An appointment that’s normally routine turned into a battle over parliamentary procedure during Oak Harbor City Council’s Wednesday meeting.
The next day Councilwoman Tara Hizon said she was “horrified” by Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley’s handling of the meeting.
“It was the most unprofessional thing I have ever seen,” she said.
Councilman Joel Servatius said he had the same concerns. Dudley doesn’t understand his role at the meetings is one of impartial presider, he said.
“Clearly, his judgment was clouded by his emotions and personal agenda,” Servatius wrote in an email. “He then continues to talk over several council members who make a point of order and identify why he is incorrect.
“One of the fundamental laws of parliamentary procedure is the presider is the servant of the group.”
Dudley, however, said he plans to schedule a workshop on parliamentary procedure because he believes council members just don’t get it.
The trouble started after Dudley appointed Oak Harbor resident Cliff Howard, a self-described “politically incorrect” blogger on a conservative political website, to an empty seat on the city’s planning commission.
Like any appointment, the legislative body — in this case the City Council — must vote whether to confirm.
Howard’s confirmation was first set on the council’s consent agenda July 1, but Councilman Rick Almberg had it pulled and made a motion to reject it.
That motion passed unanimously.
Neither Almberg nor any other council member said in their motion why they voted to reject Howard’s appointment. Almberg said having Howard’s resume, which wasn’t provided, would have been “helpful” in making the decision.
Councilman Jim Campbell then made a motion to request Howard’s resume be provided for the next council meeting.
As a result, confirmation of Howard’s appointment to the commission, along with his resume, appeared on the consent agenda during Wednesday’s meeting.
This time, Servatius asked to have the item pulled from the consent agenda and made a motion to reject Howard’s appointment. Almberg seconded it.
Then things got confusing.
Hizon pointed out that a motion was previously made and passed; she argued that the same motion can’t be made more than once under the rules of parliamentary procedure.
Dudley said Hizon was wrong because Almberg’s motion was different. But Almberg pointed out that the two motions were exactly the same.
Nevertheless, the new motion to reject Howard again passed without explanation by the council members; only Campbell voting against the motion.
Dudley berated the council during the “mayor’s comments” portion of the council meeting.
“I would encourage you to at least be articulate and vocal in reference to why you chose to reject somebody.”
Councilwoman Beth Munns repeatedly interrupted Dudley. She told him that he was violating parliamentary procedure by discussing a motion after it was voted on.
Dudley told Munns she was wrong and he had a right to speak his mind.
“I believe the reason this individual was rejected was the fact that he was critical of the City Council,” Dudley said, referring to Howard’s blogs.
During the council comment period, Hizon said Munns was correct in her interpretation of procedure.
Last October, in a post on his blog, Howard called for council members Danny Paggao, Bob Severns and Joel Servatius be replaced by voters during the November 2013 general election.
Campbell was the only sitting member of the council recommended for reelection by Howard.
In his 2013 post, Howard said Dudley was in need of a city council supportive of his efforts.
In March 2014 blog post, Howard called Whidbey News-Times Editor and Publisher Keven R. Graves a “pompous, arrogant ass” for writing an editorial critical of Dudley’s secretive actions leading up to the felling of an historic oak tree at the Oak Harbor Post Office.
On Thursday, Hizon said she and the mayor attended the same workshop on parliamentary procedure and she can’t understand how he doesn’t know how to run meetings correctly.
“His role as chair is to act professionally and according to procedure,” she said.
“Neither of those things happened.”
The City Council adopted the Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, often referred to as Sturgis, as the guide governing meetings. It’s considered to be a simpler form of Robert’s Rules of Order, but parliamentarians still debate many of the nuances, according to documents on the Municipal Research website.
Sturgis makes it clear that it is up to the presiding officer, in this case the mayor, to keep the meetings professional and ensure there are no personal attacks.
Yet it also appears that a motion can be brought back before council more than once under certain circumstances.
“When a main motion has been acted on and defeated, it cannot be renewed in the same or substantially the same words at the same meeting or convention, but it may be reconsidered at the same meeting or convention and presented as a new motion at a later meeting or convention,” Sturgis states.
As for interruptions, it says that a member of the body may do so if he or she feels that procedure isn’t being followed. But council members should say, “point of order,” which Munns did not do. Then Dudley, as the presiding officer, should rule on the point of order.
Sturgis itself warns against nitpicking over parliamentary rules, as did former Oak Harbor City Attorney Bill Hawkins after the rules were adopted.
“When you adopt Sturgis, it does not mean you follow it blindly,” he said. “You should make it work for you.”
“There is room for common sense and negotiation.”
Howard said Thursday he is troubled by the “obstructionism” of the City Council. He said Dudley asked him to consider a seat on the planning commission and he agreed because he cares deeply about the community and wants to make a difference.
Howard Claims the council’s decision to reject him is political because he supports Dudley and believes he’s trying to do the right thing.
“I’m very vocal politically,” he said. “The council and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things.”
An IT director at a building supply chain, Howard said the planning commission isn’t about politics and he shouldn’t be rejected because of his politics. He said he would like council members to explain why they rejected him, even if they are critical of him.
“I’m used to hearing mean things,” he said. “I’ve lived in Oak Harbor all my life.”
Hizon said she doesn’t feel comfortable discussing reasons for rejecting Howard’s appointment publicly, but that her decision wasn’t politically motivated.
Hizon said she welcomes a diversity of opinions in government.
However, Hizon said she’s read some of Howard’s blogs and believes he misstated and misunderstood decisions made by the city.
“There’s a lack of understanding of the process,” she said.
Almberg said he also doesn’t have anything against Howard.
“I think that there are several potential candidates out there and the mayor has the opportunity to make a better selection.”