The City of Great Falls delivered a hat trick of ordinances last night, with the passage of Ordinances 3148, 3149, and 3153 — all of which were opposed by Commission-goers but adopted unanimously by the Commissioners. This before Assistant City Attorney Joe Cik at one point amusingly referred to himself as “some sort of medieval person on an epic quest” to clean up “[City] code.”
Ordinance 3153 clarified existing language pertaining to the election of officers for Neighborhood Councils, while Ordinance 3148 “[amended] OCCGF §1.4.070 to allow for violators to be banned from entering or remaining upon City property for a period not to exceed one year.” It added an additional provision to municipal code granting the City Manager authority to ban citizens from City property for up to a year:
C. Any person convicted of a violation of this Code, the Montana Code Annotated, or is determined by the City Manager, or his designee, to be behaving in a disorderly or abusive manner, on the property of the City of Great Falls may be banned from entering, or remaining upon, said property for a period not to exceed one year.
While City staff and Commissioners made mostly sensible arguments in favor of these two ordinances, we were troubled by the passage of Ordinance 3149, as presented, which granted the Commission broad powers to remove members of City advisory boards and Neighborhood Councils. It reads:
A member of any board, commission, or council, including Neighborhood Council, may be removed from office, by majority vote of the City Commission, if:
1. The member misses more than one-third (1/3) of the regular meetings in a calendar year without a health or medical excuse;
2. The member is unable to fulfill the duties of the office as a result of physical illness or mental disorder. A determination of whether the incumbent has a mental disorder shall be made pursuant to MCA Title 53, Chapter 21;
3. The member neglects or refuses to discharge the member’s duties;
4. The member ceases to be a resident of the City, or in the case of a neighborhood council member, the member ceases to be a resident of the council member’s district;
5. The member is convicted of a felony, or of any offense involving moral turpitude, or a violation of official duties or the City Code of Ethics, Title 2, Chapter 52, while serving on a board, council, or commission; or
6. Any other reason which City Commission deems to be in the best interests of the City, and in such case, only by a four-fifths vote. [emphasis added]
First, really? Who, and what, defines “the best interests of the City”? Second, the City Attorney’s office clearly spent a significant amount of time researching and drafting this ordinance. (Time well spent?) Now, it makes sense that if a Neighborhood Council member moves outside of the City limits, then he or she should no longer be able to serve on one of the City’s Neighborhood Councils. Still, Section #6 seems just a little heavy-handed. What, really, is the point of this ordinance? And why is the City spending time and resources imposing this kind of authoritarian control over its unpaid volunteers?