The theme of this week’s Corpus Christi council meeting was simple. Straightforward. Short enough to fit on a baseball cap.
Make Corpus Christi Clean Again.
“All right, it’s party time!” Mayor Joe McComb murmured excitedly, cradling a handful of honorary proclamations. Most of them were “feel-goods,” celebrating Juneteenth and women veterans. But the mayor frowned after scanning the page marked “National Garbage Worker Week.”
“We oughta quit trashing our city,” he blurted out unprompted. “Put a bag in your car and put your trash in there and empty it when you go to the gas station.”
As the sanitation workers filed down to the front for a group photo, the mayor was rolling with the cadence of a Baptist preacher. “These people do a great job, but there’s a whole lot more of us than there are of them. So you can figure if we’re in a battle, we’re gonna win if we wanna be trashy. And we don’t need to be trashy.”
After the photo op, the applause, and the obligatory handshaking, Mayor McComb again grabbed the mic, worried that he hadn’t sufficiently put the fear of god in the viewing audience.
“I wasn’t being facetious when I was making my comments about the citizens need to not trash the place,” he yelled slightly above the din.
“Let me just ask you: when you go to a city and it’s nice and clean and looking good,” he began riffing as if he were the first person to put forth the proposition that garbage is bad, “you say, ‘man, that’s a pretty nice, clean city. I wouldn’t mind living or working here.’ We want that to be the reputation of Corpus Christi.”
Having littered the meeting with his anti-litter propaganda, the mayor opened public comment, with the disclaimer that “we’re here to listen. We can’t respond.”
The policy was unfortunate, because he almost certainly would have had something to say about the woman who sauntered up to the dais, dropped her purse on the lectern, and immediately produced from it a plastic bag.
“I would like to present to you something that belongs more to you than to us,” she announced indignantly, handing off the bag to the city manager.
“I hope you feel the same repulsiveness that we feel,” she glowered. “Those are roaches.”
If council members felt any repulsion, they legally couldn’t show it. The commenter barreled ahead.
“You are forcing us to live with this nuisance! Why are you imposing roaches and rodents on the neighbors of Ocean Drive?” she cried out, her voice rising as she railed against the dozens of new palm trees and their creepy-crawly inhabitants.
“Why do you wanna have Corpus Christi full of roaches? You cannot sit outside at night because you have all those roaches coming onto you. Please help us!”
After everyone had spoken, Mayor McComb could no longer contain his irritation.
“There were just misstatement after misstatement after misstatement,” he grumbled. “There ought to be something in there that we’ve got a correction statement period after the public comments. It’s a privilege, not an obligation that we have public comment.”
Although this fresh outrage didn’t appear to be cockroach-specific, it was alarming that the mayor was mulling the nuclear option. (The nuclear option, ironically, being something those cockroaches would survive.) But he stopped, then reconsidered how a lesser, more Pavlovian solution may be needed.
“Or we’re gonna have to devise some method that says either a big bell’s gonna come down or somebody with a water gun’s gonna squirt ’em when they knowingly make misstatement of facts. So I’m gonna work on that.”
Ah, maybe go after the cockroaches first? Then work on the dais-mounted squirt gun.
It was only appropriate that a Texas-sized stemwinder of a prayer kicked off the Denison council meeting.
“Every beginning has its ending and every ending has a new beginning. Help our leaders to know what to cling to, what to preserve, and what to let go of,” a woman in an Easter-Bunny-pink shirt requested from the heavens.
“Empower each one of them to use their unique gifts to create a beautiful life in our community. As they are guided by your holy spirit, our entire community will flourish.”
It was more important than usual that the prayer today be thorough, for the council was facing an issue that might usher in copious amounts of sin:
Whether to give a nightclub an alcohol and live music permit.
“One of the situations in the request is also the operating hours,” a staff member explained. “Proposed operating hours for this are Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.”
He quickly added, “this is inside the entertainment district. A nightclub use, live music, is appropriate.”
