From the public speaking podium to the ear of the rules committee: Floor amendments

Carol Thompson took a turn at the public podium during the Bloomington city council’s meeting on the night of Aug. 14. She objected to some legislation the council had approved the week before, which regulated electric scooters.

Carol Thompson Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.26.58 PM
On Aug. 14, Carol Thompson spoke about scooter legislation that had been approved the week before by the city council. (CATS screenshot)

Besides her lack of enthusiasm for one amendment, which under certain conditions allows scooter parking on the soft-scape between the sidewalk and the street, Thompson conveyed an objection to the process. “The public had no advanced notice that this amendment was going to be introduced and voted on, during the same night,” she said.

That amendment on scooter parking had not been a part of the original package of legislation or included in the legislative packet distributed the Friday before. It was added the same night “from the floor” by councilmember Steve Volan. Still, as an amendment to other legislation, it apparently conformed with the council’s general procedure, laid out in Title 2 of the city code, that “Every ordinance shall be given two readings before a vote may be taken on its passage…”

The following morning, as the hour approached 9 a.m., Thompson’s words got an implicit mention at a meeting of the city council’s rules committee. The council’s administrator/attorney, Dan Sherman, asked towards the end of the committee meeting when it would be appropriate to suggest an additional topic for the rules committee’s consideration.

When Volan, who chairs the rules committee, gave him the nod, Sherman said: “Thinking about last night, it would be be nice to talk about floor amendments and how we handle them.”

Volan’s quick response was: “Good call.” None of other members of the committee—Dorothy Granger, Jim Sims and Isabel Piedmont-Smith, or city clerk Nicole Bolden (ex officio)—had an objection to adding floor amendments to the set of items to be considered.

The committee hasn’t dived into those procedures yet on the three occasions when it has met. But time limits on councilmember speaking turns have been mentioned as one possibility.

Piedmont-Smith wondered at one point about the council’s ability to self-regulate: “We’re talking about nine elected officials. Do we really have standing to say, ‘Oh, this is the third time you’ve eaten a sandwich in council chambers, now you’re censured!’ We can’t do that, can we?”

Sims joked in reply to her: “Some of my colleagues might take that, Jim Sims won’t!”

For the next meeting, now scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sept. 5, Volan wants to start going through some of the procedural rules that are listed out in the city code already.

The Aug. 14 committee meeting was taken up mostly with a discussion of human resources procedures associated with the city council’s staff—Sherman, his deputy, and a researcher. The deputy council attorney/administrator, Stacy Jane Rhoads recently resigned, so Sherman is currently going through a hiring process to fill her position.

The committee is trying to document in a draft what hiring procedures are currently used, with an eye towards eventually adopting a final version. As part of that effort, Sherman was asked to give a summary of his hiring process used to hire Rhoads. The opening was posted a decade and a half ago, on July 21, 2004, 15 years ago.

Sherman drew laughs when he read aloud a note he’d made back then: “Be wary of councilmember interviewing committee—in the past I’ve chosen someone other than what a councilmember wanted.” The rules committee is looking to the president of the city council, Dave Rollo, to appoint one or two councilmembers to help Sherman review applications and interview candidates.

Generally, the rules committee is trying to adopt an approach that does not create an human resources department for the council. Instead committee members want to have a document that lays out just a few procedures that might be different from the city’s HR policies, and explicitly defaults to the city’s HR if it’s not covered by the council’s policy.

The rules committee has identified four main topic areas it wants to consider:
personnel; meeting procedures, including time limits; a council policy manual; and a clean-up of city code on boards and commissions.

[.mp3 of meeting]