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  • By Lisa Brody

Parliamentary procedure session for commission

Birmingham city commissioners held a special workshop meeting on Monday, August 17, where former city mayor and noted parliamentarian Coco Siewert gave a presentation on parliamentary procedure. In introducing Siewert, who is a professional registered parliamentarian, mayor Pierre Boutros noted she is a former city commissioner, mayor and library board member. Siewart was Birmingham mayor from 1988-1989 and again from 1995-1996. She has been a parliamentarian for over 20 years for the Michigan Municipal League and a trainer for League of Michigan Municipal Clerks. The commission sought clarification from Siewert after disputes over how to proceed with meetings and agenda items. Siewert explained that there are numerous laws that must be followed. “There is a certain order to the laws or rules by which a municipality in Michigan must conduct itself,” she said. “It must follow the Constitution of the U.S., and applicable federal laws which would affect you.” Then, municipal meetings must follow rules set forth by the Michigan Constitution of 1963, and applicable Michigan laws, notable two – Michigan Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act. “Both passed in 1976, following federal 1975 laws,” which she said came out of Watergate. “Watergate started the whole thing. In Birmingham, there has been an issue with attention paid to the Open Meetings Act, so we have to be careful. It applies to the commission – but also to all appointed boards, committees and subcommittees. “There is a myth that anything less than a quorum does not apply. But that is not true – because that becomes a subcommittee,” she said. Next, a community must pay attention to its city or village charter, and she urged each commissioner to read it. “It's very important.” Ordinances of the municipality, the laws passed by the municipal government, are the next in order to be followed, succeeded by the Council Rules of Order, which governs the procedures of the council. “All of the rules take precedence over Roberts Rules of Order,” Siewert said. “You can have rules in your council, rules of order that take precedence over Roberts – so don't let anyone shake Roberts at you. Sometimes they're goals, sometimes they're adopted procedures, and sometimes they're charter requirements.” Then comes parliamentary procedure, which is a tool that enables members to accomplish a municipalities goals, is a recognizable format for a meeting, introduces motions that lead to decision-making, and prescribes minutes that record action. “For you, it is the business of the city of Birmingham,” she said. Noting the difficulty members have had in discourse over items, she explained the rules of debate, where the maker of the motion is entitled to speak first, and a member may not speak against his/her own motion, although they can vote against it. She said all remarks must be limited to the merits of the subject immediately under discussion. “This is something councils do not do well,” she noted. All personal comments about other individuals should be avoided, she pointed out, and all remarks must be addressed to or through the chair. She said remarks should be limited to two minutes. “You do not have a limit – you are surrounded by municipalities that do. In the past, Birmingham did have a limit. It is not fair to the public to not all have same amount of time.” She also said that commissioners could be timed in their remarks. An issue in the last year, since the election of new commissioners in November, has been the addition of non-agenda items during commissioner comments. She said that was not an acceptable use of commissioner comments. “In Roberts, it's called for the good of the commission, it's congratulatory. It's not responded to, it's not for debate. It's common to have it for two or three minutes, 'I saw this new store opened,'” she said. “There has been increasing additions to your meetings that had not been on the meeting. That is understandably irritating or annoying to other council members who are not prepared to discuss them. “One area to bring it up is new business – it alerts staff and commissioners whether it should be discussed in more detail at a future meeting,” Siewart said. She said it should only be briefly explained, and then a motion can be made to have it on a future agenda to be looked into. “That puts staff, council members and the public on notice that it will be on a future agenda. It's increasingly being used by councils.” Two other items Siewert pointed out – one was that during public comment, commissioners and staff should not respond to the public. “I don't know of any community that doesn't have a rule about no interaction with public comment.” She also said the minutes of meetings should be what was done, not what was said. “Yours are like plays,” she chastised.

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