When I think “small-town Texas entertainment district,” I imagine rodeos and gun stores, not live music and dancing. Talk about pushing boundaries!
“We are the owners of the nightclub,” a couple announced at the lectern. “Here for any questions you may have.”
“Is this your first time to operate a nightclub?” Mayor Jared Johnson quizzed them.
“Yes. I’ve worked in nightclubs before off and on throughout the years,” replied the man confidently.
Councilmember J.C. Doty was surprised at how late the nightclub would keep the music cranking. “You’re requesting to be open till 2 a.m. I know some of the other places around close at midnight,” he observed. “Was there a specific reason why you wanted to stay open till 2 a.m.?”
“We’re only gonna be open three nights a week,” countered the owner, much to the chagrin of the Tuesday-night club aficionados. “I believe that’d be very important for our profit margin to have a couple extra hours per night.”
“So being in the entertainment district,” the mayor mused aloud, “should there be an event on a Saturday afternoon that they could benefit from being open during that time, what would be the process for allowing them to do that?”
Mayor Pro Tem Kris Spiegel abruptly leaned forward to defend the tiny business from the heavy hand of big government.
“I guess I don’t understand why we’re limiting it to 8 [p.m.] to 2 [a.m.] Whether they open at 5 p.m. or 4 p.m., I don’t know why we care.”
The staff member seemed to back up the libertarian point of view, replying, “I’d have to request the ordinance. I’m not sure that we have to restrict their hours. I believe we request them to give us operating hours.”
The mayor, sensing a compromise between the open-anytime wing of the council and the eight-to-two faction, said, “if it’s the council’s pleasure, what they’re suggesting is to put in a number not to exceed five or six times a year to have different opening hours.”
He glanced to his left. “Mr. Pro Tem, does that make sense?”
Spiegel nodded. “Understood.”
After a moment’s silence, he continued, “does that mean you want me to make a motion?”
“That’d be great,” the mayor deadpanned to laughter, before adding ominously, “don’t mess it up.”
And just as the prayer said: the council knew what to preserve and knew what to let go of.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–This evening, City Council Chronicles Editor Michael Karlik gave the second annual State of the City Council Meetings address to a joint session of Congress. Reports are that nearly all senators stayed awake and a stunning nine of ten House members did not walk out. By any measure, it was a success. Below is a rush transcript and audio of the entire speech, which is also available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Player FM:
Mr. Speaker, mayors, council members, Mom: ever since this project began in April 2016, we have chronicled the city council meetings of over 200 cities on four continents in eight countries. And none of them were sh*tholes.
Now, some have questioned my ability to chronicle that many city councils. But I assure you, as someone who is 6’3″ and 239 pounds–239? Is that what we’re going with, Doc? Great–and 239 pounds, I am in perfect health. I could easily do this for another four to eight weeks before I get bored and start reviewing Star Wars instead or something.
But I do not keep watch over the world’s city council meetings by myself. My team of unpaid interns with questionable citizenship status work 18 hours a day reviewing footage, checking Robert’s Rules of Order, and not finding out what OSHA is. And—do not clap for them! Justice Breyer, DO. NOT. Anyway, I am thankful for my interns and as soon as I find out what college credit is, I will consider giving it to them.
Speaking of being thankful, tonight we have some esteemed guests in the gallery. Sitting next to the First Lady is past podcast guest Andy Richardson, city councilman in Charleston, West Virginia, who has since announced that he is running for mayor. Good luck, Councilman. And remember, you’ll always be the mayor of my heart.
Next to him is Lauren McLean, council member in Boise, Idaho who, surprisingly, was elected her council’s president this year. Council Member McLean was a former Scottish Highland dancer, so she’s no stranger to unusual moves.
And finally, we have Fresno, California Council Member Esmeralda Soria, who appeared on the podcast back in December as council vice president, but totally and expectedly became council president this month. But get this: outgoing President Clint Olivier tried to pull a fast one on her by simply not handing over the gavel until she called him out.
