Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Good Public Policy Sets Up Tug Of War Over Council Rules Of Procedure

Councillor Ben Hunter authored Prop 44, which was introduced at the Council's January 30 meeting.

This Proposal was good public policy and deserved an open conversation as to its pros and cons.

Instead, it was quickly and indefinitely tabled at the February 21st meeting of the Rules Committee.

Prop 44 is simple.  It adds the following language to the ordinance covering the constitution of Council committees:
(c) Any councillor who is employed by another agency of local government, whose budgets or salaries are subject to action of the City-County Council, shall not be appointed to, or eligible to serve on any committee which regularly considers the budget or salaries of the agency which employes such councillor.
Given that public employees are legally allowed to serve on the elected bodies that oversee their own jobs, at least for a while longer, this proposal serves the public interest, by restricting such a public employee/elected official, from holding undue influence over their supervisors.

My review of the Council committee appointments would suggest that only Councillor Vernon Brown would be affected at this moment by this proposal.  If anyone knows of another Councillor serving on the committee that oversees their day job, please let me know.  Councillor Brown serves on the Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee that oversees his day job with IFD.  It would not harm Councillor Brown, who serves on five other Council committees, to forgo this committee.

Here is an except of the minutes of the February 21st meeting of the Rules committee :
PROPOSAL NO. 44, 2012 - amends the Code with respect to council rules for committee appointments

Councillor Gray moved, seconded by Councillor Lewis, to “Table” Proposal No. 44, 2012. The motion carried by a 4-2-1 vote, with Councillors Lutz and McQuillen casting the negative votes and Councillor Brown abstaining.  [Mahern, Barth, Gray, and Lewis voted 'aye']

Councillor Hunter stated that he understands the protocol that there is no discussion on a motion to table. However, typically a sponsor of a properly introduced proposal who comes before a committee as a non-member of that committee is usually afforded the courtesy to speak on their proposal before it is tabled. He said that it would have been nice to have been informed of the intention to table the proposal without comment before he wasted the gas money coming down to appear and present his proposal.

{Clerk’s Note: Councillor Mansfield arrived at 5:34 p.m.}

Chairman Mahern said that since the proposal has been tabled, there is no further discussion to be had.
Councillor Lutz said that there is no argument that the motion to table does not allow for further discussion. He added, however, that it would be nice in the future, as a common courtesy, that if the intention of the committee is to table a proposal without comment, that the sponsor of the proposal be informed so that they are not wasting their time.

Chairman Mahern said that if he had received any indication ahead of time that the proposal would be tabled, he would have let Councillor Hunter know, but there is no way for him to predict the intentions of the committee.
There is a little bit of gamemanship going on here from both sides.  This proposal could have been introduced any time in the last few years when Councillor Hunter's party held the majority and there would have been no threat of tabling.  Additionally, the Republicans on the Rules committee, Councillors McQuillen and Lutz, moved that the very next proposal on the agenda be tabled in retaliation.  Nonetheless, Prop 44 is good public policy and the public deserved at least an open discussion of its merits.

Now, Councillor Mike McQuillen has authored Prop 106, introduced at the last Council meeting.  This proposal would require that any introduced Council proposal be set for a public hearing within 30 days of the introduction (although the actual hearing date may be within 45 days of introduction), and that the item may not be tabled until after the sponsor of the proposal and the public have had a chance to make comments.

This is a good procedure for the Council to follow and it deserves to get an airing when the Rules committee has it on their agenda.  In the end, it should not be the back rooms where these decisions are made, but in full sunshine and public view.

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