Pictured at the November Hillsboro City Council meeting are (front, l-r) council members Wendy Culbreath, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin; and (background) council president Lee Koogler and clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured at the November Hillsboro City Council meeting are (front, l-r) council members Wendy Culbreath, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin; and (background) council president Lee Koogler and clerk Heather Collins. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
By Rory Ryan
and Caitlin Forsha
The Highland County Press

Hillsboro City Council President Lee Koogler has responded to recent public criticism from three members of city council. In addition, Koogler also reminded all members of council as well as Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie, mayor Drew Hastings, Auditor Gary Lewis and Law Director Fred Beery of Hillsboro City Code Section 36.02:

“Any pre-arranged discussion of the public business of any “public body” by a majority of its members. In other words, if two or more committee members or four or more members of council are meeting, whether at a diner, residence, public building, chat room, group text, email or email chain, etc., discussing public business, it is a public meeting and must be advertised at least 24 hours in advance, unless a true emergency, and the public afforded an opportunity to attend. A violation of Ohio’s public meetings laws may result in injunctive action being filed against the public body, a fine of up to $500 and repayment of court costs and attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. So please, be very careful in conducting conversations with other council members about public business outside of council or committee meetings.”

As reported by The Highland County Press at the November city council meeting (see https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Council-discusses-storm-sewer-upgrades-council-member-suggests-community-learn-correct-procedure-for-meetings/2/20/47250), council member Wendy Culbreath read a statement from herself and council members Ann Morris and Claudia Klein in which they criticized the way Koogler conducted council meetings.

“We, members of the city council – Ann Morris, Claudia Klein and Wendy Culbreath – answered the call to serve in the best interest of our city,” Culbreath said. “We come to city council meetings prepared to share information, believing the public is interested in why and how we arrive at decisions. Rarely, are they allowed to hear any of that. What has been allowed, and what usually takes the newspaper headlines, are actions, comments and threats arising from personal animus and political gamesmanship. We therefore as servants to the citizens and employees of the city want it to stop now. If you have a difference with someone, go and talk to them one-on-one and solve it like adults. Otherwise, leave it at home. It has no place in these council chambers, nor at city hall.”

Culbreath continued by discussing how council meetings “could be conducted better.”

“The city council meetings could be conducted better,” she said. “They are often conducted like hearings. Citizens’ comments are very important, but have often been allowed to go on and on and emotionally escalate without any time allotment.”

After quoting the Ohio Revised Code for a fifth time at the Nov. 13 meeting – this time to review the “duties of city council” – Culbreath concluded by calling for the public to attend training to “correctly participate” in council meetings.

(There is no such requirement in the Ohio Revised Code.)

“We publicly request training in, and adherence to, Robert’s Rules of Order so that everyone at the meeting may know the correct procedure to correctly participate and conduct council,” she said.

In a letter dated Nov. 28, Koogler responded to the letter from Culbreath, Morris and Klein as follows:

“This year has been an incredibly challenging year for the city of Hillsboro with many difficult financial and legal issues facing the city. I would be remiss if I did not believe that the city will continue to be challenged in many ways, and that these challenges will create many differences of opinion in how to face and overcome the challenges as they are presented. It is my sincere hope and belief that all parties involved will be able to overcome any personal or philosophical differences and do what is best for the city.

“However, the reason that I write this letter is based upon my concern for decorum in all council proceedings. Some of the exchanges that have occurred between parties at council meetings this year have fallen outside the scope of order and decorum as prescribed in Hillsboro City Code Section 30.29. Any individual desiring to inquire of another public official or member of council shall first address the president of council and upon recognition by the presiding officer shall confine himself or herself to the question under debate and shall avoid all personalities and indecorous language. All persons present for council meetings shall strictly adhere to this provision and all provisions outlined in Chapter 30 of the Hillsboro City Code of Ordinances.

