Sheriff’s request for interrogation room denied, 3-2; Space goes to EMS for breakroom

Submitted to Dorchester Banner
Three council members denied the sheriff’s request, though the deal was acceptable to the director of emergency services.

CAMBRIDGE — Dorchester County Sheriff James W. Phillips Jr. and his deputies will have to continue holding their interrogations in a converted closet, at least for the near future, after members of the County Council voted 3-2 to deny his request for more space. The area will instead go to the county’s Emergency Medical Services, for use as a breakroom.

Council members President Jay Newcomb (District 1) and William Nichols (District 2) voted against the request. Ricky Travers (District 3) and Lenny Pfeffer (District 4) were in favor.

Vice President Libby Nagel was absent. She determined her votes on agenda items beforehand, and gave them to Mr. Newcomb, who read them from a list. Ms. Nagel voted against the sheriff’s request.

County Manager Keith Adkins introduced the item, saying the director of emergency services, Evdokia Rahilly, had approved a trade of space with the sheriff — Kim Vickers’ old office would go to the sheriff in return for parking spaces to be used for recharging EMS vehicles.

But the move still had to be approved by the council.

“The proposed use of this office is for recording interviews, which space will meet his obligations by law to have a separate office for this purpose,” Mr. Adkins said. “Sheriff Phillips has advised that due to poor audio quality as a result of recording equipment, location of the room and noise outside the room, recordings cannot be used for court purposes. Furthermore, Deputy Mike Rickwood needs to be moved to an individual workspace in which he will register court-ordered sex offenders, which can be locked and which has a secure location for the files.”

Mr. Travers then moved to approve the sheriff’s request, seconded by Mr. Pfeffer. The only discussion that followed was a question from Mr. Newcomb confirming that the motion was to approve the request.

He then called for a vote, which led to a 2-2 tie. Checking his list of Ms. Nagel’s votes, Mr. Newcomb said, “She said for Emergency Services to have the room.”

The meeting then continued, until the last section of the agenda, “Council’s Comments.” When Mr. Pfeffer’s turn came, he brought up the issue again, asking the council to reconsider it.

“The portion of that room that the sheriff wants is one-third of that entire space,” he said. “Emergency Services wants to use it as a breakroom for the 911 Center. The sheriff wants to use it for an operational office, because they are running out of space.”

He made a motion to reconsider the request, seconded by Mr. Travers. Mr. Newcomb said he didn’t want to vote on the issue again, because Ms. Nagel was not present and because it had already been denied.

“Robert’s Rules, I think, you have to wait until another meeting to bring it up,” Mr. Newcomb said. “Mr. Nichols, do you agree or disagree?”

“It just got voted down,” Mr. Nichols said. “You’re still voting on the same exact thing that just got voted down, the same exact thing. We’re getting ready to do the same thing we did before.”

Noting that there had been little discussion when the topic first came up, Mr. Pfeffer said, “I just wanted to make sure you were well informed, that the Sheriff’s Office wanted it for operational purposes.”

“Currently, they’re using a room that is used for storage…There’s a problem with ambient noise, the room wasn’t designed for that,” Mr. Pfeffer said, adding that Ms. Vickers’ old office is sound conditioned. “I just think it would be much better if they could shift things around to allow for that operational use instead of a breakroom.”

Mr. Newcomb said he still didn’t want another vote that night, but suggested the issue be brought up at the next meeting. Mr. Pfeffer then rescinded his motion and moved that the topic be added to the next meeting’s agenda.

When Mr. Newcomb asked for discussion before the vote to add the request to the next agenda, Mr. Nichols said, “Here we go again, here we go again. The same thing. The motion got shot down…it was almost shot down again this second time. You can’t keep going back and forth to the well and expect to find something. The well is empty, you don’t keep going back…It just got shot down, 3-2.”

Mr. Pfeffer said if the issue failed again, he would let it rest, but he wanted to be sure the council understood that the alternate use of the space was for a breakroom.

The motion to add the topic to the next agenda passed, 3-1. Mr. Nichols, who was opposed, said, “Waste of time.”

Robert’s Rules of Order is a reference used by various organizations as a guide in proper conduct of meetings. Among the many topics addressed is that of voting by proxy.

“A ‘proxy’ is a means by which a member who expects to be absent from a meeting authorizes someone else to act in his or her place at the meeting,” Robert’s Rules of Order says on pages 428-29. “Proxy voting is not permitted in ordinary deliberative assemblies unless federal, state or other laws applicable to the society require it, or the bylaws of the organization authorize it, since proxy voting is incompatible with the essential characteristics of a deliberative assembly.”

The Banner has sent a written request asking for clarification from County Attorney E. Thomas Merryweather.

Mr. Merryweather responded Monday morning, writing, “By County Council Resolution 370, the County Council specifically authorized a Council member to vote via proxy. Every County Council board since Aug. 26, 2003 has followed that voting procedure. Absent a charter provision to the contrary, voting by proxy by a Council member is acceptable and valid.”

The website of Robert’s Rules of Order is www.robertsrules.com. The County Charter can be found at https://ecode360.com/12066113.