The first regular working session of the newly-constituted Falls Church City Council became a marathon session Tuesday night. Under the direction for the first time of new Mayor Nader Baroukh, the Council exhibited a clear potential for sharp division, but avoided any significant conflict at its maiden if lengthy organizational meeting. Newly-elected Vice Mayor David Snyder was out of town on business.
After receiving a regular update report on revenues and expenditures, and a comprehensive report from the City’s consultants on fiscal options from the standpoint of maintaining its AAA bond rating, the Council went through an extensive discussion of appointments from among its own ranks to regional bodies and as liaisons to City boards and commissions, and then an extensive set of proposed new rules, most of which came from Baroukh.
Baroukh’s proposal for holding occasional Saturday Council meetings did not fly, nor did his suggestion to allow items placed on a Council agenda during the course of a meeting to require a simple, as opposed to a super-majority, vote. The and other matters were settled at the meeting not by formal votes, but by Baroukh’s willingness to accept the sense of his colleagues. The final package of changes will, on the other hand, be subjected to a formal vote at this Monday night’s meeting.
Baroukh’s proposal to provide documents for Council deliberations at work sessions to be available five working days, instead of 72 hours, ahead of the meeting where they are discussed met with wider Council agreement, as well as a proposal to shorten Council member comments at business meetings from five to three minutes each, and to place them on the agenda at the end, rather than beginning, of each meeting.
A proposal to limit the issuance of proclamations and the swearing in of citizens to boards and commissions to only one Council meeting a month did not fly, although it was agreed that the full content of proclamations could be summarized and not fully read.
Another discussion on the content of the minutes of Council meetings led to a proposed change in the rules that would not require the City Clerk to reiterate the substance of discussions, but only their general intent and a record of the votes. This was agreed to given the new Granicus technology which permits citizens to view actual Council deliberations from on-line files, and to even designate particular agenda items of each meeting.
Well after 11 p.m. Tuesday tonight the only item that bordered on a conflict pertained to Council member access to members of the City staff below the level of the City Manager Wyatt Shields.
While all on the Council agreed that City staff members should not feel they should answer to “two masters,” i.e. Shields and a Council member, new Councilman Ira Kaylin argued that having to make every contact with staff through Shields, or to report to Shields about any substantive conversations with staff, would turn the tables on the relationship between Shields and the Council. “You work for us,” he said to Shields. “And as such you report to us. But if I have to report to you (about all contact made with the City staff -ed.) then you’re my boss,” he intoned.
It was agreed that Council contact with staff should not involve any claims on staff time, and that the phrase ‘substantive information’ be removed from the document concerning Council-staff relations.