Following conversations that began in July about Delaware City Council’s guidelines for suspending the rules regarding the number of readings required for ordinances, council discussed proposed changes to those guidelines during its Monday meeting.
Recently, more and more ordinances have been voted on by council after just one reading following a suspension of the rules in its ordinance reading guidelines, which previously stated, “Except in very rare circumstances, development projects will go to at least two readings.”
Ordinances that require a formal public hearing are typically always sent to multiple readings to allow the public to weigh in. Examples of cases where a public hearing is required include any ordinance proposing a change to the zoning code and conditional use permits.
But in instances where public hearings are not required, such as development plans and plats, the guidelines still technically required those ordinances to be read multiple times, often unnecessarily.
Now, the guidelines state, “When a formal public hearing is required by code (such as but not limited to Conditional Use Permits and Zoning Amendments) a minimum of two readings shall be required. Applicants may reasonably expect that cases will receive the full three readings unless no members of the public testify in opposition to the project at the public hearing.”
As for ordinances not requiring a public hearing, the amended guideline states, “When a formal public hearing is not required by code (such as but not limited to Development Plans and Plats), City Council will consider approving cases at the first reading. Applicants may reasonably expect that Council will take additional readings in order to receive additional information, if there is public comment in opposition to the project, or other reasons as Council may see fit.”
The guidelines state applicants will need to demonstrate they will “suffer substantial adverse economic impact by waiting for additional readings” in order for a suspension of rules to be considered. Ultimately, council can take as many readings as it deems necessary to make a decision.
“Again, these are just guidelines. It’s council’s complete prerogative to take (an ordinance) to more readings or take it to less readings,” City Attorney Darren Shulman said. “The genesis of the guidelines was we were having folks come to city council who were kind of developing an expectation of, ‘I kind of want this done on the first reading,’ and we kept having to explain to them that, well, we don’t usually do that. So, this sets the expectations for the people coming to council.”
Councilwoman Lisa Keller suggested some of the “perfunctory” items that appear before council as ordinances perhaps could be approved by city staff administratively to eliminate them appearing on a council agenda at all.
“I think there is some confusion (from the public) in that process of, it’s an ordinance, we should be seeking public input, we should be having three long readings,” Keller said. “Essentially, a lot of other cities just make those decisions as part of their administration and save the agenda items for things where, obviously, public input is very important on some of those things.”
Efland said even some items that appear at Planning Commission before going to council could possibly be approved with an administrative decision rather than cluttering the commission’s agenda as well.
Any changes to what does or doesn’t need to ultimately come before council for approval would take considerable time to achieve, as was evidenced by the discussions between council members, Efland, and Shulman on what processes could end with an administrative decision or even with a vote by Planning Commission. Council agreed to take a deeper look into those considerations moving forward.
The amendments to the ordinance readings guidelines will be put into a resolution for council to consider at its next meeting. Approving the changes during the Monday meeting was considered, but Mayor Carolyn Riggle said she wanted Councilman Chris Jones, who was absent from the meeting but has often talked about the number of rules suspensions, to have the chance to offer his thoughts.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.