‘Who voted how?’ leaves Hurlock Council in a Yea or Nay quandry

HURLOCK — “Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third…” “That’s what I want to find out.”

Thirty minutes of the March 13 Hurlock council meeting was reminiscent of the classic Abbott and Costello routine, “who’s on first” from the 1940s.

At the Feb. 27 meeting a council majority agreed to deny funding to the ad hoc Hurlock Downtown Committee after the group presented a strategic plan and requested funds to implement parts of it. After the vote Councilman Earl Murphy moved to grant reimbursement funds based on council pre-approval of the group’s expense request. There was no second and the motion died.

On March 13 Councilman Murphy voted against approval of the minutes based on that vote and the “Who’s on first…” began to play out. Mr. Murphy expressed concern about the Feb. 27 vote regarding funding the Hurlock Downtown Committee. He said the minutes reflected his “No” vote and Councilman Charles Cephas’ “Yes” vote to grant funding. “I said that night and I apologized to my council members that night but it was a matter of how that vote was. A motion doesn’t matter what the wording is. Approval is with a ‘Yea;’ defeat with a ‘Nay.’ Four Nay votes defeated the motion. At the previous meeting Councilman Jerry Rhue moved to deny funding to the ad hoc Downtown Committee. After the second and discussion the vote was four ‘Nay’ and one ‘Aye.’

Technically the motion was defeated. However, Mr. Rhue’s intent was to deny funding. But defeating the motion by 4-1 meant the decision to deny funding was not upheld.”

Mr. Murphy explained that he voted Nay to ensure the motion would be defeated. Following discussion the motion has to either be approved, with a Yea, or defeated, with a Nay. “In all of that it doesn’t matter what they meant (by their vote). It goes back to the motion whether it be passed or defeated.” The councilman said the four No votes defeated the motion and meant the town had approved funding the committee. “We can’t just interpret what a council member wants to say. We should go with the vote which should be Yea or Nay. That’s the whole point about my concerns. I understand not to fund was the motion. Then they should have voted Yea not to fund and pass the motion ‘not to fund.’”

Councilman Murphy said he did not want to fund a set amount but moved that the committee could submit expenses for reimbursement with council approval. His motion was not seconded. “I moved to give the group an opportunity. I would have never voted ‘no’ if ‘no’ meant ‘yes.’

Town Attorney Robert Merriken stepped in. “There was confusion regarding the vote which is why I asked for clarification about what the council was actually voting on. Councilman Murphy is correct. In the charter it is supposed to be Yea or Nay. But, it is hard to draft a motion when you’re under fire up here. Once the clarification was asked for it was clear as to how you were voting until we got to Councilman (Earl) Murphy who muddied the water a bit. It was clear that the council voted to not fund the Downtown Committee. If you want to re-vote it the council can re-visit the issue. You still have budget hearings to go through and just because it was voted down once it can be voted on again. It can be a line item in the budget at any point. You can get hung up in the technicalities but everybody understood until you (turning to Councilman Earl Murphy) muddied the waters about what the vote was. Technically, you were correct; but the outcome was clear.”

Mr. Murphy responded, “The minutes say ‘Councilman Cephas voted Yes to granting the funding.’” That’s the issue where it should have been a Yes or No vote.

At that point Councilman Cephas suggested that Sec. 306 of the town charter be amended to include council votes of “Yea, Nay, Yes, and No” to “eliminate any of the confusion we now face.”

Attorney Merriken pointed out the council will need a charter resolution to do that.

The Rev. Cephas continued, “Since I have the floor I would like to move that we re-vote this request from the Downtown Committee.” Councilman Jerry Rhue who offered the original motion on Feb. 27, interjected, “You’re out of order! She (council member Bonnie Franz) would have to take her second off of it and I would have to remove mine (motion) before we can vote.”

Councilman Cephas answered, “You didn’t let me finish. Please let me finish. I had the floor. Maybe we should have a work session to discuss the rules of how we operate as a council and how we carry on the business of Sec. 306. The vote that was taken was flawed even though the intent was very clear. Sec. 306 has to be changed to include ‘yes’ and ‘no.’”

Mayor Joyce Spratt asked Mr. Merriken, “So you want to go back and have Jerry remake the motion and then you’ll tell them how to vote the way they want to vote?” Attorney Merriken said he drafted a motion for Mr. Rhue to “assist the council on the voting process with this issue.”

Town administrator John Avery asked councilman Cephas to “state the motion in one sentence so it’s a clear motion.” Mr. Merriken said, “I think he has moved to have the council vote again on whether or not to fund the Downtown Committee. It is only on whether or not we will have another vote.”

Ms. Spratt said, “If you don’t want to vote on the motion, say ‘Nay.’ If you want to vote on it, say ‘Yea.’” After unanimous agreement to the re-vote, the council voted on Mr. Merriken’s suggested motion which read: “I make a motion not to place in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017 and ending June 30, 2018 a line item for any requested and/or potential funding requests of Hurlock Downtown Committee, Inc.” He said, “I drafted this how I thought you really meant to say at the last meeting.” The motion passed 3-2. That meant no funding for the ad hoc committee.

Administrator Avery said he was under the impression that there is a “feeling that the minutes are incorrect or there is some intent in them that is incorrect. The minutes don’t reflect intent. They reflect what was said. Whether you agree with what was said or not doesn’t belong in the minutes.” He explained that transcriber Amy Hopkins spent 8 hours transcribing the tape. Mr. Avery then spent 4 hours confirming that the transcription and his edits conformed to the actual tape and the wording was correct. “When the minutes are done they are done as correctly as they can possibly be and they don’t reflect intent. They reflect what is said.”

Mayor Spratt noted the tapes are available and council members can listen to them.

Councilman Murphy said he told Mr. Avery during several conversations that his “interpretation of the minutes was fine” but he objected to one line about “the vote being 4 against funding and 1 for because that was not the intent of the vote.” Mr. Avery noted, “Then you’re voting on your interpretation; not what was actually said.”
The meeting moved on to other business; “Who” ran to 2nd base.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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