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Will it be Robert’s, Rosenberg’s, or Random City Council Rules of Order?

| Opinion | January 17, 2019

Always Advocating Alan

Those of us who have been watching Santa Clarita City Council meetings for a very long time have witnessed meeting rules, ethics, norms, and procedures discussed from time to time. Normally the subject comes up when a council member is displeased with a council decision, blaming the outcome on how the decision was made. In this case, it revolves around the ill-mannered 2019 mayor selection.

This episode was kicked off during the last city council meeting of 2018. Most often, the individual serving as mayor pro tem becomes the next year’s mayor.  But this year, it looked as if Councilmember Kellar had a different plan. Now, I am not accusing anyone of violating the Brown Act; yet, at the same time, it did look as if a deal had been struck. Councilmember Kellar made his desire evident by putting forth a motion nominating Cameron Smyth to be mayor, with Laurene Weste seconding the motion.

It seemed that if Cameron would vote for himself, the decision would be history. What they did not count on, however, was Councilmember McLean defending her position in the rotation by nominating herself, and Councilmember Miranda seconding her motion.

Then the fun began. You would think, Councilmembers who have served for multiple terms, would know how the meeting was supposed to be run. But that was not the case, as the city attorney and city manager were peppered with questions as to the order the motions should be voted on. If you have wondered who truly runs the city, this should have given you a clue. It came down to the fact that the city has not adopted any formal “Parliamentary Rules of Order.” Still, it was finally decided the second motion, making Councilmember McLean the Mayor, would be voted on first. On the roll call, Smyth and Kellar voted NO and McLean and Miranda voted YES. That left the decision in the hands of a very uncomfortable Mayor Weste, who after stalling a bit, voted YES.

Well, the outcome left a disgruntled Councilmember Smyth. He felt disrespected and questioned why Weste would second his nomination and then vote for McLean. He requested the Council agendize a discussion to accept a more formalized set of meeting rules. To that end, at the January 8 city council meeting, Agenda Item 13 (a seemingly appropriate number) initiated another chaotic discussion.  Staff recommended, “The City Council … consider adopting broader rules of order, as contained within Robert’s Rules of Order or Rosenberg’s Rules of Order” or “consider amending the existing Council Norms and Procedures by adopting rules specific to nominations.”

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I made my preference known during public comment, I spoke of the unnecessary complexity using the 704-page “Roberts Rules of Order,” and suggested the more concise 7-page “Rosenberg’s Rules of Order” would be more appropriate for our city meetings.  I also noted that Rosenberg’s does not support a “Consent Calendar,” but instead suggests each agenda item be announced, explained, and discussed prior to a vote. While I believe the public would wholeheartedly support such a change, I am not holding my breath. Also, Rosenberg’s rules would have multiple motions voted on in order of the last in getting first vote.  Using this approach makes the most sense.  It prevents a Councilmember from locking the discussion by jumping in with a first motion, severely limiting the ability of other council members to raise alternate solutions. I also thought it odd when Councilmember Kellar, who favors voting on motions in the order they have been raised, attempted to “Call the Question” during the discussion. He must not realize doing such is making a motion to end discussion, and if his preference was established as the city council meeting norm, voting on such a motion would not be possible.

Then came the discussion relating to the yearly selection of Mayor and Mayor Pro-tem, with Mayor McLean favoring a regular rotation. Unfortunately, all Councilmembers did not concur.  While the City Council continues to claim Mayor and Mayor Pro-tem are purely ceremonial positions with no more power than any other council members, it is simply not true. Both positions receive more publicity and have been regularly used as a step-up during council election periods. As recently as the last election, weren’t both positions filled by council members running for re-election? You bet they were.

From my point of view, if council members are elected at-large, they are equals. While Councilmember Kellar indicated that not using an ordered rotation would never prevent a council member with opposing views to serve as the Mayor, he must have forgotten about Boydston serving six years on the council without being selected to the post, and the fact Councilmember Smyth was made the mayor just two years ago.

The council continued on, with little progress, until staff reminded them that this agenda item gave the council an opportunity to provide staff with direction on how to proceed. “The City Council’s direction will be incorporated into a future item for Council consideration.”

So, Councilmember Miranda submitted a motion to adopt Rosenberg’s Rules as written. The motion failed with Kellar, Smyth and Weste voting NO. Next was consideration of Kellar’s motion to adopt Rosenberg’s Rules, modified to “vote on motions in the order raised. The motion passed with Kellar, Smyth, and Weste Voting YES. Notice a pattern developing?

Lastly, there was a council consensus for staff to generate options related to an “Agreed Upon Mayor, and Mayor Pro-tem, Rotation.” Those options were requested to include latitude provided by retaining the yearly mayoral decision to be made by motion and council vote. Staff agreed to return to the council with suggestions at the next meeting or the meeting thereafter.

The city seems to have strayed from the way it all started. Allen Cameron reminded us on Facebook, “Thirty-One years ago, the first City Council …  adopted a “mayor selection” process … That process was a simple formula … each Council member was appointed “Mayor” for a year, in the order of the number of votes each received in the election.”

It appears most likely the council will decide to adopt Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, with exceptions being made to allow for a Consent Calendar, while changing the order of voting from “Last Motion Raised” voted first, to “First Motion Raised” voted first. Should that transpire, they will have accomplished nothing. Rules with escape clauses, guidance and modifications to allow “business as usual” will never be followed or accepted long term. They are just put in place to make it sound as if something has been accomplished, when in reality, it allows those at the top to continue doing what they have always done.

Sadly, we will just have to wait for “the other shoe to drop” at a subsequent council meeting.

 

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About Alan Ferdman

One Response to “Will it be Robert’s, Rosenberg’s, or Random City Council Rules of Order?”

  1. Dear Editor,

    Thank you for running Alan Ferdman’s weekly column. I appreciate having a well spoken, avid meeting attendee’s explanation of the current events. It not only helps us stay informed but also keeps the local government accountable.

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