Yelling Match, Gavel Banging Dominates Early Part of Statesboro Council Meeting

A yelling match dominated the beginning of a Statesboro City Council meeting this week over meeting minutes, conflicting city ordinances, and a pay raise for city council members.

It happened on Tuesday morning during the regularly scheduled August meeting.

During the agenda item on the consent agenda, which includes approval of meeting minutes from July, Councilman Phil Boyum brought to the attention of other council members that he believed a revision needed to be made on how July 18, 2023 meeting minutes were recorded.

At issue, he said, was whether or not the council had a quorum to approve the pay raise for fellow council members at all. Boyum said the minutes reflected an approval of a Resolution by a 2-1 vote, but that the ‘voting section’ of the city charter (Section 4-1) requires ordinances and resolutions to be voted on in the affirmative by three council members in order to take effect. The only exception outlined in that section of the city charter pertains to vacant council seats, but the issue on July 18 was a lack of attendance by other council members, not vacant seats.

“Mind you this is the exact same section of the charter that authorizes the mayor to vote in the event of a tie. As a result, a 2-1 vote of an ordinance is a failed motion,” Boyum said. “So the minutes need to be amended and show that the motion did not pass.”

Mayor Jonathan McCollar probed City Attorney Cain Smith on the issue, prompting Boyum to preemptively respond by saying, “Cain, I know you’re going to show me other sections of the charter, but this is specifically the section relating to voting and specifically the section relating to the mayor voting, so unless we’re going to give up, unless the mayor is going to give up that power, these powers that operate, these rules operate in conjunction with each other.”

Smith asked for a few moments to review the language brought up with Boyum and any possible conflicting sections so that he could provide clarification, but Boyum continued to ask him questions and not allow him time to compare the language.

Ultimately, Smith stated that the charter had conflicting sections on voting requirements and included language stating ‘except as otherwise provided,’ which leaves discretion for ‘other situations’ which may not be explicitly stated in the charter. As Smith attempted to explain the conflicting sections, Boyum interrupted and spoke over Smith with his own interpretations. Nevertheless, Smith attempted to explain that the charter section on Meetings, Minutes & Proceedings of Council, which states:

“Three council members shall constitute a quorum and shall be authorized to transact business of the council. Voting on the adoption of ordinances shall be taken by a voice vote and shall be recorded in the official minutes. Any member of council shall have the right to request a roll call vote. The affirmative vote of a majority of members present shall be required for the adoption of any ordinance, resolution, or motion except as otherwise provided in this charter.”

So, while the section referenced by Boyum requires three YES votes to adopt an ordinance, the section relied on by the city attorney in his advice to council previously only requires ‘a majority of members present.’ With three members present on July 18, two constituted a majority.

“There’s not a definitive answer there,” Smith said.

Boyum said the section he referenced has been set as the precedent because it was used any time the mayor has voted to break a tie.

“I don’t recall that,” Smith said with regard to one section superseding another. “I’m relying on that section in what I’ve said and for allowing the vote to move forward [in July]. I don’t know what else to say.”

McCollar interjected and said, “Gentleman, right now we have a motion on the floor with an amendment to the minutes for the council minutes on the 18th. Is there a second to the proposed motion?” However, there was no motion on the floor, which was pointed out by Councilwoman Shari Barr.

“Well I’ll make a motion to correct the minutes,” Boyum said.

“What do you want it to reflect?” Councilwoman Venus Mack asked.

“A failed vote,” Boyum replied. “It didn’t pass with three votes.”

“Is there a second to that?” McCollar asked.

“I”m sorry. I can’t second the motion because I’m hearing, heard what Councilmember Boyum is saying, his questions about it, but I’m relying on our city attorney’s interpretation at the moment and subsequently, which prevails? I mean, as a legal person, I’m going to defer to the legal person,” Barr said.

BOYUM: Then give me your reasoning for picking one over the other when we’ve followed Section 4.1 repeatedly over the course of our council history. And this was only passed in 2000 so this doesn’t go back before 2000.
BARR: [no response]
BOYUM: And here’s the thing. Cain is just an advisor. This charter is what we go by. Regardless of what Cain says, we follow the charter. As a matter of fact, our attorney can give us bad advice, against the charter. That doesn’t change the charter.
SMITH: There is no bad advice here. We have a contradiction in the charter.

