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Order in the Council Chambers


At the beginning of a City Council meeting, the Mayor says: “I call this meeting of the city council to order.” But what does order in a city council meeting look like and how can it be established and maintained?

Texas state law does not establish rules of order for city council meetings; however, any rules selected must comply with the Open Meetings Act and other state laws.

One way to establish order is by adopting a version of the 1876 Robert’s Rules of Order.  These rules were drafted by U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert when he found that meetings of any kind in his city, San Francisco, were chaotic, and procedures, if any, were inconsistent from group to group.  Major Robert’s rules were adapted from those used in the U.S. House of Representatives, and not based on military rules.  The full title was Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies.

Robert’s Rules can be tailored to your city’s specific needs and used for simple, straightforward motions, to allow members to address the chair and not one another during debate, and to conduct voting by a show of hands, voice vote, or through an electronic voting system.

A code of conduct for the city council can also assist in maintaining order.  Here are some ways in which a code of conduct can be advantageous:

  1. Sets standards for respectful communication: The code of conduct can require council members to engage in civil communication with each other and the public.  This can reduce acrimony and improve the overall working environment.
  2. Promotes ethical behavior: The code of conduct sets clear expectations for ethical behavior among council members.  It helps establish a baseline for integrity, honesty, and accountability, ensuring that council members act in the best interests of their constituents.
  3. Prevents conflicts of interest: A code of conduct typically outlines guidelines for managing conflicts of interest. By doing so, it helps prevent situations where council members might make decisions that benefit themselves rather than the city.
  4. Maintains fairness and impartiality: The code can stress the importance of treating all constituents fairly and impartially.  This helps ensure that decisions of the council are made without bias, favoritism, or discrimination.
  5. Guides decision-making. The code of conduct can offer guidance on ethical decision-making, helping council members navigate complex issues while upholding ethical standards.
  6. Provides a basis for accountability: If council members breach the code of conduct, the code itself can provide a clear framework for accountability.  Sanctions or penalties can be defined in the code, and a formal process for addressing violations can be established.
  7. Demonstrates leadership: By adopting and adhering to a code of conduct, city council members demonstrate leadership and commitment to ethical governance, setting a positive example for the community.
  8. Enhances the reputation of the city: A council that adheres to a robust code of conduct is more likely to be seen as a responsible and effective governing body, which can enhance the city’s reputation and attract new residents and investment.

To fully realize these benefits of a code of conduct, it is essential that the code is well-drafted, regularly reviewed, and effectively enforced.  It should be developed with input from council members and legal experts to ensure that it is relevant and applicable to the specific needs and values of the city.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. 

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