Avon council examines conduct standards
August 5, 2017
AVON — A council discussion about council discussions consumed nearly two hours of the elected body's last meeting, with code of conduct standards spurring the talk.
In May, the Avon Town Council directed staff to develop a code of conduct in an effort to set forth "strong themes of respectful behavior for all Council members in all settings," according to a memo from town attorney Eric Heil, who presented a draft code of conduct to the council in July.
Council members Sarah Smith-Hymes and Jake Wolf participated in several meetings about the code of conduct as it was being drafted. In discussing the code of conduct at the July 25 meeting, Wolf said he felt responsible for bringing the council to the point where they are asking themselves what is appropriate regarding their behavior toward each other.
After saying perhaps he should not have shared text messages from other town council members with the Vail Daily — in which Mayor Jennie Fancher and Mayor Pro Tem Sarah Smith Hymes expressed disappointment with Wolf for rallying the public to attend a public meeting in November — Wolf asked his fellow council members what he did to make them unhappy with him. Ten seconds of silence followed.
"I think it's a little bit of the opposite," Fancher said. "You have been absolutely miserable here, and you've reacted by wearing your sunglasses through almost every meeting, until the last couple meetings, which is very much appreciated."
CODE VS. EXPECTATION
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The code of conduct presented to the council included guidelines on conduct with the public outside public meetings: "make no personal comments about other council members," conduct with council: "practice civility and decorum" and conduct with media: "council meetings are the appropriate forum for public debate," among other topics.
Wolf said he was against most of the document, describing it as a "system of control." Council member Matt Gennett said he was also troubled by some of the guidelines within the document, and council member Amy Phillips said if the document were accepted as is, she would have found herself in violation of it based on her previous experiences as a council member serving with 17 different co-counselors and three different mayors.
"I'm on the fence," Phillips said about adopting a code of conduct.
Council member Megan Burch was not at the meeting. Council member Scott Prince said he supported instilling a code of conduct, and Fancher said she would support something similar, made softer.
"I would like see … not so much a code of conduct as an expectation of conduct," Fancher said.
Prince said he respected Wolf for speaking up about how the council got to this point.
"Thank you for your comments, and owning up to what you've done," Prince said.
While the council acknowledged the division that may have led to the discussion, none argued with the point that it could be worse.
"When we joined the council it was so divided, it was so broken, and there was so much anger between people," Fancher said to Wolf.
Smith Hymes said regardless of any frustration on this council, it is other councils, and less experienced public officials such as herself, who will benefit from the code of conduct.
"It would have been useful for me because I had no government experience," she said. In researching other codes of conduct adopted by towns, "I found it so helpful," she said.
Treating the action item as a work session rather than something that will be decided on immediately, the council agreed to examine the code of conduct in the context of a council handbook rather than an adopted resolution.
As to their own relationship as a working body, "I've seen worse" Phillips said. "We were too far apart to even consider (discussing a code of conduct)."