The "regulars," as Edi Birsan calls his group of fellow Concord residents, wouldn't dream of missing a City Council meeting. They are such fixtures that they stake claim to the same seats at each session.
"Charles Lindquist sits in the back in the far right-hand corner," Birsan said. "Paul Poston will be in the second or third row. Barbara Gomez is on the left on the aisle. Joe Partansky sits here, Judy Waterson over there. We all know each other."
Whether the agenda is sizzling with controversy or filled with fluffy proclamations and routine consent items, the regulars flock to the council chamber on the first, second and fourth Tuesdays of each month as self-appointed watchdogs of the city.
Over the years, they have lobbied for library funding, neighborhood stop signs, streetlights, police substations, pension reform. Poston honed his sharpest comments for the Naval Weapons Station. Partansky fights relentlessly for government transparency and disability rights.
But something is about to change for the group. Birsan has gone to the other side.
Where he formerly addressed council members from the public comment podium, often singeing their ears with his critiques, he now sits on the dais as the unlikeliest of council members. When he defeated the police association's preferred candidate, Tim McGallian, in the Nov. 6 election, the outsider became one of "them."
District Attorney Mark Peterson, who listened to many of Birsan's pointed orations during his time as a Concord councilman, made note of the role reversal the night Birsan was sworn in: "If I can give any advice to Edi as a new council member, it's something that's been written down for a couple thousand years: Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."
Lindquist admits Birsan's election came as a surprise.
"I didn't think he had that many friends," he said, grinning. "What I like about it is he isn't a government employee. The rest of them, for the last eight or 12 years, have all been government employees."
Poston acknowledged it was a little "weird" to see his fellow watchdog sitting at the front of the room. "He'll be like I was when I served on the executive board of (Teamsters) Local 315. Coming from the outside, in the audience, and going up there and looking out, there is a lot of stuff you learn."
Birsan, who said he missed only two council meetings in the past four years -- "I had a better attendance record than some of the council members" -- acknowledged that he is negotiating a learning curve.
"I've already gone to some closed-door sessions and met with staff," he said, "and it's like that Paul Harvey show, 'The Rest of the Story.' When you're in the audience, you don't know what's brought the council to certain positions. You only see the opaque. On the other side of the podium, it's more of a rainbow effect, where you look at the different shades."
One of his goals, he said, is to remove the veil from how decisions are made.
"Policymaking is fascinating," he said. "It shouldn't be done as hocus-pocus or in a dark room. We should relish how we make policy. That's the way you build a community that stays together."
The "regular" from the gallery sounds ready for the big stage. And so far he likes what he sees.
"The microphone on the dais is better than the one for the public," he said, "and they can't cut you off up there."
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.