Silly me.

I was thinking about how Councilwoman Janet Solberg turned out to be the swing vote on an issue Tuesday night -- and she wasn't even at the council meeting.

For me, the session brought back memories of bygone council days -- and it did for some council members, too.

The council was dealing with approving rules of conduct at council meetings. The present rules had been in place since 2006.

There were 11 rules in all, and they were to be voted on as a package. That's important to note. Solberg's absence is also important in the scenario.

One of the 11 points was a two-sentence entry that said the public could address the council on any subject for five minutes during  "Citizen Comments" at the end of the meetings.

Councilmen John Lee and Alex Kuhn expressed concern that current rules prohibit the mayor or council members from responding to questions from citizens. (The idea is for the council to listen, not talk.)

They said the result has been that citizens have asked questions and been met with stone silence from their elected officials. (I have frequently called this "Mount Rushmore".) 

Lee offered an amendment which said, in effect, the mayor or his designee could respond to a citizen if it was "befitting" to do so.

Here's where Solberg's absence comes into play. Lee's amendment, favored also by Kuhn and Scott Tornquist, was approved by a 3-2 vote. Then, the whole package, with the amendment, also got a 3-2 vote -- but it lost.

The reason: The amendment was a simple motion requiring only a majority vote. The entire package was a resolution -- requiring four votes for passage.

Councilwoman Jean Marinos, a former mayor, voted against the amendment, saying she remembered from her days as mayor how "things can get out of hand" and warned about the "slippery slope" in which things can go downhill pretty quickly.

Councilman Travis Hickey also voted against it for much the same reasons as expressed by Marinos.

Nobody said it but everyone knew they were referring to the days when the public watched council meetings for the same reason some people watch auto racing --for the entertainment value and waiting for the inevitable crashes.

In the end, the council approved the original item as written, giving citizens five minutes to talk on any subject. Lee voted against it. The others voted for it, saying the new wording does not prohibit the mayor or council from responding whereas the present rules do.

It took the council one hour to debate a two-sentence item, approve amendments, reject the amended text and then approve the item they started with.

And Solberg was the swing vote -- by her absence.

Silly me. 

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