Advice to the incoming city councillors: Let’s break some new rules this term
It’s time for New Year’s resolutions, and since I attended more City Council and subcommittee meetings last term than any of the new councillors, I have a few suggestions for a better 2014-15 council. This may sound strange coming from the guy who pleaded with the council not to violate the Open Meeting Law last term (they carried on and violated it anyway), but I’d like for them to resolve to break some different rules this term.
Let the School Committee elect its chair. This would appear to be a direct violation of State Law (M.G.L. C43 s31), which states that the mayor should be chair. But a mayor can be the formal chair and permit another member of the body to be acting chair.
It’s only right that an independent elected body be allowed to decide who among them will run the meetings. Even a newly elected School Committee member knows more about school issues than a city councillor. It will take a special mayor (see Resolution No. 2) to make this happen.
Discuss who should be mayor. It seems there is a unwritten rule that there shall be no public discussion of the qualifications and election of the mayor. There is, of course, plenty of discussion that occurs, just not in public.
I’d personally like to hear what the mayoral candidates think the mayor does. I’d like them to describe what they think the duties of the city manager, City Council and the School Committee are. I’d like to know if they understand Robert’s Rules of Order, if they are willing to let the school committee decide who should preside over its meetings, and if they can suggest changes in the old City Council rules to help encourage open debate and public participation (see Resolution No. 3).
Break the City Council rules by changing them. I have a lot of specific suggestions, but here are some guiding principles:
In general, let’s eliminate the sexist pronouns that marble the current rules. It’s 2014, people! While you’re at it, eliminate prohibitions on broadcasting meetings, eliminate prohibitions on public comment at roundtables and eliminate silly rules such as the ones about the city clerk picking councillor’s seats for them, and prohibiting the public from breaching the rail of the chamber or coming into the council’s private “lobby” without the mayor’s permission.
Let’s also bring communications into the 21st century by allowing email, text and website notifications. Finally, public hearings are called that for a good reason. Let’s improve public hearings with more equitable rules for public, petitioner and staff comments and more true give and take.
Happy New Rules, everyone!