Decorum, role of technology top council discussion

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KEIZERTIMES/File Photo

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Keizer city councilors attempted to iron out what is and is not a breach of decorum and how that squares with personal freedom of expression at a work session Monday.

They will no longer be able to attend meetings via telephone and must either use city email addresses for correspondence or forward it all to the city, a draft of new council rules states. In order to do either, councilors must vote to suspend the rules.

A request from the West Keizer Neighborhood Association for councilors to participate in a dunk tank fundraiser raised hackles when Mayor Lore Christopher said such activities are against current council rules that govern decorum and dignity. (Organizers of RIVERfair, the festival where the fundraiser was planned to be held, have since informed WKNA that an insurance issue prohibits a dunk tank.)

Christopher said her interpretation of the broad rule instructing councilors to “conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the dignity of their office stemmed from a Gubser Elementary School request for a pie-in-the-face contest.

“If the only way to show our support as an elected official was to do something personally embarrassing or humiliating … there’s so many other positive ways,” Christopher said. “… I’m a mom and a grandma. I don’t want to be in a dunk tank.”

Christopher then left the meeting.

Discussion on telephone attendance and email usage took place earlier in the evening. Councilor Brandon Smith said he was disappointed the mayor left before other councilors had their say.

“The mayor decided for me what is an inappropriate activity with no discussion whatsoever,” Smith said.

Councilors Jim Taylor and Cathy Clark didn’t want particular councilors to feel pressured to participate in something that would embarrass them. The body also determined a council majority could decide what breeched decorum outside meetings, but in the chamber the presiding officer had final say.

Several councilors have attended council meetings via telephone while out of town, but occasionally experienced technical difficulties like drops in wireless service. Councilor Mark Caillier said participation by phone and later watching the video was “helpful, but it’s not complete.”

He said interaction such as asking questions of staff is hampered when a councilor is not personally on site. Christopher opined that the Oregon State Legislature is taking advantage of technology to allow remote testimony. Should a councilor miss a meeting they can call for reconsideration at the next meeting, Clark noted.

Councilors also sought a definition of what censure means and whether the body can expel a member. Clark wondered what steps can be taken if a councilor commits a felony or egregious ethics violation. Shannon Johnson, city attorney, said a recall effort was the only way to remove an elected official from office. The city charter also has provisions for removing a councilor should they leave the city for more than 30 days without council consent or fail to attend a meeting for at least 60 days.

City Manager Chris Eppley said it’s simply a strong message of disapproval, while Councilor David McKane noted an elected official committing a crime is likely to face embarrassment in the press and public as it is.

A new provision also strongly urges councilors to use email addresses provided by the city in lieu of their personal ones for city business. Most emails to and from a city councilor are public records, and Johnson said mixing those with personal emails complicates public records request and could result in non-city emails being included in searches.

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