Friday Five: Improving City Council Meetings

Rethinking Phoenix City Council meetings is something that is important for civic and citizen engagement. Here are five different approaches to do that.

Friday Five: Phoenix City Council meetingsThere are some challenges to getting participation at Phoenix City Council meetings.   Meetings range from a few people in attendance to packed houses depending on the business at hand.  Since my academic training is in civic engagement and since I’ve attended my fair share of meetings of the City Council to advocate for a myriad of issues, here are some of my thoughts to encourage citizen engagement and to get more participation in municipal government and governance.

1. Simulcast the proceedings in the City Hall atrium. The space is underutilized during the day except for special events, like the various events taking place for National Arts & Humanities Month.  But because the City Council Chambers are a small venue, when contentious items are on the agenda, the 225 seats quickly fill and the Chambers become standing room only.  So people can observe the City Council doing the people’s work, why not make the atrium of City Hall a space for civic engagement and dialogue on important municipal issues and a spot to simulcast City Council meetings?  With a powerful projector, a large screen, and decent speakers, the Phoenix Channel 11 broadcast of City Council meetings can happen inside the atrium.  Some might say this would be noisy for visitors to City Hall or those who work inside but this “noise” is your government at work.

2. Have speakers’ cards available outside the Council Chambers security checkpoint. Some times, people want to have their support or opposition for an item on the Council’s agenda on the record but do not necessarily wish to speak.  In addition to writing their councilperson, one way to do that is to use the speaker’s card to indicate support or opposition, even if an individual doesn’t want to speak before the council.  But the only way to do that is to go through the security checkpoint, fill out a card, then leave.  Have some cards in a kiosk outside the entrance doors and a council staff person in charge of collecting them to be delivered to the council dais.  An easy option would be have them available at spaces within City Hall before and during the meetings, like the City Hall atrium (see point #1, above).

3. Rethink the security screening process to get inside the Council Chambers. I have wondered why there is TSA-style screening to enter the Phoenix City Council chambers but not the other buildings of the City of Phoenix, like City Hall.  I appreciate the desire to keep those in attendance at Council meetings as well as city staff and elected officials safe; however, one wonders why this started.  As commented in point number 2, above, speakers’ cards are only available post-security, which makes it challenging for people to put their views on the official record even if they do not wish to speak.

4. Hold City Council meetings at various sites around the City of Phoenix. While this might not always work for all meetings, when business for particular areas of the City can be held at one time, take the meetings on the road to that area.  So if items of general relevance to, say, inner west Phoenix and Maryvale are on the table, hold the meeting at the Adam Diaz Senior Center at 41 Ave and Thomas.  This would also introduce all of the council members to all constituencies in the entire city and to hear from everyone, not just their own home district.  In other words, let’s bring the people’s business to the people.

5. Move City Council meetings to the Orpheum TheatreThis one would require a lot of forethought and planning to do it right and to work out some logistical challenges but I think this is something that needs to be done.  The City Council Chambers, built in the early 1960s, seats 225 people.  While that might have worked for a city that was 1/3 the size of today, when there are contentious issues on the Council’s agenda, that space quickly becomes way too small.  The City Council has held meetings at the 1,364-seat Orpheum Theatre in the past and it should start to do that in the future.  The City Council Chambers building would still be used for smaller civic functions, like meetings of various City boards and commissions, lectures, and other civic events.

Replay: In Conversation With City Council Candidates

Here is a replay of my conversations from earlier in 2013 with Phoenix City Council members-elect Laura Pastor (District 4) and Kate Gallego (District 8).

Earlier this year, I embarked on a series of one-on-one Google+ Hangouts with the four finalist candidates for Phoenix City Council. I thought that I’d replay my conversations with the two winning candidates, Laura Pastor in District 4 and Kate Gallego in District 8.

City Council ICW



Laura Pastor is the Director of the Achieving a College Education program at South Mountain Community College and is the daughter of U.S. Congressman Ed Pastor. She serves on the Governing Board for the Phoenix Union High School District.

IN CONVERSATION WITH KATE GALLEGO / recorded 13 October 2013


Kate Gallego works in strategic planning and economic development at Salt River Project. She serves on the City of Phoenix Central City Village Planning Committee and is also the Vice Chair of MyPlanPHX.

In Conversation with Phoenix City Council Candidates

Downtown Voices Coalition is hosting a series of one-on-one online conversations with the four remaining candidates for Phoenix City Council.

Downtown Voices Coalition, downtown Phoenix’s only grassroots stakeholder group that champions issues of urban excellence, like small and locally owned business, historic preservation, sustainability in a broader perspective, and good government, is hosting a series of one-on-one online conversations with the four remaining candidates for Phoenix City Council. The four candidates will be in conversation with our Edward Jensen, our group’s Secretary as well as an ardent observer in Phoenix politics and governance.

