On the Records with Randy Scannell

The downtown Green Bay alder talks redevelopment, COVID-19 debacles and jazz

By John McCracken

Randy Scannell has been on the Green Bay city council since 2013. He said he’s enjoyed working directly with residents on issues such as affordable housing and developing the Broadway District. John McCracken photo

If you’ve been to a Green Bay city council meeting (in-person or online), you recognize Randy Scannell.

Scannell is an outspoken progressive city council member who has been in his elected position since 2013. The retired teacher represents district seven in Green Bay, which includes portions of downtown Green Bay and the business and residential Broadway district. Scannell routinely wears tie-dye t-shirts, blazers adorned with slogan-laden buttons and other counter-culture apparel.

So, you’d think he’s got at least a decent collection of vinyl records, right? Not exactly.

The alderperson said over the years he’s had hundreds of records, but with the prevalence and convenience of digital music and streaming, the majority of his collection has transitioned to digital in recent years.

Still, there’s nothing quite like digging through crates for new music.

On the Records is a new interview series where Green Bay City Pages interviews notable public figures in the greater Green Bay area. The interview takes place while guests shop for music at a local record store. The goal of this interview series is to humanize public figures with the great connector—music. Guests are able to talk about their work, important issues and give insight as to why they are picking up the music they are browsing or buying.

The first record to grab Scannel’s eye was a giant compendium of Tom Petty’s greatest hits and b-sides. Scannel said he is a big Tom Petty fan, but his music taste can’t be pinpointed to a single artist or genre.

“Whatever I’m listening to, that’s my favorite genre,” Scannel said.

Scannel’s music collection has slimmed down over the years. He said he’s shied away from buying more and more records because he hasn’t gotten a chance to enjoy the music he already owns.

“It makes no sense to have what you have if you’re not gonna play it,” Scannell said, “and you can’t play it if you’re always listening to something new.”

His most recent, contemporary purchase, to his recollection, was a digital download of the 2018 single “Thunderclouds” by the pop-electronic supergroup LSD (British rapper Labrinth, Australian singer-songwriter Sia and American producer Diplo).

Scannell links his musical exploration to one man: Miles Davis. Scannell said he was always into jazz from an early age, but it was often rooted in classical jazz and Dixieland. It wasn’t until he was deep into his career as a substitute teacher that a peer steered Scannell towards Miles Davis. Scannell said listening to Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue” set him on his years of pursuing record stores for contemporary jazz.

Randy Scannell browses a selection of jazz albums at The Exclusive Company (423 Dousman St) in Green Bay. John McCracken photo

“That gorgeous album just was a pathway to everything else,” Scannell said. “I got really interested in Miles, that brought me to bebop and cool jazz and then fusion and new wave. Everything opened up.”

Scannell, born and raised in Green Bay, is a career educator. He found his niche for teaching special education and substitute teaching in the mid-1980s. Scannell had plans to leave the Green Bay area, but eventually, he met his future wife Rose. After raising children in the area, the two of them pursued a lifelong goal of traveling and teaching overseas. In 2001, Scannell and his wife landed an overseas teaching position in Lahore, Pakistan. The first day of their school year was September 11, 2001.

After the 9/11 tragedy, Scannell and his wife soon found their way back to Green Bay and took a local teaching job. They did find themselves teaching overseas in Mexico, but the couple has always gravitated to Northeast Wisconsin. Scannell recounts teaching across the region such as Kewaunee, Marinette and eventually retiring his career at the Menominee Indian Reservation in Keshena.

After retiring, Scannell found that he wanted to continue engaging in the community and got involved with local government.

Scannell said he had worked on political campaigns in the past, but people urged him to become the candidate.

Scannell has been an alderperson for almost eight years. Scannell said he will run again in 2022, but it will be his last term.

Progressive politics, practical nuts and bolts

“District seven is really the core of Green Bay,” Scannell said.

Scannell said being an alderperson has allowed him to learn a lot about the city he’s lived in his entire life.

“I’ve met a bunch of wonderful people,” Scannell said, “worked with a bunch of wonderful people that make the city a more vibrant and exciting place, a healthier place to be. To be a part of that growth of the city is pretty exciting.”

