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Flint, MI– The Flint City Council unanimously voted to spend two days getting trained in appropriate behavior during council meetings.
As proposed by Council President Kate Fields, council members will meet Feb. 15 and March 1, in public meetings to get trained in decorum in debate, and “dilatory,” or disruptive, motions and appeals.
Council meetings have been known to go on for seven or eight hours, and often get feisty. Frequently, members complain about each other name-calling, bullying, making personal attacks, being disrespectful, and not understanding the rules.
“I think it’s clear that this council needs some additional training in parliamentary and council rules,” Fields said.
Eleanor “Coco” Siewert, a professional registered parliamentarian, will be conducting the trainings. Fields said she has given the council training before but that it has been at least a year since the last one.
“Really my goal is simply to cut down on the time we spend in our meetings and make the meetings more effective, efficient, and professional,” Fields said. “I want to cut down on personalities and redirect to issues.”
The meetings will both be held at 5:30 p.m. and will be posted publicly on YouTube, the same way the council meetings are posted. Councilman Eric Mays said he was excited that these trainings are happening, and that they will be done publicly.
“I pray to God that it work, because we done had training sessions before and council people come out and don’t know what’s said,” Mays said. “Oh, I’m excited…Oh, happy days.”
Fields said the trainings are budgeted for under a line item for “professional services.” She was also hoping to hire a full-time parliamentarian with that budget.
The parliamentarian would attend council meetings and step in to clarify whether something is being done correctly or incorrectly.
“A lot of matters come up that I’m not an expert on, and some councilmembers deliberately misdirect or misstate things,” Fields said. “We need someone who is an expert.”
Council voted to hire a parliamentarian on a three-month trial basis, but the candidate Fields had selected couldn’t take the position for personal reasons. She said it’s been hard to find someone to take on the role.
Before COVID-19, Fields said it was challenging to find someone in the area to serve as a parliamentarian. She said most people were not located in Flint, and didn’t want to make long drives back home late at night when the meetings ended.
Now that the meetings are virtual, she said it should be easier to find someone in theory, but that’s not the case.
“What makes it harder is we have a state-wide reputation for being dysfunctional,” Fields said.
Fields said she is still looking for a candidate who could attend the meetings, and also help the council “revamp” the rules. She said that with clearer rules, a parliamentarian, committee meetings, and this training, she “can only hope”’ the meetings will improve.