Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Many of the residents that follow and or attend our meetings know that over the past year and a half our meetings have again devolved into outbursts and personal attacks on the dais. Last year Commissioner London actually grab my gavel and I had to request for him to be removed from chambers. For two years prior even though our commission did not agree on issues there was limited banter and very few if any personal attacks. There was decorum and respect for the chair to run the meetings.
As chair it has become quite difficult to run meetings with continued disregard for the rules and incivility. I believe that individual commissioners have forgotten these meetings are public meetings where laws are being established, contracts are being awarded and bids and city business needs to be discussed. They are a time to listen actively to the public and to one another.
The meetings are not a time for show boating or obstructionism and in my opinion not texting and talking. How can you be listening if you are not actively focused on the speaker? Guess this is a new era of instant gratification and attention seeking but I find it rude. Unless it is an emergency we should be working. As mayor and commissioners we are to state our positons and place on record our objections or agreements with dignity and respect. Our positions are entrusted to us by our residents and our actions should reflect that respect.
Rules of order establishing guidelines and outlining how our meetings are to be conducted have been put in place by vote of the commission. These rules are in both in our ethics and protocol manual and in the form of an ordinance. Roberts Rules of order were always established as guidelines. In small bodies there is not the requirement for strict adherence to these guidelines. They are usually reserved for larger groups. The guidelines do move the meeting forwards in an orderly manner and are used are by many organized bodies.
At typical meetings where members have respect for the chair there are some basic rules that are usually followed. The chair recognizes the speaker. The speaker acknowledges the chair and requests to asks question through the chair. At that time the member has the floor. Members are to ask questions and state their opinions but refrain from personal attacks and rude behaviors. Staff is also to answer through the chair, in other words, stick to business.
It is the chairs responsibility to ensure the rules of decorum are followed. The chair can interrupt a speaker that strays from the topic and from the rules of decorum. At meetings where the rules are understood you will hear “through the chair”. A motion can be proffered by any member. Typically, a chair does not make motions but can. In order to expedite business, I read all items into the record and move them. The motion can be seconded or asked to be amended through debate.
Due to the length of meetings, disrespect of the decorum and behavior against fellow colleague’s strict rules were put into place. It must be noted the rules can be suspended or amended by motion with a majority vote. Members of the commission are able to discuss the issues before us with two rounds of comments at 10 minutes. If everyone speaks their allotted time each item could take up to 50 minutes. It needs to be noted we as commissioners have our agenda a week before so we can do our homework. This allows us to speak with the city manager and all parties involved to ask questions. The meeting is to take action. Public comments are always encouraged and take place during public participation or at the time the items are heard. Always for 3 minutes.
For laymen these rules seem odd and a way to not have debate. It is quite the contrary. We want to hear from the public and our colleagues. It is to allow for fair and equal time to all and maintain decorum. Meetings without time frames could go on and on. We had commissioners that were like congress, filibustering to get on camera.
Our rules provide that the chair can answer questions from the public or direct the questions to the city manager. It is not time to go back and forth on issues. I am also limited to answering questions not opining the issue. During the comment period commissioners can address the public. This does not mean they have the floor to attack their colleagues and act uncivilly. Workshops and forums are different than regular meetings. They still are run by the chair but with more flexible rules.
When Commissioner London grabbed my gavel it was obvious our meetings were not going to be civil and certainly I as chair was put into a horrible situation. We have continued for months and there are still outbursts. As chair it is my duty to run the meetings and maintain decorum. After this incident there have been continued personal attacks on Vice Mayor Julian, Commissioner Sanders and city manager. Even our attorney was threatened to be fired two weeks after every commissioner gave her a glowing report. Through the investigation of hostile work environment, it is apparent bad behavior is certainly awful but does not make it un-lawful.
This behavior goes far beyond the dais. There has been continued talking and texting sarcasm and walking around the audience during meetings distracting focus from the matters at hand. There have even been meetings taking place in the back room of chambers when we are to be conducting meetings. What is not scene on the surface when these breaches of the rules take place is the fact it adversely impacts our city and city staff as a whole.
As part of the ordinance a paid parliamentarian was to be hired by the city manager to help the chair and back up our rules. For years there was no need or desire to spend money on this position. Parliamentarians are very expensive and not easily available.
Due to the continued poor behavior and staffs conflicts with having to enforce the rules on their bosses the time has come for a third party parliamentarian. It has taken the city manager a few months to find one. I along with staff are welcoming the help. I am also hoping we have a full review of our rules and training.
I have also asked that new technology be added to the dais. Currently there is “parliamentarian” This an electronic queue that allows each commissioner to know when they are next up to speak. There is a newer version that provides for a screen at every seat at the dais. Commissioner Anthony Sanders has asked for a screen for a few years so we can see presentations better. The new technology combines both. It will show the time clock, queue for speakers, allows for recording motions and seconds, records vote and allows for display of all presentations and TV recording. What’s is even better we can piggy back on the MPO’s contract and save some money.
As always, please feel free to contact me any time with your questions/concerns and ideas on how to make our city a better place at my office: (954) 457-1318. On my cell/text at: (954) 632-5700. Or visit my web-site at: www.mayorjoycooper.com. If you are heading out of town and want to stay connected to our city issues you can sign up for my weekly update. Have a Happy Hallandale Beach weekend!