Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2017  
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  City Council Decorum
December 21, 2017

I am sad to say that the practices of the Corky Booze era of the City Council appear to be returning, and this time led not by the long-gone Corky, but surprisingly by his one-time adversaries, some of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) City Council members.

Like Corky once did, some RPA City Council members are developing a pattern of routinely challenging the chair (me) for simply doing my job. On December 19, the moratorium on school construction came up for consideration on a second reading. Now everybody knows this is about charters schools, and the RPA has publicly adopted a position of opposition to charter schools.

However, the moratorium text does not mention charter schools, and for good reason. If it were explicitly targeted to charter schools, it would be highly vulnerable to legal challenge. So everyone needs to pretend that it is about all schools, which is consistent with the way it was drafted and is worded.

When it came time for City Council members to speak about this item, Councilmember Willis dutifully began by disclaiming any connection to charter schools, then he launched into an extensive rant about the evils of charter schools. I asked him to confine his remarks to the subject at hand. He protested, but I thought he got the message.

Apparently not, because he simply continued his anti-charter school speech. I then called him out of order, which he protested mightily. Then, Councilmember Martinez began his remarks, speaking about charter schools. I also asked him to avoid the issue of charter schools. Ultimately, I had to call a recess to calm the City Council down, against the vocal and out of order protests of Councilmembers Martinez, Willis and Vice-mayor Beckles. Beckles felt compelled to state, “The mayor is out of order.”

City Council Decorum

The City Council has adopted Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, which have this to say: “The chair should always ensure that debate and discussion of an agenda item focuses on the item and the policy in question…” and, “Debate and discussion should be focused, but free and open. In the interest of time, the chair may, however, limit the time allotted to speakers, including members of the body.”

RPA City Council members seem to believe that they have the right to say anything they want for as long as they want without interruption by the chair.

A question was raised about why I allowed the public speakers to make statements that included reference to charter schools. The difference is that these speakers perceived the moratorium as a threat to their charter schools, which is a legitimate point of view. Council members condemning charter schools was not legitimately pertinent to the item under consideration.

The Brown Act prohibits me from discussing issues with more than two other City Council members, so I am using this public medium to ask my City Council colleagues to respect the chair, follow Rosenberg’s Rules and adopted City Council procedures. Let’s not return to the days of Corky Booze.

When our City Council regularly breaks decorum, it creates a perception of dysfunction, which results in actual harm to the City, discourages economic development, discourages visitors and encourages people who want to disparage Richmond.