It seems that some residents and the Richmond City Council may be able to meet in the middle on speaking during meetings.
Before the closing of last night’s council meeting, Mayor Lance Green asked council members to consider a couple of changes to the way council meetings operate.
Green asked the council to consider changing the meeting night. Meeting times were changed to Wednesday nights under former Mayor Tom Mormon. Green said he has always thought it was odd the city met on Wednesday nights because it is typically thought of as church night. Green said he has had several requests to change.
“They would like to attend the meeting, but don’t want to have the conflict of attending the council meeting or going to church,” Green said.
Green also asked the council to think about the structure in which the city convenes. He said the city has only met once in November and December and suggested the city keep it that way throughout the year. Green said instead of having committee meetings that are spread out during the week and are sometimes hard to attend, the city should turn the other meeting of the month into a work session where residents could more freely talk about issues on the table.
Green made the suggestion after coming under fire yet again from a group of residents upset that they are only allowed to speak at the designated time at the beginning of the meeting. The most critical of Green has been former mayor Ed Lee Swafford. Swafford again chastised Green for his procedures, pointing to a campaign promise Green made in April of 2007.
“Trust begins with communication. I will ensure an open government for all people,” Swafford said quoting the phrase. “Does that sound familiar to you, mayor?”
Swafford reiterated his stance last month, that the city should just hold closed session after the citizen comment period.
“Somewhere along the line we’ve got the idea as city leaders that we work for you,” Swafford said. “It isn’t that way. You work for us.”
Councilwoman Melissa Miller told the council she had done some research into Robert’s Rules of Order, the method by which the city conducts meetings, through the Missouri Municipal League. Miller said the MML says Richmond is doing things the correct way. Miller quoted a question that was posed to MML.
“‘Do citizens have the right to stand up and make comments through out the entire council meeting?’ and their response was, ‘Absolutely not. It’s not a town hall meeting,” Miller said.
Miller used the quote to back up the city’s stance, although MML is a lobby group formed of municipalities in Missouri and does not form policy.
Miller went on to say that she found 18 cites in Missouri that run meetings the same way.
Councilman Dave Powell told Miller that her information was skewed. Powell pointed out that most of the cities Miller contacted were much larger in size than Richmond. Powell also said issues such as rezoning are complicated and the public needs to be heard from.
“The list of cities you pull up are, for the most part, fairly large cities,” Powell said. “Most of us don’t attend planning and zoning meetings and we’re basing it on their say so. A lot of the comments from the audience in the past have been valuable.”
City Attorney Brian Hall said the way the city runs meetings is perfectly legal.
Councilwoman Beverly Gorham said the city runs the meetings that way because of safety issues, which drew some laughter from the audience. Gorham said people who think the city is just trying to shut up residents are wrong.
“I don’t think we’re trying to keep any body from talking at all,” she said. “Anybody who thinks that, I think, is under a misconception.”
Green told residents that they could talk to councilmembers anytime outside of the meeting. However, Powell said many times citizens don’t have a chance to find out what’s on the agenda before the meeting.
Resident Jim Rippy urged the council not to vote on anything until the public has had a chance to review the matter.
Green concurred with Rippy.
“We should take that into consideration,” Green said. “If it’s a new item on the agenda we probably shouldn’t act on it.”