AUGUSTA — Two City Council members are taking on Mayor David Rollins for the way he runs council meetings, questioning whether he has the right to call on himself to speak and asking for clarification on how meetings should be run.

“What I’ve felt is you comment or argue or make a counterpoint on almost every point a councilor makes,” council member Dale McCormick said to Rollins during an informal gathering of councilors Thursday. “That makes for a long meeting, not a good hearing of the issues, and I’d like us to have some way of dealing with that. How do councilors get to express themselves and have a discussion without the presiding officer inserting something? It is usually not done. I’ve never been on a body that conducted itself that way.”

City Manager William Bridgeo suggested if councilors have concerns about procedures and how they function as a group, they could hold a retreat to talk about their relations among themselves and the mayor, potentially facilitated by “outside expertise.”

Rollins suggested waiting a month or so to see if he and councilors could get along better, and resolve issues about properly recognizing councilors when they wish to speak.

“Let’s give this four weeks,” he said before Thursday’s council meeting. “Let’s see if those things self-correct, and move on with this agenda.”

In response to questions raised by McCormick, city attorney Stephen Langsdorf said the city charter indicates the mayor has the right to “address the Council, state facts, put questions and read to the Council and may express his opinion on any subject under debate.”

“This is not a matter of rules. It is a matter of style,” Langsdorf said of McCormick’s concerns. “A lot of people have different styles for running a meeting. That’s not part of the rules; it’s just part of how to run a meeting, a matter of being able to work out something you agree with.”

Thursday’s discussion addressed specific issues raised during a breakdown in discussions at a March 31 council meeting, during a debate on a proposed Historic District Ordinance. In that instance, Rollins and Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti accused each other of being “out of order” in speaking over the other. Conti suggested Rollins had cut her off while she still had the floor to speak, while Rollins said he had been recognized — effectively by himself — to speak.

At that point, McCormick said Rollins shouldn’t serve as chairman of the meeting when commenting on an issue, because he shouldn’t be able to call on himself to speak.

Bridgeo then suggested Langsdorf review those questions and report back to councilors, which he did Thursday.

Conti said Langsdorf’s reading of the city rules seem to give the mayor too much leeway in the conduct of City Council meetings.

“It sounds a little too much, to me, like a free-for-all,” she said. “That the rules are whatever the mayor says they are. It seems to me there have to be some rules, and I’m not clear right now on what they are.”

Langsdorf responded that the city charter’s rules are clear and when city rules don’t specify a procedure, the city would follow Robert’s Rules of Order.

Langsdorf noted that if councilors don’t agree with how the mayor rules on a “point of order” at a meeting, they can vote to overturn his decision with a majority vote.

Brief disagreements about who has the floor and thus the right to speak have occurred sporadically at previous council meetings.

The latest incident came up during discussion of an issue, the proposed Historic District Ordinance, for which Rollins, Conti and McCormick all have expressed support.

Other councilors on Thursday said they didn’t see the procedural matter as a problem.

“You raise your hand and you’re recognized,” at-large Councilor Cecil Munson said. “I don’t see what the big deal is.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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