Contention between members of the Allegheny County Council keeps getting hotter and hotter, even as the dog days of summer begin to wind down.
Council Vice President Nicholas Futules is sponsoring an ordinance to amend part of the county code that will change the voting procedures on legislation. The proposed changes seek to add five new provisions to the county's 90-day voting rule and will allow ordinances to be tabled through various methods, such as allowing primary sponsors of ordinances to request written extensions and allowing the council president to table an ordinance by declaring in writing that there is “insufficient information."
Futules argues that these changes will increase transparency and are “good government.”
“There is a lot of legislation that did not get addressed after 90 days, and then some council members were unaware of what they are voting on,” says Futules. He says the ordinance should clarify the ways to extend the 90-day rule, so uninformed council members have the ability to get informed before voting on the ordinance.
But Heather Heidelbaugh, a Republican filling an at-large council seat, believes these changes will make things worse. She explains to City Paper
that currently, ordinances are proposed during council meetings and then sent off to the appropriate committees by the council president. However, the proposed ordinances are not automatically placed on the committee’s next meeting to be discussed, and instead go into a “council cloud” that can be drawn from at a later date. (Heidelbaugh says that some ordinances were proposed months ago and have never been discussed in committee.)
Heidelbaugh argues that this leads to ordinances forever floating in the clouds and never actually being discussed, which is why so many ordinances did not get voted on in 90 days.
Now, according to Heidelbaugh, ordinances could have increased obstacles
to reach the floor for a vote because the council president and committee chairs can indefinitely delay the 90 day rule thanks to the proposed changes. She says that these new rules will make it easier to keep "difficult bills" from getting voted up or down.
"This new legislation will give the council president the sole power to prohibit any bill from ever getting discussed," says Heidelbaugh.
(The current, and only, rule to table an ordinance is that two-thirds of the seated council must vote to do so.)
Sue Means, a Republican representing Mount Lebanon and Bethel Park, says the timing of this proposed change is suspicious considering that some council members voiced criticism of how the council operates
last week. She, along with Heidelbaugh, is holding a press conference today at 2 p.m. to publicly decry Futules' ordinance.
Means is further perplexed by the new bill because she recognizes there are enough Democrats in the council to vote down bills they don't agree with. "I don't get it, they have the votes to kill everything," says Means. "Why not just let the bills reach the floor?"
The final stipulation of Futules' ordinance would require bills to be automatically placed on floor at the end of 90 days. However, this will only happen if the ordinance is not subject to any of the new exceptions, like the "insufficient information" clause.
Heidelbaugh says she has proposed this same stipulation to force a vote after 90 days many times over her term, and those requests were ignored.
Allegheny County Council meets today at 5 p.m. at the County Courthouse, 436 Grant Street, 4th Floor in the Gold Room. Meetings are open to the public.