Can City Council President Ben Stuckart really shut down a meeting whenever he wants?

Can City Council President Ben Stuckart really shut down a meeting whenever he wants?
Young Kwak
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart

It's against the rules for speakers at Spokane City Council meetings to use profane speech. So local activist Alfredo LLamedo, accusing the city of failing to stand up to landlords or care about homeless lives, was breaking the rules when he lit into the City Council Monday night.

"Bullshit," LLamedo said. "Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit Bullshit—"

City Council President Ben Stuckart interjected by pounding his gavel. "CUT IT!" he yelled.

"—Bullshit," LLamedo continued. "And you're full of it."

There were still five members of the public on the list to speak at the second public forum of the night. But Stuckart unilaterally ended the meeting, and Councilwoman Kate Burke got no support from her fellow council members when she introduced a motion to restart it. Ultimately, the council agreed to listen to the remaining speakers outside of the meeting — but without it being broadcast on public television.

Stuckart has unilaterally ended meetings early for rule violations before. Yet Stuckart might have been violating the rules himself by unilaterally ending the meeting: While the City Council rules allow the council president to order a temporary recess if there's a disturbance, it says nothing about a power to decide to completely adjourn the meeting early without discussion.

Pressed on the question, Stuckart argued that Robert's Rules of Order, the system of parliamentary rules that undergirds the council rules, gives him that authority.

"I can cut any meeting," Stuckart told the Inlander after the meeting. "That's why I have a gavel."

Not true, says Kevin Connelly, national secretary for the National Association of Parliamentarians. Robert's Rules only allows the chair to unilaterally adjourn a meeting before the end if there's a genuine emergency.

"If there's a riot on hand, they can adjourn the meeting," Connelly says. "If there's just a little controversy, and he or she does not like it? No."

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...