Alderman: Mayor and two aldermen should not be able to end discussion on an issue without a vote of entire board

Published 2:51 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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NATCHEZ — A Natchez alderman has questioned some of the rules that are being used to conduct meetings of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Dan Dillard, sixth ward alderman, said Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson is not following the proper rules of order when aldermen are discussing an issue.

Dillard said discussion is stifled when an alderman “calls for the question,” meaning calls for discussion to end, which is then seconded by another alderman.

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At that point, the mayor is immediately calling for a vote on the original motion.

That’s not how it should work, said Dillard.

According to Roberts Rules of Order, which the city uses to guide how its meetings are conducted, a vote must be taken and two-thirds of the aldermen must agree to end discussion.

The point of order became an issue at the Wednesday, Feb. 22, special called meeting of the mayor and board of aldermen.

At that meeting, Third Ward Alderman Sarah Carter Smith, who is chairman of the aldermen’s public safety committee, moved to post the city’s police chief’s position internally for five days, meaning opening the job for applications from existing, qualified police officers only. First Ward Alderman Valencia Hall seconded Carter’s motion.

Dillard was questioning the mayor as to why the job posting was limited to only current city police officers and not open to outside qualified candidates, when Hall called the question, meaning she called for discussion to end and a vote to be taken on Smith’s original motion. Smith seconded the motion.

Gibson went straight to taking a vote on Smith’s original motion to post the job opening. That move passed by a five to one vote. Alderman Billie Joe Frazier was the only alderman to vote against the internal posting of the police chief’s job.

“The entire board should vote on whether to end discussion and move on to a vote,” Dillard said.

At present, that is not happening when the mayor hears a call for the question from aldermen.

“Anything else stymies the voices of the aldermen, who may not be ready for discussion on an issue to end,” Dillard said.

Without a vote on whether aldermen agree that discussion should end, “the mayor and two aldermen basically have control over other aldermen. That’s not right and it’s not how Roberts says it should work.”

According to Roberts Rules of Order, which the city adopts as rules to use to govern its meetings at the beginning of each new administration, the call for a question must pass by a two-thirds vote of the aldermen.

That’s not how City Attorney Bryan Callaway interprets city code.

Callaway said the city’s code uses a hybrid of its own regulations and Roberts Rules of Order.

“The City of Natchez has adopted rules of procedure in the City Code that control the order of business in a meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen,” Callaway said. “Any rules that are not specifically addressed by the Code are to be decided by Roberts Rules of Order.

He said the specific rules governing the issue of ending discussion and moving to a vote on a motion are these:

Sec. 2-57. – Previous question (Rule 21).

When the previous question is moved and seconded, it shall be put in the form: Shall the main question now be put? If this is carried, all proposed amendments and all further motions and debate shall be excluded, and the question shall be put without delay.

Sec. 2-87. – Robert’s Rules of Order to answer other questions (Rule 51).

“All questions not provided for in this article shall be decided by Roberts Rules of Order.”

“For three years, and I don’t know what they did before me, there would be a motion to call the question, a second, and they would vote on the matter at hand,” Callaway said. “That’s how the board has run and everybody has been happy. If they want to vote on a previous question when a question is called, we can go into a vote. We have a really good board and it has been working well. If everybody wants to be a stickler on the rules now, let’s be a stickler.”

Dillard considers it a bigger issue.

“A mayor and two aldermen should not be able to end discussion. That’s the majority of the board allowing the minority of the board to silence them from any discussion. You can’t stymie the discussion because you don’t like what you are hearing,” Dillard said.

He said he wants to see the mayor and aldermen follow the rules of order — either the city code or Robert’s Rules of Order, both of which require a vote of aldermen before ending discussion on a motion being considered.

Gibson said if an alderman has an objection to how things are being done, he should bring that to the board for discussion.

“Ever since our term began, I have done my best to conduct the meetings in a way that allows us to all be respectful of one another and respectful of the time in every meeting. We have so many things we have to take care of. Obviously, some limitations on discussion have to exist. I try very hard to make sure everyone gets a chance to express themselves and I have done this when others would have preferred I work to make the meeting shorter,” Gibson said.

“I want to make sure we are doing our level best to take good care of the people’s business. If an alderman raises an objection to the way we are doing it or have been doing it, I would like to have that conversation as a board. Bring it forward. We do a lot more when we work together than we do when we work independently,” he said. “Our code charter works in sync with Roberts Rules of Order and sometimes we have to figure that out. If an alderman doesn’t like what we are doing, bring that forward because we want to make sure we are doing it properly,” Gibson said.