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Vice Mayor Starline missed the point in his opinion


If you hadn’t heard Council Member Smith got mad at me because an agenda item she requested didn’t make the agenda.  I’ve posted her complaint below.  The issue I’m going to discuss first is Vice Mayor Starline's conclusion that the rules of council don't allow me to require Council members to provide written background information about what they want to discuss.
 
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Executive Summary -  The rules of council provide three ways for getting an agenda item on the agenda,  1. Convince the City Manager to put it on the agenda.  This method is generally considered reserved for staff items.  2.   Have three members of council come together and prepare the item.  3.  Convince the Mayor to put the item on the agenda.   This method is generally considered reserved for members of council.

In Mr. Starline's opinion he doesn't believe the Mayor can say that in order to convince him to put an item on the agenda the council member has to show that they are prepared to discuss the item at the meeting and provide enough information for the rest of council and the public to be able to have an intellectual conversation about the issue.


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First a little background.  Back when I was first elected, the Chairman of the Administration committee determined what items would go on the Administration committee agenda.  I inquired about the process on getting items on the agenda and never got an answer.  In conversations with Council Member Starline, he would complain about the power one specific Committee Chairman had in determining what got discussed. 
 
Fast forward a couple years and with the election of three new members of council, Council Member Starline proposed a system with just a single committee where the Mayor had full authority to determine what went on the agenda.  Having been on the receiving line of a system where, if he wanted to, the Committee Chair could require you to jump on your left leg six times and then recite the alphabet backward before he would listen to your request for an agenda item, I was concerned that the old council members might be apprehensive that I would never let anything they wanted on the agenda. To relieve those concerns, I proposed that if two council members got together and thought an item should go on the agenda, it would go on the agenda.  When Council actually wrote the Rules of Council, they wrote them so that it required three members of council. 
 
It makes perfectly good sense not to allow every council member unfettered rights to put any item on the agenda.  It makes perfectly good sense to have a single gatekeeper to Quality Control the items.  But if that gatekeeper is too strict then it also makes good sense to have a go around.  That is the system we have currently in the Rules of Council.    Note that when exercising my authority, as given in the Rules of Council, I could require that anyone that wanted something on the agenda jump six times on their left leg and then recite the alphabet backward --- but I don’t!  All I require is that the requester come prepared to the meeting and give the rest of us the opportunity to come prepared to the meeting.  
 
Given Vice Mayor Starline’s personal experience under the previous committee system and the fact that he designed the current system which gives the Mayor the right to reject any item for any reason, it is incredible for him to conclude, “Insofar as the Mayor has unilaterally added the “requirement” that “read ahead” materials be provided before an Agenda Item is allowed to proceed, I find that he appears to have added a procedural step without seeking approval by the City Council to amend the Rules of Council.”.  Keep in mind, I don’t reject agenda items for no reason at all.  I reject agenda items that don’t have read aheads because if people don’t come prepared to meetings then meetings drag on forever and ever and nothing gets accomplished.  Actually I reject items without read aheads because I believe the public has a right to know in advance what will be discussed and why.  But having shorter meetings would be a nice side effect.  So if council has a complaint about my requirements, the complaint should be that I’ve been too lenient for getting items on the agenda. 
 
During the last Council meeting, in another article, and on Facebook, Council Member Otto and I have talked about whether read aheads are requirements or something he provides voluntarily.  Ultimately, Council gave me the authority to impose any requirement I choose and Council can take away that authority as well.   On one hand I know the limits of my authority and don’t mean to imply that if he feels there is a need to change procedures he has no options, on the other as long as I have the authority I will be requiring members of council to provide read aheads and I’m inclined to do even more to make sure they are prepared.  I hope Mr. Otto has the same commitment to making sure we have meetings that are useful both for council and for the residents of Huber Heights.
 
Not only did I reject the idea of requiring council members to recite the alphabet backward, in order to make the system even friendlier for members of council, I inserted a specific time in each meeting where I ask council what items they would like to be discussed in future meetings.
 
In the video below recorded at the April 11 Council meeting you can see Council Member Smith make her request to me, you will hear me remind her that a read ahead is required and ironically enough at the end of that exchange another member of council discusses the deadline for getting read aheads to the clerk of council.   

 

 
Council Member Smith did not submit a read ahead for the April 19th Work Session and even though she found the time to write out the complaint below, she did not submit a read ahead for the May 3rd work session.  As of late this afternoon she had not submitted any purpose and background information making it nearly impossible for those that haven’t watched the video above to have any idea what council is planning to talk about.  Even though the deadline was close of business Wednesday, I’m hoping the fact that the packet isn’t out yet means she contacted the Clerk of the Council and decided to provide the kind of information that will facilitate discussion and infom residents.  If you know her give her a call and tell her you don’t want go back to the days when agenda items were blank except for a title.   You want council to progress forward with her as part of a team working for the betterment of the city. 


