Missoula council to give extra hearing, vote to contentious ordinances

2013-03-09T07:15:00Z 2013-03-11T22:09:57Z Missoula council to give extra hearing, vote to contentious ordinances missoulian.com

If you want to give the Missoula City Council a piece of your mind, you can pretty much do it at any meeting.

Remember that.

Late last year, the council changed the way it adopts ordinances, and the new process is brand-new and isn’t totally clear even to some council members. Their advice on learning the new procedure? Ask City Clerk Marty Rehbein.

In general, the public is free to comment most anytime, Rehbein said. The full council usually meets at 7 p.m. Mondays, and people can talk about things that aren’t on the agenda if they want, usually for three minutes at the most.

“(And) we take public comment on everything that’s on the agenda every single time, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s in committee or at City Council,” Rehbein said.

The new procedure for adopting ordinances is intended to give the public more time to comment once the council has an idea of the direction it’s going on controversial issues. It’s also supposed to set up a process that’s in line with state law, Rehbein said.

In the past, the council used to set a public hearing, hold the hearing and possibly adopt an ordinance the same night of the hearing. Sometimes, an ordinance would change direction 180 degrees when it went from committee to the full council.

For instance, the public was shocked to learn in 2009 the council wanted to strictly enforce a leash law. In that case, after public outcry, Mayor John Engen issued a veto.

Now, Rehbein said, the council has a process to adopt ordinances “on second reading” – and through two possible scenarios (see flowchart). One, which the council will use for items that don’t draw huge public interest, is pretty much the same as it’s always been.

The second way is being used for the first time on the proposed residency requirement, Rehbein said. The council held a public hearing, but it didn’t adopt anything the same night.

On Monday, the council might adopt a residency requirement “on first reading.” In the past, an adoption by the council on the floor would be a done deal – minus a veto – but not this time. This time, an approval on the floor will be a preliminary adoption.

Then, council members must approve the matter again in a second reading, which gives the public a chance to respond to the direction elected officials are going.

“Folks have an idea of where they’re headed with a decision and can come in and offer additional comments, testimony, amendments,” Rehbein said. “And it (the proposed ordinance) can change in second reading to address those if the council wants to do that.”

Having two separate processes seems confusing, especially if council members themselves aren’t totally certain of the procedures. Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken, though, said she’s hoping the council will become more familiar with the new method as it puts it to use more often.

She also said another training from the city clerk might be in order for councilors and even interested members of the public. As for public comment, Wolken said it’s always a good time to hear from citizens, and the new procedure for approving ordinances means to capture more from them.

“This is just a way for us to give people more opportunity to come in and tell us what they think,” said Wolken, who chairs the council committee that deals with these rules.

Lastly, state statute says an ordinance must be read and adopted twice, Rehbein said. So when the council uses its old method to adopt an ordinance – one it doesn’t anticipate will draw much public feedback or one with deadlines set by state law – it considers its action to set the public hearing a preliminary adoption. Then, the subsequent adoption on the floor is the second and final one.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

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(4) Comments

  1. GaryTinkSanders
    Report Abuse
    GaryTinkSanders - March 10, 2013 1:43 pm
    Absolutely dead on! Good Job Mr. M
  2. COMMON SENSE
    Report Abuse
    COMMON SENSE - March 09, 2013 7:13 pm
    Could be worse, the order of the day in the council chambers in Great Falls is something like "think about taking one step forward, take 3 steps back.".
  3. montanamuralist
    Report Abuse
    montanamuralist - March 09, 2013 8:54 am
    If Council members do not clearly understand the rules, how do they expect the public to understand them? My experience with the city is that most of the ordinances are planned well in advance and the comment period is for show. The biggest issue is that most citizens do not pay attention to what is going on in the Council as they are busy with their daily lives etc. Then suddenly something pops up that effects them or their pocketbook and people wonder howw that could have happened. Well it happened because no one could attend the committee meetings held in the middle of the day etc etc....Look at the voter turnout in city elections. Not high. I have long advocated that city elections should be on EVEN years so we get a larger percentage of voters voting on city leadership. I don't think that is what the agenda driven city government really wants.
  4. walter12
    Report Abuse
    walter12 - March 09, 2013 6:24 am
    With one or two exceptions, the Missoula City Council is composed of hard core leftists bent on pursuing a leftist agenda for the City. They should get a piece of the people's mind.
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