At this point in my journalistic career, I have spent nearly 15 years covering local governments.
I have covered about the same total number of municipalities, counties and boards of education in two states.
Generally, after the resolutions and ordinances, the budgets and audits, the departmental briefings and mandated reports, most boards offer a public comment period during their meetings.
With audiences often consisting of government staff and agency presenters, there are usually few members of the public present to comment. And they often remain silent during the public comment period.
But not always. And the public comments, when they are offered, do frequently go beyond complaints about potholes or sewer issues.
Sometimes the comments tackle weighty issues, such as constituents asking local leaders to participate in anti-racism training.
The comments can be head-scratchers. One town I covered spent years working on its comprehensive plan for growth and tried its hardest to get residents involved with little luck. Then, when a developer used the comprehensive plan to advance a proposed resort, all those constituents who did not participate in public hearings demanded the plan be overhauled because they did not have a chance to offer their input.
Currently at the Kent County Board of Education meetings, the public comments offered — via email in these socially distant times — concern virtual learning, its pros and cons and the challenges posed for parents and teachers.
But rather than discuss any of these topics, I want to take a little breather. See, there was a story that went viral — a term I generally try to avoid, especially considering we are in a pandemic from a real virus — that was just too good to be true.
A man walks into a council meeting and starts talking about boneless chicken wings — that’s the story. Oh, to have been covering that meeting.
Alas, I do not report on the Lincoln City Council in Nebraska. And that is where one of the most spectacular public comment periods in recent history occurred, besting even the infamous Palm Beach County, Fla. commissioners meeting over the summer at which people railed about freedom and their love of the American flag over a proposed mask mandate.
No, the boneless chicken wings guy tops even that, and does so in just two minutes.
On Aug. 31, a man with long hair, a goatee, glasses and a tie stepped up to the Lincoln City Council podium. He offered an opening remark frequently heard during public comment periods.
“I promise I won’t take up too much of your time here,” Ander Christensen told the Lincoln City Council.
And then he began, calling on the city to be a “social leader” and to address a problem residents “have been casually ignoring.” He voiced concern about the children, the youth of the city “throwing around names and words without even understanding their true meaning.”
“I go into nice family restaurants and I see people throwing this name around and pretending as though everything is just fine,” Christensen said. “I’m talking about boneless chicken wings. I propose that we as a city remove the ....”
As you can guess, someone began to laugh. Christensen calmly turned to whoever it was — the camera does not show the man — and says, “excuse me.”
The man apologized. Christensen continued.
“I propose that we as a city remove the name ‘boneless wings’ from our menus and from our hearts,” he said.
Christensen offers three reasons: boneless chicken wings are not made from chicken wings; boneless wings are just chicken tenders, which are already boneless; and that children are being raised to fear having bones attached to meat.
“We can call them ‘buffalo-style chicken tenders.’ We can call them ‘wet tenders.’ We can call them ‘saucy nugs’ or ‘trash,’” Christensen said. “We can take these steps and show the country where we stand and that we understand that we’ve been living a lie for far too long. And we know it because we feel it in our bones.”
Yes, relish that closing line. He worked so hard on that, that “And we know it because we can feel it in our bones.”
This is the kind of speech that leaves you wondering, is he serious or just seriously dedicated to the joke. He never breaks. You know how sometimes the cast on “Saturday Night Live” just cannot keep it together through a good sketch. Christensen did keep it together, even when that guy started laughing.
Then comes the plot twist.
“I would just like to comment here. For the record, that’s my son,” said At-Large Councilman Roy Christensen, whose family photos you have to wonder if none of his colleagues ever bothered to look at.
But it’s like I frequently say: It is local government, more so than the state or federal government, that has a direct impact on your life, and, possibly, your appetizer options.
Email Divilio at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_Divilio.