#106: North Little Rock, AR 5/22/17

I won’t sugarcoat it: the North Little Rock city council meeting was a riddle wrapped in a mystery and stuck inside one of those Chinese finger traps.

Act I — How Do You Solve a Problem Like 7213 Westwind Drive?

“We have to deal with weeds that are taller than us. We have to deal with gutters coming down, lights coming down,” a woman pounded on the podium in frustration.

“I wish everybody would stand up and show that we’re all here wanting to say: IT IS A MESS. It is a safety hazard.”

Incredibly, virtually the entire audience rose to their feet and stood in solidarity as she pleaded for the city to dynamite that deathtrap.

¡Sí, se puede!

The aldermen stared silently as irate neighbors aired their grievances.

“He’s using his yard for a bathroom,” a man shook his head.

“I have gone to court. I have watched as he has been fined. He just ignores it,” a woman frowned.

“We implore you to put an end to our neighborhood nightmare,” begged another man.

But if the eyewitness testimony didn’t seal the deal, the photos certainly did.

“There’s an air conditioner with an extension cord running through the tub–very unsafe,” a city employee flashed a picture onscreen as the council murmured in disbelief.

“That one scares me to death,” Alderman Debi Ross muttered, staring at an electric water heater without covers.

A future murder scene, probably

The city’s lawyer sighed and waved his hand. “We’ve given this man numerous opportunities. He’s been in jail. I don’t think he’s going to do it.”

“We’re gonna stop that cycle tonight,” Mayor Joe Smith stonily vowed. The council voted to condemn the house.

Act II — The Ghost in the Scrapyard

“A few weeks ago, I heard the noise in Glenview from this plant and they stopped at 11 o’clock at night,” Alderman Linda Robinson shared with the council, referring to a distant scrapyard.

“It’s my understanding that they don’t work late at night. But what I kept hearing–the boom, the boom–I called someone from that area. I said, ‘is this from that scrap metal plant?’ They started laughing and said, ‘yes, it is.'”

“I’m not sure exactly what noise you heard,” a city staffer shrugged and looked perplexed. “They have not been operating at night.”

“This was a few weeks ago and it was from THIS plant,” insisted Alderman Robinson. “We need to send the police out.”

The mayor bit his pen. “Well, I don’t know, Linda. If you heard it…” he trailed off.

At this point, one of the scrapyard’s owners stepped dramatically to the podium.

“We hire the North Little Rock police off-duty to be our night watchmen. So as far as the police on site–they are on site.”

From here, the plot thickened. “I personally approve the time cards,” he said. I haven’t seen anything since January 2015 where we had the crews that were working at night.”

CCTV footage from scrapyard

Mayor Smith pondered hard about how to reconcile Alderman Robinson’s noises with the fact that no human was seemingly on duty.

“Surely you wouldn’t have anybody moonlighting down there that you don’t know [about]?” Smith inquired.

“They better not be because the police would be evicting them from the property and giving them a place to stay for the night,” the man replied with certainty.

Sir, you don’t need the North Little Rock PD at your scrapyard. It sounds like you need an exorcist.

Interview #28: Alexandria, VA Councilman John Taylor Chapman (with podcast)

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

John Taylor Chapman is a city councilman in Alexandria–not, as I initially thought, the former child star on Home Improvement. We talked about how he learned to tie a bow tie, the thing that bugs him the most about council meetings, and about a controversial city council meeting in 2016. (You will want to listen to the whole episode because we get pretty in-depth about that incident.)

Q: How did you first learn to tie a bow tie?

A: I hate to say it, but I think it took me about 25 minutes of watching YouTube videos after I bought my first bow tie. I was determined to wear it that day and tie it myself.

Q: There’s no shame in going to YouTube for advice! Forty years from now, we won’t even have parents. Kids will be raised by a series of memes and cat videos.

A: [Laughs] That’s probably true!

Q: Let me run a couple scenarios by you. Say you’re going to a city council meeting and there’s going to be a big hearing about downtown redevelopment. What bow tie do you wear for that?

A: Most likely–I have three different red bow ties. One is a plain, solid red one. That’s my go-to. Then I have one that has polka dots and one that has stripes.

Q: Let’s say that an asteroid has hit Alexandria. The mayor and the other council members are dead. You have to carry on the work of the city council. Oh, and everyone else is a zombie. What bow tie do you wear?

A: I used to have a bow tie with the seal of the city. If that were the case, I would summon my powers to get that one.

Q: Recently, someone in the audience had this to say about you at a council meeting:

Public commenter: Why don’t y’all [council members] get out and see what people are complaining about? Chapman, he come. We went to Goat Hill. And he took care of [the problem].

When someone at a city council meeting calls you out for doing a good job, how important is that to you?

Alexandria, VA Councilman John Taylor Chapman

A: Honestly, I think it’s one of the best feelings that someone on city council can have, whenever you are recognized for work that you’re doing. Especially when it’s not passive work. Getting down and working directly with folks is what I think our job is all about.

Q: What kind of behavior do you see at city council meetings that frustrates you?

A: I know I suffer from this from time to time: we have folks who like to talk. I think stories are good to follow up with points, but I think there can be a point where there’s too much storytelling and not enough direct decision making.

Q: When you hear the mayor say [at a contentious city council meeting] that you should be able to criticize staff in public, what do you think of that?

A: I…I think it brings on a very bad vibe. It leaves your staff feeling dejected because you’ve gone out of your way to embarrass them in public. We’re supposed to be one team. I don’t think we get quality staff–and keep quality staff–if we take on a culture where we are belittling them in public.

Follow Councilman John Taylor Chapman on Twitter: @j_chapman99