Sunset Hills aldermen reconsider rules about expediting second readings of bills

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By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen is once again considering a proposal that would make it easier to expedite the passage of bills. 

The proposal would amend the city’s ordinance governing whether bills can be read for a second time at the same meeting that the bill is introduced. The proposal would make it easier for first and second readings to happen at the same meeting. 

Typically, bills are introduced at one of the board’s monthly meetings for a first reading, in which no vote is taken, and then voted on in a second reading at the next meeting. 

In the current rules put into practice in 2016, if a single alderman votes against suspending the rules for a second reading at the same meeting, the bill must follow the usual procedure. 

Under the proposal, bills can be finalized and passed in the same meeting that they are introduced, even if one alderman votes “nay” on a second reading. The proposal would require a two-thirds majority vote from the aldermen in attendance to suspend the rules. 

The board was scheduled to hold a second reading on the proposal at the Board of Aldermen meeting Aug. 24.

Ward 4 Alderman Thompson Price brought up the proposition at a meeting in July, pointing to Robert’s Rules of Order as a reason to change the second reading rule to a two-thirds majority. 

“This body kind of operates under Robert’s Rules … and for some reason, we don’t follow that on second readings,” said Price. “Robert’s Rules calls for two-thirds vote.” 

Robert’s Rules of Order refers to the most commonly used parliamentary rules organizations can adopt as a guideline to establish how meetings are conducted.

This is at least the third time the board has considered changing the rules about second readings. 

Two other efforts to change the rules back to the two-thirds majority vote were made in 2019, both times spearheaded by Price, who argued at the time that it was unfair that one alderman had the power to suspend a second reading for 30 days. 

Ward 4 Alderman Fred Daues had concerns that expediting second readings could be unfair to certain wards. 

“What concerns me is the protection of minorities, and not minorities in terms of race but minorities in terms of wards. With the current system right now … that doesn’t kill the ordinance, it just delays it for 30 days, that’s all it does,” Daues said. “Taking an issue that might be ward-specific and just having it completely run over without enough time to properly research it concerns me. … I would want to protect the minority at the cost of meetings being longer but that’s how I feel.” 

Ward 3 Alderman Randy Epperson said that he would like to see an ordinance come back for a vote that would bring back the two-thirds majority rule for second readings. 

“I think sometimes we focus too much on the exceptions to the rules and I think that’s probably a pretty exceptional situation to where a majority of the board has agreed on something or is agreeing on something on a first reading or second reading that is short circuiting one of the wards of disenfranchising them,” Epperson said, motioning to bring the ordinance back for a vote at the board’s first August meeting. 

At the Aug. 10 meeting, Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong, submitting public comment as a resident, spoke against expediting second readings in the interest of protecting residents. 

“The purpose of two readings at two separate meetings is to give elected officials the chance to properly consider the matter before voting. … Suspending the rules with respect to real estate matters that inherently have a long term lasting impact wrongly thwarts laws, policies and procedures designed to protect cities and residents,” Mayor Pat Fribis said, reading Wong’s comment into the record. “Suspending the rules for a second reading might be more convenient … but more convenient for who and at what cost. … Rushing a vote and precluding resident feedback is undesirable and problematic.” 

In the past, Wong has been a vocal opponent of expediting second readings, noting that it is impossible to know what issues may or may not be contentious for residents. 

“Since no one can accurately predict or know whether a particular proposal will illicit resident concern or raise issues requiring further thought and discussion, the only reasonable and prudent course of action is to have two readings at two seperate meetings,” said Wong. “Suspending rules should be a rare exception in passing laws.”

The bill to expedite second readings was read for the first time at the Aug. 10 meeting, and was slated to be read for a second time at a special Board of Aldermen meeting Aug. 24.