If newly-minted Monona Alder Kristie Schilling is looking for some light summer reading, may I politely suggest Robert’s Rules of Order and the U.S. Constitution?
While her willingness to shake things up on the City Council – or “Second City Council” as one observer joked – is appreciated, she should learn to keep her bomb-throwing within the boundaries.
A passing knowledge of these two venerable texts might save her from future embarrassment.
Robert’s Rules of Order, first written in 1876 and now in its 11th edition, is how most “deliberative bodies,” from church councils to state legislatures, conduct their meetings.
The whole book is 600-plus pages of pretty dry material, but there’s an “In Brief” version whose authors say, “In only 20 minutes, the average reader can learn the bare essentials, and with about an hour’s reading can cover all the basics.”
Schilling’s unfamiliarity with the text showed up at the council meeting where she led a charge – ultimately successful – to allow the Monona Farmers Market to open two weeks earlier than scheduled.
But as Mayor Mary O’Connor pointed out in a guest column in this newspaper, when Schilling voted “No,” the council member was actually voting against a mundane, multi-year contract between the market and the parks department.
If Schilling is going to be effective, she has to know what she’s voting on and follow the rules.
The same goes for the Constitution. At the June 8 council meeting, Schilling proposed a jaw-dropping amendment that was, as Alder Doug Wood said “illegal.”
The council was discussing their review of the Monona Police Department procedures manual.
The review was prompted by the dreadful incident in which a black man who had recently rented a house in Monona was confronted in his home by officers with guns drawn, and then handcuffed.
In the midst of the discussion, Schilling proposed an amendment that would order Monona police not to ticket African-American drivers for minor infractions.
In other words, while white, Asian and Hispanic drivers could be pulled over for expired license plates or missing taillights or other minor infractions, blacks could not.
If enacted, it would have been a breath-taking violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, the “Equal Protection Clause” on which all of this country’s civil rights laws are based.
The 14th Amendment was adopted by Congress in 1868, after slavery had been abolished. It was in response to the “Black Codes” adopted by many states, both southern and northern, that restricted the freedom of black people.
And while it is certainly true that the “Equal Protection Clause” has been unevenly administered on behalf of black Americans in the past 152 years, it can’t simply be abandoned and replaced by laws that favor blacks above other races.
Monona citizens have the right to expect public officials, elected and appointed, to be familiar with the Constitution.
By the way, the “Robert” behind the Rules of Order was Henry Martyn Robert, an American soldier and engineer.
Robert was born in Robertville, South Carolina, in 1837 but raised in Ohio. His father was a minister who strongly opposed slavery and later became president of Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia.
The young Robert attended West Point and became an Army engineer. During the Civil War, he designed fortifications for Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. After the war, he helped develop the port of Green Bay.
Militarily, he is most famous for his role in the “Pig War.”
The “Pig War” was a confrontation between the United States and Great Britain over possession of the San Juan Islands, in between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.
It began in 1859 when an American farmer on San Juan Island killed a pig owned by an Irish sheep farmer who worked for Britain’s Hudson Bay Company. The American claimed the pig was eating his potatoes.
When British authorities threatened to arrest the American, both sides sent troops to the island. The Brits occupied the north end and the Americans the south, where the young engineer designed Robert’s Redoubt, today considered “the best-preserved fortification of its kind in the United States.”
The Pig War lasted 12 years, although no shots were fired and the only casualty was the pig.
Wikipedia says, “During the years of joint military occupation, the small British and American units on San Juan Island had an amicable mutual social life, visiting one another’s camps to celebrate their respective national holidays and holding various athletic competitions … the biggest threat to peace on the island during these years was the large amounts of alcohol available.”
International arbitration awarded the island to the United States in 1872. Today, it’s a national historical site.
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