MASON: Following the Rules

Submitted by Michael S. Mason, Chair, Board of Estimate and Taxation

Please do not ask me to violate our rules.

On Friday May 1 st at 3:11 pm I received an e-mail to schedule a special meeting of the BET on Monday May 4 at 4:00pm “to reconsider the approved FY21 budget”. The State’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), our Town Charter and our BET Rules require that a meeting be posted with a minimum of twenty-four-hour notice, weekends not included.

Because the meeting was requested for 4:00pm on Monday, the latest it could be posted was 4:00pm Friday. Due to the late hour I knew that the request could not be accommodated for the time requested. I picked up the phone and spoke with the minority Caucus Leader to explain my thoughts. I then sent the following written response.

“A motion to reconsider must be made on the same day as the meeting which the motion was decided. Your request was not made on the same day, so this request is out of order as pursuant to Roberts Rules.”

I also initially informed the minority Caucus Leader that I had rejected her request to have the meeting because it was not in legal order. I then received an e-mail Saturday from another member disagreeing with my position.

I followed up Sunday evening with another e-mail that provided a further breakdown of my position. Again, I received a reply disagreeing with my position.

With no change to the request from the six members of the minority caucus, I then followed our Town Charter and scheduled a special meeting. For anyone reading this, the requested time of Monday, was just that. A request. Since I could not schedule the meeting for Monday I scheduled the meeting for Tuesday. May 5 at 3:00pm.

As anyone who attended the meeting saw, the meeting became quite unruly once I determined that the motion was not in legal order. When asked, the Town Attorney, confirmed that, in his opinion, Roberts Rules clearly states that the motion to reconsider was indeed out of order and
my ruling was correct.

A follow up request by the minority caucus to add an item to the agenda would also not be in legal order. Special meetings have restrictions – you can only consider the items that are posted on the agenda. Adding an item to the agenda is simply not allowed. My ruling stood, it was appealed, more debate ensued and a final vote was taken.

The appeal was denied and the meeting was ended.

Those are the rules. But my colleagues already knew that.

My colleagues who objected to my rulings all come from great professional backgrounds and have served our town on Boards and Commissions and the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). As attorneys and past board Chair’s in town (including the Board of Education) these
members have vast experience running meetings and boards that they know must follow to the Town Charter, FOIA, Roberts Rules of Order and other internal rules. The BET is no different from other Boards and Commissions or the RTM. We all must follow the rules.

When you are informed not once, but twice, in advance of a meeting, that your motion is out of order, the real question to be asked is why you would not resubmit your request with a motion that would be considered “in order”. For example, motion to amend the budget would have been in order. But my colleagues did not do that. Instead they engaged in political grandstanding aimed to generate outrage, nothing more.

I have heard people say that I should have disregarded the rules and allowed the meeting to continue. Respectfully, I. as Chair, could not do that, and would not do that. Neither, I suspect, would the Chairs of other Boards and Commissions or the Moderator of the RTM if asked the
same question. Either we have rules that we follow, or we don’t.
And we do have rules, even if my colleagues do not want to follow them when it does not suit their political agenda.

Michael S. Mason, Chair, Board of Estimate and Taxation