The charter—a legal document that sets up rules and procedures for city government—states at City Council meetings “all members of the City Council present, including the Mayor, shall vote upon every resolution or ordinance, except where there is a conflict of interest, the reason for which shall be stated concisely in the records.”
On Feb. 7, as City Council prepared to vote on awarding a contract for a parks master plan, Council Member Terri Grimm asked for the motion to be tabled to be able to research the issue further. Her motion for extra time was denied. Council Member Grimm then abstained from taking a vote.
“There is an assertion that Council Member Grimm violated the charter because she didn’t vote on it and she didn’t recuse herself,” Hutto City Attorney Michael Shaunessy said.
Shaunessy deemed the action a technical violation of the charter. He explained the charter does not include consequences for abstaining rather than voting.
“The difficulty is that if somebody is unprepared to vote and the rest of council is prepared to vote, the charter technically doesn’t give them the right to say I’m not ready and I’ll abstain,” Shaunessy said. “And if they don’t have a basis for recusing themselves, the charter says you have to vote.”
The city charter does not give council members the ability to pass on a vote, Shaunessy said. This could put council members in a position of either voting on something for which they are not prepared or to be in violation of the charter.
“What do we have to do to fix the charter to give [abstaining] as an option?” Council Member Nate Killough said. “It should be a viable option.”
Shaunessy said he and County Attorney Bill Bingham plan to recommend charter revisions.
“This is one of the revisions [we plan to propose],” he said. “You should be able to abstain. As long as nobody is taking advantage of that, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
To make a charter revision, City Council can recommend a change. After that point, a waiting period commences before going to voters for approval, Shaunessy said.
Killough made a motion to bring the parks master plan item that Grimm declined to vote on Feb. 7 back up for further consideration at a future meeting. The motion passed on a 3-2 vote. Grimm recused herself from the vote. Council Member Scott Rose and Mayor Pro Tem Tom Hines were opposed.