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Suspending the rules is part of the process

Posted by Marcia Dick  February 16, 2012 10:03 AM

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At least once per meeting and barely pausing for breath, Medford City Council president Robert A. Maiocco barrels through the words with machine gun speed.

‘‘On the councilor’s motion to suspend docket rules, all in favor say aye, all in favor say nay, the ayes have it, councilor ...’’

For anything from frequent salutes to a school sports teams to important votes on city appropriations, Medford city councilors have a propensity for suspending the bylaws that govern the body’s meetings. During 78 regular council meetings held in 2010 and 2011, the rules were suspended 274 times, an evaluation of meeting minutes shows.

In 2011, councilors suspended rules on 124 occasions, down from the year before, when they made 150 successful motions to suspend.

One night in 2010, rules were shut down a dozen times. Maiocco said many suspensions are prompted by large public turnouts, often for one item that could be buried deep in the docket, not to be brought up for debate until later in the evening.

‘‘I like to keep things moving,’’ Maiocco said. ‘‘We try to do that as a courtesy, if there is a large crowd. Just as a courtesy.’’

While the maneuver allows the councilors to accommodate the public’s interest, it also lifts the limits on the length of debate.

‘‘Some issues deserve that time,’’ Maiocco said. ‘‘Some issues don’t get resolved, and they stay on the table for weeks.’’

 
When the rules apply, councilors may speak three times or a total of 15 minutes, he added. But often, the councilors ramble, repeat themselves, or belabor a point.

‘‘Some councilors like to speak more than others,’’ Maiocco said. ‘‘They’re long-winded.’’

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