When Council Member Soria appeared on the podcast, we talked about her council’s tradition of giving a parting gift to the outgoing president.
In case you were wondering, Clint Olivier received a watch and a Captain America portrait. And because he made it into this speech, I am also sending him a check for $10,000–what’s that? My horse lost at the track? Okay, scratch that. I am instead sending him, uh, let’s see…these, oh, these note cards that I am reading off of. So yeah, collectors items. Please clap.
Thank you, Jimmy. And thank you, Mr. Mayor, for keeping my secret. You know, the one involving, uh, herpes. The State of the City Council Meetings address is typically a time for good news. But because I am standing in Congress, where you cannot swing a dead cat without hitting someone with the competence of a dead cat, let’s get into that weird sh*t. Huh?! Senator McCain, you know what I’m talking about!
I spoke with recently retired Councilor Alberto Garcia of Westminster, Colorado about a bizarre month-and-a-half his city council spent dealing with one colleague who had a score to settle.
I meant every word of that. Stand back! I’m soaked in deer urine. I don’t get much out of it, but it’s fun for the deer. Folks, normally the biggest threat a council member has to deal with is being yelled at by an angry public commenter. Oh, and bees. Bees are the silent killer. But in December, Lord Mayor Lesley Alexander of the city of Bristol walked me through a terrifying encounter she once had with a council saboteur.
That is why I never travel anywhere without my team of snipers. Plus, my own Colt .45. Stand back! It is loaded and soaked in deer urine. The deer was a little nervous but the gun enjoys it.
Well, I see the hour is getting late and half of the South Carolina delegation is falling asleep–and not the good half. I’m kidding; there is no good half. Let me finish this address by reminding everyone that city councils are human. They cannot solve all problems, and that limitation can be frustrating and depressing. Nowhere was that better illustrated than in Juneau, Alaska, when I talked with Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl. I leave you, the nation, and the world with this story of when councils fall short.
Step under the mistletoe and get kissed by the FANTASTIC set of council meetings we reviewed in December! The season may have been cheery, but residents of Garner Street certainly were not. Neither were the anti-Interfacility Traffic Area (that’s the last time I will ever type that phrase) activists in Virginia Beach.
Elaine Hays is a freshman council member–as is everyone else on the Amarillo city council. We talked about the changes they made, the coaching they are receiving, and what she is still getting used to.
Q: At your swearing-in on May 16, 2017, I noticed two things. First, were you aware that your son was standing behind you during this, the most important moment of your life, CHEWING GUM?!
A: No, I was not aware of that. I know that his posture made him look more like a security guard, that his siblings certainly gave him a hard time about!
Q: Mmhmm. The other thing I noticed was that Amarillo’s city council has five members, including the mayor. On May 16, how many of you were sworn in for your first council term ever?
A: All five of us.
Q: That’s right, Amarilloans wanted to drain the sw–hold on. Are you in a swamp?
A: We are dry. We are more of a desert area. So draining the swamp, we would take some extra water.
Q: Well, Amarilloans wanted to drain the des–okay, let’s put a pin in that metaphor. Is there anything that was really surprising to you about the way your council does things?
A: One of the things that surprised me was just the record keeping and the documents that–I’m sitting right now looking at this pile of material that stretches across my office that I’m required to keep for a certain time. If I make notes of anything, I have to keep that in case somebody wants a record of, “what was she writing? What did she make a note on?” I make a lot of notes. You cannot even delete junk clutter mail that comes to your official account. You just keep it all in there.
Q: Something your council changed right away was the setup of the room. Before the council meetings, you guys have a work session. The council before you sat in a line on the dais as usual. However, you sit on the floor at tables close to the audience. Why would you leave your natural habitat?
A: Due to the open meeting laws in Texas, you can’t discuss amongst yourself except in a public meeting. Coming from a private industry background, that was a huge difference. The frustration–when you are sitting up on the dais, you are side-to-side. You don’t have those face-to-face conversations. We wanted to have more of a boardroom/conference type of conversation. I knew [the mayor] was going to suggest that and I was supportive of it.
