Since Montgomery County’s new Legislature took over back in January, it has been operating under old standing rules of procedure.
These are the rules that govern a meeting — who gets to speak, what about, when, and how far in advance must a resolution be introduced before a meeting. They don’t necessarily make a huge difference in the everyday lives of county residents, but to the Legislature, these rules are a fundamental necessity.
“You have to have them,” said Legislature Chairman Tom Quackenbush. “How do you run a meeting without procedures?”
When the new nine-member Legislature took over from the old board of 15 town and city ward supervisors, the legislators decided to work under the old board’s rules of procedure.
Those old rules though, were designed for the old government. Just carrying them over into the new structure was like wearing a suit tailored to the measurements of a noticeably different person. It was workable, but not a great fit. Now the new legislators are customizing their procedures.
At this week’s education and government committee meeting, legislators will debate 22 procedural changes. Some are tweaks of existing rules. Others are brand new. Quackenbush said a few of them represent lessons learned in the previous government.
One new suggested rule, drafted by District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly, would limit each legislator to just three speaking opportunities totaling no more that five minutes during each topic of discussion.
“In the last government, people would just get up and talk for 25 minutes, and argue,” Quackenbush said. “This would put a stop to that sort of thing.”
Another suggestion would give the chairman power to create seating assignments. Quackenbush said the old Board of Supervisors had no such rule. Supervisors could sit wherever they wanted in the county chambers, which was risky when board members sharing personal animosity sat near each other.
“If this is approved, I could just move people if they got in an argument,” he said.
While much of the procedural stuff affects only meeting conduct, some could trickle down into the workings of the county, such as the annual budget.
Kelly also suggested that once a county budget is formed it should take a two-thirds supermajority vote to change, rather than a simple majority. In a nine-member Legislature, that’s only a one-vote difference. Even so, Quackenbush said that one vote is often hard to come by.
“I was voted chairman 5-4,” he said. “If that had required a supermajority I wouldn’t have made it.”
Conceivably, requiring a supermajority approval for budgetary amendments could slow the doling out of cash for county expenses.
“All these changes have yet to be debated,” Quackenbush said. “We might approve all of them or none of them.”
Regardless, the new government is settling in — tailoring its procedures to fit.