I have a beef with Dean Mosiman from the State Journal. I'm not alone in this, either, as I'm pretty sure most of the city government has the same beef this week. It's the kind of beef you would have if there was a grease fire burning in your kitchen, and someone came along and helpfully poured five gallons of gasoline on it.
The Madison City Council has its share of talkers, and they speak with varying degrees of eloquence, tact and relevance to the subject at hand. But when one of our fair city's leaders is recognized by the mayor to speak during a meeting, there's no reaction as universal among the rest of the alders as when Alder Thuy Pham-Remmele takes the floor.
Typically, they know they're in for a roller-coaster ride of dead-end logic, inane questions, incoherent invective and split-second mood swings when Pham-Remmele takes the floor. While I typically respect a leader with spunk, which Pham-Remmele has in spades, her wildly unpredictable behavior in meetings evokes memories of second-grade report cards -- the phrase "does not play well with others" fails to do her spiteful demeanor justice.
If someone had been keeping a tally of minutes "wasted" on the council floor so far in this new term, Pham-Remmele would have lapped the rest of her colleagues combined, twice over.
So when I saw Dean Mosiman's article in the State Journal Monday, entitled "Ald. Pham-Remmele Speaks Her Mind, No Matter the Cost," I had a hunch he had doomed those of us who attend city council to some fresh horror at Tuesday night's meeting. If I had to guess, I would say Mosiman feels no guilt for doing this, as he wasn't stuck in attendance at the meeting himself.
But the danse macabre we witnessed outpaced even my own expectations. It's painfully indicative of a wildly out-of-control martyr-in-training with serious and dangerous delusions of grandeur.
Her self-image as a folk-hero of the southwest side reinforced by Mosiman's article, and riding high on a wave of fluff publicity-induced pride, Pham-Remmele proceeded to take the council floor and unrelentingly wield her alder's privilege like an ice pick, ramming it deep into the ears and eye sockets of everyone in the room.
During the questions segment of a motion to build a relatively non-controversial 700-foot segment of bike path across a green space in her district, Pham-Remmele unyieldingly held onto the chair's recognition for more than 60 jaw-dropping minutes. A one-woman circus, she first interrogated several of the registered speakers on the proposal, with all the gusto of a lawyer cross-examining witnesses in a high-profile murder case.
I'm not exaggerating here. For a blow-by-blow running narrative of the exchange, you can see citizen-blogger-extraordinaire and former Alder Brenda Konkel's post on the meeting.
Next, Pham-Remmele turned her new-found expertise as grand inquisitor on the city's staff, and the city council's chambers gradually devolved into chaos. As Pham-Remmele repeatedly pitched inane or unrelated questions at the city's legal, engineering and parks experts, it became clear she was trying to make a point of some kind, though I'm not sure she even knew what she was driving at.
If the point was supposed to be that she was doing her due-diligence as alder, as portrayed in Mosiman's story, her attempt utterly backfired. Asking city staff to repeatedly explain to her how restrictive land covenants work, or precedents of alder privilege, or who she should address with questions about the project only served to prove she either had not done her homework with regards to the proposal, or else is completely unable to grasp the finer details of her job.
I certainly wasn't able to penetrate the murky depths of her motivation, and neither were the other 18 members of the council in attendance. It almost seemed Pham-Remmele was staging some kind of unfeasible filibuster. At any rate, several other city leaders agreed with me the outrageous grandstanding was both unwarranted over such a petty project and out-of-character for someone who famously told other alders to "stop hogging the microphone" during last year's budget proceedings.
Several of her neighbors on the council floor excused themselves from their seats so their reactions to her tirade would not be seen by the city channel's cameras.
In small doses, Pham-Remmele's eccentricities can be pretty amusing as she careens perilously along the line that divides logic from borderline schizophrenia, bouncing from topical rebuttals to obtuse observances and back again. Lines from Tuesday night's rambling coup comparing the plight of residents in her district to that of Native Americans rank right up there with her infamous, incoherent tirade against Madison's certification as a bicycle-friendly community, captured in infamy on Youtube for all to see.
But after 45 minutes of "The Thuy Show," the other alders started getting restless. Again, I'm not exaggerating here when I say there was an active effort among the city's leadership to lure as many alders as possible into the hallway in an attempt to break quorum and temporarily shut the meeting down.
When freshman Alder Steve "the Gunslinger" King moved to call the question (close discussion and vote immediately) on the issue, it was a testament to either the principles or the masochism in the room that the motion failed, albeit barely, after city staff explained to Pham-Remmele what exactly it means to call the question. With the floor still open, the city council was in fact treated to an encore presentation from Pham-Remmele, as she monopolized their time for another ten minutes to urge them to vote against the proposal.
The motion passed, 18-1.
So thank you, Dean Mosiman and the Wisconsin State Journal, for an evening of entertainment on par with watching a quartet of yowling, rabid west-side coyotes disembowel a herd of vocal cats. Whether Thuy Pham-Remmele's charade will be enough to undermine every bit of positive perception you tried to build for her is yet to be seen, but rest assured this is not the last time she will prove her ineffectiveness as a city leader in full view of the public.