Attending a public government meeting may not be high on anyone’s list. I’ve observed dozens of City Council meetings in Fishers over the years, and there are almost always rows of empty chairs. However, these meetings are an important opportunity for residents to have their voices heard and hold their elected officials (like me) accountable. As a newly elected city councilor, I want to welcome all Fishers residents to attend a City Council meeting in 2020.
Unfortunately, in the past, these meetings have not been as welcoming to residents as they should be. I’ve spoken to people who vowed never to return after attending their first meeting because they found the proceedings rushed and too difficult to follow. I can’t promise that these meetings are ever going to be entertaining or fun, but I should be able to promise that residents will leave a meeting feeling more informed and connected to their community than they did coming in. When that’s not happening, it’s the responsibility of the Council to make improvements to how it conducts business.
To that end, at the February 17 Fishers City Council meeting I recommended a change in how we conduct business. I proposed that Robert’s Rules of Order be adopted as standard meeting procedure for all City Council meetings. Robert’s Rules of Order is the most familiar parliamentary procedure for proposing, amending and approving/disapproving motions in a meeting. It is a common and accepted municipal government meeting procedure according to Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, the statewide organization advocates for Indiana cities and towns.
Adopting Robert’s Rules of Order could have brought consistency to every Council meeting no matter who’s holding the gavel, and better-enabled residents to follow along. As one of two Democrats on the City Council, it would have also ensured that all Fishers residents who I represent have a voice. However, after proposing the amendment, several of my fellow councilors expressed their concerns that following Robert’s Rules would be too onerous. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, but I recognized they had serious concerns. I therefore suggested an alternative amendment, this one merely requiring a period of discussion before every vote. Even Mayor Fadness chimed in to call this amendment a compromise that would avoid the other councilors’ concerns about overly complicated rules or filibustering.
And yet, even this common-sense compromise couldn’t win the support of the Council. My amendment failed, 7-2, with only me and fellow Democrat and new councilor, Sam DeLong, voting in favor.
Although they weren’t willing to put it in writing, my fellow councilors promised to the City that they will always allow for discussion before a vote. I’m glad they made this commitment and I’m ready to hold them to it. Although in the past I’ve attended dozens of meetings where I observed the Council skipping over discussion, new Council President Coble has done a good job leading our meetings and has never failed to open discussion. This makes me hopeful. Big, important decisions are made at City Council meetings, and residents deserve clear procedures so that they can follow along and understand how their representatives are serving them.