In a meeting that turned into a series of verbal shots between its members, Bryan's city council voted Tuesday to change the number of council members it takes to put an item on their agenda from two to three.
The vote was on the first reading of the ordinance's change. A second reading will take place at a future council meeting. That's when it would become law if approved again.
Councilman Al Saenz initially motioned to deny the change to the city's law. It was quickly seconded by Councilman Mike Southerland, who told his colleagues this change to the rules would hurt residents' ability to get issues important to them on the agenda.
"This policy change shows great disrespect for the citizens and the electorate," Southerland said. "Suppressing ideas will keep our city in second place to College Station for a very long time."
After more than an hour of discussion, Saenz's motion was voted down, and a vote to pass the first reading was approved in a 5-2 vote.
Click here to see the agenda for the Tuesday morning meeting. Item 6 on the agenda can be clicked on to read the proposed revised ordinance.
Short statements from some Bryan residents were made prior to the discussion. Most asked that the item be moved to an evening meeting where more citizens could watch or attend. Tuesday's meeting was at 8 a.m.
Councilman Jason Bienski would at one point bring up what he believed was an irony that two councilmen thought citizen speech would be stunted by this ordinance, yet they went ahead with a motion to deny the changes instead of listening to the attending residents, who wanted to bring the issue up at a later date.
"There is no attempt in this ordinance to stifle what they want to say," said Councilwoman Ann Horton of Bryan residents. "I don't know how on Earth someone is reading into it."
Horton also denounced statements by Saenz and Southerland that the proposed ordinance changes amounted to hate crimes or communism.
Instead, Councilman Ben Hardeman claimed it was repeated, time-wasting requests by Southerland that forced the proposed change. Hardeman said Southerland was monopolizing the time of the council and of city staff when he wasn't getting his way on issues.
Hardeman said that included the recent Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) approved by the council. That's when Hardeman said Southerland wanted to disregard multiple committee recommendations and seek even more opinion.
"If you hadn't abused the system when we had it at two, the subject never would have come up," Hardeman said in the first of many sharp back-and-forth exchanges.
"So this is a personal thing and not a system thing? You're trying to shut me up," Southerland replied.
"It's a system thing when the system gets abused," Hardeman answered. "I don't care who abuses it."
Saenz claimed minority issues haven't and wouldn't be brought to the agenda if three people had to give their OK, but Hardeman disputed the claim, saying Saenz hadn't ever been stopped, just that he had never brought issues forward.
"My point is that you have never brought up that project," Hardeman told Saenz on a CIP issue Saenz claimed hadn't been addressed.
"How do you know that," Saenz asked.
"He was at the meetings," replied Mayor Mark Conlee in reference to Hardeman.
Conlee and Southerland would later become a focus, as the mayor said Southerland has not sought support of other council members when it comes to getting items on the agenda and had alienated himself from the rest of the council.
"You don't stop by. You just go out there and say I'm against it," Conlee said. "You go out and say I don't care about the citizens. You go to the DA's office on a regular basis to turn me in for stuff, and this is how you want to work together?"
Conlee said the changes to the ordinance would, he hoped, serve to bring the council closer together by increasing communication.
Later, Southerland told members of the council this issue was obviously centered around his stances since his election in 2006, but that he wanted to find a solution.
"I would like to sit and figure out how you would like to operate, but I would also like to vote on it in open session," Southerland told his colleagues.
Conlee interrupted, saying, "That's the first time since you've been elected that you've ever said that."
"Nobody ever asked me," Southerland said.
"Because you're too busy causing problems and fighting with us instead of talking," Conlee replied.
As a sidenote, College Station's city council requires four council members to OK an item for their agenda.
According to Bienski, before 1989, the city did not have specific language in its laws concerning how many council members it took to get an item on the agenda. That year, Bienski says the requirement was put in the books at three council members, and that 10 years later, a proposed change to two or four was rejected, though just a few years later, it was changed to two.