Clawson replaces invocation with ‘words of inspiration’

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published August 11, 2020

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CLAWSON — During the July 21 Clawson City Council meeting, the council approved the proposed City Council rules of procedure, including a handful of amendments.

Establishing rules of procedure for the council was a stipulation of the November 2019 settlement between Mayor Reese Scripture and the city of Clawson.

At the behest of interim City Attorney Renis Nushaj, the rules of procedure nixed the invocation, which normally takes place after the Pledge of Allegiance. He said the invocation, or prayer, opens the city to potential discrimination lawsuits from those not of the Christian faith.

Mayor Pro Tem Paula Millan said she felt the rules of procedure, as written, were “redundant” and that she strongly disapproved of the removal of the invocation.

“(The invocation) is important to me, personally,” Millan said. “This has been a tradition for Clawson, from what I understand, back to day one, and it’s one that I feel is very important to our community.”

She said she felt the 15-page document needed to be reworked to be more concise and could be encapsulated in a single-page document.

Nushaj said the provisions of the proposed rules of procedure, including the removal of the invocation, is something “a lot of councils, if not universally these days,” are doing and are recommended by the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys, of which he is a member.

“We have to fulfill certain legal obligations,” he said. “When it comes to this particular area of the law, such as the invocation and Christmas decorations in front of City Hall, it’s a touchy subject. There’s a lot of case law out there with respect to this.”

As Clawson’s attorney, he said he had to be mindful of the case law and take into account that the city has run into litigation in the past regarding Christian decorations in front of City Hall.

Scripture described herself as a “nonbeliever” and said she has at times been made to feel like she is not welcome to speak due to the prayer portion of meetings, even before she was elected to her position.

“I would have no problem saying ‘words of inspiration,’ just shared amongst the faiths,” Scripture said.

Councilwoman Kathy Phillips agreed with Scripture’s idea to place “words of inspiration” where Nushaj removed the invocation.

“Then whoever is doing it can make it whatever they want, so that way we’re more inclusive,” Phillips said. “I don’t want to see it go away, but I would like to see it called something else and be inclusive for everybody.”

Millan said she was feeling “a little left out and marginalized” with the favorable reaction of other council members and some Clawson residents toward removing prayer from City Council meetings, as well as the process of the document. There were also residents against removing it.

“I find it a little bit offensive that it was given to us and we’re going to run through it and let it go, whether or not we have time to fine-tune it,” Millan said. “I guess we need to get things done. I know we can always go back and address things, but we only go back and address certain things.”

Phillips said she thought the rules of procedure for City Council were “succinct” and fair, and Councilman Lou Samson said he thought, despite the length, Nushaj did a “fantastic” job on the document.

“I believe we talked about this three times at three different meetings,” Samson said. “It’s a good starting place, probably 98% perfect. We should all live with it for a couple weeks and have a workshop to make changes.”

Samson made the motion to add “words of inspiration” to the document, and Phillips supported it. The vote was in favor of it 3-2, as Millan and Councilwoman Susan Moffitt cast the two “no” votes.

“I don’t understand what that means,” Millan said. “Do I just get up and say ‘fuzzy’ and ‘fuzzy makes me feel good today, so we’re done’? Are we still allowed to pray? What is the intent of it? Should we just take the Pledge of Allegiance down too, because I’m pretty certain there may be someone on council who is not in favor of that as well? I’m just dumbfounded at this today.”

She said she was fine with returning the invocation to the rules of procedure, but that “words of inspiration” has no meaning and she could not support it.

“I don’t think it makes a difference what we call it,” Phillips said. “It is what it is. Whoever is giving it that meeting can decide whether they want to do a poem or a prayer or a quote. ‘Words of inspiration’ is something positive, and it can be whatever that person wants to share.”

Moffitt said she thought the rules of procedure were “ridiculously long” and included superfluous elements, such as state campaign finance laws. She said she also found it “disturbing” that the council had previously voted to reject the idea of hourlong public study sessions prior to council meetings, but that they were included in the document.

“To have that added back in is a slap in the face to the process this city is based on,” Moffitt said.

Millan said she was not opposed to study sessions before council meetings, but that she did not want to waste council’s time if they were not necessary. She agreed that it was “disrespectful to the organization” to include the item after the council voted it down.

Moffitt moved to remove study sessions, and Millan supported it. The item passed in a 3-2 vote, with Scripture and Samson casting the two “no” votes.

Scripture said the study sessions are a “very effective” and “completely open and transparent” way to hash out items before City Council meetings, and if items on the regular agenda did not warrant preliminary conversations, the city manager could waive the sessions.

Moffitt made another motion to clarify items in Robert’s Rules of Order, which dictate parliamentary procedure, that all members have equal rights, each item presented for consideration is open to free and full debate, and the rights of the minority must be protected but the rule of the majority will prevail. The motion passed unanimously.

Additionally, Scripture proposed a list of changes she would like to see made to the document, including placing the list of bills on the consent agenda with council allowed to pull a large bill for question and that any council member could request the city manager to place an item on the agenda.

“We can come back at any time and change it,” she said.

To view the proposed City Council Rules and Procedures, visit https://clawsoncitymi.documents-on-demand.com and search for “City Council Packet July 21.”

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