New conduct rules set for Syracuse city council meetings

Nov 18 2011 - 11:30pm

SYRACUSE -- City officials have adopted a new set of guidelines for conduct and process during city council meetings.

Following several weeks of detailed discussion, including a 50-minute work session on Tuesday, the city council approved a six-page set of guidelines for council meetings that address such issues as potential conflicts of interests, decorum and treatment of information, and public hearings.

The rules also establish the guideline that a council member can be removed from a public meeting on a two-thirds vote of all members.

"I still don't think it's perfect and I am hesitant to vote for it, but I probably will," Councilman Matt Kimmel said.

The guidelines come in response to an ongoing criticism from a citizens group that claims the city wasn't following state code in making guidelines for meetings.

City Recorder Cassie Brown worked with City Attorney Todd Godfrey to compile the guidelines, drawing from existing city code and from similar guidelines in neighboring communities.

Council members worried that much of the outline is redundant, but Godfrey suggested outlining roles and duties as part of the guidelines is appropriate.

"Redundancy is fine, inconsistency is not," Godfrey said.

The guidelines:

* Establish the rule that the mayor is to "maintain order" at meetings and also move along the agenda and hold down redundancy, reference handouts and procedures in a "sensitive way."

* Stipulate that the council shall not engage in personal attacks and shall restrict comments to issues before the body. Violations of decorum or conduct of council members shall be addressed by the mayor, who may declare a member out of order.

* In order to ensure meetings proceed on a timely basis, the mayor may impose a time limit on people who wish to address the council. Any person who disrupts the meeting by exceeding a time limit, discussing "irrelevant issues, or otherwise" may be removed at the direction of the mayor.

* There are five new findings in regards to potential conflicts of interest for council members, including the stipulation in a reference to Utah Code. If a conflict exists between a city ordinance or state law, the more strict standard shall apply.

* Specifies that the value of a gift or advantage for a council member shall be considered in determining acceptability. Small gifts, such as lunch, calendars or office bric-a-brac are often, but not always, acceptable. It says in cases of doubt, council members should refuse.

* Information obtained by council members in private discourse in the course of performing council duties shall be treated in confidence if specifically requested by the applicant, or as dictated by state law. Any information contained in studies in progress should not be divulged by council members except in accord with city policies on the release of its studies.

* Each member of the council shall attend meetings unless duly excused or unable to attend because of extenuating circumstances. A member must notify the city recorder to be excused, who shall then forward the information to the mayor.

* Leave some flexibility in how public hearings are conducted, allowing a hearing to be re-opened upon a two-thirds vote of the council.

The closure of public hearings has been an issue the council has had to deal with on several occasions

recently.

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