Article by Josh Genser, Genser & Watkins, Attorneys-at-Law
Mike Parker of the Richmond Progressive Alliance wrote, in a past newsletter, the following editorial:
“Chaos at Council Meetings; Who is responsible for the chaos and disruption of City Council meetings?
The City Council Meetings have become unbearable. The reason, I contend, is that Corky Booze is purposely trying to promote chaos in order to promote himself by tearing down other council members and community leaders moving Richmond in a progressive direction.
The responsibility for trying to keep order at Council Meetings belongs to the Mayor. She has to enforce the rules. But when a Councilman continually disrespects her as the Chairperson of the meeting, interrupts her, uses his loud voice to bully her and the city staff, it is a very difficult job. And when he encourages the people who attend the Council Meeting to disrespect the Chair and everyone else on the Council, the meetings get downright nasty.
If Booze is the main problem, the fact that other Council members, particularly Bates and Rogers, encourage Booze’s behavior by supporting it with words or inaction makes it much worse.”
We must agree with the RPA (gasp!) that there is chaos and discord at Richmond City Council meetings, and that it is counter-productive. It is difficult to cast blame for this, but it’s clearly not Mr. Booze’s fault, for the problem predates his election. This situation may be nothing more than a reflection of the recent diminishment in respectful discourse throughout American politics.
The responsibility for solving the problem, however, is clearly that of the Mayor. Having said that, I do not intend to cast any blame on Mayor Mclaughlin, for the problem predates her election. At least part of the solution, however, is for our Mayors to do a better job of running the meetings.
The Mayor must be two different people on the dais. When she is the Mayor, she must shelve her hat as a legislator and leave behind her convictions, and treat everyone respectfully as a mere conductor or facilitator of the proceedings. When acting in that capacity, she must say very little, other than “you’re next”, “you’re out of order”, and “If there’s no further discussion, please vote.” That doesn’t mean that the Mayor may not act as a legislator and advocate, it means that she should wait to put on that hat until she has, in essence, recognized herself and given herself an opportunity to speak on the item. But when she’s finished speaking, she must adopt her other persona.
Mayor McLaughlin has difficulty doing this, as, to be fair, did Mayor Anderson before her. A stark example occurred at the April 3, 2012, meeting when the Council was engaged in a shamefully contentious debate over whether to postpone an agenda item. As the discussion finally wound down and the Mayor was able to call for a vote, she could not resist getting in a final dig: “The vote is to overturn my decision to continue this until we can get more information which could include more jobs in the more information.” That insistence upon having the last word diminishes the dignity of the Mayor’s role as leader of the body, and contributes, no doubt, to the lack of respect with which the Mayor is sometimes treated by her colleagues.
We hope, deeply and sincerely, that Mayor Mclaughlin and those who will follow her in that role can learn to run a meeting at which even those who might be inclined to be disrespectful are not given any opportunities to do so.