The Life of Riley: “Present?”

I attend a lot of public meetings. At one County Board meeting There were several board members abstaining from voting. Which is entirely their decision. According to their own rules, they must give a reason for abstaining. All but one of them did.

Made me curious. Some people have told me that elected representatives can only abstain from voting if they have a conflict – not just because they want to avoid putting themselves on the line. In the county handbook I noticed that County Board rule 10 states Every member present, upon the putting of a question, shall vote thereon, unless abstaining, the chair shall ask for a reason of abstention. At the time this seemed to be an unknown rule. I changed that!

Sometime columns sit in my folder for months. I’m glad this one did. At a County Board meeting, one of the members abstained from a vote. I straightened up on my chair, but, before I reached my clicker, another member reminded the chairman was to ask the reason for the abstention. The board member replied that he had heard so much information, he was unable to make a decision.. The chairman tactfully pointed out that this was not an acceptable reason to abstain. Here, we had an elected official, who wanted to abstain, in order to avoid his elected responsibility, and, what a revoltin’ development this is!

I’m not sure what would have happened if the member would have just voted “present” to avoid his responsibility, but, that  is something I watch for.

All I could find in Robert’s Rules of Order on the subject was It is a general rule that no one can vote on a question in which he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest.

Yes, I think our officials should be able to abstain from voting, in case of an ethical conflict, but not just to avoid a tough decision. That is why it is so important that they announce why they abstained and why it is important that people, like me, are watching – and talking.

According to the state statutes, elected officials are required to abstain, but, under specific circumstances – which I was unable to find.

Jerry Riley comments for the News Bulletin. He is a retired telecommunications supervisor.