Auburn Council ignores rules at the public's peril

Auburn residents should be concerned with the City Council's penchant for suspending its meeting rules.

And they should be downright angry that important and controversial decisions could be made without public input.

The council has met 29 times this year and has voted 31 times to suspend its rules of procedure.

While Robert's Rules of Order are very detailed on when meeting rules can be suspended, the city's own rules are dangerously vague, basically allowing the council to suspend its rules for any purpose.

But rules exist for a reason — to bring order to meetings, to provide for logical consideration of matters and to make sure the public knows beforehand when important matters are on the council's agenda.

Most of the time, the council suspends its rules for fairly innocuous reasons, often to allow members of the public to speak at the beginning of meetings.

However, occasionally in a pique of anger or exasperation, some councilors have used the suspension-of-rules provision to introduce substantive issues.

For instance, Councilor Dan Herrick arrived at one meeting after receiving a complaint that the city's rules for starting a business were cumbersome.

Councilor Mike Farrell made a motion suspending the rules and Councilor Belinda Gerry seconded. Then, out of the blue, Farrell proposed dissolving the city's planning board.

Is that even possible? Had anyone researched what the Planning Board does? Whether the complaints were valid? Was public input sought?

No. The motion was just an arrogant and tyrannical "off-with-their-heads" gesture that never should have been introduced.

Neither the Planning Board nor its requirements for businesses were on the agenda.

Farrell, Herrick and Belinda Gerry voted to eliminate the Planning Board. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and four other councilors voted them down.

Two other important and controversial policy matters have reached the voting stage in the same manner, including a motion approved 4-3 to demolish the Great Falls Arts Center.

The agenda for the meeting merely called for a discussion of the future of the building, not its demolition.

Three councilors account for two-thirds of all the council's rule-suspension motions.

Farrell has launched 10 motions to suspend the rules in the past year. Gerry has done so five times and, Herrick, four.

The trio often votes as a block, seconds each other's motions and seems to come up with the most impulsive ideas.

Mayor Dick Gleason has expressed concern about the practice: "...When we do things like that, it doesn't appear that much thought has gone into them."

Amen.

Councilor David Young agreed: "A lot of these motions floor me altogether. There's no input from anybody, other councilors or the public. And that seems like a strange way to do business..." he said.

Strange and dangerous.

Auburn's council should limit all future suspension-of-rule motions to procedural matters or true emergencies.

In the long run, the council's rules of procedure should be changed to limit the misuse of this provision.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Kevin Saisi's picture

Council

This is one reason I don't support a council form of government. It is too easy for them to go astray. I don't know what is happening in Auburn, but I would be suspicious of any council that allows such actions to be done at a single meeting. Robert's Rules of Order has sufficient flexibility to allow for things to get done. Standing rules and special rules can be suspended, but the standing city documents should not be allowed to be suspended. Unfortunately, under a council form of government, the people have no power to make permanent changes.

 's picture

Good editorial

Your thoughts on the Auburn City Council are right on the mark. I also enjoyed yesterday's editorial very much. Thank you.

Joe Gray's picture

Mary - think about it

Since I have started reading these posts, you have been harping on this Herrick has helped his own business thing so I did some research. Here is what I found:

Councilor Herrick was told he neeed to put a sprinkler in an agricultural barn because it was of a size that it fit the definitions as set forth in the municipal codes. He thought that was an ignorant rule and fought it. He was successful in getting the rule changed. But, contrary to what you keep insisting, Mr Herrick actually made no money on the change. In fact, he kind of lost money. As a result of getting the rule changed, his customer wasn't required to put a sprinkler system in his agricultural barn and therefore Mr Herrick wasn't able to charge the customer for the materials or labor to do the job.

So tell me, how did he profit from this situation? Or is it some other situation to which you refer?

I debunked your other urban myth about Mr Aho getting a city owned car to use free so at least you have stopped going on about that ad nauseum. How about a bit of research before you simply reguritate what some ignorant soul may have told you.

Joe Gray's picture

Councilor Young doesn't get it - adding to the frustration

Councilor Young often makes comments during the council meetings that seem to come from left field. With regard to the Great Falls issue he tried to make an analogy about business closings that was completely incomprehensible. That adds to the frustration of the other councilors. (and the publlic alike)

Councilor Farrell was frustrated with the continued stalling of CLT and the expense to the city to keep throwing money at that building - though it continues to lose money. He has researched his position well and often cited the study commissioned by the council a few years back when this issue first arose. It has been discussed and debated again and again and again. The time to act has come and - facing further delaying tactics by CLT and other councilors he stood for decisive action. That is not to say the die is cast. The door has been left open until next June - come up with a workable plan and you might convince the council to save the building.

The Sun Journal again takes the easy way out and doesn't do any serious investigating. Scott Taylor is at most of the meetings and has access to the council but chooses to publish stories that are easy to report. Heck, a robot could tell us what was said at the meetings. Mr Taylor should dig a bit deeper and let us know why things are happening. He should research who sits on various boards and why things don't seem to improve for the taxpayers of this community. This city council has produced a great deal of spending without actually improving the city. Main Street, Dunn Street and Vincent Square Park are just the most recent examples of wasteful spending that produce zero benefit to the citizens of this city. I have repeatedly asked the city for information regarding these projects, including costs and who made the decisions, but have yet to get any real answers. Perhaps Mr Taylor could find those answers.

Councilor Gerry was quoted as saying the city manager won't supply her with answers. This perception also adds to the frustration of the council and we get gridlock.

Sun Journal - do your homework and stop taking the easy way out.

 's picture

Auburn Council ignores rules

As aformer councilorI have folowed this issue closely, and havr researched the issuethroughlyand have found that95% of the time it was done forvalid reasons theplanningt board issueis one of the fewtimes itwas not avalid one, but rather was done out of frustrationwith the bureaucratic red tape issues that delay local business starts,and expansions Councilor YoUng should not be so quick to throw his fellow councilors under the bus, but should work with them to get Auburn moving in the right direction!

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