PITTSFIELD -- A proposal by the City Council president to allow more discussion before petitions are referred to subcommittees was rejected after a second lengthy debate on the subject.
Melissa Mazzeo, who again stepped down from the president's chair Tuesday to participate in the debate, proposed changing a council rule that cuts off discussion once a motion is made to refer a petition to a council subcommittee. The council ultimately spurned the rule change in a 6-5 vote.
Before a vote could be held at a Feb. 11 meeting, Councilor at large Barry Clairmont had called a "charter objection" to halt debate on the issue. Under the city's new charter, the provision allows a single councilor to cut off debate on an issue until the following meeting.
On Tuesday, Clairmont, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop and others continued to raise objections to the change. They said allowing debate when an issue is first raised could lead to lengthy discussion and longer council meetings, and it would make the subcommittee's review redundant and diminish its role.
The change would "not be good government," Clairmont said, adding that "issues are best vetted in committee."
Clairmont and Krol said again that they believe the change would allow proposals from the mayor to be passed through the council without adequate review. "This allows the administration to set the agenda," Clairmont said.
Councilors said Tuesday they had learned from former Councilor Joseph Ryan that the no-debate rule was put in place about 40 years ago in part because meetings were running too long. "This is well-intentioned," Lothrop said, "but I truly believe we should leave it as it is."
Sometimes, he added, "it is good to slow government down."
Mazzeo reiterated Tuesday that her intention was to allow more discussion, not to stop referrals to committee, most of which are automatically required under other council rules. But she said there are times when discussion could help clear up questions about a petition -- especially when department heads are in the audience -- or it could allow citizens to speak on an issue.
Concerning the idea that the change would allow the administration to push proposals through quickly, Mazzeo said, "That was very misleading, and it was not appreciated."
The change, she pointed out, would bring the council in line with the wording in Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, which the council uses as a basic model to govern debate and meetings. The current council rule was a local change adopted during the 1970s.
"I really want to just get a smoother transition before petitions go to committee," Mazzeo said.
Eventually councilors Clairmont, Krol, Lothrop, Nicholas Caccamo, Anthony Simonelli and Churchill Cotton voted against the change. Mazzeo, Vice President Christopher Connell, who acted as president during the debate, and councilors Kathleen Amuso, Lisa Tully and Kevin Morandi voted in favor.
When Clairmont raised a charter objection on Feb. 11 ending debate, it appeared to most councilors that Mazzeo's proposal had enough votes to pass. However, Simonelli, who said he was wrestling with the issue, and Cotton, who had asked questions but not firmly indicated how he would vote, both voted no on Tuesday.
The other councilors had stated or indicated how they would vote.
On Tuesday, Connell first attempted to ask City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan for an updated opinion on the use of charter objections, but Lothrop said that was not on the agenda and should be taken up at a future meeting, and Connell agreed.
On Feb. 11, after Clairmont's objection, Connell called a recess while the meaning of the move was discussed. Afterward, after more discussion and apparent confusion on how to proceed, the issue was left undecided and taken up again on Tuesday.
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