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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.

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.

George Lenard August 12, 2012 at 10:41 PM
I wonder if Ms. Carr can point to any harm whatsoever that has come to the City, its interests, or any citizen or their interests, as a result of the existing rules and their application. If so, let's have that discussion. If not, what's the point? Does the Council not have enough to do? I just finished serving on a task force (aquatics). I greatly appreciated the fact that the Mayor expressed interest in the subject and gave us a good outline of issues to explore. We understood we were powerless to actually achieve anything without changes being implemented by those with authority to make the recommended changes. No harm was caused by the fact we prepared a report and recommendations. If Ms. Carr wants to have biweekly Ward meetings and gather citizen comments on various things, including matters she may want to bring to Council for action, it is no different. Every Council member should be (and, I believe, is) free to consult whichever citizens they like about whatever issues interest them. Ms. Carr is no different than the Mayor in this, as she insists on the equality of the mayor and Council. She is free to name her own "task force" or "citizens' commission" or what have you to help her gain input on whatever matters she desires. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Gregory Pace August 13, 2012 at 02:35 AM
To Ms. Carr this is "an issue of compliance with our Charter" and "whether it is appropriate to bypass [the 150 citizens serving on 21 commissions/boards] to appoint a special committee." On 5/29/12 Ms. Carr introduced her first bill as a council member, Bill 9157, an ordinance regulating the operation of the Ruth Park Golf Course Learning Center Driving Range. On 6/11/12 Mr. Kraft stated (as a point of order) that Bill 9157 was introduced improperly. Chapter 2.35 Section 050 of the University Municipal Code states that "No ordinance pertaining to parks or recreational facilities or the recreational activities of the city shall be considered by the council without first referring the same to the park commission..." Bill 9157 was not referred to the Park Commission. Subsequently Ms. Carr moved for approval of Bill 9157 thereby ignoring Mr. Kraft, our municipal code, and the Park Commission. Apparently complying with our Charter and not bypassing our boards and commissions is more of a loose guideline with Ms. Carr rather than a hard and fast rule.
Kathy Leahy August 13, 2012 at 04:51 AM
Ms. Carr writes, " It is my opinion that complying with the intent of Charter is the very best we can do for our City." It is my opinion that the very best we can do for our city is to find ways to attract new businesses to our community, bring useful services to our residents, find ways to reduce our real estate taxes, improve our schools, and improve our schools' reputation in St. Louis County, thus increasing our property values. In my opinion, the very LEAST we can do is to merely comply with our charter, and point out the faults of those with whom we will need to be working. I have every confidence we can do better than that. We have bigger, more important work that needs to be done. Tripping up our co-workers, whether justified or not, is neither productive, nor in the best interests of University City.
Jen Jensen August 13, 2012 at 01:51 PM
I'm very concerned about Paulette Carr's proposal concerning who should speak for the City. I do not agree that Rule 32 of the City Charter should be changed. I don't care who the mayor is - Welsch, Adams, Majerus, whoever - the mayor is the spokesperson for the City. Unlike the council members who are elected by their Wards, the mayor is elected by all the voting citizens in University City. She/he is representing ALL of us. Yes, each Ward Council member should have the interests of all of us too - but they are mainly representing their individual Wards. Paulette Carr is wrong in her proposal and this rule should not be changed. I am deeply concerned about her agenda for our City. Jen Jensen
Jeff Hales August 13, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Was it not Mayor Welsch who, in her capacity as Mayor and presiding officer, overruled Mr. Kraft's point-of-order and allowed the vote? Robert's Rule's affords Councilmembers the ability to call a point-of-order if they believe something improper is taking place, which is not uncommon, in which case the body looks to the Chair for a ruling. In spite of Mr. Kraft's objection, Mayor Welsch ruled that the vote may take place. Why?
Jeff Hales August 13, 2012 at 08:15 PM
The Mayor, as of late, has a penchant to publicly call-out those with whom she disagrees and mislead constituents on her blog and through her Patch column. The reality is that Ms. Carr has not made any proposal regarding rule 32 of the Council Rules (not City Charter) and the council has yet to even discuss it – they may get to it tonight. Mayor Welsch said in her blog: "The suggestion has been made by Councilmember Paulette Carr that change our Council rules so that the mayor does not have to approve a member of Council speaking on behalf of the full Council or the City." Mayor Welsch however, will not share how this "suggestion" has been made or to whom. I would submit that it's simply not true and again, the Mayor seeks to rile up the troops as she did her "censorship" claim for political purposes. The time and place for discussion of council rules is during the study session in the council chambers, not on her blog and in editorials. Mayor Welsch's behavior has been unprofessional and fosters an environment of animosity and incivility among council; as Kathy said, it is neither productive, nor in the best interests of University City.
Kathy Leahy August 14, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Jeff, Ms. Carr says in the article above your comments that she would like to see rule 32 changed to conform to her interpretation of the charter, so you know at least one instance of how the suggestion is made and to whom. It is out there, and I see no reason why Mayor Wesch should not comment on it. I'll stick my neck out and say that I agree with Jen Jensen that our Mayor was elected by a vote of the entire community, and therefore should speak for the community, and be the spokesperson. As George L. said, there is nothing wrong with the rule, and it shouldn't be changed. In addition, I see no harm in the Mayor appointing task forces. This does not step on anyone's toes. We have more important things to do, and I look forward to the seeing the council get past the apparant animosity and start working together for the best interests of the residents of our community.
