From: Barry Rafkind
Date: Thu, May 17, 2012 at 3:12 PM
Subject: HRC Quorum Rule Is Obsolete
To: Rebekah Gewirtz <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: Bill White <email@example.com>, John Connolly <AldermanConnolly@gmail.com>, Bruce Desmond <BruceMDesmond@yahoo.com>, Dennis Sullivan <AldermanSullivan@aol.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Dear Ald. Rebekah Gewirtz (Chair of the Legislative Matters Committee), and Distinguished Aldermen, and friends,
As I’ve detailed below, Monday’s HRC meeting was canceled for its inability to satisfy its 7-member quorum rule as stated in its ordinance on MuniCode. As today’s Somerville Journal article described, I believe this last-minute cancellation may have been a retaliation for our attempt to question the Health Director about her recent op-ed. Anyway, I believe that quorum rule is long obsolete and should be amended to be a simple majority of current membership, in accordance with the state’s 2010 Open Meeting Law and a 2005 HRC recommendation.
The original 1993 HRC ordinance set up the volunteer commission with 11 seats and defined the quorum as 6 (over half). The following year, probably in response to high interest, an extra seat was added, so the quorum rule was amended to 7. Recently, interest in the HRC has declined, along with membership. In response, the HRC recommended that its quorum be redefined to 51% at its 11/17/2005 meeting (pdf minutes). City Clerk John Long told me that this advice was never acted upon by the BOA.
However, the new language was apparently approved by the HRC as reflected by the version of the ordinance and by-laws posted to the HRC webpage, probably under the assumption that the BOA had approved it. Accordingly, the HRC continued to meet for years with a dwindling membership that fell since I joined in 2007. We’ve had just three commissioners for several years, despite our recruitment efforts (led by Sonja) which were sometimes hindered by mayoral inaction on applications. So, it came as quite a shock when the Mayor made 2 new appointments last month (without consulting the HRC) followed by the last-minute cancellation of Monday’s meeting on account of the quorum rule.
Given the City’s clear interest in having a functioning HRC to protect the civil and human rights of Somerville residents, and given the difficulty with growing our membership, it makes little sense to have an out-dated quorum rule so high that it prevents us from meeting. So, I hope you will seriously consider this proposal and amend the HRC Ordinance.
P.S. Alicia Byrd who is a member of the Women’s Commission, says their meeting yesterday was also abruptly canceled at the last minute, although without any explanation. Probably, this was also due to a failure to satisfy their quorum (not defined in their ordinance), since the SJ article also mentioned the City was reviewing that commission as well.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Barry Rafkind
Date: Mon, May 14, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Subject: HRC Quorum Rule Leads to Meeting Cancelation
Our meeting tonight was canceled by the City Solicitor, Frank Wright, who informed Sonja shortly before the meeting that we could not meet because we would not satisfy our quorum requirement. Sonja called me 10 minutes before the meeting to tell me this news and she told the same message to John and Ashraf.
I went to the meeting room anyway where I met Mr. Wright who showed me a copy of the Human Rights Ordinance from the MuniCode website which states:
Sec. 2-240. – Human rights commission chairpersons and bylaws.
(c) Seven members shall constitute a quorum for the purpose of conducting business. (Ord. No. 1993-1, 1-28-93; Ord. No. 1994-15, 6-23-94)
Sec. 2-240. Human rights commission chairpersons and bylaws.
(c) Seven members or at least fifty-one percent of the entire membership, if the Human Rights Commission consists of fewer than twelve members at the time, shall constitute a quorum for conducting business
Question: where did that different version come from and why was it posted online?
The HRC by-laws (pdf) (attached) also linked from the webpage agree with that latter definition, by stating:
Section 5: Quorum
Fifty-one percent of then-sitting members shall constitute a quorum for the purpose of conducting business.
It seems the City is now selectively enforcing this quorum rule after allowing the HRC to meet with between 1 and 3 commissioners at meetings stretching back at least as far as 2009. This enforcement comes on the heels of the controversy surrounding the US Surgeon General’s event at the Armory, Paulette’s op-ed followed by her refusal to meet with the HRC, the new Human Rights Ordinance Advisory Committee, and the surprise appointments of 2 new HRC commissioners last month following 3 years of neglect. Connect the dots and a pattern emerges of the City silencing the HRC.
Note, this email thread is archived in the HRC Google Group here.
P.S. If you are interested in learning more about the Human Rights Commission, check out its webpage and feel free to leave me a comment or question.