One of Largo Wales’ toughest spans on the Auburn City Council began during the regular meeting March 5, when frustration long simmering behind the scenes boiled over and she used an obscenity to refer to fellow council member John Holman.
It took nearly a month for the council to deal with the fallout.
On Monday night, the episode ended with a public apology to the council and to the public, drawn from Wales by Deputy Mayor Bob Baggett after the body’s second closed-door, City Council executive session on the matter.
“On March 5 at a council meeting, I used some very inappropriate language to make reference to one of my fellow councilmen,” Wales began. “I don’t want to make light of this situation; it’s serious. I will cease and desist and learn from this experience, and hopefully continue to represent the citizens of Auburn to the best of my ability. I further want to apologize to the council, and to the public. I am a lifelong learner, and my goal is to improve.
“But I want to go on to say that there were some things that precipitated it, but they are not an excuse. And so my goal is for the work of the council to improve leadership and to improve communication within this group, so that we can get the job done for the city that we all love,” Wales concluded.
In a recent letter to Baggett and released by the City Attorney’s office, Wales elaborated on the precipitating factors that led her to the incident, and cited “a lack of leadership” on Baggett’s part.
In the letter, Wales noted that some members of the council feel the council meetings are where, against a few, “Robert’ s Rules of Order,” are employed, not as a tool to aid in communication, but to limit discussion. She said the application of the rule related to a motion and comments in a series has not been applied consistently.
“Past practice has (been) allowed in council meetings with a motion on the floor for serial questions,” Wales wrote Baggett. “At study sessions, a majority of the council agreed to have a less formal format, but at Holman’ s urging, you limited my discussion. Interesting to note, at our last study session, when the focus area was led by (Council member Larry) Brown and you inadvertently stepped in, Holman didn’t interrupt you with another ‘Point of Order.’ ”
The event may be seen and heard in context from beginning to end, from the time span of 30:07 to 32.37 in the video of the meeting on the City’s webpage at auburnwa.gov.
Wales had been about to make her third comment on a budget item when Holman brought up the point of order.
“Our rules clearly state that on the subject matter that’s on motion, one individual has two debates at it. Council member Wales has already had two comments on this item,” Holman said.
Mayor Nancy Backus then turned to City Attorney Dan Heid to ask for his legal opinion.
“I believe the rules do provide a limitation on how many times a council member may speak to a specific item,” Heid responded, “and in that regard, it’s so all council members may have an opportunity. Beyond the initial two times, council may have to voice approval for additional comments, which could be done by a motion, that’s the typical way.”
Wales responded as follows.
“I just wanted to say thank you, John, because maybe that’s what this one section means at 113 item B. I wanted to thank you for the clarification on items budgeted and not budgeted, and you provided me with great clarification.”
Wales then turned to council member Yolanda Trout-Manuel and, under her voice, clearly refers to Holman using an obscene phrase.
After the March 5 meeting, Holman said the council had discussed the matter of spending limits at length during the study session on Feb 26, and that the part about the mayor not being able to spend any amount of money that was not already in the budget and approved by the council was covered in depth.
“Roberts Rules of Order and Auburn City Council Rules and Procedures clearly state that when a motion is on the floor, each member may speak twice to the subject,” Holman said. “From memory, it is chapter 7.1 of Council Rules. Rules, laws, procedures are there to be followed for the benefit of all, and apply equally to all.”