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The 10 members of the Rules Committee of City Council – the nine aldermen and the mayor – discussed changes proposed by City staff to streamline City government and make more efficient use of staff time.
Some of these they accepted; some, they rejected and some they referred to the Legal Department for vetting.
Taxicab Advisory Board: Unanimously the committee members approved dissolving the Taxicab Advisory Board, which has not met since some time in 2015. They agreed that issues relating to taxicabs that arise can be referred to the Parking and Transportation Committee.
Animal Welfare Board: Because only one alderman instead of the required two sits on the Animal Welfare Board, the Committee reduced to one the number of aldermen required on that committee.
Serving Past Expired Term: Committee members also agreed that a member of a board, committee or commission (BCC) whose term has expired may remain on that board, committee or commission until the vacancy has been filled. Doing this would avoid having to cancel a meeting for lack of a quorum – a problem the Board of Ethics faced in recent months.
Rotating Chairmanships: All but two of the many BCCs that require an alderman have a rotating chairmanship. Third Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne has been chair of the Parking and Transportation Committee for about 12 years, and Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey has chaired the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Committee for nearly two decades.
Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, who brought the matter to the Rules Committee said if the policy is to rotate committee chairmanship, all of them should rotate. If not all of them, he said, then none should.
Ald. Wynne said, “I have served on the Transportation and Parking Committee and have been chair for a very long time, partly because no one wanted to be chair. I’m fine with rotating. Ald. Rainey said, “I’ve been chair of CDBG – it was a tradition not to rotate.”
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said, “I would like for City staff to come back with a recommendation.” Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, countered with a suggestion that the aldermen “just do it without staff recommendation.”
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, suggested that the current committee chairs talk with the committee members, that each committee make a recommendation as to whether the chairmanship should rotate every six months or every year and prepare by the end of the current year a rotation schedule so the rotations could begin in January. His colleagues on the Rules Committee concurred.
Time Limit for Council Meetings: A recommendation to set an end-time of 11 p.m. for City Council meetings received a rather chilly reception. City staff had conducted a study showing that several meetings in the past year had extended past 11 p.m., some even past midnight.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he believed the Council struggles with decisions made after 11 p.m. and recommended there be “a rule that Council could pause [at 11 p.m.] and review the agenda and see what items could be continued.”
“Appealing as this is [on some levels],” said Ald. Wilson, “the work will still have to get done.” People who had showed up to a meeting to have Council grant a request or license, for example, would have to return at another time, he added.
“Sometimes meetings don’t start until after 9:30 p.m. because of Citizen Comment,” said Ald. Rainy. “Our problem has to do with the beginning of meetings.” She said staff should look not at what time the meeting ended but at what time work on agenda items began.
Many communities allocate time for each topic, Ald. Wynne said. She also said Council could return to the practice of holding Administration and Public Works and Planning and Development committee meetings simultaneously. Meetings would be held in separate rooms.
Ald. Fiske said she liked that idea.
Ald. Fleming suggested merging the Administration and Public Works Committee with City Council.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said staff would return with recommendations at the December Rules Committee meeting.
Other Changes: Committee members also agreed to continue City Clerk Devon Reid’s pilot electronic sign-in procedure, under which community members can sign up electronically to speak at a meeting before the sign-up sheet is placed in the anteroom a half-hour or so before each meeting.
Council members balked at a second proposal by the Clerk, to request the Ward of residence and the race or ethnicity of each speaker. Clerk Reid said he proposed the idea so “we’d know who’s showing up” to talk at meetings.
Mayor Stephen Hagerty recounted the problems many of the currently elected officials faced in the previous election because it was not clear whether or not the City would hold a primary election, nor was it clear when candidates were required to file their nominating petitions.
Ald. Wilson asked the Legal Department to come up with a recommendation to change the City Code to clarify the issue.
Clerk Reid said election laws are set by the State and what the Legal Department should determine is whether the City holds partisan or non-partisan elections. The issue, he said, dates back to 1952, when the City adopted the Council/Manager form of government.
Ald. Wilson asked that the Legal Department work with the Clerk’s office to clarify the matter.