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Alicia Percell from Moving Oxnard Forward speaks out against using Rosenberg’s Rules of Order. (File Photo by Chris Frost)
Wednesday, November 27, 2019

By Chris Frost


Oxnard-- The fur flew again during the Nov. 19 Oxnard City Council meeting, as the body approved a resolution revising the council's policy and procedural manual during the consent agenda portion of the meeting.


Consent agenda items are not usually contentious, but this one drew the ire of Alicia Percell who took exception to the change. 


Percell from Moving Oxnard Forward spoke on the subject, and she said it's not clear which rules can be amended by the city council. She spoke about the topic while the Finance and Governance Committee was still formulating the changes.


"There are some things that are imposed by state law, and you can't do anything about them," she said. "Some things are a city ordinance, and some things you can change by amending this document."


She thought the committee members liked the idea when she presented it to the committee members, but it didn't get addressed with annotations. 


Percell told the council that it would make it easier for the council and the public to understand the document, and it would make future updates easier for the staff.


"Every annotation says we need to check where this came from," she said. "The most significant change in this document is that it changes the council's meeting rules from Roberts’ Rules of Order to Rosenberg's Rules of Order."


Percell called it a significant change. She reminded the council that she is a Registered Parliamentarian and called Roberts’ Rules of Order a comprehensive set of meeting rules that requires "great care" when it comes to balancing majority versus minority rights because they come into conflict at times.


"Roberts’ Rules is the most widely used and well-developed parliamentary and procedural manual," she said.  "It's used by small clubs. That's what it is designed for, small groups of people attempting to conduct meetings fairly."


Conversely, she said Rosenberg's Rules of Order is six pages long, simple, and easy to learn. 


She called them simple but warned that disputes would occur, and Rosenberg's Rules give no guidance on what to do when they happen. 


"This change constitutes a power grab by the mayor (Tim Flynn) who has been pushing this change for a long time," Percell said. "Under Roberts’, you have mutual rules established by disinterested parties. Under Rosenberg's, it lets the mayor decide. Whoever runs the meeting, you decide. You're more subject to the arbitrary and capricious whims of the mayor, and everybody on the council has their political agenda, including him."


If the council approves the item, she said the rights of a council member if they are in the minority on an issue will be relinquished. 


"If you want to put yourself in that position and grant favors to those on his side and shut down the opposition as he sees fit, you can vote for this," she said. "Many times, I've offered free training to the council. Then you would know how to process and amendment if you are inclined to keep Roberts’ set of rules."


Flynn commented on the item and said the remark that people who change to Rosenberg's Rules of Order do it for their benefit is not true.


"We have a viable committee system here, probably for the first time in the history of the city, and only one of the five fully standing is chaired by myself," he said.  "The other committees are chaired by other members of the city council."


The Institute of Local Government and the California League of Cities promotes Rosenberg's Rules of Order, he said, as a simpler parliamentary procedure to expedite and get through meetings.


"There are good honest debates that you can have about the two rules, but to assign personal motives to either one is fallacious and hideous," he said. 


City Attorney Stephen Fischer addressed the point raised about the power of the presiding officer (chairman) and said page seven of Rosenberg's Rules of Order provides for an appeal if the chair makes a ruling that a member of the body disagrees with.


"If the motion is seconded and after a debate, if it passes by a simple majority vote, the ruling of the chair is deemed reversed," he said. "If the presiding officer of a meeting is doing things that others perceive as improper regarding the business of the legislative body, there is a mechanism in Rosenberg's Rules of Order to address that, and it is a simple mechanism."


He also addressed the length of Rosenberg's Rules of Order, which is six pages long if you leave out the table of contents.


"The Roberts’ Rules of Order on my shelf weighs in at over 650 pages, not counting various tables and introductions, tables of content and indexes."


The consent agenda carried unanimously.

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