During a discussion of proposed changes in the city ordinance related to how the Portage Common Council conducts its business, about the only thing members agreed on Thursday was that the proposed revisions need more work.

The 7-0 vote to send the matter back to the city’s Legislative and Regulatory Committee followed spirited discussion, one successful amendment and another amendment that was turned back by a 4-3 vote.

The proposed revisions were part of the second chapter of Ordinance 17-008, related to administration.

Thursday’s Common Council meeting was supposed to have included the first reading (preliminary approval) for the following proposed changes:

  • A requirement that motions pertaining to recommendations coming from a city committee must be made either by the chairperson or a member of that committee who voted support of the recommendation.
  • A requirement that all ordinances submitted to the council must be in written form, and adding the city administrator as a person authorized to draft proposed ordinances. Under the current ordinance, drafting of ordinances can be done by either the city attorney or city clerk, at the request of the mayor or any Common Council member

The recommendations presented to the Council on Thursday were silent, however, on a matter that the Legislative and Regulatory Commission discussed at its Aug. 7 meeting – changing the Common Council’s current meeting time of 7 p.m. to an earlier time.

Rita Maass, chairwoman of the Legislative and Regulatory Committee, said no recommendation on the meeting times was included in the presentation to the council because it was the committee’s consensus that the meeting time should stay as it is. An earlier meeting time – for example, 5:30 p.m. – would likely pose a hardship for some working people, especially on evenings when a public hearing would be scheduled before the council convenes, she said.

Alderman Dennis Nachreiner said he thinks the council, and not the committee, should have the final say on the meeting time.

An effort to put the meeting time on the table died when Alderman Mike Charles withdrew his motion to set the meeting time at 6 p.m., and Nachreiner withdrew his second to the motion.

Maass pointed out that such a motion would violate one of the changes that had been proposed – to require the committee leader or a member who favored a recommendation to be the one to make the motion.

City Attorney Jesse Spankowski said the change, as proposed, would conform to Robert’s Rules of Order, in that it would forbid someone from making a motion and then arguing against his or her own motion.

But Alderman Mark Hahn said he is concerned that if adopted as proposed, it would result in council members running afoul of it, however inadvertently.

He offered an example from one of the bodies of which he is a member, the Parks and Recreation Board.

On July 6, the board voted 3-2 to reverse its previous recommendation against a band shell in Pauquette Park. That board has just two Common Council members, Hahn and Charles, and both voted in the minority, against the recommended reversal.

Since a member would have to introduce a committee’s recommendation to get it discussed by the full Common Council, then Hahn said he would be violating the ordinance if it requires that the member introducing a recommendation be in favor of it.

Alderman Bill Kutzke had a problem with the other measure, to add the city administrator as a potential author of ordinances. By rights, he said, any council member – in fact, any citizen – should be allowed to propose an ordinance in writing, and each ordinance should get timely discussion, instead of potentially being forgotten or set aside by the city attorney, clerk or administrator.

Mayor Rick Dodd noted, however, that almost every ordinance that comes before the council is heard first by the Legislative and Regulatory Committee, and it should take the administrator, attorney or clerk no more than 60 days to draft the ordinance in the proper form, ensure that it conforms to state statutes and determine where it would go in the city’s ordinance code.

The proposal to require a committee member who favored a recommendation to move for Common Council consideration was amended to remove the words “or reference” from the line that ended “…and such motion shall reflect or reference the committee’s recommendation.”

But a later motion failed, 4-3, to remove the whole sentence requiring that committee recommendations be introduced by the committee chairperson or a member who favored the recommendation.

When Alderman Jeffrey Monfort asked for clarification as to what a “yes” or “no” vote means on the proposed amendment, Dodd said a member who favors leaving the sentence in the proposal would vote “no” on the motion to remove the sentence.

When Maass suggested that this was tantamount to telling a council member how to vote on the matter, both Dodd and Monfort disagreed, saying Dodd merely offered a clarification of what a vote would mean.

Hahn’s motion to send back to committee all of the recommendations on 17-008 – including those related to meeting times – got unanimous approval. Aldersmen Doug Klapper and Martin Havlovic were absent.

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