The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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County Council, February 5

Heated exchanges over Council rules
What are rights of Chairman and Council members to set agendas?
Warwick Jones

At the last meeting of the Administration Policy/Rules Committee (APRC), Council member Rawl who is Chair of the Committee led a discussion of some changes he proposed to Council rules. No vote was taken but as he indicated at the time, he planned to place them on the agenda for a vote at the next meeting of the ARPC. And that meeting was last night.

We thought that the proposals were reasonable though the merits of the first were certainly debatable. But some Council members had different views and discussion gradually got heated, and strangely, over an issue only loosely connected to the changes proposed by Council member Rawl.

The changes and new rules before the Committee were as follows:

The proposed change related to Rule 7.2. The rule presently reads “At its first meeting in January, Council shall select by majority vote one of its members as Chairman of Council and one of its members as Vice Chairman. The Chairman and Vice Chairman shall serve for a term of one year.”

The proposed new language for rule 7.2

  • 7.2 At its first meeting in January, Council shall select by majority vote one of its members as Chairman of Council and one of its members as Vice Chairman. The Chairman and Vice Chairman shall serve for a term of one year. The Chairman is limited to a maximum of two (2) consecutive terms.
  • The proposed new rules were:

  • 2.15 Any person speaking in front of County Council, either by Council’s request or the person’s request, shall be required to submit the topic of discussion in writing or in person before permission is given to speak. This rule does not apply to those persons speaking for a time as determined by the Chairman during the public comments portion of Council meetings.

  • 4.15. Special Committees can be appointed by the Chairman based on need. Special Committees must be characterized and exist by subject or time. All meeting notes, records, actions, etc. pertaining to Special Committees shall be kept by the Clerk of Council and shall be available to the public by request.

  • 4.75 An attorney from the Legal Department shall be assigned to each standing committee and special committee of County Council.

  • There was no discussion relating to the change proposed to Rule 7.2. County Chair Pryor asked
    Committee Chair if the issue could be deferred. It was. We expect discussion will be spirited when the issue comes before the Committee again. Nothing was said last night but it seems the proposed change – to limit the Council to a maximum two consecutive terms of 1 year – is a shot at Chairman Pryor. Chairman Pryor has served more than 2 terms and has sustained strong criticism from some Council members.

    The proposed new rules were adopted by the Committee and ultimately by Council at its later meeting. All were discussed but discussion of the first proposed was lengthy, and we think, often irrelevant.

    Committee Chair Rawl in our view, described well the purpose of his proposed Rule 2.15. Personally we think the rule is unnecessary and some Council members had similar thoughts. In proposing the new rule, the Committee Chair wanted to prevent individuals or entities from using the Council as a forum for advancing their agenda. We suspect that Committee Chair Rawl was particularly ticked off by Sherriff Cannon who spoke before Council in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. At the conclusion of his presentation, the sheriff stated that he was opposed to gun control. Whatever the merits of the sheriff’s view, gun control is a sensitive political issue and arguably, the sheriff should not have raised it. We have not checked with Chairman Pryor, but we suspect he had no inkling that the sheriff would air his gun control view.

    Despite the succinctness of the Committee Chair’s intention, discussion over 2.15 took a course of its own. It ultimately encompassed the right of the Chairman to place or take items off the agenda, and the right of Council members to place items on the agenda. These issues have been before the APRC a number of times, championed mainly by Council member Qualey with support from Council member Schweers. But each time, their cause has been lost. (In simple terms, Council member Qualey wants all issues that come before a Committee and are voted on, to come before the full Council for voting. Presently, if an issue is voted down at a Committee meeting, it doesn’t go on to the Council. The Council member states that the present system is not fair and issues don’t get a satisfactory airing. His opponents say that Committees are formed is to sort out issues relating to the purpose of the Committee. If the Council is to hear all issues, what is the purpose of a Committee? And to take it further, we’d opine that Council member Qualey is driven by his critical view of the remuneration and role of County Attorney Dawson and is frustrated in his attempts to bring it before Council.)

    Council Member Qualey remarked near the conclusion of last night’s Council meeting that an opinion given by a member of the Legal Department supported his view on the rights of Council members to place items on the agenda. Understandably, we sought a copy of the opinion. We don’t think it supports Council member Qualey at all. But viewers can form their own view. Here are the rules in bold, with the opinions in italics.

    2.2 All matters, excluding emergency matters, shall first be referred to a standing committee for recommendation before Council may take any vote or action thereon. Exceptions require unanimous consent of Council.

  • Rule 2.2 states that an issue cannot come in front of Council if it has not first been brought to a committee. In other words, a matter must first be brought to a committee to be heard by Council. Any exception to this rule must have unanimous Council consent.
  • 4.5 In the event of a tie vote in committee, committees may send matters to Council without recommendation. Any member of Council or the County Administrator shall have the right to place, in a timely manner, a matter on the agenda of a standing committee with notification to the chairman of the committee. Committee chairman may remove any items placed on the agenda by the Administrator.

  • Rule 4.5 allows committees to send matters that result in a tie vote to Council. No recommendation from said committee is necessary. Also, it allows any member of Council to place a matter on the agenda of a standing committee by notification to that committee’s chairman. The Administrator may also place something on the agenda of a standing committee in the same manner as a member of Council, however, the committee chairman can remove any of those items placed on the agenda by the Administrator.

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