Absentee voting

Viewers of American Idol know to call one number if they want to vote for one performer and another number to vote for another performer. Maybe Town Council has adopted a similar practice.

Laurin Easthom left during a discussion of the Triangle Regional Transit Local Preferred Alternative issue. During a spate of late-night council meetings last year, Easthom, a dentist, explained that she couldn’t stay late the night before she had to perform a procedure on a patient early the next morning. Presumably, that’s why she ducked out early Monday night – early being a relative term, given that council had already been in session more than five and a half hours at that point.

So Easthom missed a long discussion on whether the council had a preference of C1 or C2 for the light-rail route and whether council should let the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Transportation Advisory know which alternative they prefer. Community members who spoke Monday night overwhelmingly preferred C2, and so did some council members. But other council members wanted to remain neutral. The committee would consider both alternatives, regardless of whether council picked a preference.

Matt Czajkowski moved that the council send forth the preference for C2; Ed Harrison put forth a substitute motion to indicate no preference. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt called for a vote. With Easthom’s absence, council was down to eight members, creating the possibility of a tie vote. Kleinschmidt asked all those in favor of Harrison’s substitute motion to raise their right hand. He counted three.

“And Laurin,” Jim Ward said, nodding toward Easthom’s empty chair. Kleinschmidt counted it as a fourth hand. But it wasn’t enough to pass the substitute motion.

Next came the vote on the motion to state a preference for C2. Kleinschmidt counted five raised right hands, then added, “And with Laurin, six.” The motion passed. Thus, Easthom’s empty chair voted for the no-preference motion and for the C2-preference motion.

To be fair, Easthom may have been home texting or tweeting her votes to council. But if she was, it would have been nice for someone on council to have made that clear.

Then again, it was after 11 p.m., more than six hours after council had convened that evening, and there was still the contentious landfill issue to get through before everyone could go home. And even as the clock edged toward midnight, community members still waited in chambers to speak on the issue. So we’ll cut council some slack this time.
– Nancy Oates

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4 Comments

  1. George C

     /  January 26, 2012

    Nancy,
    I don’t know what the official rules are for Council but I do know what they are for Town advisory boards. On the advisory boards if a members leaves without requesting to be excused (and the board subsequently voting to excuse the requester) any subsequent motions are considered to be an affirmative vote by the missing member. It sounds like Council uses the same rule which would explain why Laurin’s votes were being added to the affirmative totals.

  2. Fred Black

     /  January 26, 2012

    From the Council Procedure Manual:
    E.
    4. Abstention. By State statute, no member of the governing body may be excused from voting on any matter before the Council except in matters involving the consideration of his or her own financial interest or official conduct. In most other cases, the failure to vote by a member who is physically present or has withdrawn without being excused (preferably by a majority vote of the remaining members present) shall be recorded as an affirmative vote. This rule does not apply where the matter being voted upon is not a motion but rather offers the Council more affirmative choices than just approval or disapproval of a specific ordinance or resolution. For example, if the Council is voting on appointments to an advisory board a Council member may elect to turn in a signed, unmarked ballot. Certain other circumstances may make abstention from voting appropriate in cases involving quasi-judicial proceedings. These are reviewed during Council orientation by the Town Attorney.

  3. Ed Harrison

     /  January 26, 2012

    “Matt Czajkowski moved that the council send forth the preference for C2; Ed Harrison put forth a substitute motion to indicate no preference. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt called for a vote. With Easthom’s absence, council was down to eight members, creating the possibility of a tie vote. Kleinschmidt asked all those in favor of Harrison’s substitute motion to raise their right hand. He counted three.”

    There are three errors in this paragraph. One, as George and Fred point out, is your projection of vote count. Anyone familiar with parliamentary procedure knows that a board member who departs “unexcused” in effect votes “yes” on all remaining motions. The other two errors are the uses of my name. It was the former Mayor Pro Tem, not the current one, who made the motion for “no preference.” (And that wasn’t the exact motion). I’m sure that Jim does not want to be confused with me, nor I with him.

    WCHL ‘s piece on this discussion helpfully supplied a link to the video — It’s clear who made the motions.

    The second time I spoke, I did so for Matt’s motion, which was an amendment to the original resolution. I clearly stated that I did not support the substitute motion.

  4. Nancy Oates

     /  January 26, 2012

    Thanks for explaining the procedure. And my apologies, Ed. I went to the tape, and it was Jim Ward who made the substitute motion. I’m still getting used to the new seating arrangement.

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