The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
City Council, August 17
How to improve the conduct of Council members?
An ordinance, intervention of the Mayor, or self discipline?Marc Knapp
Council member Mallard had center stage at yesterday’s Council meeting. You would never know from observing the Council member or listening to the speeches of other Council members. He remained impassive during their speeches and his name was never mentioned. Bit it was he that inspired Council member Alexander to draft an ordinance that attempted to define rules of decorum and penalties for breaches by Council members at City meetings.
We referred in our last comment to the confrontation between Council member Mallard, the Mayor and the Clerk of Council at the end of the last Council meeting. The issue was the alleged omission of comments by the Council member from the minutes of the previous meeting. Council member Mallard spoke harshly about the omission at that meeting but the confrontation after the close of the meeting was fiery with raised voices. As we said before, it was all very unnecessary.
It seemed that Council member Alexander thinks similarly. His proposed the restraining Ordinance and which can be seen by pressing Download file. Council member White moved immediately to support it.
Council member Gregorie was not far behind in opposing it. We think he raised some good points. Who was going to define “decorum” and “unparliamentary behavior”? He also said that as he understood the proposed ordinance, the presiding officer had too much power .And the possible charge of “misdemeanor” was too harsh as under State law it could mean a Council member could be removed from office.
We don’t know whether the Council member’s conclusion was valid and indeed, he seemed unsure himself because he sought deferral so the issues could be studied by legal staff.
Council member Alexander was swayed to some extend by Council member Gregorie’s comments and seemed happy with a deferral to allow further study. But he also said that citizens should not be held to higher standards than Council members. He noted an ordinance had been passed by Council some years ago imposing a level of decorum and behavior on citizens speaking in Citizens Participation. If there were a rule for citizens, there should be one for Council members.
All Council members expressed the need to maintain a high level of decorum at Council meetings but some thought that an ordinance was unnecessary. Council member Gallant thought that the Mayor had the power to bring members into order and that he had done a good job in the past of defusing nasty situations. Why make changes?
Council member Waring said that Council members should be able to restrain themselves in discussion. He said staff were hard working and should always be treated with respect. Citizens did not have a high regard for Council members, he said and Council members should do better. Council member Wilson endorsed this view.
Council Mallard broke his silence on the issue by noting that if the Mayor had the right to impose decorum on citizens speaking in Citizens Participation, why didn’t he exercise it? He noted that one citizen had made had made insulting comments about some Council members and was not censured.
The Mayor rose at the conclusion of the discussion and said that he tended to make greater allowance for citizens in their speeches. He seemed to applaud Council member Alexander for his intent but added that he did not seek extra authority. But the Mayor did note the confrontation with a Council member and the threatening tones.
Council voted unanimously to defer the issue and for staff to further study the proposed ordinance. We don’t know what Council will finally decide but it was a good debate with good points made all round.
We should note that Council member Mallard and the Mayor again crossed swords over the issue of minutes earlier in last night’s meeting. The confrontation at the previous Council meeting was the omission of the Council member’s comments from the minutes. In review, it seems that the comments were indeed left out but as the Mayor noted, the minutes of the Ways and Means are in summary form. Only the minutes of the Council meetings are recorded “verbatim”. The comment omitted was made in Ways and Means. They were not considered important and omitted from the summary. Council member Mallard thought to the contrary.
Some Council members want more say in Board and Commission appointmentsCouncil member Mallard had few/no friends in the manner of his confrontation with the Mayor over the omission of minutes. But he had more with the issue of appointments to City Board and commissions. We have often raised the issue of Mayoral appointments, a role that the City ordinance allots to Council members. We give the Mayor his due in that he has made a greater attempt to involve Council members in this task. And indeed, Council members have insisted on playing a greater role. But some including Council member Mallard wish to go further.
Last night's issue related to an appointment to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) Site Design. The Mayor had chosen Mr. Adam Barr, and his appointment was up for a vote at the previous Council meeting. It was deferred at the request of Council. Llast night, Council member Mallard indicated that he did not wish to support the Mayor’s nominee and put forward the name of another. He added that the Mayor took little regard of Council and that Council was not getting sufficient notice of vacancies on boards so members could made nominations. The Mayor noted that Council had more than 4 weeks to notify him of other nominees and he had heard nothing, He added that the nominee proposed by Council member Mallard was not an attorney and the ordinance relating to the BZA stated that only a lawyer could fill the seat being vacated. Councilman Mallard again became confrontational over the wording of the memo from the Mayor requesting the appointment of Mr. Barr to the BZA, saying that, according to the memo, Mr. Barr was being appointed to the BZA as the chairman. The assistant Clerk of Council was dispatched to retrieve the memo, since Councilman Mallard was making accusations without having the memo in hand, therefore being unprepared to back up his contention. Councilman Mallard was shown that he had misread the memo. One has to wonder if Councilman Mallard is just doing this for TV time and attention.
Other Council members jumped into to support Council member Mallard’s contention, though not his nominee. Council member Gallant said that he knew of a number of attorneys that could fill the seat. He and other members asked that more notice be given in future. Other Council members were not so sure. Council member White suggested that members directly contact the Mayor if they had a good candidate for a position. He said he had done so recently and the Mayor supported the appointment. Council member Wilson suggested that members become more proactive if they had a good candidate they wished to nominate.
A vote was taken as to defer filling the BZA position but the motion failed on a tie vote (4-4). A subsequent motion to accept the Mayor’s recommendation passed. In the end, it was obvious from the questions asked by Council members Gallant and Mallard, that both were unprepared for the meeting. Councilman Gallant's request for information on how or where to find out when the terms of all the appointed board members were expiring showed his lack of basic knowledge of City workings and how unprepared he was for this meeting. His comments on how to get the information were reminiscent of a lazy child that needed to be "spoon fed" everything before he even asked for it.
Mayor seeks to increase DASH routes and make travel freeAt the end of last night’s meeting, the Mayor announced his attention to ask CARTA to amend and increase its DASH bus routes, and make the DASH service free. He said that such a move ought to take more cars off the street in the peninsula. Although he thought the change would benefit citizens more than anybody else (rider ship of DASH is presently 75% locals) the changes were being sought to help tourists. The Mayor said that the SPA, MUSC, Visitor and Convention Bureau and Accommodation Tax Funds would provide the finance for the extra service. The frequency of the service was to increase from every 20 minutes to every 10 minutes.
The recommendation was made by the Task Force Transportation Committee and endorsed by the Task Force. The proposed contributions by the entities mentioned were expected to make CARTA “whole” in covering the extra cost. The Mayor also noted that everybody on the Peninsula below the Crosstown would be within a 10 minute walk of a DASH route.