New Carrollton City Council members speak up about speaking out -- Gazette.Net


The New Carrollton City Council’s recent behavior — interrupting each other, bringing up issues not on the agenda — is making it tougher to lead, said Duane Rosenberg, the council’s chairman.

“I stop it frequently,” Rosenberg said, referring to meetings when council members speak loudly over each other. “Two or three people start talking at the same time, but when I stop them, they get angry at me. ... It’s like I’m a parent with little kids.”

As a result, Rosenberg, who has served on the five-member council since 2003, is pushing for new rules for meetings.

Rosenberg and Councilwoman June Garrett are drafting a set of “standing rules” that govern everything from when someone should take over for the mayor if he is absent to who has the right to speak at any given time, known as “right of the floor.”

“[Other council members] feel very strongly about issues,” Rosenberg said. “... They seem to think it’s okay to keep blurting things out and interrupting each other. It’s not fair to the audience or to the speakers who are cut off in the middle of their statements.”

The council could adopt the rules as early as March 6, officials said.

Garrett said having written rules will spur council members to be more courteous.

“Our council members know what they should and should not be doing, but the rules aren’t set in stone,” she said. “A lot of times, if they’re set in stone, they’ll become more apt to do the right thing. And, of course, the chair can mention the right of the floor and it will stop them in their tracks.”

Councilwoman Liza Fenton, in her second two-year term, said the council typically operates using Robert’s Rules of Order, a widely used set of rules for meetings by legislative bodies. But unlike many other municipalities, she said, New Carrollton has not adopted the rules.

“Since we don’t have anything specifically written out for the council to reference, it’s hard to keep it consistent,” said Fenton, who favors new rules. “I remember in my first term, it was difficult without having something in writing to know what I had to adhere to.”

Rosenberg said interruptions and unscheduled topics can severely prolong council meetings.

“Any time you introduce a new topic that the rest of the body hasn’t had time to review, questions start surfacing,” Rosenberg said. “Then people start coming up with their own opinions. It should be the chair’s prerogative to stop it and say, ‘This is not on the agenda.’”

Garrett said she hopes a proposed measure letting the chairman immediately stop council members who speak out of order also will deter lengthy, off-topic arguments seen in recent months.

Dick Bechtold, a resident and former city councilman who lost his re-election bid in 2011, said he has noticed decorum at council meetings diminish in recent months.

“I don’t know why some of the things are brought up when they shouldn’t be brought up [because they’re not on the agenda]. Maybe those rules would curtail it, but I don’t know,” he said.