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Council gives civility priority

POSTED September 11, 2009 9:49 p.m.
The Turlock City Council took the first step towards a new, more streamlined approach to council meetings on Tuesday evening by adjusting the seating arrangement in City Hall.
Mayor John Lazar will now sit flanked at the dais by City Manager Roy Wasden and City Attorney Phaedra Norton. Previously, Vice Mayor Ted Howze and Councilman Kurt Spycher sat adjacent to Lazar.
The change in seating was recommended by Wasden in response to a request by Lazar for a list of suggestions that would lead to a more efficient, civil council meeting.
“Based on those recommendations, I have implemented this seating arrangement on a trial basis,” Lazar said. “I believe this arrangement will allow the Mayor to have better access to the City Attorney and City Manager for more efficient operation of our council meetings.”
The change is just the first suggested by Wasden in his Rules of Decorum and Commitment to Civility, which were initially on the council’s Tuesday agenda for adoption. The item was removed from the agenda prior to the meeting for further review.
The draft version of the resolution, which was included in the council’s Tuesday packet, calls for strict three-minute time limits for speakers, disallows applause except during the recognitions portion of the evening, and bans disruptive demonstrations for or against an issue, including the waving of placards or pictures. Speakers are requested to be gracious to those with opposing views, refraining from ridiculing, threatening, disparaging, or demeaning any meeting attendee, but would not be turned away unless he or she exhibits inappropriate behavior.
“The City Council wants citizens to speak out on items that concern them, and the council wants everyone to feel comfortable when speaking out or when listening to speakers,” reads the draft Rules of Decorum.
The document also outlines the process by which all agenda items are adopted, making council meetings more transparent to first-time attendees.
The Rules of Decorum, save for three-minute time limits, would be applicable to council members, staff, and the public alike under the Commitment to Civility.
The use of electronic devices by members sitting at the dais would be forbidden under a separate provision, with the exception of electronic calendars to verify dates and availability for council and community events. The change would be intended to reduce disruption and to remove any appearances of impropriety.
According to Lazar and Wasden, the Rules of Decorum were not brought about by any particular incident. Rather, a series of “technical challenges” had become apparent over time, and Lazar saw an opportunity to make improvements in the way Turlock does business.
“Everything is working very well,” Lazar said. “It’s just a good time to have the discussion.”
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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