Lewiston mayor says some city councilors are trying to silence him

Dec. 31—LEWISTON — Mayor Carl Sheline has condemned a proposed amendment to City Council rules, which he says is intended to bar him from participating in council debates.

On Tuesday, the City Council will consider an amendment which would require the presiding officer — the mayor, when present — to remain "neutral and detached" during debates and to prohibit that person from expressing opinions on agenda items. The presiding officer would be able to participate in the discussion only if relinquishing the role.

Following the council discussion, the mayor would be able to resume his role as presiding officer, according to the proposed amendment.

In a prepared statement, Sheline wrote that "a small group of city councilors are attempting to deny the duly elected mayor's first amendment rights and the representation of Lewiston residents."

However, proponents of the amendment say they're simply seeking to clarify the role using Robert's Rules of Order, the standard for government meetings.

"Our concern is that a member of the City Council not have undue weight given to his or her views, which we feel, as does Robert's Rules of Order has determined, occurs if the presiding officer takes other than a neutral position," according to a prepared statement shared with the Sun Journal by City Council Chairman Lee Clement.

The manual calls for presiding officers to remain impartial during debates and allows them to join the discussion only if they step down from their role, similar to the amendment.

"He can say all he wants, however he can't while he's holding the gavel," Clement said regarding the proposed rule change.

Clement said the city's attorney has cleared the amendment.

But as an elected member of the council, Sheline said he should have the right to speak, even if he is not a voting member.

"Robert's Rules allows for boards under 12 members to apply rules a little more informally," he said. "The key point here is that I am a member of the council."

The issue is not a legal one, but a political one, according to Sheline.

"This agenda item comes on the heels of the council voting to criminalize homelessness at the last council meeting," he said. "I relentlessly oppose that ... it's really about silencing dissenting views."

Clements said the mayor has continually overlooked council rules and made "snide, disparaging" comments to councilors in the past. The amendment is the "least restrictive means to get this point across," he said.

At the City Council meeting last Tuesday, Ward 4 Councilor Ricky LaChapelle broached the topic of the mayor's role. He said he was uncomfortable with the current situation and asked that the council better clarify the duty of the presiding officer at a future meeting.

Councilors broadly agreed to discuss the matter at a later meeting.

There will be no second reading for the amendment, if approved Tuesday. Only one vote is necessary to make the change.