Norman City Council members discussed potentially creating a council handbook that would include the meeting process, policies and council ethics during a Tuesday evening study session.
A handbook was discussed during the council’s two-day retreat over the summer, where Norman Mayor Larry Heikkila requested a study session to discuss the concept and begin its development.
City Attorney Kathryn Walker said her staff began with a table of contents to figure out where to begin with placement. Walker said the content for the handbook already exists with the structure of the city council, and it was just a matter of compiling them into one place.
A letter from the city manager begins the current draft of the handbook. It also includes a copy and explanation of the city charter, an outline of city council duties, council ethics and information about the Open Meeting and Open Records Acts, according to Walker. The draft handbook was printed in a hard copy to attendees of the meeting.
Ward 1 Councilmember Brandi Studley noted that the discussion about a handbook began with former Mayor Breea Clark, adding that she would like to have consequences added to the code of ethics. Studley also requested rules for council committee appointments to be added, such as qualifications for committee chair.
“If there’s no consequence, why are we here?” Studley said. “I’d like to know there’s some rhyme and reason behind (appointments).”
According to Walker, council committee appointments are traditionally done by the mayor, but are not required by the charter.
Ward 3 Councilmember Kelly Lynn expressed concerns about council members communicating with each other and with members of the public during council meetings, asking if the council could be in violation of the Open Meeting Act. Lynn recommended that the council not be permitted to have any communication devices during meetings to prevent any possible violations.
Several council members disagreed with Lynn’s suggestion, including Ward 6 Councilmember Elizabeth Foreman who said she wants to ensure contact with her young daughter. Studley and Ward 7 Councilmember Stephen Holman noted that constituents often contact council members during meetings to express their opinions on matters being discussed.
Holman also said that previous councils have discussed adding consequences to the code of ethics, but ultimately decided against it due to the dangers of political retaliation and other possible abuses of the policy, saying that it had the potential to become a “sword instead of a shield.”
Because city council terms are two years, Holman also said voters should be able to hold their representatives accountable by voting against their reelection campaigns should they be upset by the behavior of a council person.
Ward 5 Councilmember Rarchar Tortorello said the council can’t “legislate morality,” adding that a handbook should be a guide to direct council members in the best direction.
City Manager Darrel Pyle suggested the use of a third party for a review of council ethics, should it be needed due to a violation of the code of ethics, an idea Studley noted would eliminate any political bias.
Ward 2 Councilmember Lauren Schueler noted that because the handbook would be a public document, it will not only benefit councilors but also help the public or any potential candidates fully understand the role of city council. Schueler said the reason for the code of ethics conversation is due to members not following council ethics, requesting further conversation on what a series of consequences may look like.
Lynn agreed that there were council ethics issues, but warned of the possible consequences of adding an enforcement measure.
“I would say that you might want to be careful about weaponizing that because you might not be happy (with) what you wished for,” Lynn said.