In a lengthy discussion, Gardner City Council members attempted to reach consensus on a document that would govern how council meetings are run.
The 15-page document addresses council organization and duties, conduct, meetings and schedules and guidelines for meeting behavior. It was designed using meeting rules from several area entities including Overland Park, Olathe, and Johnson County.
It’s an issue the council has discussed since a council meeting resolved into shouting and former council member Dennis Pugh drove to council member Larry Fotovich’s house following the meeting. Pugh tackled him, punched him and was charged with a misdemeanor. He resigned from the council, and former interim-city administrator later suggested the council consider rules of meeting conduct.
During a Dec. 10 work session, Fotovich said the proposed rules conflict with existing ordinances that govern council meetings, including one that says the meetings should be run using Robert’s Rules of Order.
“Explain to me why we need this document,” Fotovich said. “This takes all the information we have in ordinances and chops and rearranges them.”
Other council members and the mayor, however, argued that Robert’s Rules of Order does not translate well to municipal meetings. For example, there is no Sergeant of Arms.
Council member Chris Morrow said he’s not opposed to a new policy that does not use the book.
“If it’s easier to digest and understand and apply,” he said.
The group seemed to reach a consensus that the rules should include a provision that allows the public to address the council on specific issues on the agenda as the topics are broached in the meetings. Currently, members of the public are asked to address the council at the beginning of the meeting before discussion on specific agenda items takes place.
Council members briefly debated a discussion about the existing policy in which the mayor appoints into vacant council seats, but the group agreed to hold off on that discussion until it could be put on an agenda.
Mayor Dave Drovetta said it will be placed on an agenda shortly after the new year.
Parts of the proposed policy are vague or subjective, Fotovich said.
For example, one section reads, “Council members shall treat each other and everyone with courtesy and refrain from inappropriate behavior and derogatory comments…. And govern themselves as to the length of their comments.”
“Who is the arbiter of what’s inappropriate or vague?” Morrow asked. “I have faith in people here. I know it when I see it, I guess.”
Council member Kristina Harrison requested that the council policy require that the city attorney must be present during executive sessions.
“We’re paying him to provide his guidance,” she said.
Currently, there is no contract between the city and its attorney, Jim Hubbard.
At one point, council members briefly discussed whether they should enter into a contract with their attorney. Council may consider the issue at a different meeting.
Fotovich worried that the new rules would be used to shut down the flow of information.
“It’s already been run that way, and now with this, we’re going to codify it,” Fotovich said. “I’m not in favor of any of it. We have rules on the books that have not been followed.”