By Marc Knapp
Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie raised an issue at the Jan. 11 meeting that has long been simmering. It’s the habit of Mayor Joe Riley to speak at will during debate and before all council members have had a chance to weigh in.
Gregorie opined that it was contrary to Robert’s Rules of Order, adopted by the council, and asked the city’s legal staff could look at the rules and give an opinion.
The request of legality was couched in politeness and with no reference to Riley but to the “presiding officer” of a meeting. But there was no doubt as to whom Gregorie was referring.
Councilman Timothy Mallard, who has also made reference in the past to the mayor’s habit, also spoke to the issue and left no doubt as to whom Gregorie was referring.
The mayor’s habit of speaking out of turn has been noticed previously, but there was some question as to whether it was necessary to ask the city’s legal staff for its view.
Gregorie and others, including Riley, know that all council members should be allowed to speak in the order they are recognized by the clerk, and that the mayor should comment only when each council member who has sought to be recognized has spoken.
Of course, there are exceptions and times where such rigidity should be relaxed. During the debate on an issue, the mayor may be asked a question or need to elaborate on facts.
It will be interesting to hear how the city’s legal staff addresses the request and the mayor’s response to that opinion.
The criticism of Riley implied by the request is not new and indeed, if anything, the mayor has been more restrained in recent months over the timing of his comments.