Council tightens time for debate

Published 10:29 pm Friday, July 15, 2011

FRANKLIN—One year after relaxing its rules for discussion of issues, the Franklin City Council has tightened them to “add structure to council meetings.”

Councilman Benny Burgess asked colleagues to consider first directing City Manager June Fleming and City Attorney Taylor Williams to report back on the rules of procedure for council meetings.

Burgess than asked the council to limit the time allowed for discussion and debate during council meetings until Fleming and Williams can report back.

The first motion passed by a 6-0 vote with Councilman Greg McLemore abstaining from the vote. The second motion passed by a margin of 6-1 with McLemore this time casting the lone dissenting vote.

“This will make it a little bit more efficient,” Burgess said of the motion to change the rules.

The new rules limit discussion prior to a motion being made to two minutes per council member. Discussion during a presentation will now be limited to two questions or comments totaling five minutes.

Once a motion is made, each council member will now be limited to one comment or question period consisting of five minutes. Council members are allowed a three-minute rebuttal only after each member has had a chance to comment, the motion stated.

The new rules also do not allow for questions or comments from council members during citizens’ time.

McLemore called the new rules, especially limiting discussion with citizens, a “limitation on free debate and free speech.”

“I think it’s doing a disservice to our citizens,” McLemore said during Monday night’s meeting. “This entire motion is an attempt to quash the dialogue we’ve managed to create that gets citizens involved with the council meetings.”

Councilman Don Blythe, who voted in favor of the motion, seemed concerned over the limitations put in place.

“I don’t understand where the time constraints come from,” he told colleagues.

Mayor Jim Councill responded that the rules are in line with “Robert’s Rules of Order.”

Councilman Barry Cheatham said he thinks the motion gives ample time for debate.

“I think eight to 10 minutes is more than enough time to formulate arguments and discussion,” Cheatham said. “It interjects some structure into the meetings that this council desperately needs.”

Some recent council meetings have lasted two to four hours and sometimes longer.

Councill said the measure being put in place has less to do with the length of the meetings and more to do with the demeanor of the meetings.

“We need to have more control during the meetings and be more effective,” Councill said.

Councill said the rules put in place were driven, in part, by some of McLemore’s actions during meetings.

Councill also said that in the past the council “has attempted to be less formal and more lax” with the rules.

McLemore said before he was on the council he fought to have the rules loosened and they were in about June or July of last year. He said the tightening of the rules is nothing but an attempt by council members to silence him and Blythe.

“It’s an attempt to shut us up because we’re exposing things they don’t want exposed,” McLemore said.

Furthermore, McLemore said council members should be allowed to ask and answer questions during citizens’ time and added that if there wasn’t a problem with the rules before the council never would have changed them.