As many of you already know for many weeks now Cortney Niland has been seating out of place on the city council dais. There is much commentary about the reasons for this but; unfortunately, we do not know what actually transpired that resulted in her vacating her seat on the dais. The fact remains that Cortney Niland is wedged in between Ann Morgan Lilly and Larry Romero. This got me thinking about who ultimately has the authority to move Niland back to her appointed seat in council chambers.
The first thought, of course is the city charter. Except for the voters recalling a city council representative the charter is quiet on decorum or seating arrangements. The city charter does prescribe that a Parliamentary Procedure be adopted by city council “at the beginning of each term”. According to the city charter, part of the rules of order “shall also have power to compel the attendance of absent members and, by the favorable vote of the majority of the entire Council, may expel a member from a Council meeting for disorderly conduct or serious violation of its rules and may order that member to be physically removed from the building”.
The problem is that the Resolution Adopting the Rules of Order for the El Paso City Council Revised, as Effective July 2, 2013 does not have the required language about dealing with disruptions by the elected officials in it. Section 5 lays out the duties of the presiding officer for the city council meetings. According to this section, the mayor is to “preside at all meetings” of the council.
The adopted rules add that the “presiding officer shall preserve strict order and decorum at all regular and special meetings of the Council”. The only statement about the removal of individuals from city council that I found was in section 12 addressing the removal of members of the public for disruptive behavior.
After reviewing both documents, I could not find any rules requiring that city council members sit in their assigned seats at the dais.
Additionally, although we do not know what transpired with Cortney Niland that has her seating out of place, there has been a whisper campaign attempting to place the blame on Lily Limon for what some have characterized as “abusive” behavior.
Because the charter leaves the actions to be taken for the removal of “disruptive” city council members to the rules of order and the current council rules of order do not address this I am unable to determine whether the current seating arrangement at council could be rectified.
The closest thing I was able to find was the mayor’s duty to “preserve strict order and decorum” at the city council meetings. It is highly debatable whether the seating arrangement would fall under the “decorum” requirement. Clearly, in my opinion, if there were any “abusive” behavior by one city council member it would fall on the mayor to deal with it. Therefore, I filed several open records requests on August 14, 2014 looking to see if the mayor had met with, or communicated with any city representative in regards to the issues.
After the August 12, 2014 meeting where the issue about Niland’s seating arrangement was publicly discussed various times at city council the mayor stated publicly that he was “disappointed”. I wanted to know if his disappointment extended to him applying his responsibility to preside over the city council meeting by meeting or discussing the issue with city council representatives. I submitted open records requests asking if the mayor had any meetings, telephone calls or email exchanges with any city representative after the meeting or the following few days.
According to the responses, I received from my open records queries; Oscar Leeser sent no emails to any city council representative after the meeting or for two days afterwards. Between August 12 and August 14, 2014, the mayor held two meetings with Cortney Niland. The first on August 13, 2014 he met with her and other officials and members of the community to discuss the Rescue Mission Relocation. The next day the mayor again met with the city manager and Niland. I do not know what the meeting was about however I suspect it was about the homeless issue.
Additionally, my open records requests revealed that the mayor did not issue any letters or memorandums to any city council representative during the same period of time.
From the information that I have available to me at this time it appears that the mayor has decided not to involve himself in the issue of the seating arrangement at the council dais. As for the allegations of abusive behavior by one or more members of city council, the rules under which council is operating currently do not seem to have any mechanism on dealing with them, leaving the issue squarely on the shoulders of Oscar Leeser.