Syracuse sets rules to guide meetings

May 23 2012 - 9:06pm

SYRACUSE -- After months of discussion, city officials agreed to several rules of order they can live by during city meetings.

The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt two pages of revised rules of order and procedures of conduct for city meetings.

The new guidelines represent a revision of those guidelines of order established for city meetings late last year, when the issue was a source of contention. The issue has been an ongoing topic of debate for months, examining the powers of a mayor during a meeting.

The new rules include two points addressing ethical behavior by city officials. The rules state that city officials are expected to declare any potential conflict that could constitute a violation of ethics law and abstain from voting on the matter.

It also states that officials should be excused from the dais during consideration of any such matter, and suggests that any complaint of conflicts should be filed as a complaint as outlined by law.

There was one existing guideline that did not make it in the final revision of rules. A three-minute time limit for citizen comment during meetings has come under some fire in recent months as some touchy topics have been addressed.

Councilman Craig Johnson suggested that guideline should be amended to allow more flexibility.

However, Johnson withdrew his motion when the matter was further discussed and he failed to gain any support for the move from other council members.

"You're really giving a lot of power to the mayor, if you give her control of time," Councilman Doug Peterson said of the flexibility Johnson sought.

Mayor Jamie Nagle said it is really important to have fairness built into the rules and said the three-minute time limit is fair.

She suggested it is foolish to think a public meeting is the only place residents can talk to their elected leaders.

"It's a myth that the only one time citizens can talk to the council is in public session. It's the least effective. They can talk to them one-on-one anytime," Nagle said.

She said the feeling about time constraints during the public comment portion of public sessions usually varies with the issue.

"There are going to be times that you agree with the topic and want them to have 10 minutes, and times you don't agree and you'll want to limit them to three," Nagle said.

Along with set times for public comment, the rules also have a paragraph calling for civil discourse between the mayor and other council members.

It states that the mayor or a majority of the council may or may not allow members of the public or staff to participate in a discussion.

It also states that civil discourse requires attentiveness, and distractions during a meeting are discouraged, whether by phone, digital device or side conversation.

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