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SF’s finance committee OKs changes in rules for City Council meetings

SANTA FE – The city of Santa Fe’s Finance Committee on Monday approved several changes to the governing body’s procedural rules that, according to a staff memo, are intended “to ensure a more fair, judicious and efficient public process.”

But some proposed changes to the rules were rejected based on concerns raised during a public hearing that the alterations made the process less transparent and infringed on the First Amendment right of freedom of speech.

Two of the proposals would have placed restrictions on how many times and for how long a city councilor could speak on an issue during a meeting. One proposal would have limited the number of times a councilor could speak on any matter to three times and for no more than a total of 10 minutes. Another would have set the same restrictions on discussion of any motion, not counting the one minute they would have to explain their vote.

“We feel this could hinder discussion of complex issues,” former City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer – who was representing a consortium of groups that included New Mexico Common Cause, the Old Santa Fe Association, the Santa Fe Neighborhood Network and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government – said during the public hearing.

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Heldmeyer and others worked with City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, who introduced the changes, and city staff on modifications of an original draft.

She said that it was important that councilors not be restricted when discussing issues that were in the best interest of the citizenry and that it would require additional resources to keep track of how much time each councilor had used to speak.

Dominguez explained that the intent of the proposals was to make meetings go quicker by limiting the amount of time councilors could pontificate.

Also rejected by the committee was an amendment that would have allowed the chairman to have a person removed from the meeting. The panel was warned by two of the nine people who spoke during the public comment period that such a rule could lead to a lawsuit over freedom of speech. The committee left in language that says the chair may call a person to order if they make personal, intemperate or slanderous remarks.

The panel also turned down a proposal that would have required any action item concerning contracts, agreements or other matters that had a fiscal impact of more than $100,000 during a fiscal year to automatically be pulled off the consent calendar to be addressed by the governing body individually.

The committee accepted an amendment that requires the governing body to state with “reasonable” specificity what it was voting on after it returned from executive session.

Twice in the past 20 months the City Council has come out of executive session and voted to approve what had been discussed in executive session, without disclosing what that discussion was about.

The amended legislation is scheduled to come before the full City Council on July 27.

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