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Damascus council delays decorum vote

The Damascus City Council on Monday, Dec. 3, postponed voting on new council rules that establish guidelines for decorum.

Mayor Steve Spinnett suggested postponing it until January when new councilors are in office. Instead, the council unanimously agreed to put the matter off for two weeks because the agenda packet outlining the new council rules was not made public until about two hours before the meeting began. Councilor Barbara Ledbury was absent.

At issue is what some councilors call the mayor's refusal to maintain order during council meetings. One possibility is to appointing a third party to carry out all orders and instructions by a majority vote of the council in order to maintain decorum in council chambers.

In October, the city manager trespassed two Damascus residents from City Hall after some felt threatened by their comments at an Oct. 15 council meeting. The city manager later rescinded the no-trespass orders.

It's the second time the council has postponed voting on the proposed rule changes. The first time was in early November.

The matter also was discussed at length at the Nov. 15 city council work session, which the mayor did not attend due to a vacation.

Spinnett has won a second two-year term, which starts in January, and has said the proposed rule of decorum violate the city's charter by removing the mayor's authority to enforce order in council meetings and transferring it to a majority vote of council.

He also objects to a proposed rule change that would allow the city manager to set the council agenda with input from any councilor, not just the mayor.

“I believe this will further divide the city,” Spinnett said. “I don't believe this will get us anywhere.” He also called the proposed changes “a fundamental attempt to erode the role of the mayor.”

Council President Diana Helm said the rules changes will allow the city manager to do his job and clarify how meetings should be conducted, allowing the council to get more done.

“We are a dysfunctional council,” said Councilor Randy Shannon, adding that the mayor during a council retreat “flat-out said he didn't have to work with us.”

Spinnett denied saying that, but the other councilors insisted he did.

Councilor Andrew Jackman said he doesn't support “the spirit” of the rule changes, adding that it's the job of the council to bring the mayor in line if he isn't acting as he should.

“So has the setting of decorum by the mayor been working?” Shannon asked.

After a pause, Spinnett said he has not been to the last few council meetings.

“It's been a lot calmer,” Shannon replied.

Spinnett called the response condescending and insisted residents needed more time to read the proposed rule changes before a vote is held. Jackman agreed. “It's our duty to hear peoples' concerns,” he said.

In the end, the council voted 6-0 in favor of postponing the vote to the next council meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 17.