Council president wants agenda to go through him

| 09 Mar 2012 | 08:00

WEST MILFORD — Getting an item on the township council's meeting agenda was an agenda item itself Wednesday night. The topic: should the council president have more of a say in what goes on the agenda?

The council was split on the issue, which was brought up by Councilman Lou Signorino who was chosen council president in January by a split vote. Some said there is no extra power associated with the position of council president and the process is fine the way it is; the others agreed to discuss it further based on what Signorino might bring to change it. In the end, it was Mayor Bettina Bieri who cast the deciding vote, allowing Signorino to come up with changes to the code which will be discussed at the next meeting.

Balance sought Two weeks ago at the Feb. 22 meeting, a resident commented that the agenda is made up by the executive branch of the government, with the council members having less to do with the process. He said a member of the public may request something to be on the agenda but that councilmembers "have to jump through hoops" to get something on.

Signorino agreed. Signorino said it's not the council's job just to discuss the business of the town; he said he also wants to discuss issues from his constituents.

"It's only appropriate for balance," he said.

In the form of government in West Milford, the agenda is assembled by the administrator based on the governing body's requests. Bieri explained that a tickler list of items to discuss at upcoming council meetings is kept and those items will go on subsequent agendas.

Anytime a member of the governing body wants to discuss something, according to township attorney Fred Semrau, they can ask for a consensus to have it on the next meeting agenda. And, if a member of the council gets a request from a constituent, they can call the administrator to put it on the next agenda. This process was approved by the governing body unanimously in May, 2011, Semrau said. That governing body included Signorino.

Now, Signorino isn't happy with the way it's working.

"If I want something on the agenda, it shouldn't be subject to a tickler list," he said Wednesday.

"This is a council's meeting," he said in February. "If I have constituents who want something heard, I have to wait for the administrator or if it moves up on the tickler list. Is this a mayor's meeting or a council meeting?"

Suggested changes Signorino suggested changing the township code so that the agenda goes through the council president. He specifically pointed to Chapter 42-5 in the code entitled Rules of Council, Agenda. In the first section of the code, Signorino said he would like to add that the administrator "work in conjunction with the council president" when preparing the agenda.

In paragraph B of that same section, it instructs how members of the public may request that items be discussed at a meeting and how council members may get a consensus from their colleagues to get items on a future agenda. Signorino suggested the council president be named specifically. However, the code says "Any council member may, at the next meeting after receipt of such requests, seek consensus from a majority of the council to have such matters placed on a future workshop agenda for discussion..."

Councilwoman CarlLa Horton said she disagrees with any special circumstance for the council president, noting that every member of the council is an equal member. Last month she said she was fine with how things are so far.

"So far, I haven't felt muzzled," said Horton.

The only duties specific to the council president are to run a meeting if the mayor is not in attendance.

Councilman Mike Ramaglia agreed.

"What makes you different from me?" he asked Signorino. "I don't know if it's our role to set the agenda."

Semrau said the way things are set up are in themselves a check and balance. Getting consensus from the entire council is a way to avoid someone dominating the meeting with many items and causing a filibuster. Signorino, though, doesn't want the council to have the power to knock down something an individual wants to discuss.

"If someone on the council wants to discuss something, it shouldn't be at the whim of everyone else," Signorino said.

Since the whole discussion centered around the balance of power among the branches of government, Bieri voted in favor of continuing the discussion. Now, Signorino will work on coming up with verbiage to change the code in a way that his council colleagues can agree with.