#129: Fayetteville, NC 9/11/17

My jaw hung WIDE OPEN for the first two minutes of the Fayetteville city council meeting.

It began not with the bang of a gavel. Not with a hello from the mayor. But with the gentle piano chords of a full-on country music video.

My home town Fayetteville / I’m so proud to be from here!

The lyrics ranged from cheesy to…well, whatever level of civic pride this is supposed to stir up:

Babe Ruth hit his first one heard around the world /

Sherman marched for the Union and burned the arsenal.

Being honest though, there is something admirable about a city that opens its council meetings with a slickly-produced, tearjerking, chest-puffing video. Raleigh, take notes.

I’m talkin’ ’bout my home town, Fayetteville.

Council Member Kathy Jensen promptly directed attention to the extra chair on the dais–a little shorter than the others, but occupied by a special visitor.

“Casey is a senior at Pine Forest High School, go Trojans!” she smiled. “She is gonna tell you about the upcoming event we have at the Fayetteville-Cumberland Youth Council.”

The young woman looked down at her script. “This weekend, FCYC is having their second Glow Fest 5k Fun Run.” She glanced around the room and gave it the hard sell: “Just have a lot of fun with food trucks and dancing.”

Mayor Nat Robertson, being skilled in the art of event promotion, quickly fired a follow-up her way. “Casey, where can people register?”

“Uh, people can go online at fcycnc.org,” she replied.

The mayor prompted her gently. “Anything else we need to know?”

“No, sir, that’s it.”

“I understand,” he kindly took over the narration, “there’s gonna be music and a DJ following the run. So hang out afterwards and just kinda ‘glow’ with us.”

He nodded. “Great to have you joining us.”

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More importantly: will that bow tie be there?

However, my smile immediately turned to a frown, then further turned into a string of profanity: it was time for public comment (good), but the cameras WERE TURNED OFF (BAD)!

“I’m here to speak on the horrifying and ongoing assault on our waterways and drinking water,” a woman railed to the council, masked by a sinister screen graphic.

“Duke Energy is a reckless and intentional polluter with the main interest in making profits for itself….Next month I’ll come back and finish this,” she seethed as the timer beeped.

“Always glad to have you,” Mayor Robertson quipped cheerfully. “That’s why we give you the time.”

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GIVE ME THE LIVE STREAM

She was replaced by a disgruntled resident who, in my mind’s eye, was wearing flannel and a baseball cap as he registered this complaint: “I’m still living in the same city I retired in, thinking that an ‘all-American city’ would mirror all-American values.”

He shook his head (probably). “When mom makes her apple pie, she’s doing it under locked doors and closed windows.”

Fella, I do all of my cooking under locked doors and windows. (I’m very protective of my pies.) Besides, if you’re looking for “all-American values,” may I refer you to the Fun Run?

The mayor flicked on the cameras just in time for a touching farewell to retiring Council Member Bobby Hurst.

“Bobby!” exclaimed Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Colvin to laughter. “Thank you, man, for your hard work. You hung in there and you put up with my questions. Thank you!”

Hurst beamed–the living personification of that opening song.

I’m talkin’ ’bout my home town, Fayetteville.

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#128: Whitefish, MT 9/5/17

There are a handful of things in this world that regularly get people’s blood pressure up. Fidget spinners. Avocado toast. Anything surnamed “Kardashian.”

But in Whitefish, the trigger word was “water.”

A citizen in a plaid shirt planted herself at the podium and gazed steely eyed at Public Works Director Craig Workman. “Are you thinking about implementing any of the new technology in wastewater treatment?” she inquired.

“Yes, we are,” he replied. “We’ve begun the design of the wastewater treatment plant upgrades.”

“Including metals and microbes?” she pressed the witness.

“Yeah, metals are one of the parameters–”

“Is that being inspected now?”

“Yes–”

“Are you adding more sensitivity?” she interrupted.

“Well, the detection is done at the laboratory–”

“Which is here?”

“It’s in Kalispell.”

She collected her notes and concluded the interrogation. “Thank you…for now.”

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The prosecution rests

The mayor and council sat quietly during this aggressive questioning. A cheerful and somewhat nervous new resident smiled from behind the microphone.

“I’m a single mom of a three-year-old boy,” she greeted the council. “My first month, the water bill was fairly low. In June, my water bill was $100. In July, my water bill was $437.”

She turned to Workman and wondered, “do we really need all of these enhancements going into a water treatment plant?”

“I’ll allow this question,” Mayor John Muhlfeld firmly interjected. “Just for the audience, this isn’t an opportunity for Q&A between the public and our staff.”

