WINCHESTER — A controversial set of bylaws intended to govern City Council procedures and the conduct of its members has been tabled once again.

“Hopefully, it will go away and never come back,” former council member Milt McInturff, who helped to draft the bylaws when they were first proposed two years ago, said on Wednesday. “It’s gotten away from what it was originally supposed to be.”

The proposed bylaws have a convoluted history, starting when Mayor David Smith made a motion to create them on June 13, 2017.

Smith, a Democrat, and McInturff, a Republican, worked together to write a document that could be presented for council’s approval, but, in April 2018, McInturff said he had been cut out of the process and threatened to go to court to block adoption of the bylaws.

On Wednesday, McInturff said about 90% of the 28-page document that Smith presented to council included information already contained in the City Charter, City Code and Robert’s Rules of Order, the most widely used parliamentary procedure manual in the United States.

McInturff said he opposed the bylaws because of their redundancies, their failure to incorporate suggestions made by the city attorney and other council members, and for giving “far more authority to the mayor and to the city manager” than he believed was appropriate.

“It’s the tail wagging the dog,” McInturff said. “The city manager is supposed to work for council, and the mayor ... is a ceremonial position.”

Following McInturff’s protests in April 2018, the bylaws were tabled indefinitely.

Seven months later, McInturff lost his seat in the general election that gave Democrats a 5-4 majority on City Council.

Smith reintroduced the bylaws at council’s May 28 work session. They were forwarded for further discussion on a 7-2 vote, with Republicans John Willingham and Bill Wiley standing in opposition.

At the next meeting on June 11, numerous concerns regarding the bylaws were raised by council’s four Republicans.

Councilor Corey Sullivan led the opposition by citing several proposed rules that he said were inappropriate. Those included prohibitions on council members sharing information with the media regarding discussions held during executive sessions, the authorization of the city manager to open and read all correspondence sent to the mayor, and a rule that the city manager be copied on all citizen requests submitted to council members.

The draft bylaws were also criticized for advising councilors to direct all questions for city staff to the city manager, and for designating the council president, city manager and a person selected by the city manager to be the only official spokespersons for Winchester.

Due to concerns raised on June 11, council tabled the bylaws for two weeks so an ad hoc committee nominated by Smith could review and revise them.

On Tuesday, Vice Mayor John Hill said the committee, comprised of Wiley and Democrat council member Kim Herbstritt, “needs more time to sift through the information.”

Hill moved to table the bylaws indefinitely, a measure that was supported by all nine council members.

With no time frame established for further action, it is unclear when — or if — City Council will reconsider what would be its first-ever set of bylaws.

Attending Tuesday night’s City Council meeting in Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and councilors Kim Herbstritt, John Willingham, Les Veach, Bill Wiley, Judy McKiernan and Corey Sullivan.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

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