City Council: No Agenda Approved, No Meeting
The Hyattsville City Council could not pass an agenda last night, leading Mayor Marc Tartaro to adjourn the meeting early without any business conducted.
About the only thing the Hyattsville City Council could agree on at its meeting last night was the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterwards, the confused and, at times, tense proceedings baffled Councilor Shani Warner (Ward 2), who was trying to make sense of it all.
"I'm not quite sure what happened, but I don't think it was Hyattsville's finest hour," said Warner.
After reciting the pledge, the City Council tried and failed to approve an agenda for the night's meeting, effectively stopping the meeting dead in its tracks. After about an hour of debate and two recesses to consult with the city attorney by phone, Mayor Marc Tartaro adjourned the meeting.
The failure to approve an agenda followed two failed attempts, spearheaded by Councilor Tim Hunt (Ward 3), to remove a motion concerning a zoning variance for a garage from the consent agenda, a package of multiple measures which get voted on simultaneously.
However, Hunt's motions to remove the variance from the consent agenda failed despite securing five votes in favor versus two against. Only Mayor Tartaro and Councilor Matt McKnight voted against removing the item from the consent agenda. At the time, there were only seven of 11 members of the City Council present. Councilor Nicole Hinds Mofor (Ward 5), Councilor Eric Winguard (Ward 1) and Councilor Carlos Lizanne (Ward 4) were absent throughout the meeting. Councilor David Hiles (Ward 2) arrived to the meeting late, after the votes had already been taken.
Tartaro asserted that six votes would be needed to pass Hunt's motion because Hyattsville's municipal charter requires six votes to pass ordinances, resolutions and laws.
But Hunt argued that modifying the night's agenda is neither an ordinance, resolution nor a law and thus needs only a simple majority of council members present to approve his motion.
The vote to approve the agenda in turn failed with five members voting against the agenda and two voting for it. Tartaro and McKnight were the only ones voting in favor of the agenda.
Hunt was joined by Warner in this assessment of the City Council meeting rules.
"Procedurally, my understand of the charter would suggest that the majority that we need for something like the agenda is a majority of the present council members," said Warner after the meeting. "I could be wrong, and I certainly defer to the city attorney, but my understanding was that we needed the six votes only when passing legislation or ordinances."
The dispute is similar to one surrounding the City Council's May 2011 vote to select a City Council president and vice president. There, the City Council elected McKnight as Council President and Hiles as Council Vice President with only five votes each.
At the time, Tartaro said that a review of the charter and Robert's Rules of Order along with discussions with City Attorney Richard Colaresi confirmed that five votes could select the council leadership because such a move was not a law, but rather a council affair.
Tartaro called a recess twice to have staff consult with City Attorney Richard Colaresi for an answer, one to figure out how to proceed if the City Council couldn't approve an agenda and a second to figure out how many votes were needed to modify the agenda.
After retreating into the city offices to speak with Colaresi, Acting City Administrator and Police Chief Doug Holland reported that Colaresi tentatively agreed with Tartaro's assessment that six votes were needed to approve the agenda. Holland also reported that Colaresi said the mayor could use executive powers to set the agenda for the night, overrulling the failed vote to approve the agenda. However, Holland noted that Colaresi did not have a copy of the city charter and bylaws in front of him to reference, and could not be certain in his response.
Hunt said he had specific questions regarding the conditions contained within a zoning variance before the City Council requesting permission to build a one-story sunroom, landing and steps at the home of David and Mary Dillard on 6212 42nd Avenue.
Hunt objected to a provision requiring the Dillard's to remove 40 feet of existing concrete driveway and replace it with permeable driveway pavers. Hunt said that other projects of a similar size and scope were not burdened with such requirements, and that he wanted to know how the provision made it into the measure.
The aborted meeting disappointed at least one city employee who had planned to address the City Council on the subject of pay raises for city employees.
"At the end of the day we had nothing accomplished," said Pat O'hagan, a sergeant with the Hyattsville City Police Department and president of the Hyattsville Fraternal Order of Police. "It's kind of a set back to not only the issues they were arguing about, but all the other issues they didn't get to tonight. The city really can't move forward until the mayor and council work together and get their house in order."
Tartaro bemoaned the fact that the City Council was putting off important work.
"Tonight we had a full agenda of items with a little bit of space, actually, to have some council discussions," said Tartaro after the meeting. "The council meetings for the next week and the week after and the week after are full."
Because the meeting was adjourned before the City Council could dive into business, at least two city employees are in a kind of contractual limbo with the city. City Treasurer Elaine Stookey and Acting Director of Public Works Julia McTague were both slated to have their contracts reviewed for pay raises last night, but now those motions will have to wait for another time.
Tartaro said both Stookey and McTague would continue to work while the City Council got its ducks in a row.
"These people will continue to do their job whether or not they have a contract because they are professionals and they have the city's best interests at heart," said Tartaro after the meeting.
Councilor Paula Perry (Ward 4), who has recently proposed that the City Council take a team-building retreat, said that mutual respect and professionalism continue to be scarce on the city council.
"We need to learn to work together better and to communicate better," said Perry. "Because we are not doing it."
"I think the conversation will be crafted to say that those council members who held up the agenda held up the meeting," said Councilor Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1) after the meeting. "But I want to be clear that what prevented us from passing the agenda was one vote to allow a council member to discuss an item that was of importance to him."