“Once debate has terminated pursuant to Hillsboro City Code Section 30.31 and a vote is commenced pursuant to Hillsboro City Code Section 30.32, there are to be no interruptions of any vote of council, nor shall any members of council be challenged by any persons for their vote during the vote. If an individual wishes to discuss a council member’s vote, they shall do so after the meeting has ended or upon addressing the chair, but only at the conclusion of the vote.

“Any future violations of Chapter 30 of the Hillsboro City Code of Ordinances regarding the regulation or conducting of council meetings and the responsible order and decorum expected therein will be addressed in the following manner. At the initial violation, the violator will be admonished by the chair and asked to terminate their conduct or bring their conduct within acceptable decorum. If the indecorous behavior or conduct continues after the initial admonishment, then the individual will be ordered removed from the meeting, and if the individual continues with the indecorous behavior or conduct after they have been ordered removed from the council meeting, the individual will be held in contempt of council and charged as such.

“Protecting the integrity of council and council’s proceedings is of paramount concern to me as president of Hillsboro City Council, and strict adherence to these rules not only benefits council but all those present.

“Secondly, there has been a request for training regarding Robert’s Rules of Order. Hillsboro City Council meetings are not governed by Robert’s Rules of Order. Hillsboro City Council meetings are to be run in accordance with Hillsboro City Code Sections 30.25 through 30.52. These ordinances are available on the City of Hillsboro website or City Code of Ordinance books of which many of you may be in possession.”

Koogler highlighted the following sections:

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.27 (Agenda).

All reports, communications, ordinances, resolutions, contract documents or other matters to be submitted to the City Council shall, at least by noon on the Wednesday preceding each council meeting, be delivered to the clerk of council, whereupon the clerk shall immediately arrange a list of the matters according to the order of business. The clerk shall furnish each member of the council, and the law director, with a copy of the agenda at least 24 hours prior to the council meeting or as far in advance of the meeting as time for preparation will permit.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.27 (Order of Business). The order of business at City Council meetings shall be as follows.
(A) Call to order.
(B) Roll call.
(C) Reading of minutes of the previous meeting and approval or correction of minutes.
(D) Public requests and miscellaneous.
(E) Presentation of petitions and communications.
(F) Communications from the Mayor.
(G) Report of standing committees.
(H) Reports of special committees.
(I) Unfinished business.
(J) Passage of ordinances and resolutions.
(K) Second reading of ordinances and resolutions.
(1) First reading of ordinances and resolutions
(M) New business.
(N) Adjournment.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.27 (Order and Decorum).

(A) The Presiding Officer shall preserve decorum and decide all questions of order, subject to appeal to the City Council. During Council meetings, Council members shall preserve order and decorum and shall neither by conversation or otherwise delay or interrupt the proceedings nor refuse to obey the orders of the Presiding Officer or the rules of the Council. Every Councilman desiring to speak shall address the Chair and, upon recognition by the Presiding Officer, shall confine himself to the question under debate and shall avoid all personalities and indecorous language. Every Councilman desiring to question the administrative staff shall address his question to the Safety and Service Director, who shall be entitled either to answer the inquiries himself or to designate some member of his staff for that purpose.

(B) Members of the administrative staff and employees of the city shall observe the same rules of procedure and decorum applicable to members of the Council. The Safety and Service Director shall take disciplinary action as necessary to insure that decorum is observed at all times by city employees in Council meetings.

(C) Public members attending Council meetings also shall observe the same rules of propriety, decorum, and good conduct applicable to members of the Council. Any public member desiring to address the Council shall be recognized by the Chair, shall state his name and address in an audible tone for the record, and shall limit his remarks to the question under discussion. All remarks and questions shall be addressed to the Council as a whole and not to any individual member thereof. All remarks and questions addressed to the administration of the city shall be addressed to the Safety and Service Director and not to any individual city employee.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.31 (Limitation of Debate).

