The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Agenda Not Mayor’s to Decide

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I wrote a post last week urging people to email the mayor and council about the recent decision to move citizen’s comments to the end of council meetings. I wrote another post that contained a criticism of councilman Chris Wissmann’s statement that setting the council agenda is up to the discretion of the mayor. Here’s what I said in that post:

Councilman Wissmann said he believes citizen’s comments should be taken at the beginning of the meeting but voted against moving them because he said setting the agenda is within the mayor’s discretion. That seems inconsistent to me, but so do most of Wissmann’s positions so I’m not surprised.

That was a little unfair. I don’t think most of Wissmann’s positions are inconsistent, just some of them. But I do think his position on citizen’s comments is inconsistent. It turns out that it’s also incorrect.

I received this note via email from a reader:

From Robert’s Rules of Order – 

For a proposed agenda to become the official agenda for a meeting, it must be adopted by the assembly at the outset of the meeting. At the time that an agenda is presented for adoption, it is in order for any member to move to amend the proposed agenda by adding any item which the member desires to add, or by proposing any other change. 

It is wrong to assume, as many do, that the president “sets the agenda.” It is common for the president to prepare a proposed agenda, but that becomes binding only if it is adopted by the full assembly, perhaps after amendments ad just described. [RONR (10th ed.,), p. 363. l. 8-20; see also p. 1 of RONRIn Brief]

The difference is that the Open Meetings Act does not allow you to introduce new agenda items, though you may remove or modify existing items.

[Italics in original, bold emphasis added.]

So according to Robert’s Rules, setting the agenda isn’t Fritzler’s decision alone. The entire council gets a voice in setting the order of the agenda. Council’s voice is limited by the Open Meetings Act, which forbids adding new items at the actual meeting. Thanks to the reader who sent this.

I also took a look at the city code (navigation on the left) to see if the mayor is granted sole authority to set the agenda. Title 1, Chapter 2, Article B deals with  the city council, and assigns the city manager the authority to prepare the agenda:

C. City Council Agenda:

1. The items to be considered at the council meeting will be those items appearing on the published agenda.

2. An agenda will be prepared by the city manager’s office and anyone desiring to be listed on the agenda should contact the city manager’s office to guarantee a place on the agenda. An opportunity will be provided at each meeting under citizen comments and questions for members of the public to raise questions and make comments on issues which do not appear on the agenda. (Ord. 87-45)

[Emphasis added]

So the city code assigns the responsibility for the agenda to the city manager, not the mayor. The code also requires that citizen’s comments be allowed, but is silent on when they should occur.

When Fritzler announced that he was moving citizen’s comments to the end of council meetings, he said he wanted to try it for a few meetings. If that’s what he wants, I think it would be alright for council to let him try it for awhile. If there are specific meetings where many comments are expected, like the June 7 meeting, council can move comments to the beginning for that meeting.

Long term, however, the citizen’s comments section needs to return to the beginning of meetings. That is the arrangement that makes it easiest for citizens to participate on their own terms. If Fritzler wants to take the initiative and make the change on his own, then fine. If not, the city council has the authority to move council comments without Fritzler’s approval, and council should use that authority.

I again urge those of you who agree to email the mayor and council about this matter. You can find their email addresses here.

Comments are welcome.

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Written by The Carbondale Observer

June 15, 2011 at 7:45 am

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