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San Benito sets commission’s rules of conduct

January 4, 2019

SAN BENITO — Did you know city commissioners must “demonstrate honesty and integrity in every action and statement” as they preside over city meetings?

They must also “comply with both the letter and spirit of the laws and policies affecting the operation of government,” “serve as a role model of leadership and civility to the community” and “inspire public confidence in San Benito city government.”

Those are just some of the “rules of decorum” city commissioners approved last week as part of a resolution aimed at ensuring the city’s meetings are “effectively administered.”

Two months ago, Lynne Pare, a city watchdog who manages Keep San Benito Beautiful, called on commissioners to establish rules of conduct.

“ I think it’s about time,” Pare said yesterday. “It’s important because it will set expectations for the mayor and city commissioners to know the rules and how to conduct themselves.”

Prior to the resolution’s approval, a 2009 ordinance required little of commissioners entrusted to “preserve order and decorum.”

But Pare said the old ordinance was too sketchy.

The previous ordinance prohibited commissioners from interrupting “the proceedings or the peace of the commission nor disturb any member while speaking or refuse to obey the orders of the presiding officer.”

Now, the city’s new resolution covers 21 points while specifying commissioners conduct meetings “in a way that is open to all viewpoints yet free from abusive, distracting or intimidating behavior.”

“ I want people to know the rules,” Pare said. “It’s sad that you have to adopt a resolution to tell them what to do. I’d be interested to see them following it.”

But the resolution has no teeth.

If commissioners violate the rules, they face no penalties.

“ Who’s going to be judge and jury — the lawyer?” Pare asked, referring to City Attorney Mark Sossi.

According to the resolution, the rules are “self-enforcing.”

“ These guidelines are intended to be self-enforcing thereby requiring an ongoing commitment by commissioners to faithfully honor the trust and dignity bestowed upon them as elected leaders and community role models,” the resolution states.

Pare said she requested City Manager Manuel De La Rosa help establish the city’s rules of conduct.

“ The city charter provides authority to the mayor to preside over commission meetings and for the mayor and commission to set the rules at public meetings,” De La Rosa stated Wednesday.

During meetings, commissioners are required to demonstrate “respect, kindness, consideration and courtesy to others.”

The resolution prohibits commissioners from using their positions for personal gain.

Commissioners are required to “work for the common good, not personal interest, considering all impacts, influences and concerns.”

As in many local government boards, commissioners often engage in heated debate.

However, under the new rules commissioners are required to “practice civility and respect for discussions and debate.”

“ Difficult questions, tough challenges to a particular point of view and criticism of ideas and information are legitimate elements of a free democracy in action,” the resolution states. “Be respectful of diverse opinions.”

The rules require commissioners “respect” the presiding officer — usually the mayor.

“ Honor the role of the presiding officer in maintaining order and equity,” the resolution states. “Respect the presiding officer’s efforts to focus discussions on current agenda items. Objections to the presiding officer’s actions should be voiced politely and with reason.”

fdelvalle@valleystar.com

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