Jeff Hales August 14, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Kathy, you're putting the cart before the horse. Ms. Carr's editorial was written in response to and after Mayor Welsch's editorial in which she stated "The suggestion has been made by Councilmember Paulette Carr that change our Council rules so that the mayor does not have to approve a member of Council speaking on behalf of the full Council or the City." No such suggestion was ever made, not even in this editorial. So, yes, I do think the Mayor should explain just how and to whom this "suggestion" was made. While the Mayor is elected by the entire city, her authority is not derived from the electorate, it is defined by the Charter which clearly states that the Mayor has no more authority than any other councilmember. You can find a great explanation from Ms. Welsch herself here: http://youtu.be/XxQVqLiPiLU Mr. Lenard, as far as I can tell, made no comment on Rule 32. Regarding rule 21, there is potential harm in appointing task forces such as "The Mayor's Task Force on Youth & Seniors" that, while completely worthwhile, should fall under the purview of Charter or Ordinance mandated commissions such as Human Relations. So, in this case, yes it does potentially step on toes and does potentially disenfranchise those citizens who serve on those boards. I'll say again: Mayor Welsch's behavior has been unprofessional and fosters an environment of animosity and incivility among council; it is neither productive, nor in the best interests of University City.
George Lenard August 17, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Task forces step on no toes. When our Aquatics task force completed its work and submitted a report, it was made public, presented to the entire Council for questions and comments, and then referred to Parks Commission for a similar session. No action has been taken or will be taken that does not go through proper channels. Any citizen, and any Council person is free to assemble a group of like-minded citizens to discuss, explore, and report on an issue of interest. There is no consequence, no power-grab, no overreaching, etc., unless and until someone takes some actual action on a matter within the purview of Council or a commission without their approval. Study, thought, discussion, drawing, and writing is not such action. If I'm wrong, quote me chapter and verse from the charter. Kathy Leahy's comments are right on the money.
Kathy Leahy August 17, 2012 at 05:41 AM
George is also right on the money. No one should not be interested in stopping citizens from gathering information for the good of University City. Appointing task forces, to get some work done of an informative nature, does not make Mayor Welsch imperialist. It makes her productive. Personally, I would like to see less criticism of fellow colleagues on the council, and more productivity on projects that matter.
Jeff Hales August 17, 2012 at 01:48 PM
George, where there is overlap there is the potential to step on toes. I didn't suggest that it always does; I didn't suggest that the Aquatics Task Force did. Since you mentioned it, I will say that the work done and the report given by the Aquatics Task Force was very impressive. I do however, believe you are wrong with regards to your suggestion that any Council person is free to create a like group. It's not a matter of quoting the Charter, it's a matter of the Council Rules. The council rules clearly do not afford Council Members the unilateral ability to create their own city task forces or special committees. I don't believe that the Council Rules should be used to establish special authority to to the Mayor or anyone else that is not granted by the Charter. The council has the opportunity and in I believe voted to adopt the proposed change which brings the rule in line with the Charter.
Jeff Hales August 17, 2012 at 02:58 PM
This is not about stifling citizen participation. Creating task forces does not make the Mayor imperialist. In her 8/10 editorial she said "a majority of the Council – just four people -will be able to disregard the wishes of residents..." in response to the suggestion that council work together and approve task forces as a council. That statement is a brazen indictment of the city's representative form of government and certainly suggests she should be given greater authority because the other councilmembers cannot be trusted to do the right thing--she says because they have political motivations. In four of her last six Patch editorials, Mayor Welsch has taken to calling out her colleagues and the Loop Special Business District over differences of opinion. Not only does this show a lack of political acumen, I think this speaks volumes of her character and clearly demonstrates that she does not work well with others--unless they share her opinions. The ultimate absurdity is that Mayor Welsch has the audacity to suggest that it is others on the council who have seek to make things political when she is now regularly turning to media to politicize, discredit and criticize her colleagues' positions when she doesn't agree with them. Her actions have been the antithesis to her pledge of civility.
Mark Eaton September 07, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Jeff, Enough hyperbole. Just give it a rest. Speaking of hyperbole, the mayor is not the antichrist. Get some political acumen yourself. Me thinks thou...you know, Shakespeare.
Jeff Hales September 07, 2012 at 07:03 PM
No Mark, she's not the antichrist. I met her at the citizen police academy and she seemed like a nice person. It's just remarkable how much conflict exists within a non-partisan municipal government. Having observed fairly closely, as I have stated, I believe the Mayor continues to create a dysfunctional political culture within the city when she turns to her blog and the patch to politicize and air her grievances about her colleagues. You can call that hyperbole, tell me I need political acumen and suggest I protest too much; I'm not a politician, I just expect our elected officials to actually behave in a civil manner and work together, not just sign a paper that says they will. I hope things will change.

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