2015-10-02 / Community

New rules due

New standing rules for the South Portland City Council, voted in at its most recent meeting, are scheduled to take affect Oct. 11. Chief among those changes is removal of the rules from the city’s code of ordinances, making future amendments less of a parliamentary process.

“We’ve been using some very outdated rules and, in some cases, have deviated from those rules over the past couple of decades,” said Councilor Claude Morgan. “This is an opportunity to start fresh with a better process and more transparency.”

Among changes to the actual rules, the city manager, in addition to the mayor, may now call special meetings of the city council, while councilors may be sent notice of special meetings via email. While not mentioned in the rules, state law says the press must be alerted to special council meetings “by the same means or faster” used to notify council members.

Rules also now stipulate that supporting documents for council agenda items should be submitted to the city clerk’s office by noon on the Thursday preceding the regular meeting at which that topic is to be addressed. Meanwhile, the various volunteer boards and committees of the city must submit their agendas to the clerk by 11 a.m. each Friday.

A number of new standing committees created over the years have been added to those officially recognized in the standing rules, while a number of defunct committees have been eliminated. Also stricken from the rules is a provision that required councilors to stand and be counted when a vote is in question. A number of councilors expressed concern that some future elected official might be confined to a wheelchair, and unduly embarrassed by the rule.

Some councilors also expressed concern that some of their numbers have trouble limiting themselves to three minutes of floor time during the round-robin portion of their meetings. As such, the rules now merely say councilors “shall try to limit themselves” to three minutes of speaking time, rather than setting it as a “maximum” allowance.

Much revision also was given to council procedure at workshop sessions. The start time for such meetings was officially set at 6:30 p.m. and the members of the public “generally” allowed to speak to agenda items for a maximum of two minutes, each. Although both were longstanding practice, the official rules still had workshops starting at 7 p.m. and the public barred from speaking “unless recognized by the chairperson.”

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