Basic training 

When it comes to the pageantry and showmanship of governing, Glenda Hood is a mayor without peer. During council meetings, the former public-relations executive makes sure she genuflects in front of minor dignitaries like Bob Snow. She sidles up to retiring city employees for their farewell snapshot, often bending a silver microphone over a podium to thank the long-timers for being part of the city family. And she feigns indignation when a theatrical group barges into Council Chambers to offer a corny skit relating to the city's lizard-art program.

But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of governing -- the motions and seconds and calls for adjournments necessary for government to work efficiently -- Hood is a lightweight. She often displays an ignorance of simple parliamentary rules that is remarkable for someone with nearly 20 years' experience in government and who has chaired, or been a member of, 45 civic and nonprofit organizations.

Just in the last few months, she has improperly adjourned at least two City Council meetings and failed to table or call for a vote on another measure, even after she'd received a motion and second from two commissioners.

But the mayor's main problem is that she continues to talk over and around recognized speakers -- including fellow commissioners, citizens and city employees -- in what appears to be an attempt to minimize their opinions.

"It's a particularly annoying thing to put up with," says District 1 Commissioner Don Ammerman, who has consistently criticized the mayor's interruptions. "It was worse during light rail or when anything is raised in disagreement with the desired way of doing things."

The mayor recently called for all city board leaders (the chairs and vice chairs) as well as commissioners and some staff to receive a two-hour class on parliamentary procedures April 4. The group will go over provisions of the state public-access laws as well as Robert's Rules of Order, the bible of every board chairman in the free world.

City employees have been quick to point out that the training wasn't a response to recent media criticism of Hood (mainly from the Weekly). Such classes are routine, and next week's session had been in the planning stages since last summer. The mayor is scheduled to provide only a brief introduction.

Ironically, Hood could use the training more than many civic leaders because most of the city's boards run smoothly.

The one exception is the Nuisance Abatement Board, which bumbled through a hearing last October involving the 414 Liquor Store, a Parramore Avenue bar that found itself on the city's hit list.

After hearing a presentation from a city attorney, the board's four members began whispering to each other for a full two minutes -- not only violating "Robert's Rules" but also the state's open-meetings law. Then Dean Cannon, 414's attorney, spoke five times from the audience even though he wasn't the recognized speaker. Finally, after the board tried to begin secret deliberations, city attorney Natasha Permaul told the members, "These discussions need to be public and into the microphone so we can all hear it."

In defense of the board's members, the Nuisance Abatement Board meets infrequently and is manned by volunteers (as are all 30 city boards). And in the end, the board's behavior probably didn't affect 414's destiny. The city eventually bought it for $377,000 and promptly bulldozed it.

Even so, the board is an example of what can go embarrassingly wrong if civic leaders are left unchecked. After all, ambitious members of the public often use the city's advisory boards as stepping stones into more visible positions. Commissioners Daisy Lynum and Don Ammerman were members of the Municipal Planning Board before joining the City Council. Why shouldn't they be taught properly how to sit on boards before hitting the big time?

"You're dealing with humans," says city attorney Scott Gabrielson, who used to help train board members when he was chairman of the city's nominating board. "Some may do a great job 90 percent of the time but they might have some weaknesses. Some are more formal and strict on 'Robert's Rules of Order.'"

Gabrielson maintains certain flubs can be overlooked if the spirit of "Robert's Rules" are being followed and people who have a viewpoint in the minority are allowed to express their opinions. After all, council meetings are relatively informal affairs, with commissioners calling each other by first name and joking with staff.

"When everyone is in agreement, it's less critical that everything is handled technically perfect," he says. Indeed, the preface to Robert's Rules says certain procedures can be streamlined, according to Richard Foglesong, a Rollins College political scientist and faculty parliamentarian. "When meetings become contentious, that's when rules become valuable," Foglesong says.

But Hood often flouts the rules when issues are most contentious. And by breaking parliamentary rules, Hood muffles dissent not because a speaker made a procedural error, but because she doesn't like the direction a discussion is taking. This creates an atmosphere of distrust and gives the mayor unearned advantages in debate.

The council's Feb. 26 meeting was an example of this. It began with Commissioner Ammerman making a motion that would have required the city to begin providing tapes of council meetings to the county's public-access television channel. After he made the motion, Hood immediately began arguing with him without bothering to second the motion. Several minutes went by before Commissioner Ernest Page said, "I'll second the motion, mayor, so we can have a discussion."

Ammerman brought up the issue because he wanted other commissioners on record. If he lost the vote, he could go back to his district and tell constituents that he fought for Council TV.

Instead, as Ammerman spoke, Hood continually cut him off -- six times in all. She also interrupted Page at least four times. The debate (if it can be called that) finally ended after a city employee walked behind the mayor and whispered in her ear that the issue should be handled in one of the city's Monday-morning workshops.

She didn't even bother to ask Ammerman to rescind his motion or ask for a vote to table it. Instead, she spoke for everyone and the debate ended.

Consequently, the mayor broke parliamentary procedure to help ensure that the public isn't able to watch her on TV making errors in parliamentary procedure.

Feb. 26 was also the day that Orlando police officer Edward A. Diaz appeared at council. He is the officer who survived seven bullet wounds last year after a routine traffic stop turned bad. (Another officer was killed in the shoot-out.) Diaz wanted to ask for a stronger endorsement of the police union and to express concern that his treatment had been inadequate.

According to Commissioner Patty Sheehan, council members had been told not to talk to Diaz. But just to make sure, after his eight-minute presentation, Hood "declared" the meeting adjourned without asking if there was additional business -- a violation of procedure.

In effect, she cut off commissioners before they could get into the sticky business of Diaz's concerns -- even if any of them had been bold enough to bring it up after being told not to.

"I do have concerns about the way that meetings have been arbitrarily adjourned when something controversial is brought up," Sheehan says.

Sheehan, the past president of the Colonialtown Neighborhood Association, used to own a copy of Robert's Rules. But she gave it to her successor and wasn't given a copy during commissioner orientation. In fact, parliamentary procedure wasn't even discussed, though some information was included in a pamphlet.

"We were more interested in parliamentary rules at our neighborhood association meetings than we are when conducting our city government, which is kind of comical," she says. "We should be the standard by which everyone else is set."

If Hood ever becomes serious about the business of governing, she should take some tips from two of the area's better board chairmen -- Bert Carrier, the former Orange County School Board chair, and Stan Halbert, the current chair of the Orlando Housing Authority.

Carrier was known for his relative calm and impartiality. During a November meeting, he twice prohibited Tom Kohler, one of the city's more influential administrators, from speaking out of turn.

Halbert is known for his expert use of protocol. He goes through procedures in a systematic, rapid-fire manner, following Robert's Rules almost to the letter.

"It just a matter of style," says Halbert. "I see my role as an appointed official not as being a manager, not trying to lead, but as being a facilitator."

Of course, there's a big difference between what Hood does and what Carrier and Halbert do. She was elected by the public to push an agenda. They were elected by their respective boards to run orderly meetings. "If I'm an elected official, I would get more involved so that my constituents ideas are addressed," Halbert says.

Which doesn't mean he'd violate rules of fair play to address them.


More by William Dean Hinton


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