July 12, 2019

In the Summer Heat, Keep Cool at City Meetings

"You’re out of order! *You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!” While a line like that delivered by Al Pacino in the film …And Justice for All enthralls movie audiences, similar scenes played out in city council, commission or board meetings should be left on the cutting room floor.

Much like actors play certain parts in movies, meeting participants and attendees also have certain roles to play, regardless of whether the meeting is for a city legislative body, public board or commission, neighborhood association, nonprofit organization, church, etc. As opposed to learning lines and marks, meeting participants’ needs to learn their roles and proper rules of order is essential to ensure effective and efficient meetings.

Meeting Roles

For the purpose of city council and commission meetings, there are five primary roles to fill:

• City clerk

• Parliamentarian

• Presiding officer

• Legislative body members

• Attendees

The city clerk is one of the minimum essential officers for the conduct of business at a legislative body meeting. The clerk calls the roll, acts as timekeeper, tracks progress of the meeting and status of the agenda, records and counts votes, and takes minutes. If the clerk or an assistant is not present, the legislative body can select another person to perform these functions

The city clerk can also act as the parliamentarian when assigned the duties, though many legislative bodies ask their city attorney to perform these functions — if they have a parliamentarian at all. The parliamentarian advises on matters of procedure — such as whether a certain motion is in order at the time — but he or she does not make any rulings. All rulings must be made by the presiding officer.

The presiding officer controls the flow of business, maintains order and ensures that all legislative body rules are followed. He or she also announces the order of business, enforces legislative body and parliamentary rules, recognizes members to speak, states and puts to a vote all motions, and adjourns the meeting. Except in the case of the Louisville Metro Council, the mayor is the presiding officer of city legislative body meetings.

In cities operating under the mayor-council form of government, the mayor is not considered a part of the city council. Even though he or she is the council’s presiding officer, he or she is not allowed to vote (except in the case of most ties), introduce legislation, or count toward the quorum.

The opposite is true for mayors in cities with the commission or city manager form of government. The five-member legislative body in each of these cities includes four commissioners plus the mayor. As a result, the mayor in these forms may introduce legislation, can vote on all matters (in which he or she does not have a conflict of interest), and does count toward the quorum.

The members of the legislative body introduce and second motions, debate the issues according to adopted rules and vote on all matters without a conflict of interest.

Almost every city legislative body meeting has members of the public