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Councilors consider ways to end recent conflicts

City Manager Joe Neeb makes some initial presentations at a Saturday Roswell City Council workshop, which included the start of discussions about possible changes to City Council processes. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Elected officials with the Roswell City Council are considering changes to their committee system, voting procedures and rules to create more efficiencies and end the high-tension conflicts of recent months that have resulted in some councilors walking out of meetings and that prompted Mayor Dennis Kintigh to say he is being worn down by the need to keep order at the monthly City Council meetings.

“I want you to quit picking at each other. I am weary. I am tired,” Kintigh told city councilors during a Saturday workshop where elected officials began discussions that could take the next few months to result in decisions.

“I can’t believe I have had to raise my voice to get us back on our agenda. I should never do that, ever,” Kintigh said. “You are doing a disservice to these people here and to the community here. We can disagree. … I am asking you, I am begging you, to conduct these meetings in a manner that does respect to the community that we have all been asked to represent.”

The workshop also involved discussions on how to develop sports tourism in the city, which will be covered in a separate article.

Roswell has the largest city council in the state with 10 elected members representing five wards in the city. Five Roswell City Council committees, as well as several citizen advisory committees, exist to research, clarify and rework proposed resolutions, ordinances and actions before the entire council considers voting on the matters.

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The mayor appoints councilors to the committees. While the mayor is elected to represent all city residents, he or she is not able to make motions at committee or city council meetings or to vote, except to break a tie at a council meeting. Kintigh said the mayor also cannot directly order city employees.

The city adopted its current Governing Body Rules of Order in 2016. Since then questions have arisen periodically about how items proceed through committees and whether those that are voted down in a committee still can come before the entire City Council.

There also have been disputes about when items can be placed directly on the agenda without going through committees and when they can be pulled off the consent agenda, which allows items — often those viewed as routine — to be grouped together for approval in a single action without discussion rather than addressed individually.

City Manager Joe Neeb said that a spring workshop had been planned to talk about City Council rules, but was rescheduled when the erupting coronavirus crisis required the city to focus on its finances and altered operations instead.

The issues have come to the forefront again in recent weeks several times. One dispute involved the resolution to implement new entry fees at the Spring River Zoo.

The General Services Committee voted 2-1 against the measure on Oct. 28. But the item was forwarded to the Finance Committee, which failed to hold two meetings in December where the resolution was to be considered.

The item was placed on the Dec. 10 City Council agenda, where it passed 6 to 3.

Councilor Juan Oropesa, a member of the General Services Committee who opposed the fees, decided after learning about the continued consideration of zoo fees that he would request that all items on the consent agenda for the November City Council meeting be pulled. He said that if committee votes don’t mean anything, then all items should be looked at by the entire council. But that meant city councilors had to consider and vote on each item individually, which resulted in a five-hour meeting.

As he said at the November meeting, Oropesa expressed during the workshop that a single councilor should have the right pull items from the consent agenda. He also reiterated his view that committees are unnecessary if their votes are not heeded by other city councilors.

“I think any individual, any councilor, should be able to take off (an item), especially if an agenda item consists of budgetary impact,” he said.

At a later point, he said, “If a committee decides that it is not worth the effort of bringing to the full council, then that should be honored. That’s where the trust comes in that Councilor (Jeanine) Best is talking about.”

With only Councilor Jacob Roebuck absent, all other city councilors said they value the committee system to ensure agenda items are ready to be voted on and meet needed standards. But some said that they do not think five committees are necessary.

Others said that committees should not be voting yes or no on the items, but should instead just indicate that the items are ready for council consideration. Some also said that no single committee or councilor is intended to speak on behalf of all councilors.

Kintigh expressed his views that a committee vote that is not unanimous is an indication that the item is not ready for the entire council and should be considered by another committee. He agreed with Oropesa that a single councilor should be able to pull off an item from the consent agenda.

“If one of you disagrees, it is not consent,” he said.

He also said that the the zoo fees were an instance when the City Council did not function as well as he thinks it could have. He personally thought that a $5 entry fee for many visitors was too steep and heard others express similar thoughts.

“I heard complaints and yet I heard no motion to amend,” he said. “Why? Why in the committees are these things not changed? I don’t have the power to make the motion. I can’t say, ‘I move to make the entry fee $3.’”

Neeb said that any proposed changes to the Rules of Order will go before the Legal Committee in 2021, with the City Council needing to vote after that before any changes become official.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.