VENICE — A parliamentarian expert gave Venice City Council members more to talk about when they host a workshop next month on meeting procedures.
Mark Moriarty said under Robert’s Rules of Order, a motion should precede any issue discussion.
The rules are the default set of procedures for meetings, governing if the Council hasn’t adopted its own rule.
The Council’s practice is to discuss an agenda item; have an action moved and seconded based on the discussion; debate the motion itself; and then vote.
Moriarty’s suggestion is to start with a motion, which would be included on the meeting agenda.
“What that does is give everybody a rudder,” he said. “It sets the whole debate.”
Coming up with a motion at the meeting is “a huge time-killer,” he said, and precludes having constructive dialogue because “everybody is talking about a moving target.”
Moriarty is an assistant city attorney in Cape Coral.
The change could speed meetings up because Council members are currently only allowed to speak twice on a motion for a total of 10 minutes. There’s no time limit on discussion before a motion is made, however.
Putting motions on the agenda lets the public weigh in prior to the meeting, Moriarty said. If it appears that a motion won’t have any public support, it can be withdrawn with no time wasted discussing the topic, he added.
Council members didn’t react to the suggestion.
Moriarty said the most common objections to it are that formal meetings are the only time members can speak to each other about business without violating the Sunshine Law; that they come in with questions they want answers to; and that they don’t want to appear like a rubber stamp.
But meetings are for action, not discussion, Moriarty said. And if more information on a topic is needed, action can be postponed.
Another option, he said, is to have an agenda review meeting to get those questions answered.
He showed a video of a Lee County School Board meeting at which a consent agenda involving items representing $87 million in spending passed in a little more than a minute as an example of “how to do it.”
The chair explained before that vote that the board members had received the agenda seven days before the meeting and were expected to have reviewed it and met with the superintendent if they had questions.
She also noted that several of the items had been briefed for the board or discussed at a workshop.
One of the responsibilities of the chair is to move through the agenda expeditiously while ensuring the members get to participate as appropriate, Moriarty said. That means not just enforcing time limits but also making sure comments relate to the item under discussion.
Unrelated remarks aren’t germane and should be ruled out of order, he said.
“The measure, not the member, is the subject of debate,” he said.
If a member repeatedly refuses to comply with instructions from the chair, he or she is subject to discipline determined by the other members, which can include being excluded from the rest of the discussion of the issue or the meeting itself.
Adopting a “standing order” for dealing with such offenses takes the pressure away from dealing with them on the spur of the moment, he said.
The Council workshop on meetings and potential code and charter changes is at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 1.