Last Thursday’s four-hour Black Diamond City Council meeting left tempers hot and questions unanswered as the council approved a myriad of new meeting rules and regulations.
The new rules include reducing the number of standing council committees from five to three, removing the number restriction that allowed no more than two council members on a council committee, broadening the powers of the mayor pro tempore and electing a council president.
The rules, known as Resolution 16-1069, were approved by council members Erika Morgan, Brian Weber and Pat Pepper. Council members Janie Edelman and Tamie Deady voted no.
The rules were written by Pepper and Morgan and were going to be introduced during a special meeting on Jan. 12, but the meeting was cancelled.
According to Morgan, Weber and Pepper, the new rules are intended to encourage and increase public participation in how the city is run.
“The public is possibly disdainfully listened to. Their input isn’t incorporated into legislation, mainly because people don’t have enough imagination to see how that can be done,” Morgan said during a Friday phone interview. “A lot of those rule changes are to see what we can do about combating the problems that citizens saw in their communication with the city itself.”
Deady and Edelman were vocally against the rule changes, along with City Attorney Carol Morris, who warned council members that adopting the rules could open the city, and individual council members, to being sued.
“Those council members chose to go counter to both the insurance pool’s concerns and the attorney’s issues with what they were trying to pull,” Edelman said during a phone interview Friday. “I think it’s dangerous. It’s putting the city at risk. It’s putting the City Council at risk.”
Although the new rules were passed, Morgan stated they were “imperfect” and the council should take the time to go over the rules and make revisions during future workshops.
Morgan, Weber and Pepper passed Resolution 16-1072 Thursday, which calls for the council to review the rules and procedures. Edelman and Deady voted against the resolution.
Changing council leadership
The majority of the rule changes shifted many powers from Mayor Carol Benson to the rest of the council, or to Mayor Pro Tempore Morgan and the Council President Pepper, who was elected during the meeting.
Under the new rules, the mayor no longer has the power to appoint council members to the remaining three council standing committees. Instead, committee members are elected by a majority vote of the council.
The mayor also no longer holds the power to appoint council representatives to intergovernmental councils, boards and committees; that power is again reserved by a majority vote.
At first glance, it seems like the mayor is no longer able to cast a tie-breaking vote in some city issues, as section 8.4 has been completely removed from the rules. However, section 7.2.4 remains in the code and still outlines the mayor’s right to cast tie breaking votes. The reason section 8.4 was removed from the rules and regulations, Pepper said in a phone interview, was remove a redundant section in the rules.
The council president and mayor pro tempore have been granted the power to approve the council agenda instead of the mayor.
Additionally, any three members of the council can now vote to cancel a meeting, given that proper notice was given to the City Clerk, a power that was held only by the mayor (or pro tempore in the mayor’s absence).
Parliamentarian powers have also shifted from the city attorney, currently Morris, to the city clerk, Brenda Martinez. The parliamentarian’s role in council meetings is to determine if council rules have been breached or if an issue is not adequately addressed by Robert’s Rules of Order.
Council and city staff relations have also changed; the stipulation that council members may not “influence” city staff in the administration of personnel, the awarding of contracts, the selection of consultants, the processing of development applications or purchase of city licenses or permits has been removed from council procedures.
A stipulation in the same section prohibiting staff from “coercing” city staff remains.
A whole section prohibiting council members from changing or interfering with the operating rules and practices of city departments has also been removed, sparking concerns that the council has expanded itself beyond its legislative duties and granted itself limited executive powers.
With the passage of these new rules and regulations, it is possible the city of Black Diamond, and individual council members, are open to litigation without insurance coverage, wrote Roger Neal, program manager of the Risk Management Services Agency of Association of Washington Cities, which provides Black Diamond with insurance.
The email was read out loud to council members during the Jan. 21 meeting.
According to Neal, the Association of Washington Cities is concerned about the mixing of legislative and executive powers.
“Council needs to understand that their role is to set police, and it is the Mayor’s role to carry out that policy and run the day-to-day operations of the city,” Neal wrote. “Many council members across the state think that it is their responsibility to direct staff, and be involved with ‘running’ the city. This is clearly not the case, and the statutes are very clear about the need for separation of powers within a city.”
The email outlined the insurance agency’s other concerns, which include the new structure of the council’s Standing Committees and how the draft rules were created, as there may have been a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.
“We concur with [the city attorney’s] concerns about the draft rules potentially, or actually being in conflict with state laws,” Neal’s email continued. “If the City Council adopts these rules without making the modifications suggested, there is a good chance that in the event of a lawsuit related to the application of these Council rules, such as a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, the [Risk Management Services Agency] will follow the provisions of the Coverage Agreement.”
Part II, Section 7 of the agreement states “bodily injury” or “property damage” that “arises out of the actual or alleged violation of the Public Records Act (RCW 42.56) and/or the Open Public Meetings Act (RCW 42.30),” are not covered by the Association of Washington Cities.
Neal went on to write that coverage will be assessed and determined when a suit is filed.
Standing Committees and Special Meetings
Before the new rules were adopted by council, there were five standing committees, each with no more than two council members; the Budget/Finance/Administration Committee, the Parks/Cemetery Committee, the Growth Management, Land Use and Planning Committee, the Government Operations and Administration Committee, and the Public Works Committee.
Under the new rules, there are now three standing committees; the Budget/Finance/Administration Committee, the Growth Management, Land Use and Community Services Committee and the Government Operations and Administration Committee, which absorbed the duties of the old Public Works Committee.
A former stipulation in each committee section stated the committee should work “in conjunction with City Staff” in considering issues. That has been removed from the rules.
Additionally, there are no longer any restrictions concerning the number of council members able to meet during committee meetings.
If three or more council members are elected to be on a Standing Committee and attend a committee meeting, a quorum is formed, which means the meeting turns into a special meeting.
This requires legal notice to be made by the city to its residents about the meeting within 24 hours, or the meeting may be in violation of the Open Public Meeting Act.
Deady and Edelman expressed concern about quorum being formed at these special meetings, as did Morris.
“Now we are going to have three council members on all the committees. Which means, when you take action, under the rules, you are going to be taking action to vote for ‘do-pass,’ meaning you are taking final action on resolutions and other matters that come before the council,” Morris said at the Thursday meeting. “At these council committee meetings, when you take final action, there’s nothing left to do. It doesn’t come back to the council because you’ve already acted on it… a ‘do-pass’ on a resolution by three council members means that the resolution passed.”
Deady and Edelman said during the meeting that they will not be participating in any standing committee where a quorum exists.
According to Morgan, Weber and Pepper, a “do-pass” recommendation on a resolution and ordinance is not the same thing as passing legislation through council.
“‘Do-pass’ just means ‘do pass on for consideration’. It doesn’t mean whether we agree or we disagree with it,” Morgan said in a phone interview. “You can pass things on for deliberation that you wouldn’t vote for.”