'The council makes its own rules,' mayor says
Meeting runs afoul of procedural rules.
Robert's Rules of Order went out the window during Monday's Springfield City Council meeting.
And City Attorney Dan Wichmer said his advice on how to deal with one particular vote was ignored by Mayor Tom Carlson.
"We pointed out they were free to take my advice or not, and they didn't," Wichmer said.
The drama began even before the meeting started, when a group of five council members appeared to meet with Wichmer in council chambers to talk about the list of legislative priorities for 2009.
The News-Leader lodged a complaint with City Clerk Brenda Cirtin, asking that the council conduct its business in open session.
Cirtin later did convey that request, but Wichmer said there was no problem because only three council members -- Cindy Rushefsky, Dan Chiles and John Wylie -- were involved.
That's not enough for a quorum, he said.
A council committee previously reviewed the priority list, but the full council saw it officially for the first time Monday night. The Finance and Administration Committee members are Gary Deaver, Ralph Manley, Denny Whayne and Doug Burlison.
Rushefsky said she wanted to know what mechanisms were available to table the legislative priority list, because she felt the council didn't have enough time to study them.
Two other council members -- Mary Collette and Dan Chiles -- seemed to be part of the informal discussion before the meeting began.
But Collette said she and Chiles were talking about a pet issue, not the legislative priorities.
Her colleagues weren't conducting city business out of public view, she said.
"I can understand how the public would get that," she said.
Councilman Doug Burlison said he thought the informal gathering was "less than appropriate."
"Do we need to take a vow of silence before we take our seats? No," he said. "But a majority of council colluding ahead of time, it at least gives the appearance to people that something's going on."
The council ran into difficulty later in open session after Rushefsky officially called to table the legislative priority list.
Her motion was seconded, but Wylie proposed an amendment that would remove two of the more controversial legislative priorities from the list. He wanted a ban on weapons in city parks and opposition to collective bargaining to be voted on at a later date.
That's when the council ran afoul of Robert's Rules.
"The council is bound by Robert's Rules," Wichmer said. "A motion to table an item is nondebatable. They had discussions about the motion to table, which we pointed out they couldn't do."
The mayor sidestepped the advice.
"I can do whatever I want," he told Wichmer. "The council makes its own rules."
Wichmer said the council can ignore Robert's Rules if it votes to suspend them.
"There was no vote to suspend the rules," he said.
The council ultimately voted to table the legislative priority list.
After the meeting, Rushefsky said she walked out with Wichmer and asked him "what's the foul if everybody agrees on the rules?"
"He said it could invalidate the vote," Rushefsky recalled. "But the bottom line is we did what we intended to do -- refer it back to council as a whole to talk about what our legislative priorities should be."