July was noteworthy for two reasons. First: it was Mayor’s Month! That’s right, we talked on the podcast to an unprecedented four mayors from three continents. What we heard was heartwarming in some cases and tear-jerking in others.
Second: this being July, of course we saw fireworks! Mostly they were of the verbal variety. But in one case, someone actually brandished a firework in a council meeting. If you don’t remember that moment, perhaps you should browse our July Month in Review page.
And if you’re still questioning whether July’s council meetings are worth a second look, at least find out why this woman is so g–d– happy:
Hold your e-mails, Councilheads! I am aware that the Rural City of Wangaratta is not a city. Of course, the actual city is called Wangaratta. But Wangaratta has no council. So the Rural City of Wangaratta council is the city’s council.
I’m glad we cleared that up.
The meeting started off smoothly enough: Mayor Ken Clarke solemnly acknowledged the “traditional owners” of the land and their elders. A new conflict-of-interest policy for councilors was given a round of nods without comment.
Even the messiest subject you could think of–toilets–got a clean airing.
“Last year we conducted an assessment of all buildings, including the toilets,” a staffer explained to the council. “We want our toilets to be at their best. One of the findings is that we want to upgrade all of those toilets. The recommendation is that the council develops a public toilet improvement action plan.”
As requested, councilors dutifully approved the potty proposal. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the unsung hero who had to “assess” all of the toilets. That person’s nose–and possibly other body parts–is quite brave.
At this point, my heartbeat quickened as I realized I would witness “public question time,” an extraordinary opportunity for regular Rural City of Wangarattans (that can’t possibly be right…right?) to grill their elected leaders mano a (it was all men) mano.
“My question’s about the multi-deck car park. I’d like council to investigate how we can get out of the contract of the ongoing debt that’s going to be incurred by ratepayers,” a man in a maroon shirt beseeched councilors. “Also, whether council can find another purpose for the building.”
“We have a project to do a review of parking which will look at paid versus free parking, appropriate amounts of various time limits of parking,” the chief executive started to explain.
“Why do we need a review on parking? We know where everyone parks,” sharply retorted the commenter. “See whether the state government can get out of this contract or have an inquiry into why it happened.”
The chief executive remained measured. “Yes, and the review is really about whether we’ve got enough one-hour parking, enough all-day parking.” As for getting out of contracts, “it’s not for the state government to be making decisions about those arrangements,” he noted.
At this point, Mayor Clarke, sensing an intractable argument was nigh, stepped in.
“Malcolm, I think you’ve got to realize that the multi-deck car park [decision] was made by the previous council,” he flatly informed the inquisitor. “We would need to find a lot of money to get out of it at this stage.”
“Well, the state government should–”
“The state government will not fund it!” the mayor curtly cut him off.
The commenter barely paused before picking up his rhetorical sword and charging forward.
“So you’re saying the ratepayers are going to continue to be burned for the next seven or eight years? That’s just a waste of money.”
Mayor Clarke was becoming exasperated. “It’s NOT a waste of money if people use the car park.”
The reply was immediate and brief: “But they’re not.”
A long, uncomfortable pause set in. Councilors exchanged glances.
“Maybe all the councilors should have to park there,” he suggested bitingly. “Maybe you should make it that every council worker park there.”
One quick-thinking council staffer at the dais raised her hand. “My car’s there right now!” she revealed. As chuckles broke out, the tension evaporated.
During this Labor Day weekend, it’s a good time to remember all of the people who labor hard every week at city council meetings for hours and hours–or, sometimes, for 19 minutes. Catch up on where City Council Chronicles visited in the month of August.
P.S. If you didn’t see our appearance in last week’s Baltimore Sun, don’t worry–my intern spends 23 hours every day reading each newspaper in the country to see who mentions The Chronicles. And he finally found one!
Nothing gets me in a good mood to watch a city council meeting faster than seeing seeing disclaimers like this:
Boo yah! In and out in less time than a network sitcom! Mayor Paul Polasek, what’s the first item on your agenda?
“First item on our agenda is items from council,” the mayor announced from somewhere beneath his Tom Selleck mustaches. “Do you have anything you wanna discuss?”
“Mr. Mayor, if we can put on the agenda for next meeting to talk about recycling?” Councilmember Andrew Young suggested.
City Manager Charmelle Garrett smiled at the quizzical councilmember and spoke patiently. “You can even talk about it tonight. It doesn’t have to be specifically on the agenda.”
“I kind of thought that, but…” Young trailed off into a grimace, waiting for someone to pry the rest of the thought out of him.
“Unless,” the city manager tried to read his mind, “you want it for the public purpose?”
This was like pulling teeth. “Eh, give them an opportunity to come up here and speak…if they’d like,” the councilmember shrugged. Is this guy for real? To be clear: absolutely no one is stopping the good people of Victoria from talking about recycling at ANY council meeting.
Case in point–first public commenter of the evening, the school superintendent:
“I’m here this evening to speak regarding the benefits of the recycle program,” the shiny-domed super read from his book report. “Continuing with the current recycling program would cost Victoria households $2.92 per month.”
$2.92? Wow, that’s a huge bargain! Although this IS Texas, so everything seems huge. Even the bromances.
“We appreciate the work you do. We’re all very proud of y’all achievements,” the mayor beamed at the superintendent.
“We appreciate you very much, too,” the super boyishly grinned. I waited for one of them to say, “I wish I knew how to quit you!” but alas, no takers.
As if on a mission to prove Councilmember Young’s separate-meeting theory wrong, the next commenter was a tall glass of water who wanted to talk about–
“First off, I’d like to echo Dr. Jackson’s comments on the recycling program. I think it’s a small amount for us to continue. Me? The $3 extra a month is no problem.”
Closing in on minute 14, the public works director had a brief presentation. “I’ve got some slides with some marked up changes So this here is the planned project sheet:
“The projects that we have recommended removing, we’ve stricken the Nursery Drive project–”
Mayor Polasek jumped in. “When you say ‘stricken,’ we’re not cancelling these. We’re not NEVER gonna go back and do Nursery Drive. There’s some people out there that would kill us if we didn’t!”
Being Texas, I believe it! Annnnnnddd minute 19–fin!
Final thoughts: I give 10 out of 10 stars to that chemistry between the mayor and the superintendent. Encore!