This story has been updated to include comments from Councilman Matt Judy.
Transparency has once again risen to the forefront of city councils meetings after Roswell Mayor Lori Henry muted the mic of a council member and ended a meeting before an item vote could be taken.
During the Nov. 9 virtual mayor and council meeting, members discussed unfreezing capital project funds that were temporarily frozen due to COVID-19 concerns.
“This is a budget amendment,” Henry said at the meeting. “The items on the agenda are items that have been frozen, and our staff is suggesting that we unfreeze those. It’s a way for us to sort out revenue and expenditures and look at how we can finish out that year, what we can fund and cannot fund.”
Henry said she promised to look at this budget quarterly because of “the varying uncertainty of COVID-19 and changing times.”
The proposed amendment looks at unfreezing $1.1 million and reallocating $1 millions to other projects.
The city is still under a hiring freeze, but Henry proposed bonuses for employees. Roswell is looking at a $1.5 million item to give full-time and part-time city employees bonuses. Fulltime employees would receive a $2,000 check and part-time employees a $1,000 check.
When it came time to call for a motion, council members Matt Judy and Marie Wilsey raised their hands to second the motion. It was then council member Mike Palermo raised his hand to clarify the motion. As Palermo was speaking, Henry cut off his audio, saying he was out of order.
“I’m not allowed to comment on an expenditure that’s not been discussed before tonight? That is unethical, it’s unethical and sets a dangerous precedent,” Palermo said before his audio was cut.
Palermo is seen rising from his chair as the video freezes. While Palermo is frozen and muted, Henry calls for a motion and council members Judy, Wilsey, Christine Hall and Matthew Tyser vote for the motion. Council member Marcelo Zapata voted against the motion. Moments later, Palermo appears onscreen in Henry’s office. Viewers can see and hear Palermo shouting that Henry is not letting him vote before the feed is cut and a recess is called.
“The first public discussion of spending $1.5M is not the night it should be approved without giving the opportunity for the public to digest the information,” Palermo said later of the incident. “Once a motion is seconded is when we officially have a formal motion and that is when there should be final comment. By not allowing Council to discuss once the formal motion was clear took away the opportunity to clarify positions.”
“Because he would not abide by the rules of the meeting, I had his microphone turned off so a vote could be taken without further interruption,” Henry said. “As Mayor, I am the presiding officer during council meetings. It is my responsibility that the meetings are held in an orderly manner so that the business of the city can be accomplished.”
“We need to correct the pay issues with our First Responders, we need to finally invest more into Economic Development, we need to pave our roads, and fill in sidewalk gaps,” Palermo said. “It was irresponsible to discuss just a single $1.5M expenditure without talking about all the needs of the city.”
“While we may have differences of opinion and are passionate about our city, Mayor and Council are productive as demonstrated by the large number of agenda items discussed and voted on after the short break,” Henry said.
However, the was not the first time the mayor ignored a council member over Zoom. During the Oct. 26 council meeting, Zapata brought forward an item to include a Racial Equity Impact Assessment in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. A REIA is a tool that many cities use to help mitigate and prevent potential racial inequality or the perception thereof.
“I was proposing that instead of a very narrowed focused study that we first consider a more comprehensive scope of work and deliverables taking into account the necessary REIA framework and foundation that will include all elements of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan,” Zapata said.
The framework includes looking at Economic Development, Housing, Intergovernmental Agreements, Land Use and Zoning, Natural and Cultural Resources, Public Facilities and Transportation.
The discussion was cut short when Henry adjourned the meeting while Zapata’s hand was raised. Audiences could see the mayor’s Zoom video end, while Zapata was left raising his hands.
“I was not given the opportunity during the last Mayor and Council Regular meeting to complete and finish the discussion, and make a motion that would include a solid framework and foundation for a comprehensive and integral Racial Equity Impact Assessment,” Zapata said. “As a result, a vote was not called neither taken.”
Councilman Matt Judy said it is important to remember that most people in Roswell have the same goals.
“During Monday’s City Council meeting an unfortunate, but not isolated incident was brought to light. The City Charter says the mayor is required to maintain order at meetings as the presiding officer and I believe respect should be given to her, our staff, our citizens and councilmembers at all times. We need to recognize that the governing body and citizens of Roswell actually agree on most things and cannot allow the small amount of differences we have to continue to tear our community apart. We are Roswell and we are better than that,” he said.
The next Roswell city council meeting is Nov. 30 at 7 p.m.