Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Shall The City Council Meet - and Other Things?

The City Council's Public Services Committee was scheduled on Monday, December 12th, to discuss a draft ordinance which details changes to Chapter 2 of the city code of ordinances titled "Administration."

The main reason to revise this ordinance chapter appears to be to change the day the city council meetings are held. That's what the title of the ordinance and agenda says anyway. There is more than just the Monday-Tuesday revision being considered in this ordinance revision, however. There are a number of changes being proposed and some of the changes are rather interesting.

Change highlights:

  • Although the draft language only proposes changing the day of the meeting, the city attorney asked the committee to also consider changing the time of the meeting. Back in the commission form of government, meetings used to be held in the morning. I remember why it was changed - to provide better access of meetings to the public. Pfeifle stated that people work all kinds of schedules these days and have opportunities to view the meetings on TV and on the Internet. He implored the council to consider changing the meeting time as well. He said he was sure employers would grant time off to employees who would want to address the council. Are you kidding me? Most people have enough trouble just getting time off to attend their children's events much less get time off to go to a city council meeting. Ridiculous. Changing the meeting time of the council to a day meeting is a step backwards in public accessibility. Councilors Erpenbach and Aguilar stated they are opposed to changing the time of meetings.

  • Current ordinance states that there will be minutes of the City Council's Executive Sessions and that the minutes will be sealed in the City Clerk's office. The new proposed language deletes the requirement that there will be minutes recorded of executive sessions. The city attorney stated this change was being proposed with input from the clerks who are uncomfortable being responsible for minutes of these meetings that they do not attend. The city attorney said minutes of executive sessions are not required by state law. The City Clerk, by charter, is the official record keeper of city records. The appointive City Clerk should be in city council executive sessions and be the record keeper of the proceedings. Assistant city clerks are administrative civil service employees and shouldn't be involved in council executive sessions.  The city has the tendency to treat the Assistant Clerks as if they are the same as the appointive City Clerk and that is a mistake. As an appointive official, the City Clerk retains a higher level position in the organization than the assistant clerks. To not have a record of an executive session because the clerical administrative civil service employees are uncomfortable only further cements the loss of a bonafide appointive city clerk official running the city council office. (Section 2-7)

  • The City Clerk currently serves as the parliamentarian for meetings of the city council. This language is being proposed to be deleted.   Pfeifle stated Roberts Rules of Order state the presiding officer serves as parliamentarian.  He said it is a collaborative effort between the mayor and the council so that's why the language designating the City Clerk is being deleted.  It seems this deletion came from Acting City Clerk Roust.  As Roust said the parliamentarian advises and the presiding officer (mayor) and the council rules on an issue. So why not keep the appointive City Clerk the parliamentarian who advises on questions of Roberts Rules of Order that come up at council meetings? Between the City Clerk and the City Attorney, the two of them should be proficient in Roberts Rules of Order. The city council has too much on their plate as is. The assistant clerk is busy taking minutes and shouldn't be the parliamentarian. The City Clerk is always at the meetings in addition to the clerical acting assistant clerk who is taking the minutes. Sounds like the neutering of the City Clerk position. (Section 2-8)

  • Language is being added regarding contracts. The new language says that one councilor can remove a contract issue from the consent agenda to the regular agenda for discussion but then it goes on to say that moving a contract issue from the consent agenda to the regular agenda merely to ask questions or gather background information is not necessary and should be discouraged.  Isn't asking questions and/or gathering background information considered additional discussion? A consent agenda item means there are no questions or discussion. The proposed last sentence is administrative editorial stuff. Council Erpenbach didn't like that last sentence either and said she felt like she had her hand slapped.    (Section 2-15)

  • New language is being proposed regarding the public input portion on a council agenda. According to the change, a person can not address an issue during the public input portion of the meeting agenda if the issue is on the council agenda. So, a person who may have a time conflict when an agenda item actually is discussed later in the meeting can't address the issue early? This revision is codifying what is being done in practice. That may be but not it's making it black and white with no ability to deal with special circumstances.  In addition, new language states no council member will be permitted to engage in a dialogue or discussion with the presenter. Doesn't that restrict the concept of free speech? Why restrict dialogue or discussion at public input? It sure seems like this language is putting restraints on public input.  (Section 2-16)

  • The other issue in Section 2-15 deals with walking in items and still meeting the open meeting laws. The City Attorney is worried about the 24 hour notice. The proposed changes will put stronger timelines in place to meet the open meeting laws. It is always good to meet the requirements of the open meeting laws.

  • The mayor uses executive orders to deal with internal administration matters. These are internal procedures, not policies requiring ordinance codification. In the past, copies of executive orders were filed with the City Clerk. That requirement is being deleted and language is being proposed that the executive orders will placed on InSite which is the city's intranet. To my knowledge this is already being done for internal administrative purposes. Why does it need to be codified in city ordinance? The significant thing here is that no longer will the City Clerk get copies of Executive Orders. This was a request of the city clerk's office. They don't want to maintain copies any longer. Where executive orders are kept is an administrative issue. Why should this even be in ordinance language. It is an administrative procedure not a policy. (Section 2-35)

  • Language is being proposed that there no longer needs to be a roll call to adjourn a meeting just a motion to adjourn. (Section 2-25)
Any change to an ordinance should always be made with one specific thing in mind - the public. How does this city ordinance affect transparency in government and the public's right to know? Granted, the executive session minutes language is confidential but not to keep a record of what goes on behind closed doors should still be recorded otherwise, anything can be done behind closed doors with no oversight or record.

Changes to the Administration ordinance will certainly generate further discussion. Some of the language change deals specifically with administrative issues and other changes deal with impact to the public. It is insight into how the council conducts their business. The Public Services Committee voted to move the ordinance out of committee and present as 1st reading to the City Council. We shall see what the City Council does regarding these proposed changes.


  1. The Council's desire to change their meetings from Monday to Tuesday seems to make sense.

    On the other hand, the Administration's request to have the meetings changed from evening hours to daytime hours makes no sense.

    David Pfeifle's reasoning that people work all kinds of schedules these days and have opportunities to view the meetings on TV and on the Internet is a very weak argument. His suggestion that employers would grant time off to employees who would want to address the Council is absurd!

    This change is a suggestion that would accommodate the Mayor and his Administration, not the working public.

    NEWS FLASH: This is public service not the private sector. You are all well compensated by the taxpayers for your efforts, and if you don't like the hours, then please feel free to return to the private sector!!!

  2. The Administration wants to base a change in taking minutes at Executive Sessions because the clerks are "uncomfortable" about minutes for meetings they can't attend? What the heck is this about? Minutes should be taken and recorded and the City Clerk should be at all meetings. What is going on down at City Hall anyway and what are they are trying to hide?

  3. There is no one of consequence or intelligence in the City Clerk's office anymore and this is what the citizens get from the Administration? Sorry, but acting City Clerk, Sue Roust, is just a seat warmer and shouldn't be proposing anything since she has no background in city government. And I feel any changes proposed by this current administration is up for suspect! Don't trust this administration at all.

  4. The meeting change from Monday to Tuesday is kind of a none issue. It is interesting that the Council is taking advice from an "acting" city clerk who never held the city in high regard when she was the county auditor. To have her now proposing language which is reducing the appointive city clerk position to a basic clerical function is hilarious. All she is doing is the bidding work for the mayor and the other Democrats on the city council. After all they are the ones who killed off Debra Owen who was well known to be a Republican. Partisan politics is involved here. Since when did Sue Roust become the expert on city organization issues?