Can votes be held at a council work session?


Marysville City Council met at its monthly work session earlier this week and discussed whether they could take votes at such gatherings in the future.
Work sessions are held on the first Monday of every month, and were started earlier this year to give council members a chance to discuss topics that could eventually be turned into policy. The public is allowed to attend, but may not speak at these meetings.
Section 29.2 of the Marysville City Council Rules and Procedure allows council to consider and act on legislation at work sessions.
“Why would we do that?” Mayor J.R. Rausch asked. “Why would we want to do that?”
City Law Director Tim Aslaner said the rule simply gives the council the option, and Human Resources Director Brian Dostanko said council could simply choose not to take advantage of it if members didn’t like it.
Aslaner said the way the code is worded, the city can put a piece of legislation on a work session agenda, just like a normal council meeting.
If a piece of legislation already has a second or third reading scheduled, council cannot put it on a work session’s agenda. If it’s scheduled to have its first reading at a future council meeting, members can vote to add it as a consent item to a work session and act on it there.
Dostanko said that wording is in line with other work sessions in other cities.
City Manager Terry Emery said council may want to keep the option open.
“I don’t think you want to rule out the possibility,” Emery said. “You just never know when you’ll potentially want to take action.”
In an interview, Aslaner confirmed that theoretically, legislation can have its three readings and vote entirely at work sessions, but that would be extremely unlikely. He said since work sessions are held once per month, the process would be needlessly slow and again, not what the sessions were created for.
At Monday’s meeting, Aslaner said the idea is that voting would only occur if it’s absolutely needed.
“Say there’s a grant opportunity, or something that comes up, and we don’t have enough time to notify the public,” he said. “This gives you the right (to vote on it).”
Councilperson Alan Seymour voiced his concerns, saying simply the idea of voting on something, even a consent item addition, goes against the original idea of the work sessions. Councilperson Mark Reams noted there have been times council has had to schedule extra meetings around holidays, for example.
Councilperson Tracy Richardson agreed there have been times extra meetings have come up, but said in those times, the public needs to have access to those meetings.
Rausch mirrored that sentiment, saying the issue revolves around citizens being unable to speak at work sessions.
Rausch asked why council couldn’t simply use the time reserved for work sessions to schedule special meetings when the need arises. That way, the city can advertise them and citizens will be able to speak.
In an interview, Aslaner said citizens must be able to speak at the second reading of legislation. If a second reading of legislation would happen at a work session, it would be advertised as a special council meeting.
Councilperson Nevin Taylor added the council can go into a short special meeting, giving residents a chance to voice concerns, then adjourn and go straight into a normal work session.
Councilperson Deborah Groat said she was leaning toward calling an entirely separate work session when the need arises and keep work sessions entirely discussion-based. She said members of the public should know they can’t speak at a work session, but can during a special meeting.
Groat said if the council does take some action at a work session, it should be exceptionally rare. Aslaner agreed.
“I think that’s the idea,” Aslaner said.
Aslaner said if it would make the council more comfortable, the city could require a supermajority vote, six-out-of-seven, to add a consent item to a work session. Council agreed that for a consent item to be added to a session, council needs a three-fourths majority of members present.

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