Later this week the Council will take up consideration of some updates to its own General Rules and Procedures: the published set of rules for how it handles meetings, voting, vacancies, and more.
Here are the current set of rules, and the proposed new version. Changes aren’t marked in the new version, which made me curious as to what was being proposed so I walked through the two documents side-by-side to find the differences. There’s nothing scandalous in here; some changes are lessons learned when former Mayor Ed Murray resigned last year and the Council had to fill vacancies. Others are informal changes that had been made in the last couple of years that hadn’t yet been codified.
Here are the highlights:
- As we found out last year, the City Charter specifies that when the Mayor resigns, the Council President assumes the office immediately but then has five days to decide whether to keep the job or decline it. If she or he declines, then the Council’s process for choosing a new Mayor from among the other Council members was “loosely defined,” shall we say. The new rules specify that the Council has five days to appoint a new Mayor from the time when the Council President declines.
- When the Council appoints someone to fill a vacancy on the Council, the existing rules say that the Council President proposes new committee assignments which then need to be approved by resolution within 45 days of the new Council member taking office. The new rules simply say that the new Council member assumes the committee responsibilities of the Council member being replaced.
- When the Council holds a special Full Council meeting, the new rules allow for Council members to participate remotely through electronic means if approved by a majority of the Council members at the meeting. This rule was already in place for emergency meetings, but not for regular or special meetings — and the proposed update only adds it for special meetings, not regularly scheduled ones where Council members are still required to attend in person.
- A new rule: “At a regular City Council meeting, no Resolution shall be presented for adoption and no Bill introduced unless reviewed by the Law Department and circulated via email to all CMs, the Central Staff Director, and the City Clerk by 5:00 p.m. on the preceding business day.” The existing rules don’t put hard-and-fast restrictions on “walking on” a bill or resolution, though the Council generally followed the practice that it had to be circulated by noon on Monday. This is likely to be somewhat controversial, as it means that any bill introduced on Monday afternoon must be done the prior Friday at 5pm — no weekend grinds to get something finished.
- Under the old rules, when a committee has a split vote on forwarding a bill to the full Council for final approval, a “divided report” is required to be generated and circulated by the Council’s staff. Recently the Council modified this practice, now requiring a divided report only when one of the Council members who voted against the bill requests it. The new rules codify this change for both standing and select committees.
- Under the issues that may be discussed by the Council in executive session, the old rules included a vague reference to “Consideration of certain real estate transactions and/or prices.” The updated rules replace this language with more specific cases: “Consideration of the selection of a site or the acquisition of real estate by lease or purchase when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of increased price;” and “Consideration of the minimum price at which real estate will be offered for sale or lease when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of decreased price.“
- Under the old rules, public comment at a City Council meeting could only discuss matters on the agenda for that meeting or on that week’s Introduction and Referral Calendar. The updated rules expand that further to include “other matters directly related to the City Council Work Program.” The Council’s work program is a list of everything they intend to work on over the course of a calendar year, so that opens up a much long list of possible topics for the public to comment on. In practice, this rule is enforced only when a commenter is being verbally abusive or disruptive.
- Council rules specify that any Council member may ask to have someone removed from the Council Chambers if they are being “disruptive.” There is a long list of what constitutes “disruptions,” and the updated rules add a new one: “Failure to follow the direction of a Presiding Officer or security official.” It will be interesting to see if that is enforced in practice.