Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Roswell city councilors continue to grapple with issues about how to handle their meeting agendas, a topic that has caused lengthy and contentious arguments at some meetings.
During a Thursday meeting, three Roswell City Council Legal Committee members were the first to consider a proposed resolution that would reduce the types of items eligible for the consent agenda.
Consent agenda items are not read or voted on individually at the monthly City Council meetings. Instead, once the agenda is adopted and approved by the governing body, all the items on the consent agenda are approved as well. Allowing items to go on the consent agenda is intended to speed up City Council meetings, which often last three to four hours.
No decision was made at the Legal Committee meeting, especially because one member was absent, but the discussion lasted more than 30 minutes and illustrated two opposing views. City Councilor Judy Stubbs favors fewer eligible items for the consent agenda, while Barry Foster wants more leeway on items that can be added.
A change is being considered after the City Council has found itself at loggerheads at some meetings over the rules. A dramatic example occurred during the November 2020 meeting when City Councilor Juan Oropesa pulled 13 of the 14 consent agenda items off because he was upset that two recent decisions by a committee he chaired had been overruled by other committees and councilors.
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He said city councilors were questioning the decisions made by his committee, so he was questioning their decisions regarding items they had placed on the consent agenda. The meeting then ran four and a half hours, partly because City Councilor Jeanine Corn Best chose to ask questions about most of the pulled items. The meeting also ended with some city councilors, including Best, walking out after all votes had occurred but while Oropesa was explaining his decisions.
“The reason why I brought this forward is that recent events caused a lot of discussion about the consent agenda,” said City Attorney Parker Patterson.
He said the resolution he drafted and presented to the group was not meant to indicate a city preference, just to provide a starting point for discussions.
“The questions are, are too many things going to consent?” Patterson said. “Should we scale back the things going to consent, and, if so, how much?”
Patterson gave a history on the consent agenda resolution. It was originally passed in July 1997 to allow four types of items to be included: prior meeting minutes, Roswell Air Center leases, awards on bids and Requests for Proposals (RFP), and cleanups and condemnations of property. Stubbs said she did most of the work in writing that resolution.
The resolution was revised in June 2014 to add lodgers’ tax funding decisions. The June 2019 revision, developed by a committee on which Foster served, specified five other eligible types of items and included a “catch-all” allowing councilors to add any items that are not ordinances and not prohibited by law. Patterson said liquor license decisions and other matters requiring public hearings cannot, by law, be on the consent agenda.
The proposed resolution would reduce the allowable items back to the four items originally provided by the 1997 resolution.
Stubbs said she continues to feel that the fewer items allowed, the better.
“I personally am concerned about putting all this on consent,” she said. “I don’t always have the opportunity to hear the discussion that may be going on about it. I like that discussion. It helps form my opinion about it. That’s why I personally am a little concerned about putting all this on consent.”
Foster continued to support allowing councilors and committees leeway to add items to the consent agenda. He said that barring non-controversial items from the consent agenda is a “waste of time.”
He also said that public discussions occur at committee meetings, which can be viewed online by the public at any time.
“The only thing that is hidden is when someone pulls something off,” he said. “I don’t agree that anything can be pulled off other than in a meeting. It is put on in a meeting and should be pulled off in a meeting.”
By governing body orders for the City Council, just one councilor has the authority to pull a consent item off and place it on the regular agenda item. All Legal Committee members agreed that rule should remain. But they did debate whether the public should know why an item is pulled and who requested the action.
At one time, governing body rules allowed the pulling of an item only at a public meeting. The rules have since changed to require that city councilors inform the city clerk at least 72 hours before the City Council meeting.
Stubbs said she receives a copy of the email when a councilor makes the request to pull an item because she is mayor pro tem, but she said she agreed with Foster that the information should be available to all city councilors or perhaps announced during a public meeting.
Councilor Jason Perry agreed about the public notification of a pulled item and said that he was leaning toward Foster’s view that greater leeway be allowed concerning eligible items.
“I think we just have to be very aware as a City Council that if we allow a significant portion of things to go on the consent agenda, then none of us should get upset when councilors do start pulling from that consent agenda,” he said.
Best also spoke at the meeting, although she is not a member of the committee. She said technology changes in recent years now enable the city to post all committee meeting agendas online and to provide live video of public meetings, with recordings posted online for later viewing.
She said city councilors should be reviewing agendas, attending or watching meetings, and then asking questions of councilors or staff if they still have questions prior to the City Council meeting.
“If anything, I think we should add on there that, if you pull the item, you should exhaust every avenue to your question, exhaust it completely,” she said.
Best also said she wants notice prior to the City Council meeting of pulled items so that she has time to look into those matters.
Stubbs ended the discussion by saying that consideration of the resolution would be “continued at some point.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.