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City Council: No more abstentions allowed
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Members of the Turlock City Council will no longer have the option of abstaining from a vote, following a split council decision Tuesday night.A vote of “abstain” allows elected officials to participate in votes without stating their support or opposition to the item discussedVice Mayor Kurt Spycher, who brought forward the idea of eliminating abstentions, and Council members Ted Howze and Amy Bublak supported the measure. Mayor John Lazar and Councilwoman Mary Jackson dissented.With the vote, the Turlock City Council follows in the footsteps of the Modesto City Council and a growing number of cities to disallow abstentions. Council members will still be able to step down from discussions wherein they have a conflict of interest, or request a postponement on agenda items when more information is required.The only member of the public to speak about the proposed ordinance change, John Miles, was opposed.“The option to abstain is in Robert’s Rules of Order (the most commonly used manual on how governmental groups should run meetings),” Miles said. “What is different about the Turlock City Council that Robert’s Rules should not apply? …There have been no problems with people abstaining.”According to Howze, numerous council abstentions in closed sessions, particularly on employee reviews, spurred his yes vote.Miles went on to describe his fear that banning abstentions would lead to more divisive council arguments and one-sided legislative proposals.“I’m really shocked to hear it’s divisive to ask an elected official to vote yes or no on an issue,” Spycher said. “I feel that we are elected to make decisions and I feel that, outside of a conflict of interest, we should vote on issues.”Jackson, a supporter of governmental transparency, remained unconvinced of the need for a ban on abstentions.“I just don’t think it’s necessary,” Jackson said. “Sometimes we over regulate ourselves in government. …  I’m a big believer in Robert’s Rules of Order.”Jackson also opposed the measure Tuesday evening due to the way it was presented. The ordinance amendment was on a special agenda, in a special meeting where it was the only item on the agenda, and was not distributed to council members until just a day before the meeting.Jackson asked the matter be postponed to the next meeting due to the late notice, but her motion was voted down. She said she would not participate in future votes for items distributed at the last minute. Spycher had asked the discussion be agendized during the “Council Items for Future Consideration” segment of the council’s previous, July 13 meeting. Lazar said at that time it would be placed on Tuesday’s agenda. Interim Assistant to the City Manager Michael Cooke took responsibility for the late meeting notice, stating he finished preparing the item in time for inclusion in the regular meeting agenda, but forgot to send it to City Clerk in time.The ordinance change will come before the council for a second and final hearing – standard procedure for all ordinance amendments before becoming law – at regularly scheduled Aug. 10 Turlock City Council meeting.To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.