TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - The Terre Haute city council is considering several changes to its rules and regulations impacting meetings, voting and declarations on controversial topics. The council has also selected new leadership for 2018.
The council meets twice a month. The first meeting is called a “Sunshine” meeting. This gathering is for the council to discuss, but not vote on, agenda items. The second meeting is a regular meeting where the council can take action on ordinances and resolutions. It's at this meeting the public can address the council on any topic.
The council could vote to change the rules so both meetings each month are considered regular meetings. This means actions could be taken on items at both meetings instead of just one a month.
City Council President Curtis Debaun says, "It will also give the public more opportunity to speak on issues which is a reason I support doing this."
Debaun says this change could make the council more efficient and transparent, however, some members of the public have raised concerns.
Speaking on behalf of the Taxpayers Association of Vigo County, Lisa Spence addressed the council at the meeting Thursday evening. She worries, without a Sunshine meeting, the public will not have enough time to learn about an issue and develop an opinion before votes are cast by the council.
City officials say all the necessary documents will be made public in a timely fashion, as they always have, in print and online on the city website. Spence made a point that while many people may have access to those documents, they do not deal with them in the same ways council members do so they may have a difficult time understanding the resolutions, ordinances and other documents. It is at a Sunshine meeting, according to Spence, they would be able to better understand an issue through discussion.
With the elimination of a Sunshine meeting, the council could vote on an issue at both meetings each month. In some cases, it could be the first time an item is discussed. City officials say a council member could request a vote. If the council unanimously agrees to vote, action can be taken at that time. In this situation, according to state statute, there must be at least six votes in favor for a measure to pass, otherwise the topic can be voted on again at the next meeting.
Spence voiced concerns over this as well saying a person may show up to a meeting to discuss a topic that was originally on the agenda but that had been voted on in a previous meeting. City officials say they would work to update language in print and online so the public could see if a measure already passed.
Changes could also be coming to how council members submit their votes. Currently, if a roll call vote is requested, it is made in alphabetical order based on council member last names with the presiding officer voting last. For example, when an issue is called for a roll call vote, each council member says aloud if they are in favor or opposed.
A new measure would mean council members would vote on a paper ballot. The form would include the councilperson’s name, ordinance or resolution number, year and space to vote “In Favor” or “Opposed.” The votes would then be collected and read aloud for the record.
Some council members say they think this will help members vote their conscience. It also prevents the perception council members with names farther down the alphabet are basing their votes on earlier votes by others.
Others say they think there could be a better way.
Debaun says, "I think it would appear that there may be a lack of transparency if we go that route. I'm not in favor of it. I think there are other alternatives we could explore before we would consider doing something like that."
City leaders say the paper ballot would replace the roll call vote but now there are talks of allowing both measures.
The city council is currently barred from taking action on topics beyond the control of the council that could be deemed controversial. Councilman Karrum Nasser says he is in favor or changing this rule so he and others can take a stance on topics even if they may be state or federal issues.
"Me, as a council member, think my constituents expect me to make a stand on anything that comes before me so I have no problem striking that language to allow me to voice my opinion and my constituents' opinions as well."
Nasser gives the gay marriage issue as an example. The Terre Haute City Council may not be able to establish any laws but, in this case, it would be able to give an official opinion.
"There are businesses that maybe look to see how a community feels about certain issues they expect us to take a stance so I have no problem changing that."
Nasser adds some members of the public may not agree with his stance on these issues, but that is what elections are for and the public should know what their elected officials think about such topics.
With a new year comes new leadership. The Terre Haute City Council met Thursday night for a Reorganization meeting.
Each year the council picks new leadership. Members selected Curtis Debaun as President. He acted as Vice President in 2017. Councilwoman Martha Crossen will fill the V.P. spot this year.
DeBaun takes over the job from Karrum Nasser.
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