GRANOLAPARK: Vote “improper”


Dear Readers,

The Takoma Park city charter HAS been changed. The Nov. 6 re-vote that appeared to void the change was “improper and ineffective.”  That’s what city attorney Susan Silber says in a Nov. 7 memo.

There were TWO votes on one resolution to change the city charter.

The first vote was in favor of the change. It was 4 in favor, 2 against, and 1 abstention.

Mayor Bruce Williams voted for the change assuming it would pass anyway. He did not know councilmember Jarrett Smith would abstain from voting. Smith was one of the “Gang of Four” who supported the charter change. When he unexpectedly abstained, it changed the arithmetic.


Yes, these votes are puzzling because people voted contrary to what they seemed to want. Believe it or not, they were cast largely out of courtesy. It’s complicated – and explained below.

When he heard Smith abstain, Williams, thinking that the rules allow him to ask for a second vote, did so. And in the second vote he voted nay, creating a tie, which in effect defeated the charter change, 3 to 3, with 1 abstaining.

Or so the Mayor and most others thought. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, which the council is bound to follow, the mayor should have made a “motion” to have a re-vote, someone would have had to second the motion, and the council would have voted on whether to have a re-vote.

Since none of that happened, the second vote is void. The first vote stands.

Anyway, a re-vote is impossible. The city attorney says the rules governing city charter changes don’t allow such a reconsideration of a vote. The charter can only be changed back through another amendment process.

So, now the changed charter allows what it didn’t used to.  The change would allow the council to pass an ordinance requiring future city managers to live in or near the city. It will also allow the council to pass a law allowing them an “adviser” role in the hiring of city department heads. Currently, hiring is entirely up to the city manager.

The charter change was Step One in a two-step process. Step Two is to vote on the proposed ordinances.

Those have been taken out of the trash basket, brushed off, and are again up for a council vote next Monday.

Misters nice guy

Now, as for why people voted the way they did. First you must know that the charter change was for two things at once: the residency requirement and the advisement role. Some council members, including the mayor and councilmember Fred Schultz, are FOR the advisement role, and AGAINST the residency requirement.

Just before the vote (the first one that now counts) Gang of Four councilmember Smith made a motion to re-write the charter change so it would be TWO charter changes, one for residency requirement (RR) the other for the advisement role (AR).

Smith did this to be nice. He was being courteous to Fred Schultz because Schultz was not happy voting for something he half agreed with and half disagreed with. Schultz appreciated this very much and seconded the motion. But, the motion was voted down because the majority did not want to delay another week.

So, still being nice to Schultz, Smith abstained on the vote to change the charter because it included both RR and AR provisions.

Mayor Williams was also being nice. He wanted to vote in the spirit of last meeting’s compromise. He was also FOR the AR, even though he was AGAINST the RR. So he took a “half-glass full” approach and voted FOR the charter change.

And the mayor was flummoxed when Smith abstained. The rest you know.

– Gilbert

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

3 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: Vote “improper”"

  1. Well, it hasn’t quite been changed yet, as I read the charter. The change is not effective for fifty days, unless a petition by 20% of the electorate is presented to stop it from going forward without a ballot question.

    So my question is how can the Council be going ahead with a vote on an an ordinance that is not (yet) permitted by the charter?

    Section 502 says

    “(f) The amendment or amendments so proposed by the Council shall become and be considered a part of the Charter, according to the terms of the amendment or amendments, in all respects to be effective and observed as such, upon the fiftieth (50) day after being so ordained or passed, unless on or before the fortieth (40) day after being so ordained or passed there shall be presented to the Council, or mailed to it by registered mail, a petition meeting the requirements of this section.

  2. We had the same question.

    Meanwhile, this story may take another twist.

    Stay tuned.

  3. Steve Davies | November 8, 2012 at 3:36 pm |

    Suggestion for mayor and council: Vote your conscience. And bone up on Robert’s Rules.

Comments are closed.