Conflicted opinions about new city codes – Part One

By Joey McWilliams

DURANT – The Durant City Council held its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday and among the items on the agenda was a proposal for the approval and adoption of City Council Protocols and a Durant City Code of Ethics and Conduct.

The consideration of these documents elicited opinions for and against their adoption.

Tim Rundel, the city manager for Durant, talked about the two different processes on the table on Tuesday.

“One was the consideration of council protocols,” Rundel said. “Protocols code is pretty simple. It’s established in several cities throughout Oklahoma and throughout the country. Basically, it gives guidance to the council as to, for example, how to put items on an agenda and the process that goes through.

“It’s really pretty simple and talks about discussion at the meetings and observing Robert’s Rules of Order, addressing the council and public comments, that sort of thing. That’s a pretty cut-and-dry thing – it’s protocol by the council to establish a handbook for Durant City Council members during their elected terms.”

Rundel pointed out that four of the five members are relatively new to the council.

“When you have 80 percent of an elected body that is kind of new to the council/manager form of government and its process, I think it kind of establishes some ability for them to see as they come on as a council member.

“There are some things that are published, and it was brought out during the meeting that the Oklahoma Municipal League does publish a very generic book for certain things. This (code), I believe, kind of drills down and gives the council a little more guidance as far as staying in protocols in meetings and in decorum.”

One of the points of the codes presented that was a sticking point during the discussion was that much of the content originated from other cities’ codes.

The city attorney posted memos on the City of Durant’s website regarding this issue, including this note: ‘The proposal is largely comprised of language from guidelines from protocols used by other city councils and tailored to include guidelines specific to Durant’s Council-Manager form of government and this Council’s traditional practices.

Click here for links to these documents.

Rundel said it is a common practice to try to find examples of similar situations from other sources.

“You know, with the City Manager and City Attorney and other folks, we’re presented with problems,” Rundel said. “This happens throughout all our departments. And I highly encourage my staff to do this.

“If there is a problem that arises, one of the first things I think we need to do is to make sure we’re not spinning our wheels or reinventing the wheel. If several communities have already established a code of ethics and conduct or a protocol manual, and Mr. Marcum, our city attorney addressed the council prior to presenting it, said that he had done a tremendous amount of research. He even brought a big stack of codes of ethic and conduct from other municipalities throughout the country. So that’s not something that’s totally foreign to other cities.

“I think when we get hired, especially as staff members and appointed officials, like a city attorney, when those comments are made, we could tell the attorney to draw them up from scratch. And I’ve done those kind of documents from scratch and it takes a lot of time and effort and several hours of developing it.

“If you don’t have a template or a guideline of what you are trying to accomplish, it makes it very difficult. So I gave copies of both proposals prior to placing them on the agenda and it was discussed there.

“I know that there were comments that there may be different ethics in California than there are in Oklahoma. But if you actually just read the code of ethics and conduct document that was presented, it’s pretty simple. Ethics are ethics. They don’t cross state lines as far as I’m concerned.”

Both codes – for protocols and for ethics and conduct – passed with a 4-1 vote. Mayor Jerry Tomlinson,  Councilman Mike Dills, Councilman Destry Hawthorne and Councilman Chad Hitchcock voted in favor of adoption; Councilwoman Oden Grube cast the dissenting vote.

Rundel said he understood the discussion about the codes, which took place during and after the meeting.

“I welcome debate – that’s what government is all about,” Rundel said. “It is having a healthy line of debate and an avenue to do so. And I understand with anything we do, we’re going to be under the microscope and up for criticism. I completely understand that and it doesn’t bother me.”

Councilwoman Grube’s opinions on the matter fueled her Nay vote about the codes.

The Patriot has her response in Part Two of this story.

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