Thursday, Sep. 27 2012 5:07PM
Cockrell blasts “tyranny of two”
Majority of council approve Rules Committee proposal
By Russ Pulley
After a tongue-lashing from Councilmember Ed Cockrell, a majority of the Lee’s Summit City Council approveed an ordinance allowing a no vote by two members to kill a bill considered in council committees.
Cockrell said the Rules Committee plan will undermine the city’s strong city manager, weak mayor form of government set by the Lee’s Summit City Charter.
“At least that’s what I hear from other people and what I’m beginning to believe,” Cockrell said.
Councilmember Kathy Hofmann earlier had resigned from the committee in protest of its proposals, also saying they undermine the charter. Councilmember Rob Binney, silent during the meeting, abstained, while Cockrell and Hofmann voted against the ordinance Sept. 20.
Councilmembers voting yes included Brian Whitley and the three Rules Committee members: Allan Gray, Derek Holland and chairman Bob Johnson.
Cockrell contends the two-vote rule gives too much power to opponents of a bill, creating a “tyranny of the two.”
Holland said he was the driving force behind the two-vote rule and said he was surprised when he was elected to find that a bill that didn’t get majority vote would move to the full council from a committee. No other legislative body he knew of does that, he said.
Holland told the council it should keep in mind why it uses committees, so that members who have special interest or expertise can preview issues and to save time for the council.
“I assure you there’s nothing sinister,” Holland said.
Johnson, defending the committee’s work, quoted Robert’s Rules of Order which has the same requirement for a majority vote to move a bill out of committee.
He said that the council, by ordinance, many years ago, had adopted Robert’s Rules as its guideline and the new rules are to make procedures simpler. He noted the Lee’s Summit City Charter requires the council to adopt rules for how it conducts business.
“As a charter city, we have a lot of freedoms and liberties to organize our city as we see fit,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the rule also has a provision that any three council members can sign a petition to bring a bill out of committee. If there’s a 2-2 vote, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a third councilmember to bring the bill to the council, he said.
“If you can’t, there’s probably not much support by the council and it should stay in committee,” Johnson said.
Cockrell compared strengthening the committees to “a backdoor way to restructure city government like a state government.” He said the committee structure is a relic grandfathered when the charter was adopted and unnecessary.
The city council has authority to fire the city manager if it doesn’t approve of his performance, Cockrell said.
“What’s this is beginning to do, is to torture them to death,” he said.
Hofmann said she is opposed to the two-vote rule because there isn’t a provision for breaking ties, so if the committee is split is should come to the full council.
Whitley said he “goes back and forth” on particulars of the rules. He asked a number of detailed questions on timelines and how the process will work.
“I want to be sure I know what the rules are, so I can make sure I play by them,” Whitley said.
Gray said he believes the council has worked fairly well, but it can improve and the new rules are for clarity. He said he’d been involved in management of non-profits for 30 years and that committees are workhorses of those organizations.
“That’s the spirit behind this effort,” Gray said.
Cockrell said the city council has had so little business in recent years that it cutback its number of meetings to only two a month, with a work session if needed in mid-month.
He suggested instead of multiple committee meetings, the council could hold four meetings a month with all members to conduct all its business. Then the mayor pro tem won’t need to worry about “patronage” and politics in assigning issues to committees, he said.
“Just abolish committees,” Cockrell said. “We haven’t earned our pay, in my opinion, in the last three years.”