We commonly get questions about why items are passed by council as an “emergency”, along with the suggestion that things are being rushed through without public input or comment. We have heard these concerns, and are working diligently to give as much time possible between public meetings for citizen input and discussion about agenda items. However, there are still appropriate times when either waiving the readings, or passage of an item as an emergency will be necessary.
I want to address three quick things to hopefully provide an explanation and better understanding:
- Waiving the Second and Third Readings
- Emergency Legislation
- What the City is Doing to Give More Time for Citizen Input on Agenda Items
Waving the Readings:
The Charter of the City of Huber Heights requires the actions of Council be done by motion, resolution or ordinance. The majority of the agenda items are recorded by resolution or ordinance, and according to the Charter, a resolution or ordinance requires three separate readings. Two-thirds of the voting members can choose to waive the second and third reading in order to get the action and decision into motion. Where this would be necessary is to allow the action authorized by the resolution or ordinance to be carried out without further delay. In addition, the Rules of Council require agenda items to be discussed in an open public committee meeting prior to being presented to the full Council.
For Example... If the City needs to purchase playground equipment for a local park, bids and quotes would be solicited through standard procedures. Using the full legislative process, it would take approximately 70 days to formally accept the quote and purchase the equipment. In this case, the quote may only be valid for 30 days; therefore it may be necessary for Council to waive the second or third reading in order to follow standard business practices and void having to re-bid the equipment.
Waiving the readings does not mean “emergency legislation”, and one is not attached to the other. After agenda items are discussed and vetted in open public committee meetings, they are presented to full Council for additional open discussion. Council may choose to waive the second and third readings if there is an operational need to move forward, if the topic is simplistic and a matter of standard practice, or to clear it from the agenda to allow discussion of additional topics.
Section 5.06 of the City Charter allows a resolution or ordinance to be passed as an “emergency” under the following conditions:
- the ordinance or resolution is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety or welfare,
- or for an emergency in the operation of the City
The primary purpose of the emergency clause is to make the item effective immediately upon adoption based on the needs defined. The purpose is not to “rush” the process, or to get an item submitted for consideration without following standard practices including vetting at open public committee meetings.
Emergency can be defined as “an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action” – Merriam-Webster. In this sense, emergency is a sudden, unexpected, or impending situation. To hear the term “emergency”, one often relates something similar to a tragedy or disaster, and emergency legislation does not require such a standard.
For Example... The City is has been notified of a grant opportunity and applications are due within 30 days of notice (common). In order to meet the deadline while discussing and presenting the legislation within the open public committee and the full Council meeting, it would be necessary to have the action take effect immediately upon adoption to meet the application deadline.
However, we understand that there is misunderstanding and concern about the use of the emergency clause; therefore, we are making every effort to pre-plan and make best use of available open meetings for item discussions.
What the City is Doing:
One of the things I first examined upon being appointed City Manager is our process of creating Council agenda items. That process includes staff preparation of information and documents to be included in the meeting packets. One of the improvements we have made is the availability of the packets as early as possible prior to the scheduled open public meetings. Currently, the packets are getting out at least 4 days earlier than the required 24 hour notice. Next, staff is working hard to get items scheduled to the open public meetings at the earliest practical time in order to allow for multiple readings of agenda items. Currently, we have decreased the number of items waived and passed in one meeting by 50%.
Understanding that every agenda item is first presented and discussed at an open public committee meeting prior to a regular Council meeting, there will still be some items in need of either an emergency clause, waiving of the second and/or third readings, or both. This action is taken only as necessary to maintain important operations for the City. However, we are determined to send any item that does not have an emergent need for immediate adoption to multiple meetings and readings for additional information and discussion.