All members of Allegheny County Council should be able to ask questions at committee meetings, Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh says.
The Mt. Lebanon Republican has proposed a motion guaranteeing that privilege just before council begins its deliberations of a 2013 budget.
Her measure, which would limit the power of committee chairs to set rules for their panels, has been sent to council's executive committee for review and recommendation.
The committee will meet at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Her motion states: "no Chair shall prohibit participation by any Member of Council, nor shall the Chair systematically refuse to recognize any Member of Council ..."
Council members who are not committee members "should be able to ask questions of guests," Ms. Heidelbaugh said at a council meeting Tuesday night. She proposed the change following a long-running dispute with Bill Robinson, chairman of council's budget and finance committee.
At a committee meeting in July, Mr. Robinson, D-Hill District, declined to allow Ms. Heidelbaugh, who is not a member of the committee, to question county manager William McKain directly. Mr. Robinson said she should direct her questions to him, and he would decide whether to ask them.
"Is this a new rule?" she asked. "Because it was never the rule before." He replied, "That's the rule now."
Ms. Heidelbaugh is not the only member of council to raise questions about committee procedures. Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin, said last week that he wanted to have a clear, written policy confirming that all council members could participate -- either in person or by conference call -- during committee sessions. Voting to recommend approval, rejection or amendment of legislation being considered by committees, however, would continue to be limited to committee members.
Guaranteed participation was one of three changes to committee operations that Ms. Heidelbaugh proposed Tuesday.
Her other two proposals would tighten quorum requirements and codify procedures for participation by telephone.
Under current rules, only the chair and at least one other member constitute a quorum. Ms. Heidelbaugh's amendment would require that a majority of committee members be present for any business to be transacted. For the seven-member budget and finance committee, for example, four members would need to be present.
Ms. Heidelbaugh's third proposal would allow any council members to call in to committee meetings for "the purpose of debate and discussion." Members taking part electronically no longer would count toward a quorum or be allowed to vote on proposed legislation.
While telephone attendance "allows for increased awareness of proceedings," it limits full participation because of "lack of a clear connection, imperfect ... equipment, and an inability to refer to handouts and other reference material," Ms. Heidelbaugh's motion states.
Council President Charles Martoni said Ms. Heidelbaugh's proposals deserved additional study.
Len Barcousky: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.