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Council Adopts Rules Revisions in 4-2 Vote

At the June 15 City Council meeting, amendments to the Council’s Rules and Order of Business, also called the Rules of Procedure, were discussed at length. The ROB was updated on January 19 of this year with rules for multi-media access. Additional proposed changes were discussed on May 5, but since then, have undergone further revisions by the City’s attorneys. City Manager Steven Buck read through the proposed changes:

Meetings will adjourn no later than 9:00 p.m., unless the Council votes unanimously to continue.

Section 6, regarding Televising of Meetings, was removed as redundant.

In Section 21, “members” was changed to “Council members” for clarification.

Section 33, regarding e-mail and other electronic communication between Councilors, and between Councilors and other board members or city staff, had several words and phrases inserted, and a few removed, to clarify the intent of the section. The following paragraph was added: “When an elected official makes any comment relating to City business on a non-City owned social media site, the elected official must make it clear through conspicuous disclaimer that any individual opinions or views expressed are those of the individual, and do not express the views of the City or the City Council. Personal sites controlled by the elected official must at all times provide personal, not municipal, contact information.” At this point the discussion began to get contentious. Councilors Jonathan Martell and Luke Lanigan voiced opposition to the requirement to add a disclaimer to every social media posting where they express an opinion. Councilor Martell called it a violation of free speech, and said it should only apply if there was an implication that the opinion represented the Council.

Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio pointed to a later paragraph which states “This policy in no way restricts, or should be construed to restrict or inhibit, an elected official’s right to engage in forms of protected free speech, including political speech.” However, that paragraph reiterates that a Councilor must add a disclaimer. She had to call for order as Councilors began to interrupt each other and argue back and forth.

Councilor Ayn Hanselmann attempted to calm tempers by saying she finds it personally challenging to insert disclaimers, and that she has to work at it diligently, but has been able to it. She agreed with Councilor Bob Stackpole’s statement that Councilors’ position of power means they are held to a different level of expectation than citizens. “We operate as a body, it’s really important that we are respectful of each other…it’s not that hard to add a couple of additional words,” she said.

Councilor Martell disagreed: “We are citizens first and elected officials second. I see this as violating our free speech to require we get approval from the Council” to voice an opinion. He moved to table the discussion in light of the late hour. Councilor Lanigan seconded, but the motion was defeated by the other four Councilors present. Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy said, “Because you didn’t read it, you want to table it…do your homework people.” (Councilor Martell had earlier admitted that he hadn’t read through the proposed revisions before the meeting.)

Councilor Lanigan referred back to his Facebook post from several months ago, his subsequent removal by Mayor Mastraccio from his Subcommittee assignments, and the lawsuit that followed, which was the impetus for these proposed changes. “We didn’t act as a body and that’s why we’re here,” he said. Mayor Mastraccio objected to his bringing up the matter: “Part of what we agreed to do [in the lawsuit settlement] was review the Rules of Procedure…I thought that was settled.” “It was swept under the rug,” he retorted. She responded, “We are not going to do ‘he said, she said’.”

Councilor Hanselmann once again attempted to get the discussion back on track. “I am protecting my right to allow me to say what I want by simply adding a disclaimer,” she explained. Councilor Stackpole agreed. “What’s so difficult about saying ‘in my opinion’?” he asked. Councilor Lanigan responded, “Everything’s my opinion.”

Councilor Stackpole said “you don’t get it” and moved to end debate and call the question. No one seconded.

Mr. Buck continued reading the proposed changes. Still in Section 33, the following paragraph was added: “To the extent that any dispute arises concerning whether any comments or postings made by any elected official violate these standards, or the City’s Code of Conduct applicable to elected officials, such matters may be referred to the City Council for review, which may also seek an opinion from the City’s legal counsel in relation to legal authority applicable to any potential disputes. If the City Council determines that any elected official has violated standards applicable to elected officials under the Code of Conduct or Rules of Procedure, the City Council may take any appropriate action authorized under the City’s Charter or Council Rules of Procedure and other authority to address such violation.”

Section 41 changes “Committees” to “Standing Committees” and adds Public Safety and Solid Waste to the list of Standing Committees. (They were previously Subcommittees.) Ad Hoc Committees, Designated Committees, and Remaining Committees are clarified in this section. The Site Plan Review Committee was removed from the list of Designated Committees. Except for Ad Hoc Committees, which serve at the pleasure of the City Council, all the other Committees will serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.

The final paragraph of Section 41 addresses removal, suspension and re-designation of Councilors from Committees. In the new language, the Mayor may take such action after full discussion by the City Council, for all Committees except for the Ad Hoc Committees.

Deputy Mayor Herlihy said requiring full Council discussion might be a problem if a Councilor needed a last-minute replacement due a conflict. Councilor Lanigan agreed, adding “This is putting too much power in the Mayor’s hands.” He said this language would conflict with the City’s Charter, and said the Mayor was meant to be a ceremonial position. Councilor Martell agreed with this view.

By this time it was 9:55 p.m. Deputy Mayor Herlihy made a motion to approve the Rules and Order of Business with the revisions as presented. Councilor Stackpole seconded. The vote was 4-2 with Councilors Martell and Lanigan voting in opposition. (Councilor John Tuttle was absent due to his work at the state Legislature.)

The back and forth arguing continued for another minute following the vote.

The full text of the Rules and Order of Business, with the revisions in red, can be found in the City Council Meeting Packet here, beginning on page 214. The full meeting video can be viewed here. The discussion on this item begins at about the 2:56:00 mark.

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