Motion to censure in Kaysville, Utah

Here in Salt Lake City for the Utah School Boards Association, I find an interesting news item. The Kaysville city council is scheduled to pass a motion to censure a council member and request his resignation at this evening’s meeting. Read the Salt Lake Tribune news story here.

Why pass a motion to censure?

The council member is a suspect in an investigation involving theft and extortion allegations. The resolution states that the council takes no position on his guilt or innocence, but that according to the Council Code of Conduct, all members must conduct themselves so as to “be above reproach and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” Therefore, immediately upon passage of the resolution:

  • The council is authorized to issue an official verbal reprimand.
  • The mayor is authorized to issue a formal public letter of censure.
  • The council respectfully requests that the council member resign from the city council, effective immediately.

Motion to censure has no teeth

This case shows some of the challenges facing a publicly elected body when confronted with bad behavior. If your council is unhappy with a member’s behavior, there’s not much that can be done. A verbal reprimand and a written letter of censure are intended to indicate the council’s displeasure. The council member remains a full member of the body, however, unless and until a recall election takes place—which apparently is not possible in Utah, according to the mayor. As a reporter wrote, “The motion to censure has no teeth.”

Member may vote on motion to censure himself

One interesting angle: in this situation, Robert’s Rules of Order allows the council member to vote on the motion that he be censured. Robert states emphatically that a member’s right to vote can only be suspended when disciplinary proceedings have begun—a specific course of action which, so far as I can tell, has not been taken up by this council. However, if the council had adopted a different parliamentary authority, or had adopted special rules of order about this, the rule might be different.

Motion to censure on the consent agenda is unusual

Another angle is that the motion to censure has been placed on the consent agenda. This is normally used for routine items of a non-controversial nature, a description which hardly applies here. But any member may request that an item be removed from the consent agenda. Will the subject of the motion do this? And then debate the matter? Doesn’t seem likely…

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out! My wish for you, readers, is that you never have to face a situation where a motion to censure is even contemplated.

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.