Leading off the conversations will be Laura Pastor, a program director at South Mountain Community College and the daughter of U.S. Congressman Ed Pastor, on Friday, October 4, from 7:00-8:00pm. Justin Johnson, running against Pastor for the District 4 seat, will be in conversation with Jensen on Monday, October 7, also from 7:00-8:00pm. Johnson is a real estate developer and the son of former Phoenix mayor Paul Johnson. Conversations with Kate Gallego and Warren Stewart are being scheduled for the week of October 7.

The conversations will be hosted on DVC’s Google+ page  as a Google+ Hangout On Air, an innovative platform to allow many observers from Phoenix to watch and participate in the conversation. Twitter users can send in their questions and comments using the hashtag #DVC4 and #DVC8 (depending on the district represented). Participants who do not have Google+ can watch on DVC’s YouTube channel, The conversation will then be available on the DVC YouTube channel for watching after the live event has concluded.

“I am pleased to be hosting these one-on-one conversations,” said Jensen. “This is a unique, first-of-its-kind way to engage with the candidates and the questions that will be asked are not the conventional questions asked in debates and fora. It gives the candidates an opportunity to envision that they are in their respective City Council seat and working to accomplish their agenda.”

The questions are focused around the central theme of governance and how the candidates plan to accomplish their policy proposals while they are in office.  The four subthemes are “City Hall and the Next City Manager,” “Governance and Intergovernmental Relations,” “Downtown / Urban Phoenix and Urban Living Infrastructure,” and “Sustainability and the Environment in a Broader Context.” The one-on-one conversation format will allow Jensen to pursue different lines of questioning based on the answers given, allowing for tremendous flexibility. About 15-20 minutes at the end will be reserved for audience questions.

Downtown Voices Coalition is a coalition of stakeholder organizations that embrace growth in downtown Phoenix, but is mindful that healthy growth should be based upon existing downtown resources — the vibrancy of neighborhoods, the strength of the arts community, the uniqueness of historic properties, and the wonderful small businesses that dot downtown. For more information, visit

An Open Letter to Phoenix City Council Candidates

Dear Justin Johnson and Laura Pastor, Phoenix City Council District 4 candidates:

I’m writing to you this evening in this open letter to share some observations that I’ve had about your campaigns since the first election in late August.  Yes, it’s true that I helped out with my friend Dan Carroll’s campaign, and yes, we see how well that worked out.

But I’m a Phoenician first and foremost.  No silly political campaign will change that—this place has the irreplaceable quality that it will always be home.  And, since this place is home, I’m concerned about its future.  In urban Phoenix, as in all of Phoenix, we’re at a major crossroads.  As I’m going to share in a big essay in early October, our time is running out to be a well-respected city when it comes to urban living and urban life.

You’ve offered some interesting ideas and policies for what you want to do for District 4.  Some of them are good, others okay, and there are some with which I disagree.  In reading through your issues section on your websites (since most of your mailers seek to attack your opponent or tout endorsements), I’ve noticed one key theme that’s missing.  How are you going to make your policies happen?  In other words, how will you use the power of being in the council seat to effect change in our district and in this city?

For instance: One of the areas in which you seek to differentiate yourselves is what to do with the reverse lanes scheme on 7th Avenue and 7th Street.  David Lujan, who did not advance to Round 2, sought to divide himself from the pack on this issue.  While I join my Midtown neighbors in wanting the reversible lanes gone, what I feel you (the candidates) fail to realize is that any revisions of the reversible lanes scheme will require a vote of the entire City Council.  As you know, the City Council has four council districts that benefit from the perceived increased capacity these lanes provide (Districts 1, 2, 3, and 6).  It will be your job, Justin or Laura, to create and frame an argument to your northern colleagues why altering the scheme would be a good idea.

I realize that the philosophy of governance isn’t something that makes it your robo-calls or mailers to prospective voters.  These aren’t the questions that are asked even though they should be.  How will you build coalitions when you are in the chair?  What’s more important to you: ideological rigidity or compromise?  What type of place do you see urban Phoenix becoming and how will you use you office to get us there?  Do you think that the Phoenix City Council has too many, enough, or too few council seats?  Is now the time to move to a Strong Mayor form of government?

These are the big issues.  These are the big ideas.  Let’s have an honest and intellectually rigorous debate on these issues.  I’m not so much interested in what you are going to do when you’re in the chair, I’m more interested in how you’re going to get your agenda accomplished.

Let’s chat.

Miles to go before we sleep

With Election Day today, I offer a little input on the Phoenix City Council races happening.

