Saturday, February 20, 2021

Actual Return to Transparency proposed for BMA meetings


In the future, will all aldermen once again be allowed to speak on subjects important to the City at BMA meetings?  That depends on whether a proposal by Scott Sanders is passed on Monday.

At the Monday, Feb. 22 BMA meeting, Alderman Sanders is proposing a return to Robert's Rules of Order, and the Consent Agenda, rather than the so-called Preliminary Agenda. Robert's Rules of Order is the gold standard of parliamentary procedure that virtually every municipality in the country adheres to, other than Germantown.

History: April 6, 2019 was a day that will live in infamy in the history of our City. That was the day that the BMA ditched Robert's Rules of order and silenced minority voices of the aldermen. The "consent agenda" was abandoned, in favor of a "preliminary agenda".  In a consent agenda, a number of different items can be passed at the same time, with no discussion, as long as all aldermen agree to it. This is a useful time-saving measure.  In the made-up term "preliminary agenda", only three of the five aldermen have to agree for something that can be passed with absolutely no discussion.  For more information, see this blog post:  

City Administration Wants Sanitized BMA Meetings 

A Call to Action: 
Please consider sending in your thoughts on the subject to "Citizens To be Heard." 

From the City Website:  

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen encourage active participation and engagement with governing by making available Citizens to be Heard as part of the meeting agenda. To participate in Citizens to be Heard, please send your submittals, 500 words or less, to and include your name, address and phone number. All emails submitted between Wednesday at 12 pm before the meeting and 12 pm the day of the meeting will be delivered to the Board prior to the 6 pm Board meeting.  The CTBH emails will be included in the agenda packet and available for the public to view at 6 p.m.

Here were my thoughts on the subject, shared with the BMA in Citizen's to Be Heard later on that year-- 

This Board’s new rule regarding the consent agenda is an arrow aimed at the heart of transparency.

The change surrounding the renamed Consent Agenda, now called “Preliminary Agenda”, is shocking in its abandonment of good governance. In the preliminary Agenda, items can be passed as a group with zero discussion. Items can now be removed from the preliminary agenda only by the vote of three aldermen. The name change became necessary because the term consent” is an official term used by Robert’s Rules of Order. Robert’s Rules is the centuries old gold standard of parliamentary procedure, the time tested way of balancing the need for orderly meetings while respecting the rights of minority members to be heard. In a jaw-dropping move, the City has abandoned Robert’s Rules of Order. An item’s inclusion in a consent agenda requires unanimous approval using the time-tested Robert’s rules.

And, for your information, the word preliminary means an event preceding something fuller or more important. Just when do we get to the something that is fuller and more important? It actually sounds like the vote itself is preliminar

The only conclusion that I can draw is that you fear the citizens’ hearing honest debate and discussion. Only in the short, untelevised Executive session is there a small hint of discussion allowed about the preliminary agenda.


  1. I don't know if you're correct to say that Robert's Rules of Order is the "centuries old gold standard of parliamentary procedure," since it was first published in 1876 and isn't used by most world parliaments or legislatures. The authority recognized by most of the world is Erskine May, and it's only 30 yrs older than Robert's.

    Regardless, I support the return to the Consent Agenda. Remember, the main difference between the Consent Agenda and the Preliminary Agenda is that the Consent Agenda requires only one vote to move an item to the regular agenda, where the Preliminary Agenda requires a simple majority to move an item to the regular agenda. This change was brought about because Alderman Massey pulled various agenda items to the regular agenda, then proceeded to use the discussion time to ramble on about conspiracies and to denigrate city staff about topics entirely unrelated to the item that he pulled forward. The preliminary agenda was a tool to ensure that one alderman couldn't hijack the people's meeting and grandstand with ungermane oratory. It certainly didn't stifle debate or discussion, as there were several items pulled from the preliminary agenda to the regular agenda during that time. That action wasn't only a foregone conclusion of the final vote, either. Most of the time a motion for moving the item was made, it was supported for reasons of discussion, even if not all of the aldermen voting for that motion intended not to support the final agenda item.

    Using a preliminary agenda does not run afoul of Robert's Rules of Order. In Robert's Rules, parliamentary bodies are reminded that they are free any part of the rules they wish, they are free to keep any rules they wish, and the body is free to pass whichever rules they wish. The body is also free to suspend the rules, a motion that Alderman Massey made many times. He was a big proponent of suspending the rules and going outside of Robert's Rules.

    I support the return of the Consent Agenda. But, just be aware that the Preliminary Agenda is a common tool, has been used by the vast majority of US municipalities at some point or another, and is perfectly allowable under Robert's Rules of Order (as well as Erskine May).

  2. Alderman Ueleke made a great point during the discussion of this item that citizens shouldn't have to sit through 3-hr meetings to see what their government is doing. I like his suggestion that aldermen work with city staff before the meetings to make sure that the meeting portion can be quick and efficient. Conservative government needs to be accessible to the citizens, not take so long that the average citizen can't listen along.