Since the December 18 council meeting, in which Erpenbach limited public testimony to 20 minutes for the snowgate advocates, I have been researching Roberts Rules, city ordinances, statutes, 1st Amendment rights and censorship. While some of my findings are not definitive, especially when it comes to public input, some things do stand out. From all accounts city ordinance is very clear about the 5 minute testimonial rule, but is the council required to follow it?
You be the judge.
*Your feedback on this post will be essential in what I decide will be the next steps in preventing the council and mayor from limiting public testimony.
ADOPTION OF RULES
It is important to note that the current city council has never had an adoption of rules of order. In other words the parliamentary procedures they follow are standing rules of the past. Chapter 30.012 of city charter outlines this;
30.012 RULES OF ORDER.
Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (latest edition) shall govern the proceedings of the council in all cases, unless they are in conflict with this subchapter.
LIMITING DEBATE of PEERS
There has been much talk about whether the council chair can limit the number of questions other councilors can ask during a public meeting. According to Roberts Rules she cannot unless by a two-thirds vote of the entire body;
The chairman cannot close debate unless by order of the assembly, which requires a two-thirds vote; nor can he prevent the making of legitimate motions by hurrying through the proceedings. If members are reasonably prompt in exercising their right to speak or make motions, the chair cannot prevent their doing so. If he has hurriedly taken and announced a vote while a member is rising to address the chair, the vote is null and void, and the member must be recognized. On the other hand the chairman should not permit the object of a meeting to be defeated by a few factious persons using parliamentary forms with the evident object of obstructing business. In such a case he should refuse to entertain the dilatory or frivolous motion, and, if an appeal is taken, he should entertain it, and, if sustained by a large majority he may afterwards refuse to entertain even an appeal made by the faction when evidently made merely to obstruct business. But the chair should never adopt such a course merely to expedite business, when the opposition is not factious. It is only justifiable when it is perfectly clear that the opposition is trying to obstruct business. [See Dilatory Motions, 40].
There are no real statutes in Roberts Rules for public testimony;
Some issues, such as budget approval or ordinance changes, require public hearings, according to statutes. But for regular, open meetings, municipalities are left to their own devices to make the meeting rules.
Rules can be good, Dreps said. They can keep meetings moving so everyone can get home before midnight. They can prevent municipal employees from getting dragged through the mud when they’re not there to defend themselves.
But public officials shouldn’t hide behind rules for convenience’s sake, he said.
“What can you say?” Dreps said. “Democracy is messy.”
Basically each governing body can determine their own set of rules, which the city council has done in their ordinances. According to Chapter 30.015 of city charter;
30.015 ADDRESSING THE COUNCIL; TIME LIMIT.
(a) During the public input portion at the start of a city council meeting, no person shall be permitted to speak on a topic that appears later in that meeting’s agenda if public input will be received when that agenda item is up for discussion.
(b) No person shall address the city council without first securing the permission of the mayor, or acting mayor, to do so.
(c) Each person addressing the city council shall step up to the microphone in front of the rail, shall give his or her name in an audible tone of voice for the record, and unless further time is granted by the city council, shall be limited to five minutes.
(d) All remarks shall be addressed to the city council as a body and not to any member thereof.
(e) No person, other than the city council and the person having the floor, shall be permitted to enter into any discussion, either directly or through a member of the city council without the permission of the mayor or acting mayor.
(f) No question shall be asked of a city council member except through the mayor or acting mayor.
(g) No person, except city council members, shall address the council after a motion is made and seconded unless requested by a city council member.
(1992 Code, § 2-16) (Ord. 50-95, passed 3-20-1995; Ord. 52-11, passed 7-11-2011; Ord. 24-12, passed 4-2-2012)
So, since the current city council has never had their own adoption of rules, wouldn’t this mean they should be following current city charter?
And according to the current city charter each person can only be limited to a 5 minute time period, unless they are being disruptive. So when Council Chair Erpenbach ‘concocted’ a new set of time restraints for public input before that input started, did she violate city ordinance?
Love to hear the city attorney weigh in on this one, and he just might get an opportunity to do so.