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Changes to Council Rules: Much Ado About Nothing… Or Is It?

Ward 2 Council member Paulette Carr responds to Mayor Shelley Welsch's column.

Changes to Council Rules: Much Ado About Nothing… Or Is It?

In the City Council governs the city not the mayor. According to our City Charter:

  1. “…all powers of the city shall be vested in an elective council,”
  2. "hereinafter referred to as "the council," which shall … determine policies …”
  3. “The council shall consist of seven [equal] members, each of whom shall be elected for a term of four years.”

The mayor has no separate powers or authority other than presiding at council meetings, ceremonial occasions and in the event of martial law. The Council is comprised of 7 equal members.

The Council Rules have been established and amended over time to set the standards for how the Council shall conduct the business of the office. These rules do not supersede the Charter, but must conform to the laws of the State of Missouri and the Charter of the City of University City. When these rules conflict with or violate the Charter the Council must consider whether and how to change them. That is the process that is now taking place.

Among several rules being considered for revision, there are two specific rules that have recently been brought to the attention of the public. The first is Rule 21, which currently reads:

All special committees shall be appointed by the Mayor unless otherwise ordered by a majority of the Council.

I suggested that rule be changed to read:

By consent of a majority of the Council, all special committees proposed by the mayor, or any two members of the Council may be appointed.

The issue here is not one of citizen access, but rather an issue of compliance with our Charter. The Mayor IS one of seven, NOT one above six. The way in which this rule has been manifested has violated the intent our Charter. We do not have a strong-mayor government, though we have, de facto, been operating that way for the last two years. 

From time to time the Council in its entirety has appointed special committees. By the very words of our Charter these special committees should be the collective wisdom of all the people’s elective representatives rather than the imperial decision of one member. The Council could best determine whether the subject at hand (be it Senior Citizens and Youth, Biking and Walkability, Aquatics, or any other topic) should be appropriately referred to the 150 citizens serving on 21 commissions, and to which board or commission it should be referred, or whether it is more appropriate to bypass these dedicated citizens to appoint a special committee.

If the Council deems it necessary to establish a special committee, it should be coordinated with the associated boards and commissions, and some of their membership should be included on the special committee. If there is a need for more citizen involvement in a particular issue the Council can enlist the aid of a particular commission(s) to seek out additional citizen input. There is no need to disenfranchise these committed citizens by bypassing these boards and commissions without extensive Council consideration.

Each of the recent task forces were named “The Mayor’s Task Force on…” Why not just “The Task force on…?” - or “City Task Force…?” From where I sit, the naming alone is a bit of self-aggrandizement. And since the task forces belong to the mayor, shall the rest of Council treat them with special access to the Council – or just ignore them? In my opinion, we should treat these special committees as we do all advisory committees: they should include members of requisite boards and commissions – and most importantly, should present their reports first to those associated commissions before bringing the reports to Council for endorsement, funding and/or establishment of policy. 

The second rule that has been discussed lately is Rule 32, which reads:

“Communications on behalf of the City or Council to the press or outside agencies and other units of government, etc., shall be made by the Mayor or cleared with the Mayor in advance.” 

Again, for clarity, it is the Council that governs the City not the mayor. If the mayor (or any one of the 7 members of Council) speaks for the City or the Council he/she must only represent the will or policy of the Council, not his/her own views. The mayor may, of course speak for him-/herself as may each and every Council member. The caveat here is that in doing so, he/she must be very clear to the audience that this is a personal position, and not allow for confusion of the personal statement(s) with the position of the City. When that misrepresentation happens, it is an abuse of power. Since the Charter did not grant the mayor any special powers to be the spokesperson, the mayor cannot assume this authority. It is possible that the correct designee is the City Manager who must at all times follow the policy set forth by the Council. It is also possible that a designee can be made on a case-by-case basis.

The mayor, by Charter, is OF the Council and not ABOVE the Council. Ironically, when this Mayor was serving as the Ward 2 Council member between 2002 and 2006, she was using much of the same rhetoric as I am now using. While I unconditionally endorse the right of free speech, I also subscribe to the professionalism, respect and yes, civility that is necessary to work as a member of a diverse body – all in an effort to do the very best we can for our City. It is my opinion that complying with the intent of Charter is the very best we can do for our City.

The Council will be discussing the Council Rules at the Study Session on Monday, Aug. 13, 2012 at 5:30 PM in Council Chambers (5th Floor of City Hall).

There is a Ward 2 meeting Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012 at 2:30 PM on the 5th Floor of City Hall, where residents can discuss the Charter and the Council Rules among other topics. I invite your participation.

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