Q: Your mayor, Ginger Nelson, brought in a coach to turn you guys into lean, mean, municipal governance machines. Why did she do this? Were things not going smoothly?
A: It was not to smooth things out. It’s education.
Q: As part of the coaching, you’re on the second chapter of Boards That Make a Difference.Have you read anything so far that’s applicable to your council meetings?
A: Our past council was very divided. It was very public. It’s been a complete switch: now there have been concerns where, “y’all have so many 5-0 votes.” One of the things from that book that I found interesting: “when you think alike, but you think differently.” With our board, I would say that we think alike in our value system. But we are going to think differently in how we get there.
Follow Councilmember Elaine Hays on Twitter: @ElainesEco
It may be the week before Christmas, but Tuesday’s Nacogdoches city council meeting scheduled an unfortunate, bitter showdown between neighbors.
The source of strife: whether to rezone a Garner Street home–mere yards from the hospital parking lot–from “residential” to “medical.”
Representing the affirmative side was the homeowner, a short woman with a heavy twang who appeared nervous and saddened to be begging for relief.
“Our home has been on the market for several years. We’ve accepted offers that did not go through,” she explained in frustration.
“We have been approached by a cardiologist who is wanting to purchase our property and make it his office,” she said, adding that he was “a highly trained, kind, and caring person….No selfish or self-serving motivation.”
Her hand shook and she murmured “sorry” as she scanned the scattered paperwork on the lectern. “Could Mr. Wood speak about the property values?”
Mayor Shelley Brophy nodded sympathetically. “I would allow a brief statement.”
The supportive witness took the woman’s place. “They need to sell their home. When somebody offers you 15 percent more than what you’ve been saying–the only stipulation being the zone change–you have to pursue it,” he drawled.
“I was worried about her getting through this. It’s real emotional for her.”
The final speaker on the woman’s side was unmistakable: bald, bespectacled, and wearing robin’s egg blue scrubs, he was undeniably the aforementioned cardiologist.
“The key thing about this property is the proximity to the hospital,” he explained in accented English. “There’s a patient coming with a heart attack, you attend them and take care of them.”
Brushing aside traffic concerns, he gestured widely while elaborating upon the simple math. “I see 12, 15 patients a day, three days a week over an eight-hour period. Which means two cars coming and going an hour. That is NOT a traffic increase.”
Stepping up in opposition was a steady stream of neighbors on Garner Street, deeply disturbed about the decay of safety, the rule of law, and the moral fiber of the neighborhood.
A woman with long, dark hair and glasses appeared torn. “I have a lot of sympathy for the Morgans. I consider them friends. They’ve been neighbors for a long time.” She hesitated but for a moment. “For the greater good, please preserve our neighborhood.”
“We have two very small children,” a young mother pleaded. “We purchased this house with the vision of raising our little girls on a nice, quiet residential street where our children could play safely. It would absolutely destroy the integrity and appeal of Garner Street.”
“Apartments, offices, ambulance, hospice, nursing home, psychiatric hospital, boarding house, halfway house, or cemetery,” another man rattled off a list of boogeymen allowed by this “medical” rezoning.
Having sat quietly for half an hour, the council leaned forward to make an uncomfortable decision.
“I’ll make a motion to deny the zoning change,” Council Member Garth Hinze offered bluntly.
“Doctor, you’re very well respected around town,” he addressed the cardiologist, then turned to the homeowners. “I feel your pain. But for the greater good…that’s why I voted the way that I did.”
“Mr. Norton, do you have comments?” Mayor Brophy turned to her left.
“I don’t have any comment.” Council Member David Norton wrung his hands and muttered quietly: “I’m a little surprised.”
With that, the vote was 4-0 to deny the doctor his office and the homeowner her sale. But the “integrity” of Garner Street? Mostly in tact.