councilor Julie Friesen hunched over and grimaced. “We don’t have a choice. We have to do this.”

You could almost see the Stockholm Syndrome set in. “I’ll support this, but, you know–who wants to? We don’t want to do it!”

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Friesen: “Oh, god. The taxes…they’re waiting for me outside!”

She turned to Heggelund for backup. “You might just explain to people what it would mean if we didn’t do this.”

The Chief Administrative Officer rubbed her chin and said without emotion, “we would have to find the money elsewhere. And we’re running out of places to find that money.”

What a doom-and-gloom way to end a meeting. Heck, even the Civic Recognition Awards were dogged by a rain cloud.

“I’m just a little disappointed that we had no recommendations–NOBODY was nominated for community inclusion or sports and recreation,” Councilor Pearson waved his fist in disdain.

“It’s really too bad that those people were not being recognized. I know there are people who made major contributions to sports and recreation and community inclusion.”

Final thoughts: For those of us who need a picker-upper, here it goes: the City Council Chronicles Sports and Recreation Civic Recognition Award goes to…Councilor Les Pearson! Hooray for closure!

#97: Caribou, ME 4/10/17

“Before we start, I just wanna announce: a public hearing on marijuana usage was scheduled for tonight. That won’t be tonight–it wasn’t in the paper, I guess,” a contrite Mayor Gary Aiken warned as councilors stared stone-faced (no pun intended) ahead.

And thus, the Caribou city council meeting started off innocently–and amusingly–enough. However, as citizens lined up to speak, the meeting slowly morphed into an increasingly depressing debtors court.

“We’ve had back taxes for quite some time since my dad took ill. He’s been a couple years passed away,” a man admitted earnestly off-camera. One councilor leaned back. Another crossed his arms.

“So are you prepared to pay the $11,960.76?” the mayor quizzed him.

“Today? No,” the man flatly replied.

Councilor Joan Theriault scrutinized his case file like a sympathetic magistrate judge. “In 2018, you would get a $20,000 homestead exemption,” she finally looked up to inform him. “Make sure you apply.”

“It’s been on my mind for quite some time now. But…I can only do what I can only do,” he inexplicably shrugged off her advice.

As he left the podium, another citizen in dire straits took his place. The mayor massaged his forehead as the desperate plea began.

“We have approximately $2,000 to give,” the man sniffed. “My family’s gonna help us to clear that bill up.”

His wife chimed in unprompted. “You know what my grandmother used to say? ‘Experience is good if you don’t pay too dearly for it.'”

The panel of councilors remained expressionless.

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The people’s court

She continued, “You guys have been really, really good and leaned over backwards for him–”

“I’m glad you understand that because I don’t think he understands that,” Mayor Aiken sharply retorted.

Her husband shot back, “I understand that.”

The mayor ignored him. “As of right now, the property is gonna go up for sale–”

“PLEASE take that out of the equation,” interjected the man acidly.

“Take what out of the equation?” the mayor leaned forward, genuinely confused.

“What you just said,” he spat. “Don’t say that to me.”

His wife was horrified.  “Knock it off. KNOCK. IT. OFF.”

As her husband protested, councilors sat motionless with their hands clamped in their laps. Picking a fight in front of the people who might sell your house is probably not in “The Art of the Deal.”

“So, it’s part of the equation,” the mayor repeated. Husband and wife did not reply. The council dictated the terms: the man would pay $500 in the next 21 days, plus another $350 by May 5.

There was an uncomfortable pause as councilors watched the feuding spouses shuffle out of the room.

A third man stepped forward to spin a long story about dutifully paying his taxes–sighing the whole time.

“Do you have your receipts?” Councilor Theriault peered over her glasses.

“No,” he breathed another baritone sigh. “I wasn’t very good at keeping receipts. My father’s name is the same, so things kinda get opened that shouldn’t. Uh, it’s hard to explain when you live with the same name.”

Councilor Philip McDonough was done with excuses. “Every time the situation comes up, it’s a different subject for each person! You bring in what you owe and we’ll turn your deed back to you.”

He slapped the table angrily. “Yes, it’s hard to sit here and say that. And it’s hard listening to them.  But the rest of our citizens have an obligation and they all meet it.”

Sighing Man turned away disgustedly. “I’m sorry, but you’ve offended me, sir.” He stepped out the door, closing it behind him.

The council stared silently.