This post is written by Jimmie Covington, veteran Memphis reporter with lengthy experience covering governmental, school, and demographic issues. He is a contributing writer with The Best Times, a monthly news magazine for active people 50 and older.
By Jimmie Covington
The Memphis City Council has created new terms and a practice that are not used by any other governing bodies in Tennessee and probably not by any public body elsewhere in the United States.
The terms are “same-day minutes” and “same-night minutes” and the practice involves approving same-day or same-night minutes on items approved during a meeting that they want to send on to the mayor for his action without any further council action.
It is all because council members have for decades treated Memphis citizens unfairly by linking final actions on matters before the body to approval of meeting minutes.
But since linking of the two sometimes creates problems, they have come up with a way to get around it when timing is important.
And their rule actually does not state that approval of the minutes is required to make council actions official. It just says that a motion to reconsider an item must be made prior to approval of the minutes in which the first vote was cast.”
Under Robert’s Rules of Order, which has always governed most of the procedures followed by the council, a governmental body cannot reconsider an item that has gone into effect or started to go into effect.
And there is no need to have so-called “same-day or same-night minutes.” On any item passed by the council, all that has to occur is the signing of the resolution or ordinance by the council chairman, certification by the comptroller and submission of the document to the mayor.
Another way to make sure that something cannot be reconsidered is for someone on the prevailing side to make a motion to reconsider something on the same day it is passed and the council then can reject the reconsideration. Under Robert’s, an item cannot be reconsidered twice.
So what if the council really makes a mistake and needs to change something?
Parliamentary rules always allow an action to be rescinded (except the appointment of someone to an elected office which goes into effect immediately).
Local, state and national parliamentary procedure organizations were asked about the Memphis council’s minutes practice for a story last year but no one wanted to comment.
If parliamentary groups advocate the adoption of good procedures that will treat citizens fairly, they need to speak up. Also, the minutes-council action link may be something that voters want to ask candidates about in next year’s council election.
It is only fair that when citizens attend a council meeting where a “final” vote is taken, they should be assured that the council cannot come back at a meeting in the near future and change that vote.
Rather than follow the same rules and procedures that everybody else follows, council members choose to spend time cluttering their records with meaningless things like same day minutes and same night minutes.