Mayor Improperly Prevents Council from Voting on Agenda Items, Blocks Motions From Being Debated by Council
On January 7, 2016, Black Diamond City Council began the new year like most cities, with a change in the makeup of its City Council. Three of the five members were supported and elected in a landslide on a platform to control and manage growth and protect the town from the negative impacts of development. The Mayor and other two councilmembers had supported the losing incumbent candidates. During the campaign, they also made statements in support of the development.
Regardless of the background, something highly unusual happened at the first Council meeting of the year. The mayor decided mid-meeting while a resolution was on the “floor” for debate with an amendment motioned and seconded, to simply remove the item from the meeting agenda and not allow the Council to vote on it. She removed two other items after that, and did not allow a 4th item to be discussed when a councilmember tried to make a motion regarding it. None of these actions fit any definition of proper meeting procedure that we can find.
The mayor is not a member of the Council and does not have a vote. According to state law and Council rules, her role at a Council meeting is to be the Chair/Presiding Officer.
The Black Diamond Council Rules define the role of the chair as follows:
“4.1.1 The Mayor shall act as Presiding Officer at all meetings of the Council unless absent; in the absence of the Mayor, the Mayor Pro Tem will act as Presiding Officer. If both the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem are absent and a quorum is present, the Council shall elect one of its members to serve as Presiding Officer until the return of the Mayor or Mayor Pro Tem.” [Council Rules as of Jan 7; this section unchanged with update Jan 21, 2016]
“4.2 Duties of Presiding Officer. The duties of the Presiding Officer shall be to:
4.2.1 Preserve order and decorum at all meetings of the Council and cause the removal of any person from any meeting for disorderly conduct.
4.2.2 Observe and enforce all rules adopted by the Council.
4.2.3 Recognize Councilmembers in the order in which they request the floor, and recognize every Councilmember who wishes an opportunity to speak; provided that, the mover of a motion shall be permitted to debate it first; provided further that, the Presiding Officer may allow discussion of an issue prior to the stating of a motion when such discussion would facilitate wording of a motion.” [Council Rules as of Jan 7; this section unchanged with update Jan 21, 2016]
In the case of Black Diamond’s January 7, 2016 meeting, the agenda was published by the Mayor’s administration and was on the city website ahead of the meeting (this is the normal process). The agenda included 3 resolutions related to different Committees – the standing Council Committees and 2 ad hoc committees. There was no motion to remove any of these from the meeting agenda.
Once the meeting is in progress, the agenda belongs to the Council. In common parliamentary procedure such as Roberts Rules of Order, to add or remove an item from the agenda once the meeting is in progress would have to be done by the governing body by a vote. It cannot be done by the chair.
Black Diamond Council Rule 7.1 states “Robert’s Rules Supplementary. Except as provided in these Rules of Procedure, all City Council meetings shall be governed by ROBERTS RULES OF ORDER, NEWLY REVISED (latest edition). …”
The old Black Diamond City Council Rules and Procedures, dated February 2015 (and replaced on January 21, 2016) stated:
“2.2 Agenda. The City Clerk shall be responsible for preparing agendas for all City Council meetings that specify the time and place of the meeting and set forth a brief general description of each item to be considered by the Council. The agenda is subject to approval by the Mayor or the Mayor’s designee.” –[OLD Council Rules, in place prior to Jan 21, 2016]
While the mayor had authority to approve the agenda ahead of time, it cannot be possible that this would be intended to allow the mayor to remove items mid-debate. If this were the case, the consequence would be that the mayor could always prevent the council from voting unless they were going to vote the way she wants them to. Essentially ceding all the Council’s power to the mayor.
There is no other rule that applies that would allow the mayor to remove items from the Council. Only the Council can remove motions from the floor or items from the agenda once the meeting is underway. They can be advised that the items are moot, or unwise, but the governing body – not the chair of the meeting – must ultimately make decisions based on that information.
There is also no power the mayor has to prevent the Council from adding items to the agenda during the meeting. A motion by a councilmember to consider an item for discussion or resolution is in the hands of the Council. Even if the city attorney makes a recommendation, it is up to the Council to decide. On January 7, the attorney made incorrect statements about the mayor’s ability to remove items or council’s ability to bring forth a motion. Instead of the Council voting on these after hearing the advice, the mayor simply moved the meeting on to the next item. This rule breaking is clearly in conflict with her duties to “preserve order” and “observe and enforce all rules.”
(See Roberts Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th Edition), starting on page 32 for the handling of a motion.)
- The City uses Robert’s Rules of Order for Council meetings. The Municipal Research Services Center has an overview and more reference links here: http://mrsc.org/Home/Explore-Topics/Governance/Legislative-Organization,-Meetings-and-Process/Parliamentary-Procedure.aspx
- Black Diamond City Council’s Rules of Procedure: http://ci.blackdiamond.wa.us/Depts/Council/Docs/Rules%20of%20Procedure%20Black%20Diamond%20City%20Council%202_Final_051514_rvblm020615_clean.pdf
- Black Diamond City Council Committees: http://ci.blackdiamond.wa.us/Depts/Council/Docs/CouncilCommittees020615.pdf
- Roberts Rules searchable Q&A: http://robertsrules.forumflash.com/