Parliamentarian takes exception to running of Oxnard Utility Rate Panel
Editor’s note: At the 1-24-17 Oxnard City Council meeting, Alicia Percell voiced her objections to how the Utility Rate Advisory Council (URAP) (which is supposed to assist in the rate-setting process) is being managed by City staff. Those who were observing during the last rate-setting exercise know that according to most Council members, some vocal residents and some panel members themselves, the panel performance was unsatisfactory. At that time, the most vocal panel members said that they were not listened to, not given sufficient information, objections/alternative views were not formally noted and that they didn’t agree with subsequent City actions. Some Council Members added that panel members were not sufficiently prepared to carry out their mission. City staff may be attempting to prevent meetings going out of control and/or being dominated by one or a few participants.
Ms. Percell, a Professional Registered Parliamentarian, objects to the process on the grounds that it does not follow Roberts Rules of Order, which are very widely used in the Western World, and which the Council has specified are to be the rules followed in the conduct of City meetings, unless specific exceptions are made by law. She maintains that no City ordinances make provisions for exceptions for the URAP and cites applicable Roberts Rules. Ms. Percell is the wife of URAP member Aaron Starr.
Alicia Percell’s statement prepared for the 1-24-17 Council meeting (not all was delivered due to lack of time:
City council members are aware that I am a Professional Registered Parliamentarian, certified in Robert’s Rules of Order and the proper conduct of meetings.
Tomorrow is the first meeting of Utility Ratepayers Advisory Panel (URAP), created by city council.
I’ve heard the frustrations of those who participated in the 2015 URAP. I’ve watched the online videos of it, and I understand why the participants were upset.
City staff tightly controlled the entire process. The URAP was asked to approve ideas without even knowing the costs. City staff drafted their own recommendations for the URAP, which is backwards. Etc.
This time must be different.
I have a concern that there’s still a mindset that city staff members have authority to control the URAP members in some way. Let me show you what I mean.
The agenda packet for tomorrow’s meeting is available on the Utilities Task Force webpage.
I’ve handed out slide #5 from the first staff presentation, titled “Discussion Guidelines”, and at the top it says “URAP members agree to abide by the following discussion guidelines:”
Neither the City Council nor the Utilities Task Force voted to impose this agreement on the URAP members. That leaves me to believe that city staff thinks it has authority to impose something on the URAP, which is not appropriate.
Some of these proposed guidelines are really good ideas for civility, but those are already covered by requirements in Robert’s Rules of Order – things like decorum, being respectful of each other, one person speaking at a time, etc. Robert’s Rules already covers all that, so no need to re-invent the wheel.
However, four of these would undermine fundamental principles in Robert’s Rules:
Bullet Point #3: “Proactive active listening and engage in dialogue vs. debate.”
Perhaps this is just a semantic difference about speaking tone, but healthy debate is fundamentally necessary to the deliberative process. “Debate” is a magic word in Robert’s Rules, and it’s precisely how group decisions are SUPPOSED to be made. (See Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), 11th ed., p. 42-44)
Bullet Point #8: “Record alternative perspectives when the group does not reach consensus.”
No. The URAP report back to the parent body should only contain recommendations adopted by a majority vote. This is basic Robert’s Rules. Their task is to find what has majority support.
(See RONR, 11th ed., p. 503, lines 21 which states:
“Except as noted in this paragraph, a report of a board or committee can contain only what has been agreed to by a majority vote at a regular or properly called meeting of which every member has been notified (or at an adjournment of one of these meetings, pp. 93–94)—where a quorum of the board or committee was present.”)
Bullet Point #9: “Members of the group are not to speak on behalf of the URAP.”
This just looks like an attempt for city staff to position themselves to speak for the URAP, which is inappropriate. The URAP should adopt a written report to speak for themselves and designate a member of the URAP to present it for them.
(See RONR, 11th ed., p. 506, lines 7-15, which states:
“A report of a board or committee to an assembly is presented at the proper time by a “reporting member” of the board or committee. For the report of a board whose chairman is also the presiding officer of the assembly, the secretary or another one of its members acts as reporting member. In the case of a committee, the committee chairman is the reporting member unless—because he does not agree with the report or for any other reason—he does not wish to give it, in which event the committee chooses another one of its members.”)
Bullet Point #10: “Empower the facilitator to moderate discussions.”
This sounds like an attempt to keep the URAP from controlling its own meetings. Committees have their own chairs who are to facilitate the meeting. City staff has no authority to dictate to the committee who will run the meetings.
It is important that you emphasize to your staff that the URAP must be in charge of their own meetings, and city staff should assist them, but not try to control them.