Monday, October 15, 2012

How Many Illegal Subcommittee Meetings Has The Southbridge Town Council Held?



Rule Number 18 of The Southbridge Town Council Rules and Regulations states:

“All rules of procedure not considered herein shall be governed by ‘Roberts Rules of Parliamentary Procedure’.”

It has recently been brought to my attention that on a number of occasions meetings of various subcommittees have been held where there was not a quorum of the subcommittee membership in attendance. In order to resolve this problem the council chair or vice-chair has been called upon to meet quorum requirements in their status as ex-officio members of all subcommittees as provided for in Town Council rule #4:

“Each Councilor shall be assigned equally to subcommittees except for the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, who shall be ex-officio members of all subcommittees, and shall be able to participate and to vote.”

The problem with this is that under Roberts Rules of Order, which according to the council’s own rule number 18 is the governing authority, ex-officio members of committees can indeed participate and vote. However, in the case of the Chairman (referred to in Roberts Rules as the president) and by extension, given office and status as defined under rule 4, the vice-chairman, cannot be counted toward the presence of a quorum:

“As an ex-officio member of a committee, the president has the same rights as other committee members, but is not obligated to attend meetings of the committee and is not counted in determining the number required for a quorum or whether a quorum is present.” (Robert’s Rules Of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, page 440)

The consequences of this are obvious.

In all cases where a subcommittee meeting was held and a quorum was achieved only due to the presence of the chairman or vice-chairman acting in their ex-officio capacity, that meeting was invalid because no quorum was in fact present.

In addition, such meetings and all their proceedings and actions were violations of the state’s Open Meeting Law. Finally, if five or more council members were present and business was discussed then it was an illegal meeting of such councilors, a potential ethics violation, not protected under the rubric of a legitimate public meeting.

(NOTE: The explanatory notes to the Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law Complaint Form state: “The complaint must be filed with the public body within 30 days of the alleged violation, or if the alleged Open Meeting Law violation could not reasonably have been known at the time it occurred, then within 30 days of the date it should reasonably have been discovered. [emphasis addes])

3 comments:

  1. If I understood the reports on subcommittee meetings tonight, the DPW subcommittee meeting only had a quorum because of the presence of the chairman and second meetings of both EHS and PPP only had quorums because of the presence of citizen members.

    Now, I could be mistaken, but if true, then we had one violation as outlined above and two where the decisions were by unelected citizen members.

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  2. Councilor Marcucci is now raising an interesting question – how did something get added to Councilor Langevin’s subcommittee agenda without his knowledge?

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    Replies
    1. Now Charette is saying "trust me". Isn't that what he said about having a "sub-station" on Main Street?

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