[editorial note: I realize that the poem of Robert Frost quoted in the title, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” makes allusions to suicide. The interpretation that I used when employing that phrase is that there’s a long way to go until we’ve made Phoenix a better city. If you or a loved one needs help or has had thoughts of suicide, then know that there is help available to you through Lifeline. Thanks.]


I realize that I’ve been awfully quiet on this space lately especially with some major City of Phoenix City Council elections happening and projects I’ve been working on to advance urban Phoenix. If you’ve been following along on Twitter (where I’m @edwardjensen), it has been no secret that I have been working behind the scenes as campaign chief-of-staff on my friend Dan Carroll’s campaign to be the next District 4 councilperson. We might not have the money or the national political party backing of other candidates but we are the only campaign that has made, is making, and will continue to make a difference in Phoenix should things not fall in our favor tonight.

(If you live in Phoenix’s Council District 4 and you haven’t voted yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to commend Dan Carroll for your vote. He has almost thirty years of demonstrated experience making our neighborhoods better and serves on several local boards and commissions. He gets Phoenix politics and will work for you–our neighbors and neighborhoods–with a passion and intensity previously unseen by any councilperson. For my readers who live in District 8, I commend Lawrence Robinson for your vote. The city’s 18 voting centers–where any Phoenix voter may cast their ballot–are open until 7pm tonight.)

In thinking through the content of this post, I realize that a bit of it might sound a little valedictory. But with seven candidates running, who will advance after tonight is really anybody’s guess. There are miles to go before we sleep and we’ll keep campaigning and working hard on this election until we’re told by the voters to stop. The theme of Dan’s campaign has been that neighbors know best. We hold that to be true always–even if our neighbors may make the misguided assumption that a different candidate will represent them and their interests better as a councillor. That being said, though, there are some things that we have held near and dear to our hearts and we will ensure that whomever advances (us, included) treats these issues with equal importance as we have.

N4DC LogoI’m proud of the team that we’ve assembled for this campaign. We are all neighborhood, community, and civic leaders that get this city and have a passion to make it even greater. We have G.G., a longtime advocate for the Encanto-Palmcroft neighborhood and tireless advocate for preserving the quality of life in all Phoenix neighborhoods. Cyndi is from the Osborn Block Watch and is working with our western Phoenix neighbors to reduce crime and make sure our youth have better opportunities available for them. Blanca, a longtime voice for the Pasadena neighborhood, has led the fight against unwanted businesses intruding their neighborhoods. Mike is the former President of ArtLink and one of the first to do an infill project in Phoenix. Linda-Marie has helped us reach out to all of the neighborhoods in our district and has provided her voice for a couple of our calls. I’m (not to toot my own horn, but it’s my web space so I can) one of urban Phoenix’s leading thinkers, raconteurs, and doers. And then there’s Dan: the vice-chair of the Encanto Village Planning Committee, the President of the Midtown Museum District Neighborhood Association, among other things.

These are all things that we are outside of the campaign. The campaign only has brought us together into a wonderful partnership that will last longer than one, two, or even three Council terms. What matters to us is the trust placed in us by neighbors and neighborhood leaders to get things accomplished. We’ll get that HAWK pedestrian-activated crosswalk stoplight put in near the Adam Diaz Senior Center. We’ll make sure that our neighbors in Maryvale aren’t given lip service every four years by politicians and make sure that they’re not forgotten and a vibrant part of Phoenix and Phoenix political life. We’ll make sure that alleys have proper lighting. And, most of all, we’ll make sure that when the City considers changing its definition and scope of infill, that established neighborhoods are protected and have equal–if not more–say than developers and their kin.

This is the first campaign that I’ve been involved with in the behind-the-scenes operation. It’s also the first one that I’ve served as campaign chief-of-staff. And in the process, I’ve seen the best of politics and the worst of it. We’ve all seen, either directly or tangentially, the overly sexist mailer anonymously sent in recent days to our District 4 neighbors demeaning Laura Pastor while praising David Lujan. Both Dan’s campaign and I have been attacked by out-of-town operatives of a major national political party because we’re fiercely independent. We hear of campaigns raising in excess of $100,000 just for this round of the election. (We’ve raised a fraction of that.) So it’s become incredibly obvious that if you aren’t from deep pockets or have the backing of a national political machine, it’s an uphill battle to election. To be honest, however, we did know this going into this race. But that has made us even more committed to this cause and more dedicated to leadership and public service.

There are miles to go before we sleep, Phoenix. So whatever happens tonight, you know that I and those that I have had the honor and privilege to work with on this campaign will be getting to work first thing tomorrow morning–win, lose, or draw.

We hope for a win.