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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Costa Mesa "rules of order?"

Rules to encourage decorum

City Council meetings proceed more efficiently if they follow procedural rules. One set of rules is “Robert’s Rules of Order” often referred to as “parliamentary procedure.”

Robert’s Rules specify that some procedural concerns are so critical that they can stop debate to be immediately considered. An example would be “point of order” if the discussion veered off the subject. This demands that the chair direct discussion back to the issue. “Point of order” is used to correct deviation from good procedure.

Made, sustained and ignored

We heard a “Point of Order” from Mr. Monahan, which was sustained – another Council member was digressing from the issue to defend what she perceived to be personal criticism. Once the Mayor sustained the point and reminded her, she went back to explaining why she did what she did – still off the point. And, the Mayor didn’t enforce the rule, he just let her finish.

One subject at a time

Robert’s Rules also specify that comments, once a subject is under discussion, must pertain to that subject until it is acted on. This forces progress, item by item.

Concerns about matters that aren't on the agenda can be brought to the Council’s attention at the beginning of Council meetings. This opens the Council and audience to some useful three-minute appeals – and to some three-minute, most often pointless, harangues. (For example, a complaint about a decision made at a previous Council meeting.) During discussion of agenda items, though, comments are limited to the item at hand.

City Council meetings were characterized by yelling and demands in the past, both from and to the dais. That has abated, but it reappears; later in Tuesday's meeting an escalating argument between the Mayor and a frequent commenter arose about whether she could discuss
whatever she wanted. It took a fair amount of yelling back and forth, but the Mayor eventually applied Roberts’ Rules and the commenter was constrained to the subject.

Why not just make our own 

If yelling and ignoring Roberts’ Rules are how we are going to do business, maybe we need new rules. Remember the Council candidate who asserted last fall that he did and will continue to “shout down” people he thinks are wrong, bad or misguided?* Perhaps Costa Mesa can codify his ideas into a new set of rules; the “Costa Mesa Rules;” “whoever shouts loudest and longest wins.”
Until the new rules are adopted it would be nice if the people complaining about their neighbors not following the fireworks rules would also insist that the frequent complainers follow Roberts’ Rules. It’s only fair.

*From a letter in the Daily Pilot: “And I will shout him down wherever he appears in Costa Mesa to spew his divisive rhetoric.” His remarks concerned shouting and singing to drown out a speaker at the public lectern during a Council meeting. (Letter in Pilot)

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