South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Crestwood aldermen to eye ordinance adopting rules of order

Mabie works with Simpson, Stump in drafting measure
Grant Mabie
Grant Mabie

A Crestwood alderman has proposed an ordinance that would establish rules governing conduct at board meetings, including adopting Robert’s Rules of Order.

Besides adopting Robert’s Rules of Order, the proposed ordinance would establish rules and order of business, rules of debate, procedures for public comment and aldermanic attendance at meetings by teleconferencing or videoconferencing.

In addition, the proposed measure would allow the board to bring charges against an alderman “who violates the confidentiality of a discussion at a closed meeting … or who releases a record validly closed.”

Under the proposed ordinance, an alderman found guilty of such a charge could be removed from office with a supermajority vote of the full board.

Aldermen were scheduled to consider the ordinance Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

Board President Grant Mabie of Ward 3 told the Call that he began work on the ordinance a few months ago. More recently, he said he has been working with City Administrator Kris Simpson and City Attorney Lisa Stump on the proposal.

“… I put original pen to paper and then I’ve been working with the city administrator and the city attorney. They both made a lot of suggestions and revisions to it over the last couple weeks probably,” he said. “I spent a couple of months researching what some other cities have done … trying to see what everyone else does as far as their rules of order, how they place items on the agenda, the order of business, public comment — really all matters of procedure that we really haven’t looked at in a long time …”

Probably the “most glaring omission” is that the board has never officially adopted any rules of order regarding its meetings, he said, despite the city Charter stating, “The Board of Aldermen shall by ordinance determine its own rules and order of business.”

“… I started out with looking at 70 or 80 sets of code and then got down to probably 20 or so cities that I thought had the best-drafted codes, and then went from there and pulled out what I thought would be the best language tweaked as appropriate for Crestwood,” Mabie said. “There’s probably a couple unique sentences in there that are my own authorship, but a lot of my work was more compiling what’s already out there.”

Establishing rules of order for aldermanic meetings has been one of Mabie’s goals since he first began attending board meetings — even before he decided to seek office. He said he believed the proposed changes would improve the efficiency of the meetings, and noted how the period for public comment has not been handled consistently from mayor to mayor.

“I thought the meetings were run decent enough, but I thought there was room for improvement, and certainly I think it’s rubbed some people the wrong way having changes in how public comment is handled meeting to meeting,” he said. “So certainly that was a goal of improvement. I thought our order of business is just not the most efficient, best way to run a meeting. There’s a reason everyone else runs a meeting a certain way, and it’s OK to be different if you have a good reason. But I think it’s not the most efficient way to do it.

“Some of the language is kind of cleanup language … There’s some paragraphs that have a word or two tweaked, that just make it clear …”

For example, the city’s current code refers to an “acting” president of the Board of Aldermen, yet the Charter just refers to the board president.

Regarding order of business, Mabie said probably one of the biggest changes he’s proposing would move the period for reports by the city administrator, mayor and aldermen to roughly the middle of the meeting. Those reports currently are given near the end of the meeting, a time when most attendees already have left.

“You reach the most ears when you have those comments at the beginning of the meeting, and so I thought that was a good common-sense thing,” he said.

The proposed ordinance also addresses public comment, as Mabie cited a lack of consistency in how mayors have handled public comment over the years — some have allowed speakers unlimited time, while others have imposed a time limit.

“I don’t want to put the blame on them when the Board of Aldermen has never adopted rules of order or given any direction to the mayors what to do in that circumstance,” he said.

Under the proposal, speakers would be allowed four minutes to address the board with a total of 50 minutes allowed for public comment, unless expanded by a super-majority vote of the board.

“Protracted, repetitive, irrelevant, disruptive, or abusive remarks from the public may be closed off at any time by the presiding officer …,” the proposal states. “Questions may be asked of the mayor and city administrator. No question shall be asked of an alderman, the city attorney or any city employee other than the city administrator except through the presiding officer.”

“On the public comment, that was one a lot of thought went into because — and I don’t want to blame any of the mayors — but going back, really several mayors, you’ve had administration to administration and even meeting to meeting, rules change, procedures change … what’s done and what’s not done in public comment, timing or not timing …,” Mabie said.

Four minutes to address the board is an appropriate amount of time, he said.

“… My general sense is that five minutes is probably a little long for most public comments, but three is probably a little too short. I think three, you can get most of your thoughts out there. There’s been a lot of times when I think people were working toward their conclusion and were cut off on the time, and I thought four was probably a good middle ground …,” Mabie said. “You obviously want to encourage public comment and public discourse, but at the same time you want to run an efficient meeting …”

The proposed ordinance also addresses decorum for city officials and residents.

Regarding residents, the proposal states, “Any person making impertinent, threatening or slanderous remarks or who shall become disruptive while addressing the Board of Aldermen shall be forthwith, by or at the instruction of the presiding officer, removed from the meeting and/or barred from further addressing the board,” unless granted permission to continue by a supermajority vote of the board.

Residents creating a disturbance or disrupting a meeting could face a fine ranging from $25 to $500.

“… Some of these things are, if you look at the language throughout, are things that I don’t think would come to pass, but it’s good to have language in there in case,” Mabie said. “You’ve had, especially in some of your north county municipalities, you’ve had, I guess a lot of disruptive and threatening public comment. I don’t think we’ve had anything like that in Crestwood …”

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