Well, well, what a fine time to start enforcing the rules!

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If you’re going to ask questions, go for the jugular right away.

A man in a t-shirt and shorts took his turn at the mic. In a slight British accent, he winced while calling attention to his casual attire. “I just want to apologize for my lack of professionalism.”

“I’m $200,” he referred to his own water bill. “I just can’t keep up. I don’t want to sound like a whiner, but my family is hurting. I have a family of five who shower once a day and I put pressure on the boys to take short showers.”

He grimaced deeply while staring down the bridge of his nose through glasses. “My lawn is brown. When I water the fruit trees, I feel guilty because I see money running into the ground. I’m hurting.”

Councilor Richard Hildner, himself touting a large family, smiled faintly. “I don’t know how you get around that other than you turn off the hot water and they get a cold shower!”

He added, as a glimpse into his own parenting style, “having had three teenagers at home all at once, I know what you’re up against.”

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The hot water czar

At this point, Councilor Andy Feury glanced up from his computer. “I’ll save you a trip to visit Craig,” he hollered to the single mom who had spoken earlier.

“Your usage in June was 6,000 gallons. You used 32,000 gallons in July. And you don’t have a sprinkling meter, so you paid sewage charge on an additional 26,000 gallons of water. That’s why you went from $100 to $400.”

Wow, that was some speedy research! Now do me! How many gallons did I use?!

“I would like to see,” plaid-shirt-lady announced during a reappearance at the podium, “some pencil-and-erasure math on the operating costs. It’s the one area where maybe there could be some tightening of the margins.”

If by “tightening the margins” you mean “policing teenagers’ shower length”–tighten away.

And that really was all…for now.

#7: Troup, TX 4/12/16

City council day in Troup, Texas only comes ’round once a month. This tiny outpost of 1,900 people doesn’t need some fancy city hall with desks and microphones and such. They’re perfectly fine with foldin’ tables and the chairs you’d sit on in a high school cafeteria.

Heck, Troup is so easygoing that they’ll do a meeting without two of their five councilmen. Too bad for those guys: Councilman Gary Salyer brought potato chips and he wasn’t shy about passing them around!

The first order of business was for the mayor to approve a change in ambulance services. “I am prepared to sign it right now so you can leave with it,” Mayor Joe Carlyle said to some guy the hospital sent, adding his John Hancock to the note in blazingly fast legislative efficiency.

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The Troup City Council chamber doubles as the place where you go to learn about timeshares

The man thanked the mayor, announcing that “I’m gonna run over and give Neil some moral support at this other city council” in Henderson. He ran out, leaving the council with an audience of me.

“I’m on a diet. I’m gettin’ 400 calories a day right now,” the mayor groused, sipping a Big Gulp of something-or-other.

“Have one of these,” Councilman Salyer exclaimed, tossing the mayor his bag of chips.

“You drinkin’ all the whiskey you can?” city manager Gene Cottle inquired, jokingly (I think). Note to the council: I will spot you some dough for cushioned chairs and 1,600 more calories for your mayor.

Cranky as he was on his diet, the mayor took to complaining about the trains running through town and backing up traffic. “We’re gonna go and express dire concerns because it’s been about as bad as it’s ever been.”

At this point, everyone in the room raised their hackles about those darn trains.

“Again on Easter Sunday…Couldn’t get across the tracks!…Saturday, and then the Sunday morning…”

They agreed to complain some more and then moved on.

“We have several employees who are celebrating their tenth anniversary with the city in May, ” said the city manager. There could be a little shindig at the next meeting, but…

“I will not be at the May city council meeting,” he admitted.

“If we don’t have any pressing business,” let’s cancel it, said Mayor Carlyle. “Would there have to be a public notice that we’re canceling the meeting?”

“We just have to post it beforehand,” responded the secretary.

“I should be up to 800…900 calories by then,” the mayor mumbled, sipping his cup.

Finally: it seems the mayor’s wife has had some ugly-looking bathwater lately. Probably because the pump on well #2 blew itself up. This was hardly a crisis like the Fire of 1880 that destroyed the city, but still: it’s icky bathwater.

“If you let that water sit, you’ll notice that nothing settles out of that water,” the city manager noted, let’s say…reassuringly?

There was nothing they could do, so the council agreed to add it to the list of things to complain about.

Final thoughts: For a city plagued by tainted water, canceled meetings, and a questionable 400-calorie diet, the mayor showed great poise. I would give this meeting a rating, but sadly a train is blocking me, so oh well.