The past two Ely City Council meetings have had an agenda item that has some council members confounded, wondering why it is needed. The item is to create a Code of Conduct.
The first reading for approval of Ordinance 727, requiring the City Council to create a a Code of Conduct for council members, under NRS 266.240 was placed on the agenda by Mayor Nathan Robertson at the Oct. 10 meeting.
Robertson said, “The point here was to clean up some of the labeling of the city code, which doesn’t really jibe with the NRS, and also the point being… the city council has dove into issues the past three months doesn’t really fall under the employee procedures manual. The city council gets to make their own laws and punishments, and the NRS provides for that and we just want to make sure that we are in line with that and encourage the city council do that for themselves.”
City Councilman Jim Alworth expressed that he had lots of questions, commenting that he also had lots of notes. He questoned NRS 266.240 where it outlined the council may punish it’s members for disorderly conduct.
He went on to bring up another NRS, 203.010 “crimes against public peace.”
“So as long as we are in this meeting, punishing a member, you look at definitions, and I’m trying to understand where this is all coming from, your chief executor of the city, shall prescribe over the city council when in session,” he said. “…I probably read too much into these, I just look like, I’m not saying it’s happening, but we’re leaving ourselves open with a simple wording. That conflict of interest on page 3, I picked away at that most of the day and there’s too many big words in it for me, I couldn’t quite figure it out. I think we are getting to a point, we get us, no offense, we get a real sharp attorney, you’re gonna get rid of somebody on this council because you want to punish them, you’re in for a long uphill battle. I just can’t figure out where this whole thing is coming about, it looks to me in my mind all fuzzy, and I don’t know why we are doing all this.”
Robertson explained to the council in previous conversations with Pool Pact in the past month, the city council does not fall under the city’s personnel policy. The NRS specifcally outlines that the council can set their own rules, whether they wanted to allow or not allow.
The council in the past didn’t give themselves any rules or code of conduct or anything of this nature.
Alworth questioned what the council needed to do if it was already printed in the NRS that the council shall determine what they want, asking what the council’s part in it was?
City Attorney Bryan Pyle explained that it was about due process. “This is step one, and the next process is you all get together and determine what your code of conduct is, or what code are you going to be held to, that way, it could be anything really, so instead of saying anything goes, let’s define it, have the council come up with a conduct and hold themslves to it, and then we can define it. The idea of it was to make it more fair, not less fair.”
Alworth seemed to be the only council member who had questions, at times bemused on the code of conduct, bringing up various other NRS’s and citing from them.
“My point on that is, when we’re in city council in sesssion, if I go down the street, hit and run somebody or a piece of property, the law takes care of that, If I break a law and I’m found guilty then I’m out the door,” he said. “Let’s say I’m an alcoholic, none of you know this, I go home and get corned up everynight, I have a disease, so that’s why I’m saying, this covers only when were in session, the mayor has any stroke, or this board or over any of this? If I’m in the Rio Club and I get into a bar room fight,”
Councilman Ed Spear noted that was a good question. Pyle answered, explaining that he couldn’t answer that question, reiterating that it’s what the council wants.
“I think you can easily say, a code of conduct, if people are honest, and they want that code of conduct to extend to all facets of their life that it could, but it doesn’t have to, or it could be as easy as if it results in a felony conviction, that it would get somebody fired from a job, as long as you didn’t break the law, you were okay,” Pyle said.
Robertson said, “The council gets to set those rules, and you guys are in control what the definition is.”
Alworth said, “We could write up the code of conduct, you can be imposing my first amendment right, I have the right to stand on the curb and raise holy heck about the mayor or councilman as long as I don’t threaten them or cause physical harm. First amendement rights come back, I didn’t like what you said at the duck pond today, but again, I understand what you guys are saying…how far are we going to go on this?”
Robertson said, “That’s up to you guys, I feel like you are on shakier ground when you don’t have a definition, anybody could come in an say, they should be fired, or whatever, the point being, this doesn’t tell you what the rule needs to be this just tells you, you guys can set the rule.”
Spear said, “I think we need more discussion on this particular item, one of the things I wanted to define was the concern on the first amendment. I think we could put ourselves in a bad spot, city council has a right to say a lot of things, I think we need to define it. I’m not opposed to making some of these rules, but I think it needs to be clear before we pass an ordinance.”
Pyle said, “We can’t pass a law or ordinance that violates the first amendment.”
Alworth said, “I still say the code of conduct of what’s going on in this room, I see what Bryan says, write it down…I want to see what other cities have this, I don’t understand why this is such a big deal.”
Pyle explained to Alworth, that some of the NRSs he was naming were in a diferent chapter, and didn’t pertain to the issue at hand. Alworth noted he was all for writing one and see how it turns out.
Several attempts from Robertson and Pyle were made, reiterating to the council that they could create their code of conduct, until Robertson offered to table the item so that councilmembers could have more time to discuss it with Pyle.
“We just need to be moving in a forward direction, so we are doing something. That’s my whole intent on it,” Robertson said.
Alworth said, “Why should we talk to Bryan, its not his choice, it’s our choice. You just said it’s our choice to set our rules of punishment.”
Councilman Kurt Carson moved to table the item. Motion was approved unanimously with Councilwoman Michelle Beecher opposing.
Fast forward two weeks later to the meeing on Oct. 24 city council meeting where the Code of Conduct was on the agenda, for the second reading of the Ordinance.
Robertson explained the supporting documentation in the packet contained research results from other City’s in Nevada that have a Code of Conduct.
“It kind of runs the gamut from one sentence to a few paragraphs,” he said.
Fallon, Sparks, Henderson, Wendover, Mesquite and Elko all contained a Code of Conduct. Other parts of Nevada such as Eureka, Austin, Pioche and Caliente do not contain a city council therefore there is no code of conduct. Jennifer Lee noted most of the information she obtained through her research efforts were online.
Beecher questioned how it would work, and Pyle explained that each council member could submit their own drafts and outline them on the specifics they would like.
Alworth commented how he liked what Clerk Lee did by researching, and listing the areas she researched, but he questioned Robertson on why he decided to reach out to Wendover.
“I don’t understand this, we had these several days ago then West Wendover, research done by Mayor Robertson.” he said. “I just have to ask the question, why did you pick West Wendover, were you not happy with the city clerk did?
“Her assignment was to do that, and she did it quite well, and I can look at this and say, I didn’t like what I seen so I’m going to go look somewhere else, and there’s all these downloads, and he was very vague, again I think it definitely needs to be researched with all these, it does muddy the water that we have research done by Mayor Robertson when the city clerk was assigned to do that, I don’t feeel it was the mayor’ s responsibility to go and research on his own.”
Robertson explained how he was trying to get as much information as possible, and noted he had worked with the mayor in Wendover in the past.
Alworth said, “I think all council members should look around themselves.”
Robertson agreed. Beecher said she agreed they all needed to come up with what they thought was appropriate and put their proposals together.
Alworth said, “I don’t know how we can come up with one, because we can’t all meet together, we can sit here and bore the public for hours,” Beecher said, “I think what was suggested is that we submit to Pyle, and discuss them.”
Robertson reinfoced that the council was voting to come up with their own code of conduct. A roll call vote was conducted by Robertson. Ed Spear, and Jim Alworth voted nay, Ernie Flangas and Michelle Beecher for in favor of it, causing Robertson to hold a tie breaker, where Robertson voted in favor of the item