Thursday, July 17, 2008

Does Consistency at Council Meetings Matter?

Yes, even more than I thought

Apparently, I stirred up a hornet's nest with my most recent "Council Note's" column in Community Free Press and this blog posting.

Some have questioned whether I took two completely different, unrelated segments of a Council meeting, one in which it is appropriate to honor people with applause and one in which it is inappropriate to honor people with applause and compared them.

For clarification, all the cases of applause my critic(s) have considered have occurred during the course of a convened Council meeting.

In the instance I wrote about, roll call had been taken and the interim City Manager was giving the City Manager's report, after the meeting had begun, when she asked the Council if they would care to join her in applause for Mayor Pro Tem Deaver. The Council's accommodation set off the applause of the public who were in attendance at that June 30 meeting.

Mayor Carlson has asked the public not to applaud anything recently. Mayor Carlson has even threatened to have people removed from the chamber for doing so.

Here are some further facts that readers, and critics, might find pertinent:

The City's Municipal Code does not distinguish that during certain periods of convened Council meetings applause is either appropriate or inappropriate.

Sec. 2-45. Decorum.

(a) Councilmembers. While the city council is in session, the members shall preserve order and decorum, and no member shall, by conversation or otherwise, delay or interrupt the proceedings or the peace of the council, or disturb any member while speaking, or refuse to obey the orders of the council or its mayor, except as otherwise provided in this article.
(b) Other persons. No person shall make personal, impertinent or slanderous remarks, or otherwise disturb the order and decorum of any council meeting. The sergeant-at-arms, at the direction of the mayor, shall remove any person violating the provisions of this subsection (b).
(c) Signs and displays. No person shall carry or display a sign inside the city council chambers or any other similar type of written communication which is carried or displayed, except nothing contained in this section shall be construed to prohibit a person from using visual materials when presenting a matter to the city council. The city council hereby determines that signs or displays in the council chambers may obstruct the view of citizens, can cause injury and affect the decorum of city council meetings, and are hereby prohibited for such reasons. The sergeant-at-arms shall inform citizens when signs or displays violate this section and shall remove the signs
or displays from the council chambers or may cause citizens carrying such signs or displays to be removed from the council chambers.
(Code 1981, § 2-15)

What the City's Municipal Code does clearly establish is that the presiding officer of the City Council is the Mayor:

Sec. 2-34. Presiding officer.

The presiding officer of the city council shall be the mayor, or in his absence the mayor pro tempore. The presiding officer shall preserve strict order and decorum at all regular and special meetings of the council.

The presiding officer is Mayor Carlson and the Council's presiding officer is on record, during the course of a convened, public, City Council meeting as having established a rule of decorum that people not applaud anything:

"“Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, we would request that you not applause anything. We require decorum in the Council Chambers.” - Mayor Carlson, December, 2007

I have not asked the readers of CFP to consider this a grave issue, I simply spotlighted it.

It was not my idea to establish a rule that people not applaud anything during the course of a City Council meeting. It was the presiding officer of the City Council who established that during a convened, public meeting of the Council.

Apparently, the issue has mattered more to some of my readers than I ever thought it would, hence: It is my opinion, that the interest this most current column inspired makes it that much more important that the presiding officer make every effort to see that the rules he has set forth as pertaining to decorum and the appropriateness of applause during the course of a convened meeting should be practiced consistently during the course of convened, public Council meetings.

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