TERRE HAUTE —
Same-sex marriage was the underlying issue, but a little-known procedural rule was the focus of lengthy discussion at Thursday night’s packed-house Terre Haute City Council special meeting.
There was standing room only in the City Hall Courtroom – which is where the council meets twice a month – as folks lined up to ask the council to either suspend one of its rules or keep that rule firmly in place.
The rule in question prohibits the body from voting on “public controversies unrelated or not germane to the powers” of the council. About a half-dozen people spoke for and against suspending the rule.
Councilman Todd Nation, D-4th, was asking his council colleagues to suspend the rule – which was first adopted in 2006 – to allow for a vote on a resolution that would have urged the state legislature to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman in Indiana.
In the end, the council voted overwhelmingly, 7 to 1, to uphold the rule, meaning it will not vote on Nation’s resolution at next week’s regular council meeting.
Nation was the lone vote to suspend the rule. Those voting to maintain it were Council President Amy Auler and councilmen George Azar, Jim Chalos, Don Morris, Bob All, Neil Garrison and John Mullican. Councilman Norm Loudermilk was absent because he was out of town.
“I believe it’s a good rule,” said councilman Azar, who, as council president in 2006, helped bring it about. It mirrors a similar rule for the Vigo County Council, Azar said. “The rule was brought up to avoid situations like this,” he said.
Councilman Nation, who Azar said supported the rule when it was introduced in 2006, said the rule was disregarded a few months after it was adopted when the council voted to urge the U.S. government to offer humanitarian aid to Darfur, a region of Sudan where genocide was taking place.
“It was then that I realized that this rule must not mean very much,” Nation said.
However, Azar stated the Darfur resolution was not controversial and therefore not covered by the council rule. By contrast, the resolution Nation has introduced concerning the marriage amendment is controversial, he said.
In August 2008, the council passed a resolution, 8 to 1, urging the state legislature to adopt statewide hate crimes legislation. Nation and Azar both supported that resolution.
After the council voted to uphold the rule – thereby blocking any possible vote on Nation’s resolution – Sarah Freeze, one of several people asking for the rules to be suspended, said she was disappointed but proud of Nation’s efforts. “This is going to hurt our city,” she said.
John Konkey, who was at the meeting and opposed suspending the rules, echoed the opinion of several others when he said he believes the question of allowing or not allowing same sex marriage should be left up to the voters in a referendum – not taken up by the City Council.
Councilman Jim Chalos, who spoke against suspending the rules, said the council should focus on matters for which it has responsibility, such as public finances and potholes.
Ironically, in their “sunshine” meeting, which took place shortly after the special meeting, the council discussed another resolution put forward by Nation – this one to ask the state legislature to keep Indiana’s business personal property tax in place.
Chou-il Lee, when asked by Nation, said the council rule upheld in the 7-1 vote did not apply to that resolution because the business personal property tax is “germane” to the council’s role as the city’s fiscal body.
The council could vote on that resolution at next week’s regular meeting, 6 p.m. Thursday in City Hall.
It also is expected to be asked to vote on a resolution put forward by Nation to remove the rule against voting on controversial matters that are outside the council’s jurisdiction.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org