In 1915, the City of Salem adopted a charter which specified a Plan B form of municipal government.
That charter established a mayor-council system with a strong mayor form and a unicameral council. It is the most prevalent form of larger city government in the country.
Section 18 in the General Provisions states in paragraph two that, "the city council shall, from time to time, establish rules for its proceedings."
Section 19 states clearly that, "the mayor may attend and address the city council in person or through the head of a department, or a member of the board, upon any subject."
In no place in the section of the charter does it say that any individual councilor or the council as a whole can prevent a sitting mayor from speaking. There is also no provision allowing the council to change any aspect of the charter. That must be done by an elected charter commission. We last had a charter review in 2003.
Over the last year or more, we have had multiple episodes of city councilors preventing or attempting to prevent the mayor from addressing the council. Each time Section 18 was used as the basis for that procedure.
I am not a lawyer. My grandfather Hussey guided me away from that profession when I was very young. As a result, I seldom try to read between the lines. The council over the years has had many lawyers in its chambers, including the classic "barracks lawyer" types. Lawyers, and those that think they are lawyers, like to try and read between the lines.
Some years ago, our current mayor used a similar tactic to prevent her predecessor from speaking when she represented Ward Five. That may have seemed to be the right thing to do at the time, but perhaps she set a precedent that has come back to her. I will leave it to the lawyers to discuss whether or not the circumstances are the same now as they were then.
It is fully within the power of the council president to set a time limit on how long or even how many times within a meeting a mayor or anyone else can speak. That can be established at the beginning of any speaking period within a particular meeting. That would probably be the easiest and best way to handle things.
The council could also meet to amend the council rules as Section 18 allows them. Within those rules they could define specific time limits and also limit how many times a mayor or other person can address the council within a specific meeting.
There is another option available. We could have another charter review commission. That is a elective process and can be a very cumbersome task. Ask any of those who served in 2003.
Be advised, however, members of the city council. Whatever rules that are established, you may find that sometime down the road, when you have successfully run for the Salem corner office, your own efforts before the council may be made more difficult as a result.
In that case, it will be déjà vu all over again.