#rvacouncil reinvigorates Council meetings

A little hashtag is making big waves on Twitter streams.

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Amy George believes the nature of City Council changed shortly after the 2012 election.

“We were starting to pull out of the recession, the political landscape was altered with Jon Baliles and Parker Agelasto shaking up the status quo and Samuels replacing [Kathy] Graziano as council president,” said George, founder of Modern Atelier and a bicycle advocate.

But George discovered the real fun wasn’t with Council itself. “I started to see Council meetings more as political theater or farce,” she said. “You have these colorful characters, a set formula, and suddenly it’s a live-action sitcom.”

That sitcom likely hit its theatrical zenith back in April when police escorted Council gadfly Chris Dorsey out of a meeting for allegedly motioning to his holstered gun while disputing Council’s public information manager, Steven Skinner, during proceedings (see the 1:38 mark in the video below).

While Dorsey’s (or anyone’s) expulsion from a Council meeting is a rare occurrence, George and others noticed something much more regular: the unintentional humor of the public comment period.

“Anytime there is essentially an open mic, your average person off the street just wants to say their piece, and nerves, strong emotions, or lack of public speaking experience sometimes lead to some amusing statements.”

“In context, the speaker usually has a point, but taken out of context they can be amusing,” George said. When she stared attending Council meetings regularly in 2012 as a bicycle advocate, she found herself tweeting “funny statements and to give people a hint at what the context was using the #rvacouncil hashtag.” Others started doing it. Many others started following along at home.

However, George doesn’t believe humor should hit below the belt. “I have always heard that satire and comedy should ‘punch up, not down,'” she said. “Richmond can be a pretty negative place sometimes, and I don’t want to add to that negativity.”

Just by tweeting for their own enjoyment, George and others (like Taber Andrew Bain) have breathed new life into Council meetings. What once was a civic triviality few bothered with is now something many feel compelled to follow. Co-working business 804RVA even held an #RVACouncil Viewing Party back in May.

“Public interest, or at least awareness, of what goes on in City Council has increased,” George said. “Twitter plays some role, in that people who can’t attend or watch do have some idea about what’s going on, and local reporters do a decent job covering the meetings.”

George hopes the new interest will motivate devout #rvacouncil followers to visit Council and champion their civic opinions.

“I always get frustrated when people complain about decisions after the fact. The could have gone and spoken for/against an issue they’re passionate about, but they don’t do the work to get informed about the decision-making process,” George said.

“I hope that citizens will stay engaged, either by speaking directly to their council member or at council meetings, because this is one case where your voice can actually make a difference.”

City Council reconvenes its monthly meetings tonight, September 8th, at 6:00 PM.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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