DeKalb City Council Has Made Robert Cry

I know it’s over a week since the last city council meeting, but I finally found the time to look at the video* of the Irongate annexation discussion and it was an even worse mess than I remembered.

The agreement, defeated last month, was brought back via a parliamentary procedure called a “motion to reconsider.” Reconsider was handled incorrectly by the council.

We’ll start with a rough chronology of the procedural steps taken during the discussion, along with the approximate times they occur within the recording in case they might prove useful to your own research.

Recap of 50 Painful Minutes

  • Mayor Rey asks for a motion, and Ald. Baker “so moves” with Ald. Finucane seconding. (first minute)
  • Rey calls for a roll call vote, and Baker objects on the grounds that he might lose his “right” to reconsideration. (1:25)
  • Discussion begins with the city attorney about whether passing the motion to reconsider also passes the Irongate ordinance on first reading. Attorney Frieders says it does. Frieders also suggests that the matter may be postponed. (1:45)
  • With discussion among council members opened, Baker explains that he placed reconsideration on the agenda because he obtained new information about the project. (4:00)
  • Discussion among aldermen is stopped when the mayor remembers a citizen had requested to speak to the issue. The citizen takes the floor. (11:50)
  • Baker retakes the floor, this time to advise that the motion could be postponed “if only five people want to go forward.” The aim of postponement would be to direct staff to work on the project in regards to working out issues with the park district and make the agreement palatable to a supermajority of council so they’ll vote to reconsider. (15:00)
  • The mayor talks pro and con of the project, adding that he doesn’t want council members to approve first reading unless they also intend to pass the annexation agreement on second reading. (19:00)
  • Mayor Rey says he is looking for a motion to postpone. Somebody so moves and Ald. O’Leary seconds, but it turns out Rey wasn’t really asking for an actual motion to postpone; he wants to discuss a motion to postpone and brings up the need for a supermajority vote to get past first reading. (20:30)
  • A motion to postpone the motion to reconsider is passed with the amendments that a) the matter of Reconsider must be dispensed with on or before the October 14 meeting and b) staff are directed to re-start work related to the annexation agreement. (last couple minutes)
  • Reconsider Doesn’t Mean What They Think It Means

    The DeKalb Municipal Code does address reconsideration in Chapter 2 (see p. 2-7). Here’s the relevant portion:

    r) Reconsideration. 1. A vote or question may be reconsidered at any time during the same meeting, or at the first Regular Meeting held thereafter. A motion for reconsideration, once having been made and decided in the negative, shall not be renewed, nor shall a motion to reconsider be reconsidered.

    Chapter 2 covers much of the rest of the procedural bases with this (see the bottom of p. 2-8):

    The rules of parliamentary practice comprised in the latest published edition of Robert’s “Rules of Order Revised” shall govern the Council in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with the rules of this Council set forth in this Chapter or the Statutes or law of the State.

    Error 1: In postponing the motion to reconsider, the City of DeKalb violated its own rule to reconsider the annexation vote at the same or next meeting after which the original vote was taken. It also violated Robert’s Rules, which state that the motion to reconsider must be decided the same meeting it’s brought.

    The rest of the errors become apparent with a reading of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised.

    Error 2: The motion to reconsider is a proposal to bring back a vote or question as if it had not been previously voted on. Therefore, Attorney Frieders’ assertion that a vote to reconsider is the same as a vote to reverse the previous vote is erroneous. An affirmative vote to reconsider would re-open debate on the original question, which is simply whether council wishes to receive and file the annexation agreement upon first reading.

    Error 3: Only final approval of the annexation agreement requires a super-majority “aye” vote. The motions required to get to the final vote require only a simple majority. If the mayor, city clerk or city attorney had caught and corrected the mistake council members were making on this point, they probably wouldn’t have resorted to the erroneous use of postponement in order to save Reconsider.

    Error 4: The motion to postpone should not have had a direction to city staff attached to it. A third motion, probably a motion to refer, should have been placed on the floor. This motion allows for information-gathering and recommendation-generating, though not actual action on the original question, as this is prohibited until Reconsider is dispensed with.

    Error 5: When a motion (to reconsider, to postpone, etc.) is being decided, only the pros and cons of that particular motion may be discussed. Bringing up the merits (or lack thereof) of the original question is not allowed. In other words: one at a time (and in a particular order as well).

    The Bottom Line

    Here’s what I really don’t get. Reconsider was on the agenda. Everybody knew it but nobody bothered to brush up on the motion, which has special rules and is only rarely used.

    Besides the impact to DeKalb’s reputation, the mistakes make me worry about sloppiness that could affect the quality and/or legality of an annexation if council should happen to finalize the agreement.

    I hope they get their act together by the time it gets to that vote.

    *Hat tip & thanks to Mark Charvat for capturing and uploading the video.