Letter of Complaint from Council Member Smith 

Dear Mr. Vice Mayor,

I am formally writing to you with a grievance concerning the way in which the Mayor handles and processes the requests to add topics to the agenda. May I point out that there is nothing in the Rules of Council that require me to provide read a heads. While I will say that I understand the principle, I do not agree that the Mayor should be allowed to just discard a request because there is no read a heads by a council member.  Case in point, I mentioned at a council meeting during future topics, that I'd like to discuss what the council's future goals and visions are and whether we are meeting those expectations yet because I didn't provide a read ahead it was not approved by the Mayor.  In the same token the mayor allows "male" council members to add items to the same agenda without read a heads and even reached out to one specific male council member to ask him to send read a heads along with a follow up phone call or email from personnel. The male council member did provide a couple of sentences as read a head and was thus approved however that is not how the process is outlined per Rules of Council. I, however, was not given the same courtesy by the Mayor that was given to my male colleague.

I question the criteria placed on myself, which is not required of me or anyone else from council, as outlined in the Rules of Council on page 5. Honestly, this feels is very personal and politically motivated which is ultimately harming the residents, not me. To further back my claim of personal prejudice on behalf of the Mayor towards myself was the fact that it was my proposal to speak on the topic of public access to the walking paths at the end of Charlesgate Drive yet the Mayor initiated an invitation to Mr. Campbell, Mr. Otto and Mr. Falkowski to meet on Friday morning, April 15, 2016 with a resident yet neglected to inform me considering this is affecting my Ward and it was my proposal though Ward 2 constituents.

It appears to me that the Mayor has one set of rules for everyone else, even going out of his way to make sure that male colleagues get their items on the agenda and how to do it while not extending the same to me.

What I see is an attempt to further divide our council. I do not place any blame on any other council member and staff, male or female, nor do I hold any ill feelings towards my colleagues.  I think it is wonderful to have their issues discussed and would like my concerns to be addressed equally, which they are not at this time.
I respectfully ask that you to look into this matter for me.

Respectfully,

Janell Smith
Huber Heights City Council Ward 2 Representative 


Vice Mayor Starline's Conclusions:

To: Janell Smith, Ward 2 Council Member (Complainant)
Thomas McMasters, Mayor (Respondent)


CC: Other Council Members; Clerk of Council; City Law Director
From: Tyler Starline, Vice Mayor/Ward 3 Council Member


Date: May 9, 2016


Re: Report and Recommendations Pertaining to the Letter of Complaint Filed on
April 22, 2016


Pursuant to Section XIII of the Rules of Council (version adopted December 14, 2015), I
began an investigation into the written Letter of Complaint submitted in an email by you on
April 22, 2015 [hereinafter “Letter of Complaint”]. I provided an initial response/statement of
receipt on April 24, and I am following up on that initial response with the following Report and
Recommendations. In conducting my investigation, I reviewed the Letter of Complaint,
corresponded in writing with the Mayor, and I invited in writing for other members of the City
Council to provide their input. I also obtained input from Clerk of Council Tony Rodgers by
verbal interview pertaining to both the general process for conducting a Vice Mayor
investigation and the specific subject of the Letter of Complaint, to wit, the current process used
to prepare the Agendas for City Council Work Sessions by the Mayor as the Presiding Officer. I
also obtained input from Assistant City Manager Scott Falkowski by verbal interview pertaining
to the circumstances involved in an April 15th meeting with two residents, the Mayor, and AtLarge
Council members Mark Campbell and Glenn Otto (which is referenced in the Letter of
Complaint)
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Based on my review of the Letter of Complaint, I understood Councilwoman Smith to be
raising two distinct, yet somewhat connected concerns. One of the concerns addresses the
processes and/or procedures for Agenda Items to be included in an upcoming Work Session.
The other concern is Councilwoman Smith’s contention that the Mayor is discriminating against
her due to her sex/gender (for ease of reference, I will use the term “sex” in this context).


1. Submission of Agenda Items


Regarding the first of the identified concerns, I find that the pertinent language is found
in Section II.N.1. of the Rules of Council, which provides: “The Clerk of Council shall be
responsible for preparing the agendas for all Council meetings in consultation with the City
Manager and the Presiding Officer. The Presiding Officer may also solicit input from
Councilmembers for the agendas for all Council meetings. Any three (3) Councilmembers may
also compel an item be placed on the agenda for all Council meetings.” Nothing in the existing
language requires a Councilmember to provide “read ahead” materials before an Agenda Item
may be included. Moreover, nothing in the existing language specifies the amount/content of
“read ahead” materials necessary before an Agenda Item may be included.


The Mayor has stated that the general reason he has asked for some amount of “read
ahead” materials is to ensure that Councilmembers, City staff, and the Public can have some
advance information about what the Agenda Item will address. He also has shown from a few
prior Agenda items that some amount of “read ahead” description on the Agenda Quick software
“cover sheet” was sufficient for Agenda Items to be included.