McCollar asked if the three votes had to all be the same, which seemingly indicated he missed the explanation of the heart of the dispute, as the section referenced by Boyum said the three votes had to all be in the affirmative and the section referenced by the city attorney said only a majority was needed.

Smith tried to clarify further on the contradictions, but Boyum would not allow him to speak uninterrupted.

At that point, City Manager Charles Penny offered a point of information to explain that it was his opinion that the issue was not whether or not the minutes were incorrect.

“I understand Mr. Boyum’s point of view,” Penny said. “But for these purposes, the minutes are correct that that’s the action that was taken. The point of order may be to bring the matter of concern backup because this reflects the actual occurrence that occurred at that meeting. This is a point of clarification that needs to brought up under another item for council to consider…”

Boyum interrupted, “Point of clarification Mr. Penny…”

MACK: I’m sorry Phil, can you let him finish so we can get clarification?
BOYUM: A 2-1 vote is not approved, it’s a failed vote.
MACK: Phil can you please…
BOYUM: The minutes are incorrect.
MACK: Mr. Penny can you please finish so we can get clarification. We understand that you have a point that you want to make [Phil], but it’s unfair to us if you keep…
MCCOLLAR: [banging gavel repeatedly]
MACK: …cutting everybody off every time.
MCCOLLAR: Mr. Penny has the floor

“Again, the point that I’m making is these minutes reflect the happenings that occurred at the meeting,” Penny said. “That is what happened and is the record of that meeting. The concern that the councilman is bringing up is about the action itself. That, to me, would appear, a point of order would be bringing that back up as another item for council to discuss or consider if that action is appropriate, but the minutes are correct as to what occurred during that meeting.”

BOYUM: Mr. Manager if I may…the reason that we approve the minutes is to make sure the minutes are correct. Now if there is incorrect information in the minutes, and we approve it, then we are justifying what happened in the meeting. What I’m suggesting is that 2-1 is not an approval, it is a fail. It says approval in the minutes. If I were to vote for those minutes, that would be me admitting that that was a passed ordinance. It is not. It failed. It should reflect in the minutes…The minutes are not gospel. They’re a recording of what happened and we can comment on the correctness of that recording. That’s what we’re here to do. So this idea that the minutes are sacrosanct is not accurate.

PENNY: I didn’t say that they’re sacrosanct. I just said it reflects what actually happened at the meeting.
PENNY: That is what happened.

Councilwoman Shari Barr then asked, “Mr. Mayor, might I suggest that we ask if it would be okay to amend the minutes to say the motion passed on the advice of council at the time and were subsequently challenged?” seemingly ignoring that they were not challenged at the July 18 council meeting, so that cannot be reflected in the minutes.

“What was challenged?” Mack asked.

BOYUM: Did council consider Section 4-1(a)?
BARR: Of course we…
BOYUM: Ah, ah, ah
MACK: [inaudible yelling]
BOYUM: [inaudible yelling] She interrupted me when I was asking a question! Did you consider 4-1-a?
MCCOLLAR: [banging gavel]
BOYUM: What the hell? She interrupted me!
MCCOLLAR: Let’s maintain decorum
BOYUM: Are you kidding me?
MCCOLLAR: With that being said, let us, we’re gonna have to lean on the actions as is and the minutes reflect the actions that took place at that time. There is a motion that’s on the floor as far as the amendment. Is there a second to that motion?
CHAVERS: As it is?
MCCOLLAR: Seeing as there is no second, is there another motion?
MACK: Motion to approve.
MCCOLLAR: Is there a second?
CHAVERS: Second.
MCCOLLAR: All those in favor?
MCCOLLAR: Opposed?
BOYUM: Nay. I didn’t hear your vote Mrs. Barr.
BARR: I vote to approve.

As an additional point of information that remains unclear, if the belief is that the approval of council meeting minutes is to ensure they are correct accounts of prior meetings, council members who were not present at the meeting should not vote on the approval of the minutes because they cannot attest to the accuracy.

You can watch the full video of the exchange below.

Yelling Match Ensues After Question by Council Member During Statesboro Council Meeting

A yelling match ensued during Statesboro’s August 1 city council meeting after one council member brought to the attention of the others that the meeting minutes from the previous meeting had an error and a vote on their own pay raise was in question.

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and co-creator of of the Peabody Award-nominated podcast 'Prison Town.'

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