July 21, 2024
Screenshot of 11/27/2023 Bangor City Council Meeting

On Monday, November 27, 2023, City Council passed an order (24-038) censuring City Councilor Joe Leonard. The censure is in response to Mr. Leonard’s comments at a previous Council meeting where he accused Councilors Susan Deane and Carolyn Fish of having a connection with the Political Action Committee “Citizens for a Safer Bangor”. This is the PAC that targeted City Council candidates with false negative campaign ads. (Note: I was one of the candidates targeted as well.)

This article is not about the censure itself. It’s about how the censure was introduced.

Video of the Bangor City Council meeting held on November 27, 2023.

Did the City Council violate the law?

During the meeting, a new order was introduced that hadn’t followed the standard filing deadlines outlined in our city code. To push it through, the Council used a “suspension of the rules” motion. Many of us have seen this happen before, assuming it’s allowed. However, a close reading of our laws raises questions.

  • City Code Section 9-15: Allows suspension of “foregoing rules” – those specifically about meeting procedures. This is the answer to the question asked in the title of this article.
  • City Code Section 9-24: The deadline for filing orders is NOT covered by Section 9-15. It falls under a separate Article of the code. It specifically states that any order not submitted in time will not be considered in order.
  • Robert’s Rules of Order: Rules prescribed by law can’t be suspended unless the law itself allows for it. Our code doesn’t give permission to suspend the filing deadline.

Why is §9-24 important?

The law is about transparency. Agendas for the following week are published every Friday. By ensuring that City Council members get their orders filed by Wednesday, that gives the Clerk enough time to include them on Friday’s publication. City Councilors, and the public, should have as much notice as possible about the business the Council is taking up. It is our right to know.

If it was the intention of the authors to allow this ordinance to be suspended, they would have included a remedy for that suspension. They did not. Furthermore, this law is not included in Article I: “Rules and Orders”. It was intentionally placed in Article III: “Ordinances.”

What Does This Mean?

Technically, the order may have been invalid. While legal experts might debate the finer points, this highlights a deeper problem: Our City Council is either unaware of Bangor ordinances or choosing to selectively ignore them.

The Slippery Slope: What’s at Stake?

If the Council can disregard procedural safeguards today, imagine what else they might suspend tomorrow. Here are two quick examples:

  • Citizen Initiatives: Bangor law states that proposals passed by the people cannot be repealed for a period of 3 years. Without the line drawn by §9-15, what’s to stop City Council from calling that a rule as well and suspending it so they can repeal initiatives they don’t agree with?
  • Bond Approvals: Ordinance requiring voter approval for large bonds could be bypassed, allowing the Council to incur excessive debt without the public’s consent.

Why Does This Matter?

Laws and procedures aren’t just bureaucratic red tape. They’re our protection against arbitrary decision-making. When the rules are unclear, a Council driven by self-interest can bend them at will, undermining the entire concept of having codified laws in the first place.

What Can We Do?

  1. Demand Clarity: Call on Councilors to amend the city code, explicitly defining which rules can be suspended and when.
  2. Hold Them Accountable: Attend meetings, speak up, vote accordingly! A Council needs to know the public is paying attention.
  3. Support Transparency: Share information on city processes. An informed public is the best guard against overreach.

This Isn’t Just About One Meeting

This situation exposes a gap in our city governance. We need to address it now, before it becomes a precedent for the erosion of citizen participation and the rule of law.

Let me know if you have any questions or want to explore this further!