It has nine heads.
It has 18 eyes.
It seems to speak its own language.

It can drone a man into a drooling stupor, or it can make decisions faster than most mortals can place a drive-through order at McDonald's.

It comes to life in a sacred spherical dwelling where the light is dim and the curtains are always drawn.

It has been known to enjoy shaking hands.
It is the Phoenix City Council, and I have seen it. I have witnessed it in the flesh, in action, and am here to tell you what I saw. And I swear that every word is true.

There is no mistaking that the lair of the Phoenix City Council (henceforth referred to as the PHOCICO) is an important, hallowed place. Is it a hall? A room? An office? No. It is a "chambers." The Council Chambers. Every Wednesday, the PHOCICO comes here for "formal" meetings to make decisions that will affect the lives of Phoenicians great and small.

But there is no need to fear this place.
In fact, when I entered the downtown council palace, I was greeted by a friendly, well-dressed young woman with the comforting demeanor of an airline hostess. She handed me a program, a "Formal Agenda," and said, "Can I help you find your item?" I assured her that I was well-aware of the location of my item. Little did I know that "items" were what made up the afternoon's agenda, 66 of the things in all. And that, in just a little more than an hour, the mighty PHOCICO would have confronted and dealt with them all in a stunning juggernaut of decision-making.

The agenda informed me of other things:
That I was "now participating in the process of representative government," and that "democracy cannot endure without an informed electorate." The knowledge that I was, in some small way, keeping democracy from drying up and blowing off into the desert to have its bones picked clean by hideous scavenging creatures brought new value to my visit.

Now this part is important.
"Phoenix utilizes a Council-Manager form of local government." As opposed to, say, a totalitarian regime based on terror and mind control. "Policy is set by the Mayor and Council who are elected by the people, and carried out by the City Manager, who is appointed by the Council. The Council decides what is to be done . . ."

And so I sat there in the Chambers along with a scattering of other simple folk, waiting. In front of me, the dais was naked; nine chairs, nine name plates, nine microphones and four golden pitchers of what I can only guess was water awaited the arrival of the PHOCICO. A small flurry of action ensued one aisle over, a large man slowly making his way down, shaking hands and smiling. It was the mayor himself, the leader of the Best Run City in the World, Skip Rimsza, warming up the crowd. Before I knew it, he was standing right in front of me, asking about my item.

"I'm just here to watch," I choked out. He offered his hand, I took it. No words were spoken, yet he smelled of an aftershave I couldn't place, a smell of suits and offices and business.

I glanced back at the agenda. With sexy items like Office Moving Services Requirements Contracts, Purchase of Legal Case Management System--Automobiles, Vans and Light Trucks Requirements Contract, Skunk Creek Landfill Gas Extraction and Flare Station Stirrat Design Contract Change Order, it was tough to choose a favorite.

I decided I'd try to follow item number three, Purchase of Wood Waste Grinder, and item number six, Purchase of Back (Lumber) Support Belts Requirements Contract. It was almost three o'clock, and the meeting was about to begin. I could hardly wait.

The members begin to file in with the kind of supreme, easy casualness that comes with power. Here they are in person, superstars of local government that had previously only been names in the paper to me: Yber-patriot Frances Emma Barwood, the thoughtful, urbane Sal DiCiccio, the confident, relaxed Cody Williams, the tough, laconic John Nelson, the shrewd, jovial Craig Tribken. And the rest.

A man of the cloth steps up at the mayor's behest, Reverend Evan Howard of St. Mary's Basilica, to offer an invocation. He reminds God that the City of Phoenix is our home and reminds us that we should "act justly and love kindly."

Then, to cover all the bases, we say the Pledge of Allegiance. I have not said the Pledge of Allegiance since maybe the fourth grade. I still remember it. There is nothing funny about saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

And then we're off, but before any items are introduced, the PHOCICO will give out November Phoenix Service Awards to a secretary, a detective and two sanitation workers, all of whom had put in 25 or 30 years of service.

The ceremony consists of councilperson Barwood reading off the vital stats of each person's life, their achievements, their passions, things that have characterized their performance on the job ("He is industrious and cheerful") and their family backgrounds, all very quickly in the kind of unemotional monotone one associates with high-school-debate preambles. As this goes on, the honorees approach the dais, where they are treated to a photo-op with Hizzoner and then receive a firm handshake and a prize.

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