Shelley city councilPublished: Friday 23 Apr 2021 | Edited: Saturday 01 May 2021
There may be no organized gathering in this world so rife with political and personal fervor as a small town city council. The meeting last Tuesday at the town hall in Shelley, Idaho was fuckin lit.
I walked in about 15 minutes late. According to the agenda, I missed a pledge of allegiance and a prayer. The first thing that strikes me odd is that the citizen at the podium is British. British! How he finds himself in Shelley, Idaho is a mystery, but he wanted to start a soccer club for kids and use one of the city parks for practices. I applaud the lad for biting his tongue and calling it soccer, and not football, which would have confused the hell out of two-thirds of the council members, probably.
Next guy up brings his wife as a silent accessory, and asks for a permit to run a shaved ice shack on a city-owned section of real estate in a parking lot. The senior councilman (who was in charge in the mayor's absence) shut that shit down quick. They told him to find a private property solution and work out rent with the owner.
Then this gravelly-voiced, short, stout farmer looking guy in his sixties gets up. His issue really fleshes out the dynamics of what's going on in the council. So, from my perspective, looking at the council desk from left to right, there's
- Sandy. She's taking notes and reading back minutes and keeping everyone on track. Got it. Secretary. Huge hair. Like Marge Simpson huge.
- BJ. He's a lawyer. He talks the most, but he's not a council member. He's the city's lawyer. He runs a lot of interference and really seems to have the power, even though he insists everything is the council's call. Wearing a tan suit.
- Empty chair. This is the mayor's chair. If he's a mayor worth his salt he's gone for good reasons like hookers and blow.
- Earl. Earl is in his seventies, I'm pretty sure. Wearing a bolo tie. Keeps being reassured that he's in charge by BJ, and has that wise old owl energy.
- Adam. Helmet hair. Seems like a guy that loves chicken tenders and watching Dancing with the Stars. Council member.
- Kim. Kim has soccer mom energy and is going above and fucking beyond. Gets off on being a really good person, but not necessarily keeping it a secret. She really is doing amazing city type stuff (can drives, cleanup projects, etc). Council member.
- Leif. Wearing one of those nylon high school coach polos. Cracking jokes. Council member.
Anyway, short farmer gets up and has a water rights complaint. His neighbors have poured a concrete structure that is interfering with his ability to access water from the canal, and he wants a solution from the committee. Right away, a couple of them say, "Well, city council doesn't have anything to do with water district issues..." and he actually comes up with (what I think is) a pretty good response. He says
Well, you can say this isn't your problem, but the city issues building permits that cause irrigation issues like this, so if you're going to retain the privilege of issuing permissions, you need to accept the responsibility for problems those structure create in the water rights domain.
This is where BJ really comes alive. He emphatically reiterates that the city really can't have any say. As he gets more information from farmer about the particulars, he says
I'm not a water rights lawyer, but I know enough from what you're describing that you're engaged in a civil issue between you and your neighbor. It's the same scenario, legally, as if your neighbor built a fence that encroaches on your property. You either need to work it out with the neighbor, or retain a civil lawyer to work on pressing charges on your behalf.
The farmer was flustered, but expressed gratitude to BJ. Then, BJ said
I know some water rights lawyers, and I can give you their numbers.
And he gave him the contact information. The farmer starts walking out. All the sudden a dude in the audience raises his hand and is like
Could you hook the neighbor up with those lawyers, too? I'm the neighbor he's talking about.
He gets the card and walks out, too.
Then it's this guy working out a land development problem. He has a plot of undeveloped land he wants to parcel up into four or five lots and sell to rich friends and family. He looks like he's in his mid forties. His wife is with him and is holding their little baby and she looks like she's in her early thirties.
His problem is, the city's area of impact cuts through this property. That means, through an agreement between the city and the county, half of the lots would have to fulfill city development codes (streetlamps, sidewalks, gutters, etc), and half could be built according to county codes (basically the lots just need electric and septic utilities). He wanted an exemption from the city codes, so his neighborhood would look homogeneous and to save him money. He thought since he straddled the line, they could justify an exemption.
Boy was he fuckin wrong. He got his construction partner on the line through Zoom, and just took forever arguing about the construction details and how weird the neighborhood he was planning would look with these Frankensteinian building standards. The city council kept opposing his exemption saying, "If we do it for you, we're going to have to do it for everyone along that border, and it destroys the whole point of having a defined area of impact." Eventually Earl just said
Look, I've let you go on with this 'cause I can tell it's important to you. I don't have anything else to say, and you've explained your situation. If you're done, we're done.
Since this developer guy was the last citizen presenter on the agenda, Earl opened up the podium for comment from the audience, and three of this developer guy's neighbors get up and start just shitting all over him. They're all mad that he's developing the land in the first place. They're all country boys of the "don't tread on me" ilk who are up in arms about all sorts of stuff related to the development. The first neighbor is contemptuous about the developer's greed; that he doesn't really care about the community, he just wants to mark up the land and make money. One chubby old man who gets up is wearing wet UGG boots and gets all red in the face about headlights shining in his living room windows at night. Once all that drama was over, most of the audience walked out.
At that point, the council got a lot more casual. They teased each other about slip ups they made in procedure. They made fun of the shade that got thrown at the developer. And then the whole meeting took on a really different tone.
The whole back row of the sitting area was made up of city employees: the city police chief, the parks manager, and the city works crew. They each took turns giving report to the council. The city works manager talked about the specifics of a road project. He detailed the amount of asphalt they'd need to contract, what type of grate they'd used to replace the cracked one on a section of sidewalk, and what his strategy and schedule was for informing citizens that lived in the area that would be impacted by construction.
The reporting was orderly, and at the same time, relaxed. I was struck with how real this part of the meeting was. Like, more than anything I've possibly ever seen, it was local government in action. It was people using judgment, getting budget approval, and making plans for improving the city.
After the discussion and budget approvals for the city employees, Earl smacked his gavel and the party was over.
I'm not technically a resident of the city of Shelley, so I'm not planning on making city council meetings a regular part of my life. But I kinda like this citizen journalism thing, and I'd like to see where it takes us.