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HOLYOKE — Rules regarding the seating of city councilors were discussed during the City Council’s Jan. 22 Special Meeting following a point of order called to start the meeting.

Ward 5 Councilor Linda Vacon called the point of order to reference charter rules explaining how seats for councilors are chosen after the meeting began with a handful of councilors in different seats after a seating change was made through Council President Tessa Murphy-Romboletti.

Vacon explained inside the council’s rules adopted, there is rule 1D that states the seats of the City Council shall be numbered, and no member shall change their seat but by permission of the president. She added rule 1B, which says Robert’s Rules of Order shall be the authority adopted by the council on all points of parliamentary practice, not specifically covered by the city charter or any statute, ordinance or the rules of the City Council.

“And then we have our charter, section 13 rules of the City Council, the City Council shall determine the rules of its own proceedings,” Vacon added. “Whatever the structure of the organization, the president has authority to do only the things that are assigned to that office by the bylaws. Often those elected to the office of president misunderstand their role in the organization and believe that the members have given them free reign to run the organization any way they please, thus setting up a dictatorship.”

Vacon challenged the authority of the president for making an involuntary seating change that was not requested by the elected members and filed a motion, that was later denied, to stop the move.

“The president has created a new rule. The president has assigned seats following the election, which the president does not have authority to change without approval of the City Council. I seek the president to follow rule 1D and comply with our City Council rules,” Vacon said.

Murphy-Romboletti had set into motion a new seating plan prior to the meeting, which caught some councilors by surprise. Vacon argued the decision was not allowed under what the rule states. Vacon eventually motioned to challenge the decision made by Murphy-Romboletti, which failed in 7-6 vote at the end of discussion.

Murphy-Romboletti said from her understanding, the president assigns seating and encouraged folks to review a former discussion from a December City Council meeting where this was briefly discussed.

“I hear everyone’s concerns. This is also something that I don’t really — in the rules it discusses seating and folks can’t change their seats without the president’s permission,” Murphy-Romboletti claimed.

This led to the motion to challenge from Vacon to have the council come into compliance with rule 1D, so that councilors sit at the assigned seat upon election, unless they request to be changed and it is approved by the council president.

At-Large Councilor Israel Rivera stated he would not be moving his new seat based on this discussion regardless of city rules and any decision made on how to go forward with the seating. At-Large Councilor Patti Devine and Ward 6 Councilor Juan Anderson-Burgos seconded the comments from Rivera.
At-Large Councilor Kevin Jourdain backed Vacon’s point of order and felt and felt with the rule in place, the changes in seating weren’t permitted

“The rule is that your seat is your seat. You cannot move your seat, unless you have permission of the president. That is the rule. That doesn’t mean the president can move you out of your seat, that means if you want to move you need permission of the president,” Jourdain said. “When new people come in, they don’t have a seat, so the president gets to say where everybody that is not an incumbent has a seat. That’s just always been the tradition, that’s exactly how this rule has been interpreted.”

Jourdain added he had spoken with previous Council President and former councilor Todd McGee prior to the meeting for his thoughts on this issue.

According to Jourdain, McGee’s confirmed his opinion and that you cannot just move your seat without permission from the president. Jourdain said his past time serving as council president was why he was so aware of the interpretation of the rule.

“Nevertheless, technically, my seat is over there and if people want to move from here to there, they could have asked me and maybe I would have considered moving,” Jourdain said. “It speaks to seniority, it speaks to respect, and it speaks to consultation. I know there’s been a lot of discussion about decorum and being respectful of each other – doing things like taking people’s seats away without consulting them and signing them all here and yonder, it’s disrespectful. That’s another reason we don’t do it. It’s there basic courtesies, this is why this rule is in place.”

Jourdain added he has already been trying to resolve this issue before it came within a meeting but felt if the rule is the rule unless it were to be changed and until that time it needs to be followed.

“The president is not entitled to just make up rules and just do whatever they want. The president, just like everybody else here, has to follow the rules, and that’s our process, and you can’t just make up a rule. And that would be making up a rule,” Jourdain said.

Ward 4 Councilor Kocayne Givner said while reviewing the rule, there was not much mention of seniority in this case and also stated City Council seats shall be numbered, something they currently are not.

“No member shall change their seat but by permission of the president,’ it sounds like president assigning seats, is by permission of the president,” Givner interpreted. “I don’t see any situation, I don’t find this to be very important.”

Devine also noted no numbers listed per seat and added this was becoming an overly complicated issue.

“I don’t know what a seat has to do with your mindset, or what you have to say. It’s a seat, it’s a chair, but also, with all due respect to my exceptionally good friend, former council president McGee, I’m sorry, I could ask a lot opinions of people that are formers and that doesn’t mean we have to agree with it,” Devine said. “And I did file an order that every two years, the president will make seating arrangements.”

Anderson-Burgos said while he is a creature of habit and was upset initially when finding out he was one of the councilor’s who seat was being moved, he thought to himself the position is much greater than a physical seat.

“The seating doesn’t mean I’m going to be able, or not going to be able to do my job. I go in, I sit down, I do my job. I was elected to go in and do my job,” Anderson-Burgos said. “We do not own those chairs, we do not own those desks, the people of Holyoke own those chairs and desks.”

He added he felt comfortable with Murphy-Romboletti’s seating plan and added he felt it was intended to strategically place councilors near one another for learning purposes and to break the routine that’s been ongoing in the council chambers.

Jourdain argued this debate was beyond tradition, reiterating that there was a rule in place not being followed and until the rule is changed, it must be followed. Jourdain also suggested this could lead to future issues on council rules if this precedent was being set.

“You don’t get to just say, ‘I ignore the rules that I don’t like, and I’m gonna do whatever I want and make up my own rules. That’s not the way it works,” Jourdain said. “To not be consulted, I found it disrespectful to walk in and have someone taking the chair over there.”

In closing, Jourdain reiterated that if someone wants a change to the rule, file a rule change and get a vote done, but until then this would be breaking city council rules.

“The rule is very clear that I need to ask to move my seat if I want to change it and then the president has the ability to say yes or no,” Vacon said again before the vote.

After the motion by Vacon was denied, Jourdain made one final comment to Murphy-Romboletti and hoped she would consider the points made in the discussion further.

“All I would ask the president is, a 7-6 vote just took place. Just take that into consideration as you’re thinking about this topic, and is that where we want to go for the next two years? Just consider it,” Jourdain said.

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts