When the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly meets Thursday night, there will likely be a number of residents rising to speak out about an ordinance passed two weeks ago. Ordinance Number 2014-20, was sponsored by Assemblywomen Carol Austerman and Chris Lynch.
Calling for decorum during public and assembly member comment, the ordinance requires the presiding officer to immediately stop the speaker if they engage in personal attacks or impugn the motives of an assembly member.
Former Borough Mayor Jerome Selby chaired hundreds, if not thousands, of meetings over the years, and is very familiar with Roberts Rules of Order and its limitations in practice.
“You can put anything you want to in an ordinance, but realistically in the middle of a meeting there are some folks who are simply not going to abide by the rules. And you got to understand that. So you need to use the Roberts Rules of order and whatever other tools you have available to keep folks on target. They’re supposed to be commenting on the policy – which there’s nothing about policy that has to do with individuals. But some folks can’t get that through their head and some folks think that the way they will affect policy is to attack somebody. Which of course they defeat their purpose when they do that. But they never understand that.”
Having wielded the chair’s gavel to stop abusive or otherwise off-topic speakers on occasion, Selby said he understands what the assembly was trying to do with the decorum ordinance.
“I probably would have signed it if they passed it. Simply because I don’t see anything in there that impinges on somebody being able to get up and testify and say anything they want to say about a policy. I mean you can say ‘this policy stinks and here’s why it isn’t going to work for the community.’ But you shouldn’t come up there and say, ‘Well, Joe Brown came up with this stupid idea and he’s a so-and-so.’ That doesn’t help the policy debate at all.”
One of the issues about the ordinance that has taken some criticism is its seemingly iron-clad requirement that the meeting chair take action to stop anyone they deem to be violating the decorum of the meeting. Selby thought it could be a little more flexible.
“This is where an assembly is trying to do the right thing, but they have to exercise some restraint as well so there’s some flexibility stays in there for dealing with different types of situations. That’s the problem with these policies, is when you’re working on them you’re trying to think of all the possible scenarios where it would apply. And the problem is you never think of them all. There’s always something that shows up later that you didn’t think of.”
Thursday night’s meeting will be broadcast live on KMXT starting at 7:30. And while the decorum ordinance is not on the agenda, there are always two opportunities for citizens to speak up on whatever topic they choose.