At Monday night’s Missoula City Council meeting the conservative minority flexed some muscle and rebelled against its progressive opposition.
“Well, we’re a little tired of the way the other side has been doing things,” says Ward 5 Councilman Dick Haines, a member of the conservative bloc.
What new controversy could inspire such gumption? Urban cattle? Pedestrian roundabouts? Nope. It was a proposal to change procedural Rule Number 22 of the Council.
Rule 22 governs how Council committees deal with tie votes, dictating that measures failing to win a clear majority of committee votes stall—unless the committee then votes a second time to send the measure to the full Council without recommendation. Some councilors think it’s sort of a muddled way of doing business.
“This is merely an attempt to clarify the rule’s language so we all understand it,” said Ward 1 Councilman Dave Strohmaier.
Strohmaier suggested streamlining the process by sending tie votes directly to the floor without a recommendation. Sounds simple enough, but he inadvertently opened up a can of worms. “I didn’t realize this was such a dividing issue,” he said at the Jan. 28 Council meeting.
Conservative newcomer Renee Mitchell, representing Ward 5, argued that the existing requirement for a second vote to move ties out of committee functions much like a check and balance. Eliminating the second vote, she said, would give even more power and authority to her political adversaries.
Ward 4’s Jon Wilkins, another conservative who voted against the change, noted that tied votes reflect genuine controversy and occur only rarely.
Changes to the Council’s procedural rules require a supermajority of eight votes to pass. With the minority bloc standing firm, the proposed change failed 7-5. Ward 6 representative Ed Childers then seized the opportunity to make a joke and changed his vote to “no,” creating a 6-6 tie.
“The irony was lost on some, but I’m sure not on Mr. Childers,” Mayor John Engen said after the vote.