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On the Englewood City Council, even roll call can require nearly a half-hour of argument.
At its first meeting after the Nov. 7 elections, the council was set to select its new mayor — in Englewood, council votes for one member among themselves to preside as mayor. But the most contentious debate of the night wasn't about who that should be. The council spent more than twice as long debating whether Councilmember Amy Martinez, who was on a honeymoon trip, could participate by phone.
“This council may wish to go out like it came in — not following the law,” said Councilmember Laurett Barrentine, who called it political gamesmanship to allow a councilmember to vote and be counted present if not physically at the Nov. 20 meeting.
Mayor Joe Jefferson, who must step down by Jan. 8 to assume the position of municipal judge, eventually was re-elected as mayor to serve until then, but it wasn't without a long preliminary fight.
Martinez, who is generally not part of Barrentine's coalition on the seven-member council — that's limited to a tandem of her and now-Mayor Pro Tem Rita Russell, who nearly always vote together — legally could participate, in the opinion of the city attorney.
“The legal answer is that if something is not prohibited, technically it's not an unlawful act,” said City Attorney Alison McKenney Brown.
Barrentine still stood by her strict constructionist argument to oppose Martinez's inclusion, saying because the council has not affirmatively given anyone the right to participate by phone, it shouldn't be allowed. She added that it's prohibited for councilmembers to participate in an executive session — discussion the public isn't allowed to see — by phone.
“It's not known who is with them or who may be influencing them (if they're not here),” Barrentine said. “People have a right to know.”
But that prohibition comes from open meetings law, and there isn't a similar answer on non-executive session meetings, the city attorney said.
The other four councilmembers were unmoved by Barrentine's argument that including Martinez would be a “slippery slope.”
A motion to bar Martinez's remote participation garnered two “yes” votes by Russell and Barrentine, but fell to five “no” votes. A motion to allow Skype- and phone-call participation in council meetings passed over two “no” votes by Russell and Barrentine. Those two councilmembers further protested about Councilmember Steve Yates pushing Martinez's button to select her choice during votes, but the city clerk said Martinez's verbal vote over the phone would be accepted.
“This can be a slippery slope — I don't want this to turn into someone participating in these meetings on their couch in their boxers,” said Jefferson, who added that the next city council should pass a more concrete policy for such situations.
After a change of pace in which council gave outgoing members Yates and Mayor Pro Tem Rick Gillit a send-off and posed with new councilmembers Cheryl Wink and Dave Cuesta for photos after their swearing-in, the quarrel over Martinez became effectively moot. After the intermission, Martinez couldn't be reached again by phone, and the new council — with Wink and Cuesta taking the seats formerly held by Yates and Gillit — proceeded without her.
With six members present, Councilmember Linda Olson nominated Jefferson to be mayor again. After some discussion over whether to postpone the vote — Jefferson said the city charter doesn't require a vote at the first meeting after the election, but Barrentine said council's policies and procedures dictate that it must — Jefferson was re-elected as mayor over the two “no” votes from Russell and Barrentine.
Following a similar debate over whether to postpone the vote for mayor pro tem — who serves as mayor if the mayor is absent or unable — Olson nominated Martinez for the position.
But Barrentine had nominated Russell to be mayor pro tem, and in the end, council unanimously voted her into the position.
Council also argued over when to open the application process for a new District 1 councilmember to fill Jefferson's soon-to-be vacant seat following his election to be Englewood's municipal judge. The city has 30 days to appoint a replacement after the seat is vacated, Jefferson said. City council wouldn't be able to interview applicants until after the seat becomes vacant Jan. 8.
The application to be the new District 1 councilmember is open on the city’s website at bit.ly/2hXSYLL, in the list of boards and commissions.
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