No member shall be allowed to speak any more than once upon any subject until every other member choosing to speak thereon has spoken, and no member shall speak more than twice on any one subject nor for a longer time than 10 minutes, without leave of the President of Council.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.32 (Voting).

(A) Every member present when a question is put shall vote upon roll call either “yea” or “nay,” unless the City Council shall, for reason, excuse him from voting. Application to be excused from voting must be made before the votes are called for. The member having briefly stated the reason for his request, the decision thereon shall be made by the President of Council without debate.

(B) On the passage of every ordinance or resolution and on the appointment of any officer, the vote shall be taken by yeas and nays and entered in full upon the record. Every member shall be required to vote, unless excused for cause by vote of the Council. The vote shall be for or against a pending ordinance or resolution and not on the report of the committee thereon.

(C) In case of a tie in votes of Council on any proposal, the President’s vote shall decide the question.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.34 (Motions).

(A) When a question is before the City Council, no motion shall be entertained except to adjourn; fix the hour of adjournment; lay on the table; for the previous question; postpone to a certain day; refer; amend; and postpone indefinitely. These motions shall have precedence in the order indicated. Any motion, except a motion to amend, shall be put to a vote without debate.

(B) When a motion is made and seconded, it shall be stated by the Chair before debate. A motion may not be withdrawn by the mover without the consent of the member seconding it and the approval of Council.

(C) A motion to adjourn shall be in order at any time, except when repeated without intervening business or discussion; when made as an interruption of a member while speaking; when the previous question has been ordered; and while a vote is being taken. A motion to adjourn is debatable only as to the time to which the meeting is adjourned.

(D) A motion to lay on the table shall preclude all amendments or debate of the subject under consideration. If the motion shall prevail, the consideration of the subject may be resumed only upon motion of a member voting with the majority and with the consent of two-thirds of the members present.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.37 (Permission Required to Address Council).

Persons other than members of the City Council and city officers, shall not be permitted to address Council except upon introduction by the Presiding Officer or by the Safety and Service Director.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.37 (Complaint Procedure).

(A) All complaints involving municipal policies shall be referred to the City Council for appropriate action and, except in the most unusual cases, any action shall be preceded by report and recommendations of the Safety and Service Director who shall have been given ample opportunity and time in which to investigate and to render a report.

(B) All complaints with respect to the management of the city shall be referred to the Safety and Service Director for the necessary or appropriate action in each individual case. In the case of those complaints involving the management of the city wherein the Council desires further information, the Safety and Service Director, when so requested by a majority of the Council, shall be given adequate time in which to make a necessary investigation and report.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.45 (Introduction).

All ordinances and resolutions shall be introduced in the City Council in printed form. Ordinances and resolutions may be introduced only by members of the Council or by the Safety and Service Director. However, the City Auditor may introduce appropriations ordinances necessary to the proper management of city finances. The name of the sponsor shall be affixed to the legislation.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.46 (Review).

Proposed ordinances shall be drafted by the Law Director or submitted to him for consideration of the legality, constitutionality, and form, and if he finds them, in his opinion, to be in proper form he shall so certify. After their first reading, unless the rules requiring three readings are suspended, the proposed ordinances and resolutions shall be referred by the President of Council to the appropriate committee or committees of Council for their consideration and recommendations to the full Council unless said ordinances or resolutions have been introduced on the recommendation of a committee of Council.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.47 (Amending Ordinances).

It is in order to amend an ordinance at any time when not in the hands of a committee. If an ordinance, after its second reading, is referred to a committee and amended, it shall be read as the second reading thereof, and laid over for further and final consideration.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.48 (Suspension of the Three Readings Rule).

A motion to suspend the statutory rule requiring three readings on separate days shall be debatable, and upon such a motion, the main question shall be open to debate. Suspension of said statutory rule shall be by affirmative vote of three-fourths of the Council members.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.49 (Emergency Ordinances).

