City Council Debate Norms And Procedures For Tie Votes And Misbehaving Crowds
In baseball they say the tie goes to the runner. For the City of Santa Clarita a tie means a motion passes.
On Tuesday night the Santa Clarita City Council looked at amending the council’s Norms and Procedures to address tie votes and public disruptions during Council meetings.
In February of 2003, the Council adopted a Norms and Procedures resolution to conduct its business in an efficient and orderly fashion. However, the Council requested clarification regarding tie votes and asked the City Attorney, Joseph Montes, to prepare language on how to resolve a knotted decision.
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At last night’s meeting the City Council debated the following language:
- “When no Council Member abstains from voting, the motion shall be lost on a tie vote. Any member who abstains for a reason other than a conflict of interest shall be deemed to have acquiesced to the motion and the motion shall be passed on a tie vote.
- When all Council Members are present, a tie vote on whether to grant an appeal from official action or on a quasi-judicial matter shall be considered a denial of such appeal or matter, unless the Council takes other action to further consider the appeal or matter. If a tie vote on an appeal or quasi judicial matter results at a time when less than all members of the Council are present, the matter shall automatically be continued to the agenda of the next regular meeting of the Council, unless otherwise ordered by the Council.”
Some of the public took issue with how the council would decide a tie vote when a Council Member abstains.
“If you do not have a majority, you do not have a majority. And it should not pass. A tie should never be a win,” said former Council Member TimBen Boydston.
According to the City Attorney there is a reason for the language.
“This policy essentially encourages somebody who might be inclined to abstain for a reason other than a conflict of interest to actually vote yes or no, because if they don’t vote yes or no they are essentially voting yes,” Montes said.
Mayor Pro Tem Laurie Ender supported the idea of forcing council members to make a decision when the public comes before them.
“They deserve a decision, not a deadlock,” Ender said.
Council Member Laurene Weste thought the tie breaking rule was the law, however, Montes advised her that it was not a law and there were different options to resolve a tie.
“If you were following Robert’s Rules of order, which the council has never formally adopted, then the abstention would not count and it would continue as a tie,” said Montes.
Council Member Bob Kellar was surprised to discover the city council did not follow Robert’s Rules of Order already.
Kellar joked, “I read it three times and now I’m told it’s a waste of time.”
Council Member Frank Ferry thought allowing a Council Member to force a tie could be used as a weapon -- one he threatened to use himself if adopted. The abstaining Council Member, Ferry argued, could hold the other members hostage on a particular issue.
In a compromise, the City Council agreed to adopt Robert’s Rules in regards to ties with an abstention.
The City Council also discussed a new policy to address interruptions, objectionable behavior, or disturbances from the public in Council meetings.
- “Pursuant to Santa Clarita Municipal Code 2.04.030, any member or other person using profane, vulgar, loud or boisterous language at any meeting or otherwise interrupting the proceedings, who refuses to be seated or keep quiet when ordered to do so by the Mayor or other presiding officer of the Council, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
- Pursuant to Government Code Section 54957.9, the Mayor has legal power and responsibility to preserve order and decorum; prevent demonstrations; order removed from Council Chambers any person whose conduct he/she deems objectionable; and order the Board Room cleared whenever he/she shall deem it necessary.
- Pursuant to Government Code Section 54957.9, in the event that any meeting is willfully interrupted by a group or groups of persons so as to render the orderly conduct of such meeting unfeasible and order cannot be restored by the removal of individuals who are willfully interrupting the meeting, the members of the legislative body conducting the meeting may order the meeting room cleared and continue in session. Only matters appearing on the agenda may be considered in such a session. Representatives of the press or other news media, except those participating in the disturbance, shall be allowed to attend any session held pursuant to this section. Nothing in this section shall prohibit the legislative body from establishing a procedure for readmitting an individual or individuals not responsible for willfully disturbing the orderly conduct of the meeting.”
TimBen Boydston thought the idea of having the public threatened with the possibility of a misdemeanor would hamper discourse.
“It’s just chilling for public and political free speech,” said Boydston.
City Attorney Montes corrected the misperception that the misdemeanor was a new policy.
“The misdemeanor language has been in the city’s code since December 15th of 1987. We’re not actually adding that language or creating a new rule we’re just putting that rule into the council resolution along with the applicable government code section reference,” Montes said.
Council Member Bob Kellar said he knew the policy existed, but didn’t think it was necessary to "put it in the public’s face".
“These are our friends out here not the enemy,” Kellar said.
The City Council agreed to remove the misdemeanor language from the Norms and Procedures resolutions.