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Flint, MI–By the time the Flint City Council arrived at the second round of decorum training, it was already supposed to have ended.
The session was scheduled from 5:30 to 8:30, but the council arrived three hours late for the same reasons they were supposed to be in the training in the first place– dysfunction.
Council voted to go through training sessions with a parliamentarian in February ago to gain a better understanding of meeting rules and how to behave in debates. Their first training was last week, and their second was last night.
Because of the late start, Professional Registered Parliamentarian Eleanor “Coco” Siewert gave her presentation with very limited discussion, and the council voted to arrange another meeting to go over more questions.
Her presentation was about “Dilatory Motions,” meaning motions made by councilmembers that disrupt the meeting and cause unnecessary, time-consuming debate.
Siewert said she was listening to the meeting since a little after 5 p.m. and heard several “perfect examples of dilatory motions designed to let somebody interrupt and have a say about something when the other person has the floor.”
“I must tell you that during the entire course of the three hours, I did not hear a “point of information” that actually was a request for information. They were all used as “debate,” she said.
Siewert explained that a “point of information” is to be used to request information in the form of a question. It is not intended to make a point or comment about what somebody said.
She said when a member calls a “point of order,” they must name the rule that is being violated.
“It is dilatory to constantly raise points of order and then appeal the decisions of the chair on the point of order,” she said.
Calling a “point of information” or a “point of order” is rare in most public meetings. But at Flint City Council meetings, they are commonplace, and often lead to arguments about the rules, or personal attacks that stretch meetings into the wee hours of the morning.
Siewert told the council that they could have saved a “great deal of time,” had they not spent time debating appeals which are not supposed to be debatable. She explained that if the chair rules a member to be out of order as it relates to decorum, it is appealable but it is not debatable.
Siewert cited an example from a previous meeting when a resident claimed during public comment that Kate Fields “lied.” Fields called the person out of order due to it being a personal attack.
For 15 minutes, the council discussed whether or not they thought the speaker was out of order before putting it to a vote.
Siewert said the correct process was for the chair to provide her reasoning for why she ruled him out of order, and then the council should have immediately gone into a vote without debate or discussion.
Once Siewert finished her presentation, the council voted to recess until the next available time to meet.