Councilors debate rule changes: Talks linger on when to cut mics

It was no small irony that the Keizer city council members spent most of a work session discussing how long they should be allowed to talk. 

Members of the council met Monday, Feb. 22, to discuss potential revisions to the council’s rules and policies, the first such update in more than a decade. 

The council rules and policies set forth the standards of council conduct and define the lines between different types of council rules. Council members discussed several points of the proposed revision, but lingered in a conversation about how long each councilor should be given to discuss the other activities they are involved in during regular council meetings. 

“This was a hot button for me,” said Elizabeth Smith. “I monitor the social media feed while we are meeting and as soon as council reports begin the numbers drop.”  Aside from the loss of viewers, staff reports are taken after the councilors report on their activities, a process that has taken an hour or more on many occasions. 

“After all the reports, [Keizer Public Works Director] Bill Lawyer would lead a discussion about the road striping that we were all getting griped at over. But everyone would miss it because they tuned out,” Smith continued. 

Members of the council agreed that updates from staff should precede councilors’ individual reports once the new rules are adopted, but it was less clear what the body would do to constrain the reports from councilors.

The work group that considered updating the rules, which included councilors Laura Reid, Dan Kohler and Smith, suggested a limit of three minutes per councilor. 

Councilor Ross Day passionately disagreed with limiting councilors. 

“That is foreign to me and I don’t know any other body that limits the amount of time that an elected member can speak,” Day said. “I think that’s a bad idea. If members of the public get five minutes, then we should get at least that if not more.”

Kohler said the decision to limit the reports was less about a specific time than content. 

“If you don’t have some sort of limit, we end up with a lot of redundancy and we want the meeting to be engaging for the public,” Kohler said. 

To trim the amount of time spent on the reports without setting a time limit, Mayor Cathy Clark suggested focusing on meetings and activities that were not Keizer-sponsored and pulling out single aspects that held the most relevance to city residents. 

Day, a land use attorney, also took issue with a lack of direction in the rules regarding how items are placed on the agenda. Since taking office in January, Day has expressed doubt about the city’s ability to place liens on properties neglected by owners after the city performed upkeep. 

“Nothing in the city charter or rules that explains how items get placed on the agenda. The city manager has the authority to place an item on the agenda unilaterally and we don’t have the same power,” Day said.

For the council to put items on the agenda, at least three councilors must agree to do so. 

There have also been times councilors rejected requests by citizens to place items on agendas on the spot. In recent years, the council was approached by business owners to permit a social gaming club within the city and to relax rules on distance required between marijuana shops. Councilors took no action on either request.

“Each of you individually don’t have a lot of power, but collectively you do,” Eppley said. “It keeps individuals from dictating the business of the city.”

City Attorney Shannon Johnson said the property liens, while not mentioned in the rules, come to the council as the result of local ordinance and penalties imposed at the end of a much longer process. 

One proposed change, to remove a long-standing method of selecting a council president, passed by without remark when the entire council had an opportunity to provide input. The matter received lengthy airing during a work group meeting in January. (See related story Mayor criticized on this page)