By Kathleen Sloan
For the second time in a month, the Truth or Consequences City Commission discussed their Rules of Procedure at a work session held an hour before their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 24.
About a month ago, commissioners amended Rule 17 via resolution. It said all public comments must pertain to city business and must be “constructive.”
Unbeknownst to commissioners, the American Civil Liberties Union had told City Attorney Jay Rubin the day before and day of the March 27 meeting that the wording was probably unconstitutional. It prohibits free speech and possibly the constituents’ right to petition their commission.
During the work session, Rubin did not refer to the ACLU warning, but told commissioners “we should not make that determination,” referring to a definition of city business and constructive.
No action could be nor was taken during the work session. A revised resolution was not on the regular meeting agenda.
City Manager Juan Fuentes said it will come up at the next regular meeting for action.
Commissioners also discussed possibly adding a rule that would require commissioners to make one of four responses to motions.
Mayor John Mulcahy is the rule originator. He said he is proposing it to “get rid of the passivity” he said he has seen during votes, in particular, no response, which is currently counted as an “aye” vote.
“We all need to weigh in here. That’s why we were elected,” said Mulcahy.
The four choices in a vote would be aye, nay, abstain and recusal.
Abstention, during discussion, was clarified to mean taking part in discussion, but stating one is abstaining when a vote is called, preferably giving a reason.
The board mostly concurred that the only reason for abstaining is conflict of interest and that the audience should be told what the conflict is.
Mulcahy pointed out, however, that a commissioner cannot be forced to state reasons for abstention.
Commissioner Steve Green said allowing commissioners to abstain, with the right to remain silent, “would open a door” to passivity, not close it.
Mulcahy said commissioners often don’t qualify their aye or nay votes either.
Green said Roberts Rules of Order do not include a definition of abstain. He said it should not be called a vote because it does not count.
Mulcahy pointed out, “Abstaining can throw the vote.”
Recusal, in the discussion, means fellow-commissioners, by motion, remove a commissioner from discussion and voting on an issue. The commissioner would leave the room during both.
The upshot of discussion during the work session will be clarified by the adopted wording in the resolution to be presented at the next city meeting, Tuesday, May 8.