By Stephanie Edwards
The subject of councilmembers making unplanned and unpublished motions during City Council meetings, specifically during the Roundtable portion of City Council meetings, was revisited during the September 5 Council Rules Committee meeting.
Councilmember Trish Carlyle, Committee Chair, requested that the topic again be examined by the committee at the August 24 regular Council meeting. Her request was made in response to a motion at the August 17 meeting by Councilmember Dave Mosby wherein moved to have his District 4 counterpart, Councilmember Fred DeMoro, placed on the Rules Committee.
The motion passed with a 4-3 vote, but not before contentious words were exchanged on the dais.
The Rules Committee, then headed by Councilmember Diane Seif, had tabled the discussion on unpublished earlier this year pending a response to a query from the Missouri Attorney General’s office.
“We’ve seen a couple of times now actions taken place during Roundtable,” Mayor Pro-tem Rob Binney said. “There’s been no formal opinion that it’s illegal, but there’s a grave concern that it’s not previously made available to the public or councilmembers, or whole councilmembers, what is about to happen.” He then asked the city attorney for his commentary on the matter.
Attorney Brian Head explained that the Attorney General’s office looked into the matter, but did not return a clear answer. “They didn’t tell us yes; they didn’t tell us no,” he said. “They just said ‘try to be more transparent in the future.’” He said that it was up to the Council to determine what procedures will be followed, provided the rules are within the bounds of Robert’s Rules of Order, and the Council’s own rules.
“I don’t know of anything that would prohibit the Council from designing a rule, if it chose to,” he said. He suggested ways the rules could be written, including a defining of what the Roundtable portion is actually for. “You could have a better definition of Roundtable; you could specifically include a requirement that type of motion be held somewhere else; you could prohibit motions that are made without a prior knowledge for the Council and public,” he said. “There is a whole host of different directions that you could take.”
Mayor Pro-tem Binney said that the most recent Charter revisions showed a desire for more transparency by the Council. “We’re making more time and more information out there, which seems pretty transparent to me that we’re trying to communicate, whereas these Roundtable motions come out of nowhere and there’s no opportunity for even putting them on a future agenda,” he said. “How do you draw a line between what’s really a legislative action and then what is non-legislative?”
“I think the options raised are the options you have,” Head said. “I don’t think we want to prohibit the Council when there is a need from being able to act. That would concern me if we tried to do that.” More administrative matters, he said, could be required to be placed on the agenda. “I just dislike the idea of prohibition, because I think ultimately there are times when staff also needs guidance from the Council.
“To say there could never be a vote in Roundtable, I think it takes away some tools we need,” Head said. “But maybe these issues could be addressed in a different way.”
The committee chair said that if the committee makes a rule “for Council Roundtable, I think it should be clear that no motions can be made that violates the Charter. That should be our first rule of thumb.”
No action was taken as the matter was just a discussion. The committee chair and the mayor pro-tem were joined by Councilmembers Phyllis Edson and Fred DeMoro.