The College Park City Council decided on Tuesday it will consider requiring council members to provide an explanation for abstaining from a vote.
“When a question is put forth by the presiding officer, every member of the City Council present, and the Mayor, when authorized by law to vote, shall vote for or against the question before the Council unless the Councilmember or Mayor provides an explanation for abstaining,” the draft reads.
District 1 Councilwoman Kate Kennedy said Monday that she thinks a council member should abstain if there’s a conflict of interest — the only reason she can foresee herself choosing not to vote. Members can also choose to recuse themselves, which means they will not participate in the discussion leading up to a vote, according to city attorney Suellen Ferguson.
“Whether or not it’s overused is up to the voters to consider when they vote for reelection,” she said. “We are elected to make decisions, and sometimes those decisions are hard, but I think we have to make them.”
Requiring an explanation seems “redundant” to District 1 Councilman Fazlul Kabir, who said Monday a council member might abstain if he or she thinks doesn’t have enough information or if there wasn’t enough resident input.
“If there’s a very hot-button issue, some council members think the issue should be sent for referendum so that it can get wider input from residents,” Kabir said. “If you don’t do that, then only a few people come in and speak before you, [and maybe] that’s not enough.”
District 4 Councilwoman Dustyn Kujawa said she doesn’t support the issue when she feels like she hasn’t been given enough information.
District 2 Councilman P.J. Brennan said council members explaining why they abstain would help further the goal of transparency.
“The distinction for me is that when you’re voting for or against something, you’re clearly putting a position forward, whether or not you’ve chosen to discuss your support or lack of support,” he said. “Abstention is taking no action, it’s kind of stepping back from your responsibility to vote for a legitimate reason whether it’s legal or an explanation that you’re going to give.”
District 3 Councilman John Rigg said he was “ambivalent” to the issue, but said Robert’s Rules of Order — a widely used set of rules dictating parliamentary procedure — emphasize one’s duty to vote.
An abstention is “providing no expression of your democratic preference, but I would point out it’s deciding not to decide,” he said. “We come here to take action. We do not come here as individual council members to take no action.”