I find that the Mayor’s stated reasons are generally prudent; however, I also find that the
requirements are NOT expressly stated in the existing language of the Rules of Council. Insofar
as the Mayor has unilaterally added the “requirement” that “read ahead” materials be provided
before an Agenda Item is allowed to proceed, I find that he appears to have added a procedural
step without seeking approval by the City Council to amend the Rules of Council.


Furthermore, I find that the language allowing 3 Councilmembers to “compel” the
inclusion of an Agenda Item would indicate that if 3 or more Councilmembers choose—for
whatever reason they should accept—to allow an Agenda Item to be discussed without any “read
ahead” materials, that process is permitted under the existing Rules of Council. Although not
expressly stated in the official Meeting Minutes at which Councilwoman Smith requested the
topic be included, I find that it is fairly evident from the context that the other Councilmembers
consented to the topic being included for discussion in the next Council meeting.


As was previously found by then-Vice Mayor Tracy Dudley in her Report regarding
another complaint against the Mayor, I find that neither the City Charter nor the Rules of Council
specify what penalty or remedy is appropriate when such a procedural violation occurs. I choose
to follow that precedent in this instance, and I accordingly find that the “only person who is
capable of attempting to rectify” this situation currently is “the Mayor, himself.” Report of Vice
Mayor Tracy Dudley (10/13/14), pg. 2. Nevertheless, because the City Council is capable of
revising the Rules of Council at any time, and because some revisions to the Rules of Council are
currently under consideration, I also strongly recommend that the City Council as a whole 
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determine whether to revise the language in Section II.N.1. of the Rules of Council to clarify and
further define the processes and/or procedures by which an Agenda Item may be submitted for
inclusion at a Council meeting.


2. Discrimination Based on Sex


Regarding the second of the identified concerns, I find that the Preamble of the City
Charter expresses the ideal that “Through this Charter we express our beliefs and convey our
trusts, so that its concepts shall long endure without regard to age, race, color, sex, marital status,
handicap, religion, ancestry, or national origin.” (Emphasis added.) Furthermore, while I do not
find any express prohibitions regarding, among other things, discrimination based on a person’s
sex, I note that there are statutes in the Ohio Revised Code, such as those found in R.C. Chapter
4112, that address such matters.


Councilwoman Smith has raised her concern that she appears to be singled out by the
Mayor for different treatment than the male Councilmembers. She provides a specific example
in her Letter of Complaint. She does not, though, address whether she has been allowed to
present other Agenda Items, and she also does not address whether other female
Councilmembers have been allowed to present Agenda Items.


Based on my research of prior Agenda Items presented at Work Sessions this calendar
year, I have identified examples that I believe demonstrate a willingness by the Mayor to allow
Agenda Items to be presented by female Councilmembers. For example, in the February 2, 2016
Work Session, Councilwoman Smith presented the Water Softening proposal that she requested
be placed on the Agenda. As a slightly different example, I also note that during the March 22,
2016 Work Session, the Mayor equally discussed and authorized the travel requests of
Councilwoman Smith and Councilman Otto for the Local Government Officials Conference. In
my opinion, this example is pertinent due to allegations in 2015 regarding the Mayor authorizing
my own travel request for one conference yet not authorizing three female Councilmembers’
requests to together attend a different conference.


I find that the concern of specific discrimination by the Mayor against Councilwoman
Smith based on her sex to be understandable, yet not substantiated by the totality of the facts. I
find that the Mayor appears to have reasons for his actions that are not based on sex, and I find
that examples also demonstrate that the Mayor is willing to allow male and female
Councilmembers to present Agenda Items.


I do not discount that there appears to be some personal animosity between the Mayor
and Councilwoman Smith. I recognize that Councilwoman Smith feels a “personal prejudice” by
the Mayor; however, I find that the discord appears to be personal due to differences of opinion,
not to be a manifestation of sex discrimination.


Accordingly, without substantial evidence of actual discrimination based on sex, I
recommend no further action be taken against the Mayor on this specific concern. Nevertheless,
I hope that the Mayor and Councilwoman Smith each ensure that they focus on the merits of any
proposals, not their differences in sex.

 
 
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The original headline of this article was “Why Vice-Mayor Tyler Starline should never be Mayor!”  The original first paragraph read,  ”That was an attention getting headline and also a poke at Council Member Starline since each time he starts to lose an argument on Facebook he always points out he's a lawyer implying that is a good reason people should ignore the fact he is getting clobbered in the debate.  But I am going to address his goofy conclusions on Council Member Janell Smith’s Complaint against the Mayor.  If you hadn’t heard Council Member Smith got mad at me because an agenda item she requested didn’t make the agenda.  I’ve posted the complaint below.  The issue I’m going to discuss first is the fact that Vice Mayor Starline doesn’t even understand the approval system he designed.” I changed the headline because my wife told me she thought I was being mean to Tyler and I also got a chance to talk with Tyler about the way we argue on Facebook.   



 

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