If any emergency ordinance or resolution fails to receive an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Council members, the measure shall cease to be before the City Council as an emergency measure and shall have the standing that a measure would have had if it had not been read as an emergency measure.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.50 (Appropriations).

The Law Director shall not prepare any ordinance, nor shall the Safety and Service Director approve any ordinance providing for the appropriation of money, unless it is accompanied by a form to be devised by the Auditor, which shall show fully the purpose of the appropriation and the fund to which it is to be charged and which shall bear the approval of the Safety and Service Director, the Law Director, and the Auditor.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.51 (Copies of Proposed Ordinances and Resolutions).

The Safety and Service Director shall prepare, or cause to be prepared, copies of all proposed ordinances and resolutions, together with any explanation deemed necessary, for distribution to members of the City Council, the Law Director, and the public in general, before the first reading.

Hillsboro City Code Section 30.52 (When Ordinances Effective).

All ordinances except emergency ordinances shall take effect upon the earliest date allowed by law after the date of their passage, approval by the mayor or over the mayor’s veto, and publication, unless a later date therefore is indicated therein.

“Robert’s Rules of Order are helpful in running committee meetings are an additional guideline which the president of council may utilize in running city council meetings, but they are in no way binding or controlling,” Koogler said. “I also thought it might be important to highlight what constitutes a public meeting under the Ohio Revised Code and City Code of Ordinances.”

Ohio Revised Code Section 121.22 (What constitutes a public body)

Public bodies are decision-making groups or agencies or institutions at the state or local government level.

Hillsboro City Code Section 36.02 (Public Body).

The City Council and any board, commission, agency, authority, committee, or other body with decision-making authority in the municipality, if any, which is subject to the rule-making authority of the City Council.

Ohio Revised Code Section 121.22(B)(2) (What is a public meeting?)

A public meeting is a gathering of the members of a public body to discuss public business, with a majority of the public body present.

Hillsboro City Code Section 36.02 (Meeting).

Any pre-arranged discussion of the public business of any “public body” by a majority of its members.

“In other words, if two or more committee members or four or more members of council are meeting, whether at a diner, residence, public building, chat room, group text, email or email chain, etc., discussing public business, it is a public meeting and must be advertised at least 24 hours in advance, unless a true emergency, and the public afforded an opportunity to attend,” Koogler said.

“A violation of Ohio’s public meetings laws may result in injunctive action being filed against the public body, a fine of up to $500 and repayment of court costs and attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. So please, be very careful in conducting conversations with other council members about public business outside of council or committee meetings.

“Lastly, I want to address the issues of committees. City council has standing committees because committees are where the work regarding legislation and/or public policy is to be hashed out prior to a vote of council. Committees make recommendations on legislation and/or public policy and then after a recommendation is made by a committee, council is able to debate and determine whether to adopt the legislation and/or public policy, whether it needs to go back into committee for further consideration or whether the legislation and/or public policy is not ripe for passage at that point in time and therefore chooses to vote against the legislation and/or public policy presented.

“Over the years, I have always cautioned council against acting as a committee of the whole, where the entire council is involved with legislation and/or public policy from start to finish. Such action impedes timely council meetings and defeats the entire purpose of having committees to being with.

“In closing, not everyone, whether a member of the public, the administration or member of council, may agree with how I conduct every aspect of every Hillsboro City Council meeting. Not every meeting is going to be easy nor is every meeting going to be perfect. I am not always going to know what individuals may bring to the attention of council and I may not always have the answers the night of the meeting.

“However, as president of Hillsboro City Council, I will always strive to make sure the citizens we serve are able to approach Hillsboro City Council, voice their concerns to council and that the administration and council members are able to do the same in return.

“P.S. The majority of the information provided in this letter to you is the same information that was provided at the training conducted by Mr. Beery and myself prior to the January 2018 Hillsboro City Council meeting.”

Related council story:
https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Council-discusses-storm-sewer-upgrades-council-member-suggests-community-learn-correct-procedure-for-meetings/2/20/47250