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Decorum issue added to council agenda


Damascus city councilors on Nov. 15 to discuss maintaining order at council meetings

It's official: Damascus city councilors will consider a resolution on Thursday, Nov. 15, to appoint a third party to maintain order and decorum at city council meetings.

The resolution calls for the city manager to appoint a third party as a “sergeant-at-arms” to “carry out all orders and instructions by a majority vote of the council for the purpose of maintaining order and decorum in the council chambers,” according to the resolution.

Spinnett, however, has questioned whether the resolution violates the city’s charter by removing the mayor’s authority to maintain the order and decorum of council meetings and transferring it to a majority vote of council.

He also objects to the city manager deciding who to appoint but supports the concept of a police representative acting as sergeant-at-arms.

"Unfortunately the decorum issue is in my opinion a very divisive move that does not help bridge the gap but will do the opposite," he said, referring the the chasm that has formed between him some and the other councilors.

The work session begins at 6:30 p.m. at Damascus City Hall, 19920 SE Highway 212. Because work sessions are intended for the council to talk about issues without making a formal vote, there is no time for public comment is on the agenda.

Comments from citizens have grown increasingly hostile in recent months and Mayor Steve Spinnett is failing to control the meetings, said Council President Diana Helm.

Despite Spinnett's call for civility at the start of the Oct. 15 council meeting, two citizens' comments were interpreted at threats. One chastised the council for not respecting the mayor, and quoted “Alice in Wonderland,” saying “Off, off, off with your heads.” Another referred to a cartridge box, a term for a gun, as one of four boxes citizens have to preserve their freedom.

The city responded by banning both citizens from city property, including city hall, for six months. Instead, the city lifted the no-trespass order after eight days. A local attorney is now representing the citizens and alleges the city violated their freedom of speech, among other constitutionally protected rights. Attorney Bruce McCain also alleges that his clients were targeted because they support Spinnett.

The comments also prompted councilors to put the decorum resolution on the Monday, Nov. 5, agenda. Instead, councilors postponed it to January when newly elected councilors would be in office.

The next night, residents re-elected Spinnett to another two-year term as mayor. In light of the fact that Spinnett will remain in office,

Wescott lost her race against Spinnett for the mayor’s seat but still has two years left in her four-year council term. Councilor Andrew Jackman also ran against Spinnett and will remain on the council for the next two years.

Wescott said the resolution is not intended to restrict anyone's freedom of speech, but it to ensure their speech remains polite. “They don't have to attack the councilors or the city staff,” she said.