By ASHLEY HELMS
Meeting procedures have once again become a point of contention in the Village of Mamaroneck following two instances in which Trustee Leon Potok, a Democrat, was unrecognized by Republican Mayor Norman Rosenblum at recent meetings.
This is the latest in a string of debates involving procedure and what should and shouldn’t be allowed to occur during Board of Trustee meetings.
On Aug. 12, the issue of whether or not to retain Les Steinman, the village’s land use attorney, was up for a vote. After the matter—which saw Steinman retained by a 3-2, party-line vote—was decided, Rosenblum commented on why he opposed retaining the attorney. When Potok said it was unfair to present arguments after the fact that weren’t presented during an open discussion period, the mayor said Potok was not recognized, effectively prohibiting him from making any further comments on the matter.
“It’s simply unfair to have monologue where there can be no rebuttal,” Potok said. “It goes counter to the spirit of what [Robert’s Rules of Order] are meant to create.”
Robert’s Rules of Order, a book by Henry Martyn Robert, is a guideline for running meetings and conferences fairly and effectively. It is widely used as a government authority throughout the country. According to Rosenblum, the village does not follow Robert’s Rules of Order and created its own set of regulations for a specific reason.
“[Meetings] would be 10 years long if we went by Robert’s Rules of Order,” Rosenblum said.
In fact, the village did adopt its own set of meeting procedures in February. The procedures state that board members are not required to rise from their seats, but must be recognized by the presiding officer before making motions and speaking.
The mayor is the presiding officer under normal circumstances.
The new board guidelines allow all board members to place items on village board agendas; a change that was proposed by the then newly elected Democrats on the board in January. Previously, only the mayor had that privilege.
Rosenblum opposed the change, but he did retain the authority to recognize the other trustees before they can speak.
At the trustees’ Sept. 3 meeting, the mayor unrecognized Potok again during a discussion regarding a proposed change in the local law defining floor area. Following comments from the public and the mayor, Potok said that he began to comment and was cut off by Rosenblum.
Potok said the meeting procedures assume a level of fair play for all board members, but the mayor is abusing his power of recognizing speakers by only allowing certain opinions to be heard.
“Norman made his comments and it wasn’t contrary to meeting rules,” Potok said. “When I made those comments, he refused to hear them.”
Rosenblum said that Potok doesn’t like to hear something he doesn’t believe in and that everyone has the opportunity to speak at meetings. He said, when he first took office in 2010, he changed local meeting procedures so that everyone has a chance to comment before a vote is taken on a particular agenda item. He did say that board members do have to be recognized by the chair, but added that he doesn’t curtail the other trustees’ unduly.
“I don’t do that too much; only when it becomes argumentative,” Rosenblum said.
Potok said that a discussion is followed by a vote, and after the vote is taken, there is not an allocation for further discussion in the board’s meeting procedures. The mayor is going against this practice, he said.
“He’s not just getting the last word; he uses new facts that no one has a chance to rebut. That’s not how it should be
conducted,” Potok said.
Disagreements regarding meeting procedures aren’t exclusive to the current Board of Trustees. Rosenblum also acted to restrict former Democratic Trustee John Hofstetter’s comments on occasion.
Hofstetter said he sat down with Potok and fellow Democratic trustees Andres Bermudez Hallstrom and Ilissa Miller when the the trio was elected in November 2012 and urged them to create a list of procedures to protect them from being
Hofstetter said the majority on the board, which is currently held by the three Democrats, has the ability to set meeting procedures.
“It’s only allowed to happen because the majority doesn’t say they’re done with it,” Hofstetter said. “And that’s what they need to do.”
Clark Neuringer, the Democratic candidate challenging Rosenblum for the mayoral seat this November, said the board can’t have a fair and informed discussion on important matters by making comments after the open rebuttal period has passed. Neuringer said he thought the mayor took an inordinate amount of time—and provided an inordinate amount of comment—before voting on the question of whether or not to retain Steinman without allowing for rebuttal.
“That’s not appropriate,” Neuringer said.