Lovettsville Town Council members will be held to new standards while conducting town business.
The Town Council last Thursday voted unanimously to adopt a revised Code of Ethics and Standard of Conduct, which it has renamed Standards of Ethics and Conduct. The council also discussed proposed changes to the Town Council Rules and Procedures and could vote to approve those at its Jan. 23 meeting. Changes in both documents are aimed at helping keep council discussions on topic, respectful and from waning into the night.
The proposed new set of Town Council Rules and Procedures are based on Robert’s Rules of Order—a set of rules developed in the late 1800s that all kinds of formal and informal organizations across the U.S. use to govern their meetings to ensure fairness and structure.
Council members discussed proposed rules that would prohibit them from communicating with each other electronically during meetings and from sending texts or emails to anyone while in closed sessions.
Vice Mayor Jim McIntyre asked whether there was a better way to write the rule on closed sessions, since it’s written in a way that would not prevent council members from coming out of a closed session and talking about what was discussed behind closed doors.
Mayor Nate Fontaine asked Town Manager Rob Ritter to model the town’s rule after the newly adopted county Board of Supervisors rules, which grant the board the ability toeither retroactively approve the disclosure of closed session information that is released by by a board member or reaffirm the decision to keep that information secret. The board can also vote to sanction or censure a board member for “improper disclosure.”
A rule that previously allowed Lovettsville Town Council members to participate in meetings electronically from private remote locations if such participation followed Virginia law and if the council approved was proposed to be removed from the rules, following Fontaine’s opposition to it.
“It’s my opinion that if you’re a member of Town Council, you need to be here when you’re voting,” he said. “You’re the face of the public, you need to be here.”
The proposed rules also would govern the tone of meetings.
When two or more council members want to speak at the same time, the presiding officer—the mayor, or vice mayor if the mayor is absent—would name one of them to speak. The presiding officer also would be required to keep discussions on topic. Council members would also be required to obtain the floor before making a motion or speaking.
Three new pages of rules also would lay out procedures for council members to follow when making all types of motions, debating and voting.
The proposed rules are intended to better guide the Lovettsville Town Council—a council that has seen its members argue with one another more often than in other western Loudoun towns. At times, Fontaine has had to step in to keep discussions civil and relevant.
If adopted, the rules also would help to keep the 7:30 p.m. council meetings moving along. As meetings frequently stretch well into the night, a new rule would restrict meetings from going past 10:45 p.m. To make that happen, the pace of each meeting would increase at 10 p.m.
In 2019, seven of 33 council meetings ended after 11 p.m., with one wrapping up at 12:35 a.m.
Ritter said that staff and council members are capable of getting work done for the first two hours of a meeting, but by 9:30 p.m. their productivity tends to drop off.
The most notable change in the new Standards of Ethics and Conductestablishes that council members should not engage in town business that doesn’t align with the State and Local Government Conflict of Interest Act.
That act prohibits local government officers from soliciting or accepting money for various reasons, using confidential information to their economic benefit and using their public position to retaliate or threaten someone for expressing their views on public matters, among other prohibitions.
Councilman Mike Dunlap emphasized that the code should not be used as a document to “beat [council, committee, commission or board members] over the head” when they do something others don’t agree with.