Normally consent agendas at government meetings don’t receive much discussion — they’re generally reserved for what are deemed noncontroversial items — but the consent agenda over the course of two Chisago County Board of Commissioners meetings has sparked some heated debate.
At the July 3 meeting, there were 15 items on the board’s consent agenda, many of which Commissioner Mike Robinson felt should be pulled from the agenda and discussed.
At that meeting, he said he didn’t feel like he was given adequate opportunity to address those items.
So at the July 17 meeting, Robinson brought with him a section from Robert’s Rules of Order, the text that is the country’s recognized guide to smooth, orderly and fairly conducted meetings.
“On the board of consent, according to Roberts Rules of Order, before the chair asks for a vote of approval, it says that he has to ask if any member wants to remove an item,” Robinson said after asking to remove an item from the meeting’s consent agenda. “If a member wants to remove an item, it doesn’t need a second, and there’s no discussion; it just happens.”
Before Robinson asked to have the item pulled — an operating grant with Heartland Express — there was already a motion and a second to approve the consent agenda.
County Board Chairman Ben Montzka asked George McMahon, who made the motion to approve the consent agenda en bloc, if Robinson’s request to pull the item was “friendly.”
McMahon said the request was not friendly, meaning he would not incorporate it into his motion.
He noted that he did not accept Robinson’s request because he didn’t know why Robinson wanted to pull the item.
Robinson then explained that Craig Rempp, the director of Chisago-Isanti Heartland Express, was at the meeting, and Robinson wanted to give Rempp the opportunity to address the board with any questions or concerns he had about the grant.
Rempp was given that opportunity, and told the board he didn’t have any comments.
Advice from county staff
Assistant County Attorney Kristine Nelson Fuge told the board Robinson referenced the correct section of Roberts Rules of Order when it came to discussing consent items.
However, she noted the board adopted a modified version of the document at the beginning of the year.
“It’s really an informal process of governing the meeting,” Montzka said. “Really, every group does it differently.”
County Administrator Bruce Messelt cautioned against employing an overly legal method to running meetings.
“I would caution against starting to go down a very legalistic approach to how you run your meetings because it’s akin to junior high school boys all flushing toilets at noon because it can mess up the plumbing system,” Messelt said. “Roberts Rules of Order assumes good faith that everybody intends to run a meeting and that you’re here for the same common purpose. If that is not why you are here collectively or individually, you can gunk up the works.”
Robinson said following a modified version of Roberts Rules of Order creates undue confusion.
“How do we know what rules we follow and what rules we don’t?” Robinson asked. “We adopted them, but we only follow them if they work for us?”
Commissioner Lora Walker, who said she initially wasn’t planning to get involved in the discussion, then commented.
“I’ve understood all these years I’ve served that a consent agenda is a noncontroversial agenda, that it is routine business,” she said. “If there is controversy, if you don’t feel like you want to support something, call the administrator; say it’s controversial. Say it shouldn’t be on the consent agenda, but do it ahead of time.”
Robinson responded, “I did. I called him on Monday. I called him two days before.”
Walker then continued that the “last minute” discussion wasn’t what was advertised to the public on the agenda before the meeting.
Robinson then asserted Walker was accusing him of not talking to the county administrator beforehand to have the consent item pulled, and Montzka interjected, “I’m not recognizing you.”
“Then don’t,” Robinson said. “Good.”