The Crestwood Board of Aldermen voted last week to table exploring legislation that would establish rules governing conduct at its meetings.
Aldermen voted unanimously Dec. 8 to table drafting an ordinance that would formally establish a set of rules for board meeting procedure. The motion to table was made and seconded by Ward 2 Aldermen Jeff Schlink and Chris Pickel, respectively.
While the City Charter states the Board of Aldermen “shall by ordinance determine its own rules and order of business,” no such ordinance currently exists.
Schlink had requested the topic be placed on the agenda. He previously noted the board “informally, unofficially” follows Robert’s Rules of Order for parliamentary procedure, but “within the past few months we’ve seen some times when there’s been some issues with that particular thing.”
However, Schlink said last week that he wasn’t necessarily interested in adopting the “full-blown Robert’s Rules of Order” to follow at meetings.
“If anybody’s ever taken a close look at that, it’s very, very exhaustive. And my goal is not to do something like that,” he said.
Rather, Schlink suggested the board continue to run meetings as usual — remembering, however, that it’s not just the mayor who can call a “point of order” against board members who go off-topic, take up an unreasonable amount of time or generally lack decorum while speaking, he said.
“While we all have the ability to call a point of order, it’s typically the mayor that finds himself in the shoes of doing that,” Schlink said. “The reality is that any one of us could do that.”
If a point of order is called, Schlink added, the board — not one alderman or the mayor — should decide whether to allow an individual to continue speaking.
“I think of it as a win-win situation,” he said of those recommendations. “I think of it as taking the mayor out of the spotlight for sometimes doing frankly what some of us would have done also, and then really giving the perception that there really is a balance of power — for lack of a better term — as far as how meetings are run, and what is discussed.
“And then that distraction can be taken off the table, and we can focus on city business, working with businesses in town, listening to the other boards that we have, listening to residents and things of that nature.”
Under the City Charter, the mayor presides over aldermanic meetings, and Mayor Roy Robinson told the board that the job sometimes involves “trying to keep people from taking over … or taking all night to talk.”
“I mean, when I cut people off it’s usually because they’ve gone on for 20 or 25 minutes and not allowing anybody else to speak,” Robinson said. “So this way, if I feel that they’ve gone beyond a reasonable amount of time, I or one of the board members can ask for a point of order, and the board can vote whether or not they want to continue to hear this, or shut it down. So it’ll be up to the board, not just me, to try to control it.”
Robinson also noted aldermen were subject to a three-minute time limit when speaking “which I never enforce too strictly.”
The mayor informed the board of a three-minute speaking rule during its Feb. 26, 2008, regular meeting, according to a Call article published shortly thereafter. However, official meeting minutes and city code indicate no board vote was taken on an ordinance establishing such a policy.
Pickel questioned last week how Schlink’s suggestions were any different from the status quo, noting aldermen already can call a point of order.
“All of us I think are capable of trying to keep conversation on track. You know, Robert’s Rules of Order or whatever rules of order we might choose to follow, it doesn’t relieve any one of us of the responsibility to speak and to act in a respectful manner towards each other, and towards the public,” Pickel said.
Most of the time, however, board members don’t censure each other, Robinson said. That task is “left up to me,” he added.
“Usually what the person speaking doesn’t know is either some of the board members are giving me the eye, or sort of indicating they’ve had enough, and they haven’t said anything,” the mayor said. “And then I have the audience who are either going to sleep, or they’re giving me the nod that ‘Can’t you do something about this?’ Then finally I bring it to attention. And we haven’t done that very often.”
Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel recommended aldermen adopt Robert’s Rules and then “spell out any exceptions as they arise.”
He noted the board once approved a motion by former Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood to adhere to Robert’s Rules at meetings. That motion, seconded by former Ward 4 Alderman Pat Duwe, was approved during the board’s June 14, 2005, regular meeting.
“I think we need a rule book. We need a starting point,” Miguel said last week. “If you’re playing football or baseball, or even Monopoly or a card game of War, you got rules. Now, as kids we went in and changed our rules, especially when we were playing War because that game could go on forever when the aces were split. But it’s a starting point … It would put everybody on the same footing.”
But Ward 4 Alderman Deborah Beezley warned the board could get “caught in the minutiae” by adopting Robert’s Rules in full.
“I think for anybody that has used Robert’s Rules in the past, it becomes a very intense process,” she said. “Once you start down that road — and I don’t disagree with rules of some sort — but I think to have a strict Robert’s Rules and to follow them, we could get caught in the minutiae of very long-term discussions overall of various sundry things that could take up a lot of time.”
Miguel later clarified, “I’m not looking to adopt this and go by the letter of the law. So I would say adopt it generally. There’s certainly no need for us to stand up when we want to speak, as called for in Robert’s Rules. That’s not the idea. I really don’t see the need to deviate very much from what we’re doing, except in a couple of instances — point of order being one of them.”
After aldermen tabled the issue, City Attorney Rob Golterman said the board has “loosely” followed Robert’s Rules since at least the 1990s, when he served as an alderman.
“… Certainly the rules are invoked in certain instances,” Golterman said. “Certainly motions to reconsider, which are somewhat tricky — those are always done by Robert’s Rules of Order. Determining what are primary motions and what type of motions can be debated and cannot be debated — those are following Robert’s Rules of Order … So there are certainly components of Robert’s Rules the city, out of practice, has followed in its legislative procedures for many, many years.”