Ann Arbor adopts 9 norms of conduct that councilors must follow

ANN ARBOR, MI – Amid the debate over whether Ann Arbor City Council rules violate members’ rights to freedom of expression, the council voted this week for a revision.

In a 9-2 vote, the council passed a new set of nine “norms of behavior” that councilors must follow:

  • Work with other council members to establish effective guidelines.
  • Promote freedom of expression for all council members on political issues.
  • Use the same caution and caution when using electronic media as you would when speaking in person or through a written memorandum.
  • Avoid derogatory or disparaging language.
  • Treat all people fairly and with dignity and respect.
  • Avoid harassing or discriminatory behavior of any kind.
  • Affirm the dignity and worth of community services and maintain a deep sense of social responsibility as a trustworthy official.
  • Through word and deed, demonstrate the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships to earn the trust and respect of elected and appointed officials, employees, and the public.
  • Serve people’s best interests.

Councilors Jeff Hayner, D-1st Ward, and Elizabeth Nelson, D-4th Ward, opposed their adoption.

In a 7-4 vote, the council was also split by adding sections on advising or reprimanding council members for violating laws or rules and stating that they also deliberate on “other conduct that is inappropriate for a council member” or can be reprimanded. The four opponents were Hayner, Kathy Griswold, Nelson and Ali Ramlawi, who argued it was too broad.

Griswold, D-2nd Ward, said she was likely breaking the rule of inappropriate behavior every day so she couldn’t endorse it.

Ramlawi, D-5th Ward, argued it was too vague and had the potential for abuse. He expressed concern that he might be reprimanded for making a casual remark in his personal life and said it could lead to a regressive form of democracy.

“We’re creating a lot of opportunities for a majority to reach out to individual members, and that seems like a very strange focus for that level of government,” said Nelson.

A majority of the council members felt that the new rules are needed to curb bad behavior.

Council must adhere to high levels of conduct, said Councilor Erica Briggs, D-5th Ward.

The Council unanimously agreed to the removal of a controversial “Redress of Complaints” section that determined whether a councilor was attacked personally by another member, either during a meeting or in any other public place, including on social media, and the member could appeal through the council administration committee.

Prosecutor Stephen Postema said his office had recently spent a tremendous amount of time preparing memos in response to concerns by the American Civil Liberties Union that the council’s rules impose the ramifications for certain types of speech against the First amendment violated.

“A majority of federal courts have concluded that legislatures can take certain actions in response to members’ speech, such as reprimand or reprimand, as long as the measure does not prevent the member from performing his or her chosen duties,” wrote Postema in a memo. “Indeed, many courts have concluded that such legislative measures as statements by the panel itself are protected by the first amendment.”

The council has the first adjustment right to reprimand a member and any act or punishment that occurs after the speech is uttered does not constitute prior reluctance, Postema said.

The council recently stripped Hayner’s committee duties for using a homophobic bow on social media. The move came after it had already been discussed whether the council should monitor the councilors’ speech.

Hayner, D-1st Ward, expressed concern that the new rules give too much power to the council’s administrative committee, which includes the mayor and four other council members, by making it the body that handles complaints about conduct and requests for reprimand checks. This consolidation of power is dangerous and inappropriate, he said.

Councilor Jen Eyer, D-4th Ward, said it was a misconception that the new rules were a direct response to the ACLU’s concerns. They are not, she said.

The council received guidance from the city’s attorney before establishing the previous “redress of complaints” rule, which has now been removed, and the city attorney’s position remains, there are no legal issues with the rule, she said.

It was deleted because it was in the wrong place in the rules document, she said, adding that the council had received additional instructions from Postema that the rules could be made broader.

The new aspiration goals for councilor behavior have been adopted by other governing bodies, Eyer said, adding that Ann Arbor is an outlier when it comes to not having them.

The last three on the list come from the International City / County Management Association’s Code of Ethics.

“I think that’s a positive thing for us,” said Eyer.

Other aspects of the new rules concern the procedures of the Council. The making of resolutions could only be added to late agendas if they had three sponsors or a majority vote.

This rule change was unanimously adopted, as was another rule requiring councilors to raise concerns about city staff misconduct to the city administrator.

Ramlawi raised concerns that the council was recently able to withdraw Hayner’s duties, a move he declined without following the steps outlined in the rules.

Hayner shared Ramlawi’s concerns about this.

“It does not seem necessary to follow due process. We saw that two weeks ago, ”said Hayner.

The new language about inappropriate behavior borders on “ex post facto law, which is a hallmark of tyranny,” said Hayner. It almost looks like recognition that the council acted without authority in stripping its duties, he said.

“I’m not sure there has ever been a better example of the dysfunction in this body than this discussion we’re having,” Eyer said after an hour of arguing over the rules.

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