A word change in a town ordinance regulating how committee chairmen are selected or elected or nominated or rejected or ratified spurred some spirited debate among town council members last Wednesday.
The current ordinance says town boards and commissions will "elect" their own leaders, which the council can then confirm -- or reject.
So someone -- no one seems to remember who -- said that "elect" was the wrong word. In fact, the committees "nominate" one of their members to serve as chairman and the council then does the selecting or electing or ratifying or some word like that.
In practice, the council usually confirms the selection (nomination? election?) of the committees -- generally in a block vote on the consent agenda.
But once the plan to change the word "elect" to "nominate" hit the town rumor mill, it was transformed in some accounts into yet another power grab by Mayor Kenny Evans to exert more control over the town committees.
Ironically, the change came up on the heels of previous changes that shifted responsibility for nominating people to serve on committees from the mayor to the vice mayor -- while at the same time rotating the position of vice mayor annually.
That change came in the wake of complaints by some council members that former Mayor Bob Edwards had packed the boards and committees with his supporters. The change will give each council member other than the mayor the power to nominate people for boards and commissions, although the entire council will still have to confirm the recommendation.
Still, the council handled the latest, unrelated change of language gingerly.
Town attorney Tim Wright explained that the change will mostly let the town manager decide which staff members will work with which committees, instead of having that selection locked into the ordinance. Changing the word "elect" to "nominate," was an afterthought.
Councilor Michael Hughes spoke up quickly, saying that people had complained that the need to have the council ratify the appointment of a chairman would prevent the committee from having its first meeting.
However, Wright said, "I don't think there would be any practical change" because the chairperson selected by the committee could assume those duties pending certification by the council.
Jim Samson then rose from the audience, strode to the podium and said, "I don't understand. If it's not broken, then why are we trying to fix it?"
Councilor Ed Blair concurred. "There is a big difference between ‘nominate' and ‘elect.' Therefore, I don't think that section five is worthy of inclusion."
Councilor Su Connell weighed in. "It deals a great deal with semantics," she observed. "To nominate is to propose someone for appointment," she added. She then suggested perhaps they would leave the word ‘election' alone, but add a provision that the election would have to be ratified by the council.
"Ratification is after the fact," said Mayor Evans, mulling the word.
"Yes. We would ratify the election. Would that help to achieve the goal and not have it perceived as a take-away" from the power and autonomy of the committees? Connell asked.
"But in your definition of ‘ratify,' you said it means ‘approve,'" observed Wright.
Councilor Rick Croy added his few words: "In the past, it was not official until it comes to the council -- so it's kind of semantics, I think."
Councilor John Wilson said, "in the past, when the election was done by the board, the council had the right to approve or disapprove that election -- so it comes to the same thing."
Trying to help in the entertaining semantic tail chase, Bill Ensign, head of the Friends of Payson Parks and Recreation, said he'd fielded calls from alarmed citizens. "I read the little piece and it says ‘nominate' which means ‘select.' The latter portion doesn't say anything about ‘nominating, selection or election,' but it's the same thing. I don't see why it was changed, but it makes no matter."
"So what is the advantage to the change?" complained Councilor Blair plaintively.
Whereupon Evans and Wright confessed they couldn't quite remember who said the word ought to change anyhow, except that it was at the end of "another meeting."
Evans defended the change. He said ‘elect' means "to choose, but it's not what they do. It's a recommendation. I think we're taking far too much time on semantics."
"Weren't there one or two chairmen elected that they didn't like?" asked Blair, in apparent reference to council debates about two people Mayor Edwards had nominated to serve on the town's traffic committee. That debate led to giving the vice mayor the power to nominate committee members, which was an entirely different matter.
"Are you suggesting that we take the council approval out of it" when it comes to appointing heads of committees and commissions? asked Evans.
"I'm just questioning changing ‘elect' to ‘nominate,'" said Blair.
Councilor Mike Vogel then crashed the discussion, with his trademark directness. "The committees don't have the authority to ‘elect' -- we do. I can beat around the bush for 15 minutes, but that's what it comes down to."
"Could we use ‘select'?" asked Croy in the spirit of compromise.
"It's about halfway between ‘nominate' and ‘elect'," suggested Wright with lawyerly caution.
Whereupon, Councilor Blair moved to delete the sentence changing ‘elect' to ‘nominate.' But that motion died for lack of a second.
A subsequent motion to approve the change won on a 6-1 vote.