Monday, August 3, 2015

Commenting on meeting conduct via letters

Lower Merion Board of Commissioners President Liz Rogan responds to a letter to the editor last month, expressing concern on the meeting conduct.

Commenting on meeting conduct via letters

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UPDATED: Hugh Gordon, president of the Federation of Lower Merion Civic Associations called Neighbors about Lower Merion Board of Commissioners President Liz Rogan's letter to the editor response in the Main Line Times.

The Federation of Civic Associations president said he took issue that Commissioner Lewis Gould could not inquire about the budget at the Dec. 21 meeting, since he felt Gould's questions during a public and televised meeting served as an opportunity to educate the townspeople.

Gordon also felt the response on the way the Belmont Hills issue was handled was puzzling because "regardless Commissioner Churchill cut off Commissioner Gelber. Regardless of Roberts Rules, commissioners are elected as co-equals and if one shows a lack of respect for another, then that commissioner is also disrepecting their colleague's ward."

"There's a certain amount of talking past each other, and I don't know if there's a cure for that," Gordon said of both letters.

Gordon said he invited Rogan to the Federation meeting on Monday, Feb. 13 at 7:30 to discuss the issue. Commissioner Daniel Bernheim will also attend the meeting with the board president.

"I hope there will be real dialogue," Gordon added.

 

For those who frequent or watch the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners and committee meetings on a weekly basis, it’s hardly a secret that the meetings are often a routine of lengthy and lively.

Expectation or routine aside, disputes that occurred on Dec. 21, last meeting before the new year, led members of the Federation of Civic Associations of Lower Merion to write a letter to Board of Commissioners President Liz Rogan, also published in the Main Line Times on Jan. 20, expressing their concerns about meeting conduct. Rogan responded with her own letter in the Main Line Times, published today, Monday, Feb. 6.

“An essential part of the federation’s mission is to promote and to enhance public participation in the civic affairs of the township,” Federation President Hugh Gordon wrote in the initial letter.

Gordon wrote that two incidents at the Dec. 21 meeting concerned the Federation: The “abrupt termination of discussion” of the township’s acquisition of property in Belmont Hills involving Robert’s Rules, and the back-and-forth between Rogan and Commissioner Lewis Gould over the questions he had for Township Manager Doug Cleland regarding the 2012 budget, which Gordon wrote also happened at a previous meeting when Gould asked questions over the Ardmore Transit Project.

“The second incident was your[Rogan’s] statement that commissioners would not be permitted to address questions about the budget directly to the township manager, that all questions must be asked at once and that there could be no dialogue with him on individual points relating to the budget,” Gordon’s letter read. “This ruling could rightly or wrongly be construed as holding that commissioners’ questions should generally be addressed to the township manager in private rather than at a public meeting.”

“If a commissioner’s substantive questions and concerns, and a commissioner’s dialogue with the township manager, can only be conducted in private, this informational function is not served, and the township residents are deprived information guaranteed to be provided to them under Pennsylvania’s Open Meeting laws,” the letter adds.

Board President Rogan agreed with Gordon’s stated purpose of his letter, and said, “I also want to add to that by including the goal of improving the board’s public process.”

The board president explained the Belmont Hills discussion turned into a motion frenzy to add amendments addressing public concerns from the public comment on the item, and that several proposals were already voted on or rejected. Rogan added that discussion management rested with the chairperson of the committee, Commissioner Richard Churchill, and that no commissioner expressed dissatisfaction with the final vote or the amount of time spend on the Belmont Hills item.

As for Gordon’s references of Gould, Rogan hesitated to respond “as I do not want to digress into what may appear to be partisan politics, since it is that type of behavior I and many others seek to avoid.”

“At meetings when one has the floor they are to address the chair, be it the president of the board or the chair of a committee,” Rogan wrote. “That process is to be followed not simply because it is the construct of Roberts Rules, but because it is the best way to foster debate without rancor.”

“It is inappropriate to directly cross-examine the township manager or staff, another commissioner or any member of the public when one has the floor,” she added.

Rogan also explained that her request to Gould at the Dec. 21 meeting to provide the board and township was “another form of discretionary management” for facilitating the public meeting, noting that follow-up questions and comments are always permitted if warranted.

Attempts by Neighbors to reach Gordon for comment to Rogan’s response were unsuccessful.

What do you think of these two letters and Lower Merion's meeting conduct? Neighbors wants to hear any and all comments regarding this topic. All Lower Merion residents are invited to comment below or e-mail us (jfernandez@philly.com or neighborsmainline@gmail.com).

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About this blog
Josh Fernandez is a 2011 graduate of Temple University where he studied journalism and gender studies. He was a writer and editor for The Temple News, and has interned at Philadelphia City Paper and the Philadelphia Daily News. Josh lived in Aston, Pa. in Delaware County before moving to University City in Philadelphia.

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