Scannell said that when he started on city council, he expected it to be a lot of boring meetings. While those meetings certainly have happened, he said he has tried to bring a sense of energy to the council. That energy can also be found in his attire. Scannell can be found wearing tie-dye or brightly colored t-shirts. During our interview, he wore a t-shirt that was covered with the face of the 1966 fictional cartoon supervillain Brak from the animated television show “Space Ghost.”

Scannell’s spontaneous nature was not ready for the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the humdrum meetings fell to the wayside as national, polarizing issues took place at the local government level.

“I mean I’ve handled some controversial issues like the wheel tax or Walmart,” Scannell said. “But it wasn’t until masks that I got a death threat.”

Scannell said a group of alders who supported the face-mask mandates received an email death threat at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The threat was first seen by former police officer and current alderperson Bill Galvin, who reported it to the Green Bay Police Department. The threat was investigated and deemed non-threatening, but Scannell said the reality of getting a death threat was “boggling.”

“Really? I mean this is what you’re gonna go to jail for, you know, for the rest of your life,” Scannell said. “It was just kind of numbing.”

Scannell said throughout his time in office, he prioritized development in his district and is proud of his work to form both the public arts commission and sustainability commission for the City of Green Bay.

Scannell’s district has been a prime place for redevelopment in recent years. He said getting more housing stock and the development of affordable housing is a top priority for his district.

Additionally, Scannell said he personally prioritizes the issue of wage inequality throughout the state and country, even if the decisions are “above his pay grade.”

“We’ve had people who’ve been working below the poverty level,” Scannell said. “One or two jobs, three jobs, you know, that’s insane, and still not making ends meet? That ain’t right.”

Randy Scannell said one of his all-time favorite album is Mile Davis’ “Kind Of Blue.” John McCracken photo

While issues like national and state minimum wages aren’t decisions a Green Bay alder will be able to change themselves, Scannell said being an alder gives him a bit of a platform to have conversations about larger issues that are important to him and his constituents.

“I try to use that (platform) to be positive and try to move things in a progressive way,” Scannell said.

The “P” word is one that Scannell knows scares people, but he said he is not shy about his being a self-described progressive, card-carrying Democrat. The alder said his position at the local government level is non-partisan and he works for all residents.

“The job is to be practical nuts and bolts,” Scannell said. “That’s what I try to focus on.”

A major aspect of the practical nuts and bolts agenda is the city budget. Scannell said the budgets are typically “grueling exercises in cutting back on services,” but this year, things played out with a little headache.

“It’s the best budgets I’ve ever been party to,” Scannell said in a follow-up conversation after the buget was passed. “We increased services and put ourselves in a good position for next year.”

‘One of the greatest of all time’

Whether or not Scannell will be in Green Bay’s public spotlight for coming years, he said he needs time to catch up on his music backlog.

Scannell admits he is a bit beyond in newer music, but some familiar names along the walls of record jackets stand out to him as his connection to contemporary hits. Scannell said he was a fan of pop-icon Lorde, but his commitment to not buying new records before he makes his way through the music he already owns stopped him from purchasing a copy of her latest release “Solar Power” and its more provocative and revealing album cover.

Scannell was also surprised to see Eleventh Dream Day, the Chicago alternative-rock group that has released been albums since 1983 and has a new full-length album “Since Grazed.”

Making his way down the stacks, Scannell found his jackpot: a collection of new and used jazz and fusion albums. Dave Brubeck. Alice Coltrane. Duke Ellington. Sun-Ra. Lawrence Welk. And of course, Mile Davis’ “Kind of Blue.”

“Oh yeah, one of the greatest of all time,” Scannell said as he picked up the five-time platinum-certified jazz record.

While he did not leave with a 12-inch square in tow, Scannell did not leave empty-handed. Scannell purchased a double-CD set of jazz singles from a notable, and favorite of Scannell’s, that he plans on gifting to a musically-like-minded friend for Christmas this year.

“A day without music is a very dull day,” Scannell said as he browsed the aisles.

John McCracken is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @jmcjmc451

Is there a public figure in the Greater Green Bay area you want to see interviewed for On the Records? Email [email protected] with your suggested guest, or call (920) 624-4502.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story stated Scannell will retire regardless of running or not in 2022. That is false. Scannell said he will run again in 2022 but it will be his last term. This has been corrected above. (Nov. 18, 2021, 11:51 am)

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