During their Feb. 2 retreat at Jeffrey Mansion, Bexley City Council members discussed recently implemented rules on how residents -- and council members themselves -- are permitted to speak during official meetings, and they heard how neighboring Whitehall approaches redevelopment in its similarly built-out, inner-ring suburb.
Last fall, Bexley City Council President Lori Ann Feibel implemented several Robert's Rules of Order items, stating that many of the guidelines already were contained in council's existing rules but had not been enforced in recent years. The rules include council members asking to be recognized by the president before speaking, limiting each council member's comments to five minutes and limiting comments by members of the public to three minutes.
Council came to no conclusions about whether to change its rules on how meetings are conducted but gained insight from Capital University professor Steven Koch on how other local, state and national governments conduct business.
Koch, who specializes in parliamentary procedures and serves as Capital's debate-team coach, provided an overview of Robert's Rules of Order. The guide, which offers a set of standards on how to conduct meetings, has been adopted by Congress and city councils, school boards and other entities throughout the country.
Robert's Rules of Order contains numerous recommendations, including that elected officials direct their comments to the chairman of the organization rather than each other in order to avoid personal attacks; speak for only a specified amount of time determined by the chairman; and allow each member to speak first before getting a second turn to address a particular issue.
It's common for governmental bodies to limit comment from elected officials and the public, with the goal of making meetings run more efficiently, Koch said.
Robert's Rules of Order is a guideline that can be adapted to each organization, he said.
"Robert's is not meant to tell you your rules are wrong. It is a resource to help solve problems," he said. "Your rules preempt Robert's Rules."
Feibel said that even with the rules, it's sometimes difficult to determine how to allow enough time for debate while keeping meetings moving.
"It is very common for all of us to present our thoughts about something and have a question, for example, for our auditor or for our service director and then they will chime and we'll have a follow-up (question)," she said. "How does the chair say, 'Enough is enough. I think we need to move on to someone else's questions'?"
Council members also discussed how to give the public adequate opportunity to provide feedback about ordinances, especially when an ordinance is tabled temporarily or indefinitely.
Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler suggested council members could decide at some point to note on meeting agendas which tabled items are likely to be discussed.
"At the pre-council meetings, where we're talking to committee chairs, you could say, 'I expect to discuss this tabled item' " and indicate that on the meeting agenda, Kessler said.
City Attorney Marc Fishel said council members already have an informal process for communicating when they plan to take a pending ordinance off the table and discuss it.
"In my experience ... there's never been a surprise, 'We're taking it off the table,' for whatever reason, let alone to avoid public debate," Fishel said.
Feibel suggested the city address the issue of how to better inform the public about tabled ordinances when it takes up its next scheduled charter review in 2020.
After the discussion about Robert's Rules of Order, Zach Woodruff, director of economic development and public service in Whitehall, gave a presentation on that city's Norton Crossing development at the corner of East Broad Street and Hamilton Road.
Kessler said he invited Woodruff so council members could learn how Whitehall has overcome similar challenges as Bexley in assembling parcels of land for redevelopment.
"They've received a lot of regional notoriety for being a dynamic, energetic and results-driven development partner," Kessler said of Whitehall's efforts.
Woodruff said Norton Crossing, a $50 million mixed-use development that Whitehall is planning in partnership with private firm Continental Real Estate Cos., is the city's single largest redevelopment project in its history. The development is the result of city officials realizing that the city was going to have to take action to promote redevelopment, rather than waiting on market forces to do so, Woodruff said.
"We have said, 'Hey listen, we're going to be an active participant in development,' " he said. "We have tried to be integral to all the development that goes on."