Friendly rule bothers board member

By Derrick Knutson—

Chisago County District 5 Board of Commissioners member Mike Robinson wasn’t very pleased with a rule of conduct amendment the board approved Feb. 15.

He went so far as to call it “unconstitutional.”

The rule, as approved by the board via a 4-1 vote with Robinson dissenting, states, “Board members must treat everyone with respect and dignity and in a friendly manner. Failure to comply will result in: a.) being ruled out of line; or b.) being asked to leave the meeting; or c.) if necessary, being removed from the meeting.”

“More than one person has told me they felt that (rule) was unconstitutional,” Robinson told the board.

He went on to say he conducted an Internet search and found an instance where a city council tried to implement a similar rule, and two lawyers told that governmental body the rule was against the Constitution.

“I looked back to see why the city council was trying to amend the deal, and what they were trying to do – they were trying to basically shut down the speech of one of their members,” Robinson said.

Robinson went on to say that he didn’t understand how the amended rule would be enforced.

“Who decides what is offending matter?” he asked. “Who gets to play God on that one?”

He then suggested the board add another decree to its rules of conduct.

“I’d like to put, ‘No commissioner or commissioners, or their campaign workers will mail out slander and lies about a fellow commissioner,’” he said.

Assistant County Attorney Kristine Nelson Fuge told Robinson his suggestion could not be accepted because it attempts to govern activity that occurs outside of the county boardroom.

She stressed the rules of conduct were in addition to the Robert’s Rules of Order the board already follows, and they were established in order to run “kinder, gentler” meetings.

She also said she viewed the rule to be content neutral, but the chair of the board could possibly circumvent that neutrality by unfairly ruling members of the board out of order.

“It will really depend upon how the chair wishes to implement (the rule) on a case-by-case basis with each ruling,” she said. “That’s what could be unconstitutional, the rule itself is not.”

District 4 Commissioner Ben Montzka verbally chastised Robinson for talking after he was ruled out of order at a recent board meeting.

“We’re all on notice now that when the chair says, ‘You’re out of order’ you have to stop,” he said.

To Robinson, he intoned, “ I recognize this is an emotional subject, Mr. Robinson, but it doesn’t have to be. You have to listen to the chair, and if you’re ruled out of order you need to stop.”

After Montzka finished, Robinson said he wanted to know if “the rules were going to be fair, or are we going to have two different sets of rules here?”

District 3 Commissioner and board chair George McMahon assured him he would be objective in his rulings.

“It will be a fair ruling, everyone will have the opportunity to talk, but when I rule someone out of order I expect the discussion to stop,” he said. “We do the people’s business in the proper way.”

District 1 Commissioner Lora Walker said the board chair should be careful about ruling other members out of order.

“While I think it’s a step in the right direction, there’s a fine line between a commissioner’s ability to passionately advocate for the interest of the district and disorderly conduct,” she said. That is going to fall on (the chair’s) shoulders to determine.”

Redistricting calendar 

Toward the end of the board meeting, commissioners slated out the calendar for redistricting the county.

• April 3: Municipalities must establish proposed precincts.

• April 4: The board will have a work session following its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. to look at the precinct maps.

• April 11: The board will have a special work session at 6:30 p.m. to discuss redistricting.

• April 18: The board will have a public meeting at 7:30 p.m. to solicit public feedback about redistricting. The board could adopt a redistricting plan at this meeting.

• April 26: If needed, the board will have a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. to adopt the redistricting plan.

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