#166: Prairie Village, KS 8/20/18

“Last week, as you all know, I went to Washington, D.C.,” Mayor Laura Wassmer casually mentioned her Kansas and Nebraska mayors’ powwow at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“We had quite a dog and pony show,” she continued, gingerly stepping around all of the names she was dropping. “Kellyanne Conway talked a bit about working to help the opioid crisis. Ben Carson talked about affordable housing.”

She paused. “They made the point over and over, there are a lot of great things happening at the White House that is not being reported by the media–and asked that we pass that along.”

Consider it passed! Just think of all the people who haven’t pleaded guilty! Everything’s great!

And you know where else great things were happening? Right there in the Prairie Village council meeting, where it was a very big week for city administrator Wes Jordan.

“Wes, this is a very big week for you!” Mayor Wassmer glanced slyly over to him. “Not only is it your birthday on Thursday, but SOMEBODY has been with Prairie Village for 30 years as of Wednesday.”

“Woo-woo!” came an anonymous catcall as applause broke out.

The mayor went down the line of compliments, from the professional–“I think of how conscientious he is”–to the…intimate.

“There’s the perfect hair. The forever perfect hair,” she observed, although the video quality was not good enough to independently confirm. “We have your favorite ice cream cake in the back. And more importantly–”

Mayor Wassmer disappeared under the desk for a moment, then emerged brandishing a giant, shiny blue object.

“–your own Prairie Village street sign!”

“Speech! Speech! Speech!” yelled Council Member Brooke Morehead.

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The hair! Show us the hair!

The only thing standing between the council and ice cream cake was a tiny bit of official business. Namely, a resolution “in support of the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” It seemed like the kind of routine measure that would pass without a fight.

But then the fight began.

“I will vote no because I’m not comfortable placing our city under international law when the U.S. Senate refuses to ratify the treaty after nearly 40 years,” announced Council Member Morehead defiantly.

“By passing this resolution, it could be mistaken that we are endorsing its tenets on civil rights, reproductive rights, and gender relations.”

“There are probably places where men are discriminated against, arguably,” Council Member Dan Runion echoed in the vein of “All Lives Matter.” “It’s a feel-good measure. Why pull one group out and treat them differently?”

Council Member Ron Nelson was incredulous at what he was hearing. “There are 189 state-nations that have adopted the Convention. There are seven that have not,” he retorted. “Those are Palau, the Holy See, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga. And last and, sadly, least: the United States.”

“It frankly amazes me that we can say highlighting that there should not be discrimination against one class of people minimizes others’.”

Council Member Jori Nelson stared down at her notes. “We’re proclaiming this to be Diaper Week and Electric Car Week. And we’ve done Peanut Butter Week.” She clenched her fist. “It is MY opinion that women’s equal rights is more important and should take precedence over peanut butter, diapers.”

“I’m not sure what–what–if we’re…I’M certainly not trying to equate this resolution with Peanut Butter Week!” shouted Council Member Andrew Wang. “We are creating an enormous act of discrimination by passing this resolution while there has NOT been any shred of evidence that we have a problem.”

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What is happening here?

“I don’t know why this anxiety exists because a United Nations entity thought that this was important,” pleaded Council Member Chad Herring.

Council Member Morehead reiterated her firm opposition. “I’m a successful business owner. Longtime mom, grandma. I think I’m a pretty good role model.”

She caught the eye of an employee in the back. “Jamie! You, lady, you’re doing a terrific job. And you, little girl back there? Yeah, you’re doing wonderful!” She leaned back. “You are tying yourself to the United Nations. We don’t need it!”

Council Member Jori Nelson’s hand shot up. “When you speak about women as ‘little girls,’ or not addressing the staff as educated and intelligent, I think it’s demeaning.”

She glowered across the dais and pointed angrily at Morehead. “They’re not little girls. They’re women.”

“Make no mistake,” Council Member Ron Nelson interjected softly, “a vote that no, this resolution should not be adopted, is a vote that there should be discrimination against women.” It appeared the council was evenly divided in this standoff. All of a sudden–

“Motion to refer to staff,” Council Member Runion moved to ditch the resolution entirely for the night after a half hour of anguish.

The mayor called for a vote. Seven hands went up in favor. Five against.

It was a disheartening ending to the meeting. And an even more bizarre beginning to Diaper Week.


Interview #22: Jackson, MS Councilman De’Keither Stamps (with podcast)

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

De’Keither Stamps is a farmer, soldier, motivational speaker, and future White House visitor who also is a Jackson city councilman. We talked about his unusually high level of commitment to city council meetings and what it cost him to become a councilman.

Q: Something that’s different about Jackson city council meetings is that you bring in a piece of artwork to put behind you every meeting and then you recognize the artist. When did that start?

A: That was Councilman [Tyrone] Hendrix’s idea. And it’s a good idea to recognize the artist.

Q: What’s been your favorite piece?

