Do elected officials have the right to act badly? Is there a constitutional right to speak out of turn? Some in Von Ormy think so. Indicted Von Ormy Councilwomen Jacqueline Goede, Verna Hernandez and Carmina Aguilar recently created a media ruckus claiming that their “civil rights” had been violated when Mayor Trina Reyes would not allow them to speak whenever they wished. Von Ormy, like all cities, have established rules of order that dictate how a meeting is conducted. Von Ormy adopted Robert’s Rules of Order to govern its meetings at its inaugural meeting in 2008.
The rules of order are simple and date far back into history. Members are able to speak once recognized. No member may interrupt another member when they are speaking. No member is able to speak a second time, until all members have had an opportunity to speak once. No member is allowed to make personal attacks or disparaging remarks about another member. The discussion must be on the issue being discussed. These rules have been long established in American government and private organizations because they are designed to ensure a civil and orderly discussion. Under Robert’s Rules of Order¸ the power of the majority is balanced against the right of the minority to be heard. For democracy to work, it is necessary to protect the rights of all members of the council to participate.
The indicted councilwomen have also resorted to attempts to strip Mayor Reyes of her statutory powers, using politically charged rhetoric accusing her of being a “tyrant” and “dictator.” But seeking to concentrate power among themselves is the very definition of what they are accusing. Rather than seeking to concentrate power among themselves, Von Ormy City Council should embrace a balance of power in city government. A system of checks and balances is necessary to prevent any one branch of government from ruling by force and is the basis of American democracy.
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 70s was a struggle against institutional discrimination against racial minorities, women and the disabled and others. Its goals were equal rights of citizenship, access to the ballot and equal opportunity in employment and pay. What the three indicted councilwomen are advocating for has nothing to do with civil rights, but could be better described as “uncivil rights.” The right to act uncivilly, to go on television and “act the fool”, to speak out of turn, to not have the rules of order apply to themselves, and to concentrate power in themselves. Elected officials should be held to a very high standard of personal conduct, especially when acting in their official capacities. The residents of Von Ormy deserve better.
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