Ward calls for council reorganization
Request came after debate on Procedural Handbook
What started as an argument over the way the Porterville City Council would keep its meetings orderly and civil escalated Tuesday night when Council Member Brian Ward made a request after the meeting’s adjournment, City Manager John Lollis said, for him to place the reorganization of the council on the next meeting agenda.
While the city’s charter does not give many details on how such a reorganization would be done, it does say that “The mayor and/or vice mayor shall serve a two year term, but either may be removed at any time by a majority vote of the council. If the council removes the mayor prior to the expiration of his/her term pursuant to this provision, the council shall choose one of their number to serve as mayor until the next organizational meeting (3-4-2003).”
The request came after another argument over the Porterville City Council’s Procedural Handbook which came up for discussion again after Council Member Cameron Hamilton excused himself from the proceedings. Ward and Council Membre Greg Shelton made a motion to postpone the handbook again because of Hamilton’s absence, but when it went to vote, the council was split, with Mayor Virginia Gurrola and Vice Mayor Pete McCracken both overruling the postponement.
Lollis said the issue will be put on the consent calendar of the next meeting for the council to decide to place it on the agenda.
The issue centers on a change made to the handbook on Sept. 18 when Ward and Shelton were absent. Ward made a request to reconsider the handbook on the Oct. 2 agenda, and cited the change he found to be most contentious in his comments that night. The change was to section III. Meeting Procedures, C.1.c. The section formerly stated “Council shall have the opportunity for discussion on the item prior to requiring a motion and a second." It was changed to “Council shall require a motion and second prior to any discussion of an agenda item” and was passed unanimously by Gurrola, McCracken and Hamilton.
On Oct. 2, Ward questioned how the “motion, second, discuss” procedure would be used and spoke against the procedure, stating that he felt it was geared toward suppressing his freedom of speech and told the council of how he and Shelton were silenced under the previous mayor. When the motion to postpone the handbook failed, he blatantly accused the mayor and vice mayor of creating a council that was behaving the way the previous one had.
“Basically the tyranny of the majority is going to rule here,” Ward said.
Ward added that he had come prepared to give his ideas on the handbook, which he felt would have created a win-win situation for the council.
Gurrola originally supported the “motion, second, discuss” procedure based on input from audience members, who said that it was hard to follow council discussions because of a lack of clarity as to what was being discussed. However, she agreed with Ward and Shelton to reopen the issue on Oct. 2 to try to promote peace on the council. It was only after listening to a radio interview with Ward on KTIP radio, and realizing that the council actually would not have input into the handbook discussion that Gurrola felt it best for the council to get over the handbook and move on.
“This item was brought back and I voted for it to bring peace to this council. That is what I wanted to do, that is what I have said all along. Apparently that’s not how it was used,” Gurrola said. “I would think when we get to this meeting we would have this discussion. This discussion was [had] outside of this meeting and it was taken somewhere else.”
Ward explained, for Shelton and those present, why he spoke on KTIP, which was to rebut comments made by McCracken on KTIP.
“I gave my position on why I believe and what I believe because I have a vice mayor on the radio who said that there were apparently two council members who didn’t understand,” Ward said.
Ward said that when it came to outside appearances, council members spoke for the council and thus did not have the right to interject their own opinions into a topic. When McCracken did so, Ward felt he had the right to give a rebuttal statement.
After the motion failed, Ward asked city attorney Julia Lew whether he could bring the item back in the future. Lew said that Robert’s Rules of Order allowed anyone on the prevailing side of a motion to bring it back for reconsideration in the future, as soon as possible. As Ward was on the prevailing side on Oct. 2, Lew indicated, he could bring it back but the bottom line is that it was all up to the council, as a self-governing body. Ward countered her statements by stating that the council does not follow Robert’s Rules. The city’s municipal code, section 2-3: Rules of Order, under chapter two, article one, states, however, that “the proceedings of the city council shall be governed under ‘Robert’s Rules Of Order’ on all matters pertaining to parliamentary law, but no ordinance, resolution, proceeding or other action of the city council shall be invalidated or the legality thereof otherwise affected by the failure or omission to observe or follow such rules. (Ord. Code § 1272).”
When McCracken originally compiled this particular amendment, he based it on Robert’s Rules of Order, which outlines that a motion must be made, seconded and then the body can discuss the motion. Robert’s identifies different types of motions, including a motion to suppress debate, which would see a person moving to stop debate and call for the vote.