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Damascus council OKs rules of conduct

In a 5-to-2 vote, the Damascus City Council on Monday, Dec. 17, approved new rules designed to create more order and decorum at council meetings.

Mayor Steve Spinnett and outgoing councilor Barbara Ledbury cast the only no votes against the proposed rule changes.

The new “rules of civil debate” state that personal attacks will be avoided, as will violence or distracting actions, applause and other loud or disruptive noises that obstructs a presentation or a person's ability to finish his or her presentation, and “willful injury of furnishings, damage to personal property or Council Chambers.” Comments also are to be limited to the “issue at hand.”

Anyone not abiding by the rules will be warmed to stop the disruptive conduct. If the conduct continues, the council can agree to have the person removed from the meeting. Removal duties would fall to any law enforcement officer at the meeting.

In addition, if the officer determines that any city codes were broken in the disturbance, the officer can arrest the person.

But it's not all about people in the audience.

“The Mayor, council, and staff are expected to behave in a manner that brings dignity to the council meetings,” reads part of section on order and decorum of council meeting.

The rules also appear to curb Spinnett's mayoral power by allowing the city manager to set the council agenda with input from any councilor, not just the mayor.

At issue is what some councilors call the mayor's refusal to maintain order during council meetings. 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 The city manager later rescinded the no-trespass orders.

Both of those trespassed residents have filed tort claims against the city.

Spinnett, who in November was elected to a second two-year term as mayor, contended that the proposed rules 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.

“From my perspective, this is very divisive,” Spinnett said of the new rules. He particularly objected to the change in how agendas are set.

The council rules still state that the mayor is responsible for maintaining order and decorum by both councilors and members of the audience during council meetings.

Council President Diana Helm said the rule changes are needed to get people to behave themselves and to allow the council to get city business taken care of.

“If things were normal we wouldn't have to go through this process,” she said.

A member of the audience, which had about 25 residents in attendance, nodded her head in agreement.

“Can we applaud?” she whispered.

Ledbury suggested pushing it off until January when three new councilors will be in office. Ledbury, Helm and Councilor Marlo Dean did not run for reelection. In fact, the Dec. 17 meeting was their last City Council meeting.

If it's OK to move forward on the rule changes now, it should be OK to do so in January, said Ledbury, who has served on the council since 2004, when the city incorporated.

Councilor Randy Shannon disagreed, saying the council has postponed the decision long enough and doing so again would mean more work for the new councilors.

Shannon motioned for a vote and Councilor Mary Wescott seconded it. After a series of yes votes, Ledbury said, “quack, quack, this lame duck says no.”

So did Spinnett. But the motion passed



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