A: The lady who had the bottle caps and the tiles that she had done some mosaic-type artwork…it was really nice. I like the art that actually means something–I don’t like the decorative kind of stuff.

Q: Yeah, I’m with you. You were a motivational speaker and you still have some videos on YouTube. This video is called “2 Keys to Success”:

That brings up the question: what did it cost you to become a city councilman?

A: Personally, I got pulled over by [Jackson police] and didn’t like the way I was treated. Getting no assistance, that started me down the road of, “if you’re not gonna help me, I need to get rid of you.” I knew it was gonna…financially, it definitely–city council only pays $300 a week. I was making $7,000 a speech, so–

Q: Yeah, that’s a tough call.

A: So it’s a little difference on the pay side. But the value in helping folks out, that’s way beyond any monetary kind of value. There’s definitely an emotional cost because your entire life is open to public scrutiny and ridicule.

Jackson, MS Councilman De’Keither Stamps

Q: I have watched a few segments from your last couple of meetings. It seems to me that you in particular get frustrated that the city council is not doing 100 percent of its job.

A: Well, I mean…everyone has their differences of opinion of how things should go. And they’re entitled to them. We’ve made some structural changes. We used to meet every week. And I said, “this is an inefficient workflow. Why did we just come in here to vote for two items that could be on the other two weeks’ meetings?”

Q: How many council members stay to the end of the meetings?

A: [Pause] Um, I don’t keep track of it. I stay till most of the end of all them.

Q: Do council meetings matter more to you than to the other council members do you think?

A: Well, I have a different level of commitment. I live my life in a very different space. See, um, I’m willing to die for what I believe in. So the commitment level for me for the things I believe in is different.

Q: Big news for you: in a couple of days, you’re going to Washington, D.C. to be part of the presidential transition! Are you going to be taking down the portraits of George Washington and putting up pictures of his golf course?

A: Ha, no, we’ll be in a series of briefings to ensure several issues we’ve been working on don’t fall through the cracks.

Follow Councilman De’Keither Stamps on Twitter: @DeKeitherStamps

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.

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.

Interview #10: Hampton, VA City Council Clerk Katherine Glass

Hampton’s city council clerk had some FUN stories, so let’s get to it! Katherine Glass told me about how to get the key to the city and the time she almost clotheslined President Obama.

Q: You’ve got a city council meeting in 48 hours–what was today like for you?

A: The mayor popped in and saw a group that does youth sports. He suggested that they come to a council meeting, but we already have three groups coming to be recognized. And two more got added. So I’ve got to figure out how we accommodate five groups and make everybody feel welcome, but we still get the business of the city done.

Q: Yeah, I don’t envy you.

A: My workflow is one week I’m getting ready for a meeting–or I’m having a meeting. We’re highly automated. I think Hampton was the second city in the country to go to iPad technology for meetings.

Q: You’re a trendsetter!

A: It came from [former] Mayor Molly Ward. She worked for the Obama administration for a while. I got to go and have lunch at the White House. Like, in the West Wing dining room! Very, very cool.

Q: Did you meet the president?

A: I wouldn’t say MEET him…we almost collided with him.

Q: You gotta tell me what happened.

A: I had just asked Molly, “do you pass Obama in the hall?” She goes, “not really.” I swear to you, not five minutes later, Molly was leading the way, [former city attorney] Cynthia [Hudson] was behind me, and I see all these men in black. And by the time I look back, Cynthia is at the intersection and he [Obama] just about runs into her.

Q: Oh, no.

A: And he says, “Hello!” She goes “Hello!” I was like, “that’s the flipping President of the United States! I could reach out and touch him!”

Hampton, VA city council clerk Katherine Glass

Q: When you look at this city council, do you see any future White House officials? Congresspeople? A president?

A: Not in this group. I think they’re serving out of a love to the city. You’ve got two retirees…Teresa Schmidt is actually a preschool administrator…Billy Hobbs runs an automotive dealership. Everybody knows Billy. He’s just your average guy.

Q: So how do you describe your job?

A: Departments compile their information. They get it to me. I make sure it looks right and I put it in a packet. The packet goes out to council on Friday, so they have a good five days to review everything. My job while I’m at the meeting is to record their votes. I make sure the mayor signs all the new laws. I’m the funnel.

Q: “The funnel,” nice.

A: It’s an interesting job. You get calls from weird reporters that are like, “hey, I’m gonna watch your meeting.”

Q: Ugh, I hate those people.

A : Have you ever heard of Mark Malkoff?

Q: Nope.

A: He called with a bizarre request. He asked me, “what do you have to do to get the key to the city?” I’m like, I don’t know that we really have a key to the city! His thing was to do a road trip across the country and see how many keys to the city he could collect.

Q: Katherine. How does City Council Chronicles get a key to the city?

A: Something terribly creative.

Q: What about…I review your city council meeting and you mention City Council Chronicles DURING the meeting?

A: I can ask the mayor…I’ll see if Donnie can do that in his mayor’s comments.